Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery

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For many of us, Sunday can too easily turn into the day before we go back to work rather than part of our well-deserved weekend. Thoughts can turn to preparing for the week ahead and the list of tasks that await us on Monday and the days that follow. Even if we like our jobs, we can do without the tendrils of toil creeping into our free time. Does this scenario sound familiar to you too? I decided that in 2019 I will reclaim Sundays – grab them back from the looming presence of the working week.

I use public transport which is significantly reduced on Sundays so travel can be difficult, wasteful of time and sometimes more trouble than it’s worth. I’ve set myself a few Sunday Rules to make sure I don’t end up wishing I’d stayed at home instead.

1. Sunday is about relaxation and indulgence rather than adventure

2. Easy one-stage journeys. No connections.

3. No early starts to cram in as much as I can.

Today I took the train to Liverpool to look at some art. The Walker Gallery is in the city’s cultural quarter, a very short walk from Lime Street station. I like to wander round and look at my favourite paintings, sometimes sitting for ages and noticing details which I hadn’t spotted before. Today I went to see a new exhibition.

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I love the art of Glasgow Style, in particular the designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Having visited the Kelvingrove Art Gallery a few months ago I was thrilled to  read that some of those exhibits and others on loan from some private collectors would be shown at the Walker. Admission to the exhibition was ( I thought) expensive at £10, but there were some exquisite items of furniture, ceramics and glassware which I hadn’t seen before. Permission for photography is still pending from two of the contributors, so unfortunately I can’t share any images here. It is hoped that the permissions will be granted before the exhibition ends in August. You can read about my visit to Kelvingrove Gallery here.

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Another important collection is attracting lots of visitors at the Walker: the drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci. I have to confess at this point that I’m not enraptured by these sketches. I saw a similar exhibition in Manchester a decade ago on a much smaller scale, and although they are undoubtedly very detailed and impressive, I wonder if the excitement is perhaps due to the status of the artist rather than the works themselves. As I was on site I decided to take a look. It was difficult to take photographs due to reflections.

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My favourite: The head of Leda, circa 1505

After Da Vinci I went into my favourite room which hosts an eclectic mix by British artists from 1800 to 1950. Here are a few I like best.

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Mother and Child, 1938:  Ceri Richards

This abstract cross between sculpture and painting depicts a gentle kiss between mother and child. I love the simplicity of this construction. A perfect image for Mothering Sunday.

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The Waterloo Dock, Liverpool, 1962: LS Lowry

In this painting the water of the river Mersey is white and difficult to distinguish from the snowy ground. It gives the impression of somewhere much colder, perhaps eastern-Europe of the time.

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The Liver Buildings, Liverpool, 1950: LS Lowry.

Like the Waterloo Dock painting, this looks like a wintry scene. The Liverpool waterfront fades into a soft backdrop to the bolder and disproportionately sized plethora of boats. This is one of my favourite Lowry paintings.

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The Fever Van, 1935. LS Lowry.

The ‘Fever Van’ of the title is  the ambulance which has come for a victim of diphtheria, scarlet fever or one of the other contagious and often fatal diseases prevalent in Salford at the time

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Mrs Mounter, 1916: Harold Gilman

Mrs Mounter was Gilman’s cleaning lady as well as his muse. I love the colour in this painting including the wallpaper panel in the background. I like the ordinariness  of Mrs Mounter’s expressive face.

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The Bathers, 1948: Bernard Meninsky

I’m not familiar with Russian born artist Meninksy’s work apart from this one glorious painting. I love the sheer abandonment with which these women head across the beach to the water’s edge.

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Interior at Paddington, 1950-51: Lucian Freud

The grandson of psychologist Sigmund Freud, Lucian Freud painted this for the Festival of Britain in 1951, a showcase for new British talent. The subject is Freud’s friend, Harry Diamond. He seems to be retreating into the alcove, unsettled by the quite sinister-looking plant. Very Freudian!

After feasting my eyes on works of art I treated my taste buds to a delicious hummus salad wrap and bottle of Dandelion & Burdock in the Walker cafeteria before strolling in the sunshine back to the station. Sunday Rules work for me. Have good week!

 

 

 

Exploring Castle Hill, Lancaster

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I spent yesterday afternoon in Lancaster, one of the most historic locations in the north of England. It’s a small city which has held onto its medieval character, and though it has the usual high street names within its town centre arcades, it has avoided the towering presences of high rises and industry. The only towers in Lancaster belong to the churches and the Castle.

Lancaster Castle sits on a hill overlooking the city, a key strategic position of power. Almost 2000 years ago, the Romans settled their first garrison in a perfect spot to keep an eye on the Scots and Picts to the north, and to have access to the river Lune and from there to the sea.

The current grade 1 listed building dates back a thousand years to the Normans, though the structure has been changed many times over the centuries. Until  2011 Lancaster Castle was still in use as a prison. The notice remains in place near to the ancient door, and barbed wire is still intact on the ramparts.

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English monarchs, entitled as Dukes of Lancaster, have owned the Castle since 1265.

The Castle offers fascinating guided tours; a chance to visit the damp dark cellars where the dingy cell walls display the centuries-old scrawlings of prisoners awaiting their fates. Amongst those imprisoned and later executed in turbulent and intolerant times were the Lancashire witches and 15 Catholic priests. Many ordinary Lancastrians were also tried at Lancaster. There were over 200 executions at the site known as hanging hill close to the Ashton Memorial at Williamson Park. You can read about my visit there if you click here  . A Castle tour wasn’t on yesterday’s agenda for me, but based on previous experiences I can recommend it.

Despite the blue sky and the bright sun it was windy and quite nippy on the hill so I was glad to head for the warmth of the Priory Church which is just behind the Castle. I admired the swaying congregations of spring flowers in the Church grounds.

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If I were a betting woman, I would have wagered that if there was just one day in the week when a church would be open, it would be Sunday. Not so. Incredibly, the doors to the splendid ancient building were bolted shut. I was disappointed not to see some of my favourite misericords, and to gain some temporary respite from the chill. I grumbled for a few minutes with another thwarted visitor before taking a turn around the grounds.

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On a bright day you can see the sea from the wall.
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Looking down from the Priory grounds beyond the Georgian houses and over the city, with the Cathedral spire and the Ashton Memorial in the distance.

I noticed a sign pointing to the remains of the Roman bath house and decided the follow the path alongside the burial ground.

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You can see the posts which would have supported the bath house floor, kept warm by under-floor heating. This is believed to be what remains of the the last of three Roman settlements in Lancaster.

From the ruins, I headed back up the east side of the hill and back to the Castle grounds to seek out my next destination.

 

 

On the way I passed the former premises of Gillow & Co, cabinet makers, founded in 1727 by Robert Gillow who had started out as an apprentice joiner. Some fine examples of Gillow workmanship were on display where I was headed next.

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Lancaster Judges’ Lodgings is the city’s oldest town house. It was originally home to Thomas Covell, Castle Keeper and notorious witch-hunter. From 1776 it was used as a residence for judges attending the assize courts at Lancaster three times each year as part of their circuit of the northern counties. It continued to provide accommodation for the judiciary until as recently as 1975. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was usual for two judges to be in residence along with their families and even their servants.

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The building is now a museum with the first two floors reconstructed authentically. Below, we see His Honour getting ready to leave for work at the Castle Court.

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Some of the furniture in this room was produced by Gillow & Co.

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This is a very small museum and there was a member of staff in almost every room available to answer questions if visitors were to approach them, though there was little in the way of information displays.

The building’s top floor houses the Museum of Childhood, rather incongruously, I thought. Not staffed, and very different in tone and content to the two lower floors, it felt as though there had been a left-over space that ought to be made use of. To my mind, it would have been ideal for exhibits relating to some of the cases that the judges would have tried, and for information about the assize courts system, trial and punishment throughout the ages.

Instead, there were several showcases of toys from the Victorian era up to the 1980s including some of the most sinister dolls imaginable. The lighting was poor throughout, so the photos are not the best.

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Humpty Dumpty – not like the jolly character in my Ladybird book

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The teddy looks desperate to be rescued.

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Some of this bizarre collection of curiosities and horrors on the judges’ top floor looks more like the stuff of childhood nightmares, but I’ll leave that judgement to you.