Friday 3 January 2014

2013 favourites

Here's a little bit of self-indulgence: having looked at the most popular posts of 2013, I'm now going to share some of my favourites. Well, as best as I could choose...

Five London posts

Ever since I first heard of the Nursemaids' Tunnel which allowed residents of Park Crescent to pass underneath the busy Marylebone Road, I've been eager to see it. Although it is usually closed to the public, there was an opportunity to visit during the annual Open Garden Squares weekend. The gardens on either side of the tunnel had a few more surprises, too!

Part of the appeal of ghost signs is the stories that they tell. A faded example on an Islington street captures an important historical moment - the rise of women's employment in the city. As single women moved away from home and into London, they needed respectable and affordable accommodation. This sign advertised one such place: a women's hostel offering a bed from ninepence a night.

Much as I love the Magnificent Seven cemeteries, their more humble municipal counterparts are full of charm and interest too. Lewisham and Deptford had neighbouring graveyards, now known as Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries; as well as an atmosphere of genteel decay, they offer notable burials and many fascinating life stories. I highlighted two here - a hard-drinking chess champion and the victim of an omnibus accident.

Since I am better at accidentally killing plants than growing them, Kew Gardens should probably be relieved that I focused on a fascinating piece of cultural history rather than their prized botanical specimens. The Japanese Gateway, built for the Japanese-British Exhibition of 1910, marks complex interactions between English and other cultures enacted over three centuries in this small corner of the Gardens.

Finally, it was the 150th birthday of London Underground. I marked it with various posts, and am cheating a little here by choosing a pair - some of my photos of historical Underground features, and a compilation of others' albums of old photographs.

Five out-of-London posts

Just outside London, and strongly connected to it, is the Surrey village of Compton. Artist GF Watts, creator of the Postman's Park memorial, lived and had a gallery here; his wife Mary created an extraordinary cemetery chapel in the village graveyard. Both gallery and chapel continue to welcome visitors, and it is well worth leaving the capital to see them.

 Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter was also a centre of pen manufacture, until nibs gave way to ballpoints. The wonderful Pen Museum has a huge collection of nibs, trade cards, inkwells, blotters, advertising material and machinery. Visitors can even make their own pen nib! (I also explored the equally fascinating Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, an astonishing time capsule of a jewellery factory.)

In Brittany, I discovered a very different field of manufacturing. La Briqueterie museum in Langueux has as its centrepiece a Hoffmann kiln; this new process of brickmaking transformed the industry throughout the world. Built in 1864, the brickworks at Langueux were among the first to use it. 

His fortune may have been founded on industry, but the Third Marquess of Bute looked back to the middle ages when he transformed Cardiff Castle. William Burges transformed the Marquess's apartments into a masterpiece of Gothic Revival. Each elaborately-decorated room has its own theme, and among the influences is Moorish architecture. 

Leeds is a wonderland of Victorian architecture, and many of the buildings display the exuberance and eccentricity of the period. I chose a few favourite curiosities, including fake marble cladding, a statue intended only to be seen at a distance, and an extraordinary facade for a clockmaker's shop. 

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