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!


Just Walkin’ the Dog in Belsize Park and Blue Plaque Land

Until Saturday the weather had been atrocious and we have been walking out in the wet and wind which is not conducive to photo-taking. But then the weather changed. The sun came out and the sky turned blue and I have managed to capture some local landmarks here in the Swiss Cottage/Belsize Park area of northwest London.

belsize Village

Belsize Village Square

Here is the local “Banksy” but it isn’t a Banksy – read all about it here.


Make Tea not War in Belsize Village

Fire Station

Even the local Fire Station is an Arts and Crafts building. It closed down last year. I expect it will be converted into apartments.

Primrose Hill

Then along with the world and his wife we headed for Primrose Hill summit to study the view, watch the kites and rub noses with other dogs (the dog, not me!).

Primrose Hill view

It’s a pretty impressive view when you get up there.

Regents Park Road

Regents Park Road

One of my favourite streets in London Regents Park Road has everything : bookshop, dress shop, cafes and restaurants, interiors and fabrics shops, bread and patisserie shops and delis. I also heard a lot of French being spoken so seems to be popular with French families.

Engels House

Friedrich Engels [1820-1895], political philosopher, lived here (122 Regents Park Road) from 1870 to 1894

St Mark's Crescent

Two neighbouring plaques in St Mark’s Crescent

On the right, number  11, (pale yellow house) lived Arthur Hugh Clough [1819-1861], poet and author of Persephone Books reprint “Amours de Voyages” from 1854-1859. And in the pale blue painted house with the plaque lived the historian and broadcaster A.J.P. Taylor [1906-1990] from 1955 to 1978. Next door, at the dark grey painted house number 14, is the plaque commemorating William Roberts [1895-1980], artist, who lived, worked and died here 1946-1980.

Regents Canal 2

The Regents Canal

Regents Canal 1

The Regents Canal

23 Fitzroy Road

23 Fitzroy Road, the green painted house near the middle of this row, was the home of W.B. Yeats [1865-1939] Irish dramatist and poet. It was also the house where, on 11 February 1963, the American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath [1932-1963] apparently took her own life. There is no plaque to explain this. Her plaque is attached to the nearby house at 3, Chalcot Square where she had lived from 1960 to 1961.

War Memorial Primrose Hill

War Memorial by St Mary’s R.C. Church, Primrose Hill

Swiss Cottage

And here is Ye Olde Swiss Cottage itself

Welcome to Lustleigh : A Short Tour of the Village – The Church, The Green and Wreyland

Walk Map

A Walk Around Lustleigh Map

Last week I was staying in deepest Devon in the lovely village of Lustleigh on the edge of Dartmoor but within the boundary of the Dartmoor National Park. In addition to everything listed on the walk leaflet there is an excellent community shop called The Dairy. It houses the Post Office (open 9-1 each weekday) and itself is open every day including Sunday. Come with me on a walk through Lustleigh …

Starting at the village centre, outside the Church.

Lustleigh Church

1. Church of St John the Baptist: built in the 12th century on a Celtic site. Inside see the raised Celtic stone and the beautiful rood screen.

The nave

The Nave with Rood Screen, Barrel Roof and Carved Pew Ends

Celtic stone

The Raised Celtic Stone

[This ancient stone was removed from the position in the paving below the inner doorway of the church porch in 1979 in order to preserve it from further wear. It belongs within a well-recognised series of commemorative stones erected in the post-Roman period between about AD450 and AD600. The inscription probably read ‘DATUIDOCI CONHINOCI FILIUS’ – the stone Datuidoci the son of Conhinoci’.]

Carved pew end

Carved Pew End

Rood screen

Rood Screen and Carved Pulpit

2. The Old Vestry: originally a school (see tablet on wall above the door). Now used for church choir rehearsals, parish council meetings and by the Lustleigh Society for the Community Archive.

Old Vestry

The Old Vestry


Tablet on The Old Vestry

3. Church House: built around the 14th century. It was once a centre for village social activities, later became a Poor House and then a Reading Room.

Church House

Church House

4. The Cleave Hotel: originally an old farm “Gatehouse” and became a public house in the 19th century.

The Cleave

The Cleave Public House

5. Tudor Cross on the village green. Made of stone with a Maltese Cross head and chamfered shaft on an octagonal base. Erected in memory of Rector Henry Tudor (1888-1904). Nearby was the site of the village pump. Only the granite trough remains.

Tudor Cross

Tudor Cross

6. Cottages around the green: In the mid 19th century many were shops and one a Post Office. Primrose Cottage [tea rooms] was built in 1940 on the site of a hardware shop.

Primrose Tea Rooms

Primrose Tea Rooms

7. Old Gospel Hall: formerly used for worship by the Plymouth Brethren.

Baptist Chapel

The Old Gospel Hall and Wrey Brook

8. Wreyland: Approached from under the railway bridge Wreyland (or Wrayland) is a small hamlet that was part of the parish of Bovey Tracey until 1957. The Wrey Brook being the boundary between Lustleigh and Bovey. The thatched cottage on the left, known as Wreyland Manor, was where early manorial courts were held. Cecil Torr’s family owned properties here, including Yonder Wreyland where “Small Talk at Wreyland” was written.

Wreyland Manor

Wreyland Manor

Yonder Wreyland

Yonder Wreyland

Small Talk at Wreyland

Small Talk at Wreyland

The Ramblers’ Church, Lead, North Yorkshire


Ramblers leaving the Ramblers’ Church

“Since being rescued by a group of walkers in 1931, St Mary’s has been known as the Ramblers’ Church. The repairs made then are recorded on the back of the church door.

Back of the door at Lead

The church stands alone in the middle of a field filled with the bumps and furrows of earthworks that indicate the site of a Medieval manor house, for which St Mary’s was probably originally the chapel.

In the middle of a field

Nearby is Towton, the site of the War of the Roses battle, believed to be bloodiest in English history which brought the Wars of the Roses to an end in 1461.

Battle of Towton

Battle of Towton Information Board, Crooked Billet Pub, Lead, North Yorkshire

Ten thousand men are said to have been killed, and Cock Beck, the little stream which you cross to get to St Mary’s, is said to have run red with blood. 

Cock Beck

Cock Beck

You can find monuments to crusading knights in this tiny 14th-century church.

Despite its awesome history, St Mary’s is a peaceful place. The tiny rectangular building is very simple. It was probably built by the Tyas family, whose massive grave slabs are set into the floor.

Massive grave slabs

The massive grave slabs

Carved with heraldic symbols and inscriptions, and dating from the 13th-century, they are an important and interesting collection.

Pulpit and altar

Pulpit, Clerk’s Pew and Reading Desk and Altar

Later additions were made to the church in the 18th-century, with a rustic pulpit, clerk’s pew, reading desk and painted texts.”

From the Churches Conservation Trust website.

Interior St Mary's Lead

Interior of the Ramblers’ Church

Richard III wondow

Window behind the Altar paid for by the Richard III Society – topical!

Today I have been out in the Yorkshire countryside. Weekday Wanderers headed east of Leeds to the flat countryside between Leeds and York. Flat but not uninteresting. Parking in Aberford we crossed the A1M by footbridge and eventually after a while left the noise of the highway behind and crossed fields and followed easy tracks on a circular walk that included a ‘castle’, a village, two churches and two pubs. We stopped at one of the pubs for our picnic lunch and had a look at one of the churches – St Mary’s, Lead, The Ramblers’ Church. We were not quite on the Battlefield of Towton, mentioned above, but we did return to the cars alongside Cock Beck. The perfect winter ramble.

The ‘castle’ was Hazlewood Castle now a very popular luxury hotel and wedding venue. Originally owned and lived in by the Vavasour family from 1971 until 1996 it was a Carmelite Friars’ retreat and opened as a hotel in 1997.

Hazelwood Castle

Hazlewood Castle

Saxton Church

All Saints Church, Saxton

The Greyhound, Saxton

The Greyhound Pub at Saxton

Crooked Billet

The Crooked Billet Pub, Lead near Saxton North Yorkshire

Muddy boots welcome

Muddy boots welcome! The sign of a good pub!