Writers’ Gardens

In these the dull, grey February days it’s been a great pleasure for me to read two coffee table-style books back-to-back with glorious photographs but also very informative text. VW's Garden The first was Virginia Woolf’s Garden by Caroline Zoob. There’s lots of nice background information about Leonard and Virginia Woolf but also about the author. Caroline Zoob and her husband were the National Trust tenants in the house for about 10 years. They also took responsibility for the garden. Endpaper VW's

Endpaper Collage

Really the book should be called Leonard Woolf’s Garden since it was almost entirely his creation and Virginia admits to doing little more than a bit of dead-heading and, of course, being inspired by gardens in general for her writing.

VW Bedroom Garden
VW bedroom garden
Virginia Woolf’s Bedroom Garden May 2014
Reading it and studying the lovely photos I was reminded of my visit to Monk’s House last May. I preferred it to Charleston as it had a very much more relaxed atmosphere. I’ve written here already about my visit to Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s home and garden at Rodmell in East Sussex.
The writer's garden
The Writer’s Garden : how gardens inspired our best-loved authors is by Jackie Bennett.
Writer's garden
Title Page – Near Sawrey in the Lake District with Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top in the Bottom Left Corner
Contents Page
Contents Page
Many of the gardens mentioned I have already visited – Jane Austen’s in Chawton in Hampshire long before the digital photography; same goes for Ruskin’s Brantwood which we approached from Lake Coniston by Gondola; Agatha Christie’s Greenway in 2009; Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top in 2005 or 2006; Laurence Sterne’s Shandy Hall the topic of one my first posts here and, of course, Virginia Woolf’s garden mentioned above.  I do hope I can get to the ones I haven’t visited some time as all were inspiring, not to say, beautiful.
Agatha Christie’s Greenway overlooking the Dart Estuary in Devon
I borrowed both books from the library but also by coincidence my current audio listen is Christina Hardyment’s The Pleasures of the Garden: an anthology. It’s selected and introduced by Christina and includes passages by Pliny The Younger, Francis Bacon, Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden, of course), Thomas Jeffereson, Jane Austen and Gertrude Jekyll.
Having said all this – I am not, myself, a gardener! I love to visit gardens and read about them but I know nothing at all about plants and their care.
My title for this photo on Flickr is “You won’t catch me gardening!”

Germany : Memories of Vacations

Reading Germany: Memories of a Nation lately has made me think about the trips I’ve made to that country.

Berlin map and cards

My first visit was brief but made a huge impression on me. It involved two days in Berlin and one in Cologne. It was part of a school trip to Moscow and Leningrad in 1968. We travelled to Leningrad by ship from Tilbury via stops for full days in Copenhagen and in Helsinki. We then travelled by train from Leningrad to Moscow and, again by train, from Moscow to Ostend via the two nights in Berlin and day in Cologne. What an adventure!

bernauer st

Bernauer Street 1960s


Bernauer Street in 2007 – part of the Wall and ‘Death Strip’ preserved today

This being during Cold War days we had to cross the Wall into East Berlin via Checkpoint Charlie. Quite exciting! We stayed at a small hotel just off the Kurfurstendam in the western sector where we noticed the stark contrast between the bright lights there and the dark and grey atmosphere in the East.

The wall

Berlin Wall postcards from 1968

My next trip was the following year with a local Norwich church youth group lead by Ron Ingamells the Bishop’s Chaplain for Youth. We travelled by coach from Norwich and stayed about two weeks at Hedwig-Dransfeld-Haus at Bendorf-am-Rhein. I have managed to dredge up a picture postcard sent home to my family on the 9th August 1969 assuring them that we had arrived safely after a smooth crossing!

 H Dransfeld Haus

Hedwig-Dransfeld Haus, Bendorf am Rhein

I remember we made excursions by coach to Bonn and Cologne, to the city of Koblenz (twinned with Norwich) and did two Rhine boat trips – one past the Lorelei Rock and the vineyards to Oberwesel where we were welcomed by the mayor and given local wine and hors d’oeuvres and the other on a Saturday evening to watch the local fireworks – Rhein in Flammen. 


In the late 1980s we enjoyed two family holidays staying at the same farmhouse in the Black Forest. We have always meant to go back. We had a modern pine wood furnished apartment within a huge old farmhouse – The Hanselehof. Despite having a full kitchen in the flat we enjoyed the half-board arrangement and practising our German on other guests. We made excursions to the nearby towns of Freudenstadt and Freiburg plus visits to a lido, museums and abbeys and made local forest walks. My photos from those trips are now rather faded and very poor quality.

Brandenburg gate

The Brandenburg Gate in 2006 [Chapter 1 of Germany : Memories of a Nation ‘The View from the Gate’]

BG Cards

1960s Picture Postcard Views of the Brandenburg Gate ‘just’ in East Berlin

A long time passed before I spent any time in Germany again. By this time the Cold War was over, the Berlin Wall had come down and East and West Germany had achieved reunification. In 2006, 2007 and 2009 I made 3 five day visits to Berlin staying in Mitte in former East Berlin. It was interesting to witness the changes and yet remember my previous visit about 40 years before.

Brecht Weigel house

Bertolt Brecht’s play “Mother Courage and her Children” is discussed in the Memories book in Chapter 26 ‘Germans displaced’

zille museum

We visited Checkpoint Charlie now a tourist trap; the Brandenburg Gate and Unter den Linden now open to all comers; various museums from the Pergamon to the Jewish Museum and the former home of playwright Bertolt Brecht and his actress wife Helene Weigel; the Museum dedicated to artist Heinrich Zille (1858-1929) in the pretty Nikolaiviertel and many many other museums and landmarks, cafes and restaurants plus I made two trips to Potsdam to the palace of Frederick the Great – Sans-Souci.

checkpoint charlie

At Check Point Charlie in 2007

My most recent stay in Germany was only for one night but was very special. I took my mum to see the 2010 Passion Play at Oberammergau. We travelled with Saga Holidays to the pretty village of Mutters near Innsbruck and a trip to Oberammergau was included in the package. I was surprised how, despite the hundreds of visitors during the play season, very uncommercialised Oberammergau seemed. It is a pretty wood-carving village with a fascinating history and I would love visit again.



passion play


The play

Postcard Scene from the 2010 Passion Play

In future I’m hoping one day to have a walking holiday on the island of Rugen on the German Baltic coast and also to visit the origins of the Bauhaus movement and former of home of playwrights Goethe and Schiller – Weimar.


Germany : Memories of a Nation

Over the last couple of days I’ve been reading the book of this title that accompanied the British Museum exhibition of the same name and the series of BBC Radio 4 talks by its author (and British Museum director), Neil MacGregor.



Memories of a nation

It’s a weighty hardback book, nearly six hundred pages long and with masses of photos and maps. There are 30 chapters. This is no conventional history of Germany. Instead, MacGregor chooses to focus (as he did in his ground-breaking History of the World in 100 Objects exhibition, talks and book which  has generated umpteen spin-offs) on objects and pictures which he feels relate to a “German history [which] may be inherently fragmented, but … contains a large number of widely shared memories, awarenesses and experiences”. Quotations here are all taken from the book.

8 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Each of the chapters was absorbing but several held particular interest for me. I studied German for four years at school to A-level and have visited Germany a few times. So when I read the chapter “One Nation under Goethe” I was straightaway reminded of his “Urfaust” (the earliest form of his Faust work) which we studied for A-level. But most of the chapter presented a picture of the German equivalent of William Shakespeare which I did not recognise.

Goethe and Faust

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe by Johann Tischbein and my 1968 edition of Faust Part One

The object  MacGregor focuses on is the Tischbein portrait of Goethe (1786-7) which shows the playwright (and polymath) in a classical setting “out of these survivors of a dead culture, Goethe will make something living”. Interestingly, for his fourth birthday Goethe was given, by his father, a toy puppet theatre which can still be seen today in his birthplace museum in Frankfurt. Goethe later wrote that this gift was to change his life. He was to become especially interested in Shakespeare and it was the influence of his (Shakespeare’s) writing that led Goethe to write his first work “The Sorrows of Young Werther“. MacGregor declares “Werther established German for the first time as a European literary language”.

17 An artist for all Germans

Durer self portrait

Self-Portrait – Albrecht Durer (1500)

The artist Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) created the first and possibly the most celebrated logo of all German logos. I remembered visiting the British Museum as a student to see The Graphic Work of Albrecht Durer in late 1971 or early 1972. This was an exhibition of Durer’s prints and drawings in celebration of the 500th anniversary of his birth. I remember seeing his Praying Hands drawing and Young Hare etching in a beautiful dark room where only the pictures were lit. More recently I visited a show of his work at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight on Merseyside, ‘Durer and Italy’, in the summer of 2010.

knight in armour

20 Cradle of Modernism



The cradle in question was designed by Peter Keler in 1922 and is still in production today and the modernist movement with which chapter 20 is concerned is Bauhaus. Elegant and simple sums up Bauhaus design established in Weimar in 1919 by Walter Gropius. Inspired by historic German values it was to “combine the medieval-guild traditions of communal working with the most rigorous principles of modern design and the enormous potential of industrial production”. Funding for the Bauhaus was cut in 1924 when the Social Democrats lost power in Thuringia. In 1925 it moved to Dessau. Although intending to be apolitical, when the Nazis took control of Dessau the Bauhaus moved again and to Berlin but was finally closed in 1933 when it had been “condemned by the Nazis as a centre of cultural Bolshevism”. There is now a Bauhaus Archive in Berlin which I have seen from a tour boat but not yet visited (it’s on my list!).

bauhaus archive

 Bauhaus Archive, Berlin

22 The Suffering Witness

Neue Wache

Here is my photo (2009) of the Neue Wache or “New Guard House” built by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in Berlin. The sculpture is an enlarged version of “Mother with her dead son” by Kaethe Kollwitz. The light is from the oculus in the roof. The memorial to the fallen of the war lies directly under the oculus exposed to all the Berlin weather.

mother and son

In this chapter MacGregor talks about the life and work of the sculptor and printmaker Kaethe Kollwitz (1867-1945). The sculpture above, within the Neue Wache, was chosen by Chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1993 as a “memorial to the Victims of War and Tyranny” to be placed in this “austere neo-classical building in the heart of Berlin”.

I also recommend the chapters on Gutenberg (16 In the Beginning was the Printer); on the Hanseatic city-states (13 The Baltic Brothers) and on beer and sausages (10 One People, Many Sausages)!

Christmas in Black and White and Colour

2014 tree

Compliments of the Season to Everyone.

Two weeks ago I slipped on black ice and fractured my right wrist. This is severely limiting my typing ability and posts will be very intermittent for a while.

However, I’d like to share pictures of the lovely gifts I received this Christmas. As often happens they fall into themes. Each gift has been especially and thoughtfully chosen with ME in mind. I could not have chosen better myself.

black and white

Black and White Gifts

tea tray

Tea Related Gifts (although someone thinks I’d rather be drinking wine!)

london books

London Books, DVDs and Walk Map

I enjoy London walks and exploring the Hampstead and Belsize Park areas when I’m walking my son’s dog. I have the original Quiet London book and it has now spawned three more. I’m happy to spend the next weeks planning future explorations in London.

I’ve read W G Sebald‘s ‘The Rings of Saturn’ and seen this film. I’m looking forward to watching ‘Patience (after Sebald)’ again. Much of it is filmed in East Anglia where ‘Max’ Sebald lived and was professor at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Sadly, when his very original writing was taking he off, he was killed in a motor accident near his home in 2001.


Moi and MA

A story about a Pug called Moi set at Versailles

Alfie at Gif

Alfie at Gif-Sur-Yvette

We took my son’s pug with us when we stayed at the Windsor’s place near Versailles in 2012. In addition I had other smellies; plus a box of cards for me to write my thank you notes – if I can manage that this year!



My thanks to everyone for these special gifts!

St Martin’s in the Bull Ring : Defiant Gothic … and what we learned there

St Martin's clock

“Defiant City Centre Gothic” writes Simon Jenkins in church crawler‘s ‘bible‘ of St Martin’s church in Birmingham city centre.

“It once towered over the old Bull Ring market place, dramatically clinging to a hillside. Today the site is desperate, squeezed between what survives of the market and an inhuman whirl of urban roads and concrete blocks. Rescue is planned, but the cost of rectifying the horrors of the 1960s and 1970s will be huge. For the moment, St Martin’s is a beacon in a wilderness.” [England’s Thousand Best Churches]

Square in c1950

Looking towards St Martin’s Church with the Bull Ring Market in the foreground (c1950)

St Martin's 1

It is now almost impossible to take a photograph of St Martin’s

We found that St Martin’s (the only Birmingham church listed by Jenkins) was literally a few minutes walk from our Back-to-Back ‘experience’. So it became the excursion on the final morning of our stay before checking out at 10 and catching our trains before 11.

Although the opening time is 10am we noticed a cafe and office attached to the church and a figure moving about. The very kind receptionist understood our ‘plight’ and allowed us to go inside and take a look at the Pugin-influenced building, rebuilt on the site of an older church, in 1873-75 by J.A.Chatwin who had worked with A.W.N.Pugin.

There’s a hammerbeam roof, a modern font, Decorated arches, 14th century alabaster effigies and a beautiful, early Burne-Jones stained glass window.

Burne-Jones Window

Burne-Jones  Window [source]


The Modern Baptismal Font Cast in Bronze by Jacqueline Gruber Stieger in 2002.

Our helpful guide also told us two other facts. The first was that the church has a rare outdoor pulpit and the second, nothing to do with ecclesiastical facts at all, was how to make an ‘infinity scarf’ (another term, new to me, for a snood or cowl) by the ‘arm-knitting method‘!

Outdoor pulpit

Outdoor Pulpit and reflection of Selfridges.

Arm Knitting Demonstration

New St Reflections

Birmingham New Street Station Reflections as we leave

Birmingham Architectural, Historical and Modern Gems, 2

As I said already, the jewels and gems of Birmingham don’t stop in the Jewellery Quarter …

There is also the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which houses one of the best collections of fine and decorative art, historical artefacts and archaeological treasures in Britain today; all displayed in an elegant Grade II* listed building. The collection is particularly strong in Pre-Raphaelite art. There is also a permanent display of items from the Staffordshire Hoard. [Adapted from Art Fund Guide]


Travelling Companions by Augustus Egg (1862) one of my favourite Victorian paintings is in the care of BMAG

On Sunday afternoon we were on the trail of the gold and gems of the Staffordshire Hoard. No photography allowed.

Discovered in 2009 and acquired jointly with the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent with assistance from the Art Fund, this treasure trove of 7th century Anglo-Saxon art features 4,000 pieces of gold and silver displaying intricate filigree and cloisonné work. Since October 2014 a new permanent gallery interprets the story of the hoard and its context within Anglo-Saxon history. Beyond the richness of the materials and the exquisite decoration, the hoard is significant because of its strictly masculine nature. These are exclusively military items created for Mercia’s best  fighters.” [Art Quarterly, winter 2014, p.31]

St Chad's and roads

St Chad’s Cathedral or Traffic Circle

Birmingham has two cathedrals both gems of their type. The Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad is a little out of the immediate city centre but we could easily walk there. How many times did we remark to each – “Car is King in Birmingham”? Pedestrians must wait at lights, use underpasses and walkways and over-road links. The RC Cathedral appeared to be sited in the middle of the road. Access is not easy. However, we made it safely through its doors on Monday morning and into another world. A world of peace and calm and of glorious art. No photography was allowed but I had already taken this one before I saw the sign.

St Chad's

The Nave, St Chad’s Cathedral

A significant stopping-off point on Birmingham’s Pugin Trail the Cathedral was the first Roman Catholic Cathedral to built in the UK since the Reformation. The superb original internal decorations and fittings were made by skilled craftsmen re-introducing skills of the Medieval era.  John Hardman plate and windows; Herbert Minton tiles; William Warrington chancel window. Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin also supplied original Medieval furnishings from his own collection including the stalls and pulpit. His rood screen was removed in 1967.

Only after dropping in to St Philip’s Cathedral on Sunday afternoon and deciding to stay for Evensong – more members of the choir than members of the congregation and followed by a brief organ recital – did I read this suggestion in my LV City Guide 2012 Birmingham, London, Dublin :

Birmingham Cathedral

St Philip’s Cathedral [source]

Sunday in Birmingham : Attend a service in 18th century Birmingham Cathedral which has a number of stained glass windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones. Colmore Row.”


Old Joint Stock Bar [source]

Opposite the Cathedral is the famous Birmingham pub The Old Joint Stock Pub and Theatre. Just a few paces from the Cathedral we decided to pay a visit. Unfortunately the theatre wasn’t open that evening but the island bar was impressive. Also from my LV Guide :


Julius Alfred Chatwin was primarily a designer of Birmingham churches … But there were exceptions to his church work and the opulent interiors of the Old Joint Stock, opposite St Philip’s Cathedral (in which he had a hand), showed that he could be moved to great things in the temporal sphere as well. Completed in 1864, the building first belonged to the Birmingham Joint Stock Bank. It was converted into a pub in 1997. Under a glass domed ceiling, beside an island bar and with sumptuous interiors, this is one of the grandest pubs in the city. Upstairs is an 80-seat theatre, minimalist in decor, but the sort of facility few pubs can shout about.

ET ad

ET Mural

Tea Room Mural

On Monday we returned to The Art Gallery to the highly recommended Edwardian Tea Room for a light lunch before heading to our raison de visite The Library of Birmingham.

Few other tea rooms in the world can boast a stellar gathering as was here under the ornate ceiling and glass canopy in May 1998. The G8 Summit was being held in the city and for a short time a group that included Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair (and their interpreters) sat around a table commissioned from David Linley for the occasion, surrounded by a pick of the museum’s Pre-Raphaelite paintings hung here especially for the event. Even without the table and the paintings, The Edwardian Tea Room is still a grand setting for tea, coffee, snacks and lunches.” [LV Guide]

Wedding Cake

The Library Building Decorated on the Exterior to Represent Rings and Birmingham’s Jewellery Heritage

The Giant Wedding Cake, as the library is affectionately known, offers pre-bookable guided  tours to the building and its contents on Mondays at 2.15.  The building was officially opened by Malala Yousafzai in September 2013.

We took the glass lift up to the 9th floor from where we had long-reaching views of the city  and beyond from the Skyline Viewpoint. Also on the ninth floor is the Shakespeare Memorial Room.


Shakespeare in his Memorial Room

“This original feature from the city’s Victorian library was designed by John Henry Chamberlain in 1882. Since then
it has changed home twice, moving to Central Library when it was built in the early 1970s, and to the Library of Birmingham almost forty years later. It originally housed the Birmingham Shakespeare Library, which is still available at the Library of Birmingham. The Room is wood panelled with glass printed shelves inspired by the Elizabethan age with carvings, marquetry and metalwork representing birds, flowers and foliage. The woodwork is by noted woodcarver Mr Barfield, and the brass and metal work is most likely crafted by Hardmans. The Shakespeare Memorial Room has been painstakingly reconstructed by local craftsmen A. Edmonds & Co. Ltd and the Victorian Cornice Company whorestored the elaborate ceiling. The books and memorabilia you see on the shelves are interesting items from the Library’s general collections (the Shakespeare collection outgrew the room as early as 1906).” [source]

70s library

The old Central Library seen through the rings

We then descended floor by floor visiting two gardens on our way down including the Secret Garden and The Discovery Terrace.

secret garden

The Secret Garden on the Seventh Floor

Lift and escalators

Looking down into the Library and the Book Rotunda

Book Rotunda

The Book Rotunda – Shades of The British Museum and Waterstones Book Shops

Children's Library

The Book Browse Fiction Library

Here is a Library buzzing with enthusiasm and offering its readers so much more than books (although I’d be happy with just the books). The What’s On programme that I picked up lists Exhibitions (we visited The Voices of War during our tour), Films, Music, Activities, Performances, Dance, Poetry and Workshops. Lucky Birmingham to have this facility in the heart of the city I hope the citizens make good use of it and what it offers.

Despite a packed two days and two half days we  are sure that there are many more Birmingham gems still to be visited!

Birmingham Architectural, Historical and Modern Gems, 1

Birmingham’s rapid expansion from the mid-18th century into a major centre for the metalworking industry earned it the title of ‘the workshop of the world’. Just outside the heart of the city, the Jewellery Quarter became a close-knit neighbourhood, where a great variety of specialist trades concentrated on the production of jewellery, silverware and small metalware.

Jewellery Mus

The Anchor is the Birmingham Assay Office Mark

In the Jewellery Quarter Museum I learned some interesting facts about the work carried out in the area. There’s a small exhibition and display to whet one’s appetite before the ‘jewel in the crown’ tour of the Museum.

– Birmingham is one of only four cities in the UK which has an Assay Office and on its first working day, August 31st, 1773 the office hallmarked about 200 articles. On its busiest day ever recorded (they don’t say which day that was) the office achieved the hallmarking of 100,000 articles!

– Most gold articles are not made from pure gold. It is too soft and expensive and is mixed (alloyed) with other metals to increase its strength.

– A single gram of gold can be beaten into a sheet of one square metre.

– Coins, clocks, trophies, tableware were shipped all over the globe. By 1914 Birmingham was supplying the world with 28 million pen nibs PER WEEK! And during both World Wars manufacture was given over to medals and munitions.

– Birmingham’s increasing prosperity was largely built on its emergence as the very centre of the British button trade. From the earliest 18th century gilt buttons to the Victorian mother-of-pearls, buttons remain as popular as ever and as fastenings and as decoration.

Christmas decs

Jewellery Christmas Decorations

All very interesting but the highlight was yet to come. A group of us assembled for the tour. I hadn’t studied the website or literature so was not aware quite what was to come! I’d expected examples of valuable jewels and other products of historical significance. But what we got was amazing :

When the proprietors of the Smith & Pepper jewellery manufacturing firm decided to retire in 1981 they ceased trading and locked the door, unaware they would be leaving a time capsule for future generations. Tools were left strewn on benches; grubby overalls were hung on the coat hooks; and dirty teacups were abandoned. Today the factory is a remarkable museum which tells the story of the Jewellery Quarter.” [Art Fund Guide]

Factory skylight

The factory skylight, white walls of the neighbouring building reflect the light and the whole squeezed into a rear yard

We saw the offices, the workshop and work benches, the kitchen shared with the potassium cyanide store (looks just like sugar!!). Every single fleck of gold dust was to be saved and reused – this was a Brylcreme-free zone and no turn-ups were allowed. All dust was saved and checked. Overalls and shoes had to be changed. And the noise must have been horrendous. We had each noise source demonstrated separately but what the combination was like is unimaginable. Dangerous and unguarded sharp and heavy tools were a threat to life and limb. The whole was a Health and Safety Officer’s nightmare. I heartily recommend a visit.

work area

The Factory

work bench

A Work Bench


Notice on the Office Door

Order book

Page from the Order Book

tea tray

Tea and Cyanide, anyone?

But the jewels and gems of Birmingham don’t stop in the Jewellery Quarter …