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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A Visit to Constable Country

I went to Dedham Vale during the Heritage Weekend, a beautiful part of the Suffolk countryside, and had a tour by a volunteer for the National Trust.  The tour took us round the beautiful village of Flatford and showed us some of the sites painted by John Constable in the early 19th Century.

The very helpful and informative National Trust lady who showed us round.

Although I’ve lived just a short way from this area all my life and have visited the site many times over the years, the tour brought a very different interpretation and understanding than I had experienced before.

Things I never knew:

1.       Constable picked Dedham Vale not because it was beautiful and tranquil but because it was a busy, prosperous and industrious agricultural scene.
2.       Constable made it his trademark to put a ‘bit’ of red in his paintings.
3.       Constable always painted his trees without foliage at the front so you could see the shape of the trunks and branches.
4.       His most famous painting ‘The Haywain’ was originally called ‘Landscape: Noon’, and there has been some argument over the cart itself.  It looks as though it is actually a log ‘wain’ as the gaps in the sides of the cart are too large for hay as it would most likely fall out.

Below are a few photos which I took during the tour with their counterpart paintings by Constable. 

Monday, 24 October 2011

Cardinals, Gatehouses and (No) Masonic Ritual. Ipswich Heritage Weekend. Saturday 10 September 2011.

Last Saturday and Sunday was the Heritage Open Weekend. I generally miss this to take advantage of the big discounts on holidays abroad because the children are back at school.  I usually scowl in jealousy as my friends tell me interesting things about buildings on my doorstep which I’ve never visited as they’re not normally open to the public. However, we’ve decided to take a trip down to Devon later in the year, so I was able to see some of these local treasures.

I started out with a tour round Ipswich School in Henley Road, guided by none other than the wonderful Dr John Blatchly, ex-headmaster of the school, historian and writer – a bit of a hero of mine. We arrived for the ten o’clock tour but so did rather a lot of others (apparently there weren’t many at all at the nine o’clock tour). Never mind, they didn’t stop me getting my money’s worth – even if it was free! I scurried and dodged my way to the front at each room, through the usual bunch of elderly people ambling along with their walking aids, and was able to hear all the details.
As Eton is linked to Oxford University and Winchester School is linked to Cambridge, Cardinal Wolsey proposed to link his school with Christ Church College at Oxford.[1]  That’s the one they used as the basis for the dining hall in Harry Potter! The school was previously situated in the Blackfriars area[2] (down towards the docks) but the current building was built in 1851/2.
Next, we went to Pykenham’s Gatehouse in Northgate Street. I’ve always wanted to have a look up there, you can see it from the steps of the main county library in the town centre but it looks much better from the other side. It was a bit of a climb on tiny little stairs and there wasn’t much room at the top, but what a lovely building.  There was also a good view out of the windows especially looking into the dining room of the prestigious Ipswich and Suffolk club! (I don’t think they’ll be opening their doors to the public any time soon). My friend Linda was volunteering for the day - it’s always nice to have inside information. There was an interesting box containing objects which had been found when the original staircase was discovered – fascinating!

Pykenham’s Gatehouse was built in 1471 for the Archdeacon of Suffolk, William Pykenham. It is now open to the public on the first Saturday of each month between May and October.

Next, we went to the Freemasons Hall, not particularly because of its historical value, but rather that my husband has recently read a couple of Dan Brown novels and is intrigued by all things masonic. He had a field day interrogating the surprisingly friendly and open members of the lodge who answered each and every question in detail.  However, my husband is still convinced that they have wild orgies and sacrificial ceremonies in the temple every third Friday following a full moon.

From there we went to Admiral’s House in Tower Street and the Ipswich Institute and Library, secretly tucked away in Tavern Street, followed by a visit to the Old Customs House, Key Street, on the docks. Unfortunately, only the lower floor was open hosting an exhibition for Ipswich Maritime trust (very good) but we were allowed to climb the steps and get some lovely views of the waterfront.

We finished the day by heading to Isaacs (I’m sure everyone knows where that is!) but were too late to get a demonstration of the machine room but stayed to partake of the brew (or rather a large zinfandel for me and a pint of bountiful for my husband).

Looking forward to next year and all the things I haven’t seen yet.

[1] Ipswich School, p. 17/18
[2] Wikipedia – Ipswich School