Bloomsbury and Beyond : The Radev Collection in Cumbria

Abbot Hall Gallery

The Abbot Hall Gallery, Kendal

Today I went on a Yorkshire Branch of The Art Fund trip over to Cumbria. Our main intention was to view The Radev Collection at Kendal’s Abbot Hall Art Gallery. We travelled to Kendal by coach from Leeds picking up in Ilkley and Gargrave on the way. The first stop was for lunch at the Strickland Arms just by the gates to Sizergh Castle. We arrived way ahead of schedule so some members went to view the exterior of the Castle (it doesn’t open until 1pm) but I remembered the nearby Low Sizergh Farm Shop and took my companion for a brisk walk and some retail therapy in the well-stocked deli.

At Low Sizergh Farm Shop

Welcome to The Farm Shop

After the soup and sandwich lunch we headed off for nearby Abbot Hall where the curator was ready and waiting to tell us about the Radev Collection and point out some of the highlights.

Inside Strickland Arms

Inside The Strickland Arms

The Radev Collection

The collection takes it name from Mattei Radev, a native of Bulagria who arrived in Britain in the 1950s as a stowaway on a cargo ship after fleeing from communism.

Radev went on to build a new life in England, becoming a leading picture framer for the London Galleries and mixing in the influential Bloomsbury circle which included writers, philosophers and artists, such as Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster.

He inherited most of the works from his friend the artist-dealer Eardley Knollys, who had in turn inherited them from music critic Eddy Sackville-West, following his death in 1965.

The impressive collection includes works by an array of notable artists including Duncan Grant, Alfred Wallis, Ivon Hitchens, Ben Nicholson, Keith Vaughan, Graham Sutherland, Pablo Picasso, Lucien Pissarro and Vanessa Bell.” [Source]

Photography was not allowed in the exhibition but the complete collection can be seen on the Radev Collection website of which 60 were selected for this touring exhibition. I had to be content with a photo from the gallery window.

River Kent from Abbot Hall

The Abbot Hall has an interesting permanent collection which includes a room of works by Kendal-born George Romney including the huge Gower Family in rooms furnished with a collection by local furniture-makers Gillows.

Gower Family

Romney’s The Gower Family

There’s also The Great Picture a magnificent tryptich of Lady Anne Clifford which used to hang in Appleby Castle. Read all about it here.


The Great Picture

Our entry ticket to the Gallery also allowed us to visit The Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry where I’d remembered seeing years ago the display of Arthur Ransome memorabilia, books and prints and his desk. It’s still there.

Ransome's desk

We didn’t have time to inspect all the displays and it was soon time to return to the coach for journey back to Leeds.

Museum of Lakeland life

The Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry

The Pinecone : a Visit to St Mary’s Church, Wreay in Cumbria

Earlier this year I read Jenny Uglow’s latest book “The Pinecone : the story of Sarah Losh, forgotten Romantic heroine – antiquarian, architect and visionary”. I had heard Jenny speaking about the book at the 2012 Ilkley Literature Festival. Sarah Losh’s life and her work are almost totally unknown.

Pinecone book

The village of Wreay lies five miles south of Carlisle. Four country roads meet at the village green, shaded by trees, and across the way is the church. It looks like a small Romanesque chapel from northern Italy. What is it doing in this northern village, with the mountains of the Lake District to the west and the Pennines to the east?”

St Mary's Wreay

This is the premise for the book [on the back cover] and it’s a fascinating tale.  Jenny Uglow first sets the scene by telling the story of Sarah Losh’s antecedents who made money in Newcastle from alkali works and later from iron works and the railways. Sarah was born in 1786 and her sister Katharine, with whom she was especially close, in 1788. Their parents died in 1799 [their mother] and 1814 [their father]. The sisters were brought up in the countryside south of Carlisle but as adults they made several tours on the Continent including to Italy. This must be where Sarah received her inspiration. For women at the time they were very highly educated.

Mortuary Chapel

The Mortuary Chapel Across the Field from the Church

Following the death of their father and their travels on the Continent the Losh sisters returned home and began to make improvements to their home and estate and to the village of Wreay itself including the building of a school. But Katherine fell ill and died in 1835 and Sarah was inconsolable. She then directed her efforts to building a Mortuary Chapel modelled on one she had seen at St Piran in Cornwall.

Peep inside the church

Then Sarah began work on the new church 1835. It was completed in 1845. She declared that it was to be “Not in the Gothick style” but based on a Romanesque design and it is a masterpiece and very obviously the work of one person – the untrained architect and designer – Sarah Losh.

Sarah Losh portrait

Sarah Losh

I can’t go into all the details of both the interior and exterior decoration of the building. It’s a perfect gem – earning four stars in Simon Jenkins’ England’s Thousand Best Churches “This is one of the most eccentric small churches in England … unlike almost all the works in this book, Wreay appears to have been the creation of a single original mind … The Arts and Crafts Movement took half a century to catch up with her.”


The Mausoleum


Dedicated to Katherine Losh

There is a Mausoleum dedicated to her sister and an exact replica of the Bewcastle Cross (the original of which stands by Hadrian’s Wall) alongside the church. The Loshes, including Sarah and Katherine, are buried in a grave enclosure nearby.

Bewcastle Cross

The Bewcastle Cross

Mausoleum and cross and school

The Mausoleum and Cross with the School across the road

Losh sisters' grave

“IN VITA DIVISAE, IN MORTE CONJUNCTAE” – Parted in life, in death united”

I’m lucky to have a friend who lives not far from Wreay. I visited her in Carlisle last year. So last Thursday I took to the Leeds-Settle-Carlisle Line again to visit Wreay Church with June and her husband, David. We were lucky to arrive whilst a group were being shown round and had the good fortune to have access along with them to the small Mausoleum dedicated to Katherine.

Church door

The Ornate Church Door

East end with apse

The East End, with Apse


The Altar

Alabaster font

The Alabaster Font – Carved by Sarah

A pinecone

One of Many Pinecones

So, why the Pinecone? Because it is an ancient symbol of regeneration, fertility and inner enlightenment. It is a promise of rebirth.