Girvan is a pretty seaside town in the west coast of Scotland where I spent a happy summer holiday once when I was wee. I revisited it this summer, and was surprised how much of it I could remember (and was delighted to see that the little aviary and gardens called Knockcushan park were still there).
I did not know of the history of the gardens, this must have passed me by last time as I was looking at the animals and birds when I was ten! That said, I do attribute my career choices to the fact that I was always taken to historic places and used to enjoy spending time looking at castles and drawing things related to my holidays… if blogs had been about then no doubt the very tattered scrapbook I made would have been digital with scanned copies of tickets.
Summer seems so long ago now, with Christmas almost here, so this is a very unconventional advent calendar entry indeed for December 10th although you can consider the character of a place at any time of year!
Girvan has a wonderful view of Ailsa Craig, which is famous for its special seabird colony and also for being used to create curling stones (see gallery above, and for photos of these see my Partick curling club photos) The Glasgow 2014 baton also features a special Ailsa Craig “gemstones” in the puzzle mechanism, an exciting Commonwealth Games link for the area.
To me, Girvan has fantastic seaside memories; parrots in the park, boating pond outings, beach sandcastle building, chips munching, 2p fruit machines (although I think they may have been 1p then?!?), big high street with shops selling buckets and spades and postcards, lovely colourful harbour, seagulls and other birds along the pier wall.. Girvan rocks!
What do you think makes up the character of your favourite place?
Previous unconventional advent calendar entries can be found here.
Today’s unconventional advent calendar includes a wonderful story from Blackpool. I loved seeing the little plaque (featured on the calendar), which is from the Winter Gardens, acknowledging the stories as part of the character and history of the building.
Earlier calendar entries are listed in a previous blog post.
This is a short video on the recent art exhibition I had at Gladstone’s Land, Edinburgh. It was filmed by Bad Monkey Films, and shows the installation process, opening night event and a short introduction to the project featuring comments from some of the attendees.
So, this is what part of my studio looks like at the moment after two weeks of research away for my Are You Here Project. I thought I would share it for a bit of fun (I liked the way the printed out photographs all sat nicely together), and also ask how other people who do creative work get inspiration and plan out projects.
Yesterday I made a journey to Hove Library to see the book “Unknown Brighton” which was published in 1926, containing text by George Aitchison and illustrations by Stella Langdale, who is a member of my family tree. I had first heard of this book through the website “Ye Olde Sussex Pages” and a little research using the Brighton and Hove online web catalogue revealed that there was a copy in Hove library.
I had never been to Hove before, yet I “knew” where to find it as I instinctively wandered upstairs and found the local studies room, sought out the Brighton shelves and there it was! I was absolutely delighted to be able to hold the very book in my own hands. It had that well worn appearance, with pages a little fragile and well thumbed. The blue cover and gold embossed lettering was slightly faded and looking to the side one could observe the curved and folded leaves of paper, hiding the treasure within.
Stella did 24 aquatint illustrations for this book, and a number of line drawings which annotate the text at key parts. Even though these were prints of aquatints, it was wonderful to see these as they reveal a little of Stella’s style. The influence of the Glasgow school in her long flowing lines can be seen, particularly within the Pavilion illustration, and elegant use of tone and shadow add to the delight (view more of Stella’s work here, and read my previous posts about my genealogical art journey project here). The words of the book relate to the many sides of Brighton which a visitor may not know about; written in the 1920’s one wonders to what extent the visitor of those times went “of the beaten track” to discover the environment beyond the seafront, aquarium and pavilion. Indeed, many visitors today may do the very same, although the Lanes is of course now well known for shopping and entertainment.
There were a number of references to the development of Brighton as a settlement, and also to several works held in the museum. I ventured to Hove museum as it was nearby, and discovered the very same amber pot which Stella had completed line drawings of! Information panels told me that this pot was “one of Britain’s most important bronze age finds”; for me it is also a great family history find… nose to case with something Stella had seen, and drawn!
On return to town I also went back to the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, seeking out a mug which featured in the book. I knew from a previous visit that it was likely to be part of the Henry Willett collection, as a maritime themed item of pottery (Willett was a local businessman who amassed a huge collection of porcelain and catalogued it into various themes to help people learn about different topics relevant to social history, it was given to Brighton museum in 1903- therefore quite new for the Langdale family and other Brighton residents at the time when Unknown Brighton was written). I scoured the display cases and opened all of the discovery drawers in the room, to no avail. No sailors cup. I did find it on one of the interactive displays, however, so I have “sort of” seen it, and discovered it was made in 1895 by Charles Brennam. Item 324 must be in store!
In the section regarding the Lanes, available on the “Olde Sussex” website two images from this book are shown, one of Black Lion Lane and one of a fig tree. After my amber cup find I was feeling upbeat and thought, yes, I will try and find those views. Chances of finding a random tree in the middle of a busy City Centre? Pretty minimal, but I thought I would try anyway. The Lanes were less busy than the previous few bank holiday sunny days and it had only just stopped raining. The paving was sprinkled with rain and shone in the sun, good exploring territory as only the hardy few would be out and about at this time (late lunch, when those huge bed and breakfast full English-es have worn off and tastebuds start demanding attention again).
Black Lion Lane was easy, I had actually walked down this lane before, and seen the lion (as detailed in a previous post). On thinking about the aquatint, I recreated the view in my minds eye; it was the route from Ship Street to Black Lion Street. The little inshot about halfway up the snickel (as Yorkshire folk would call it, but here my Pevsner guide tells me it is called a twitten) looked familiar, it was on the right hand side of the aquatint therefore must be in that direction. The hanging lantern was long gone, a modern street light was in its place. I took a photo of this and then walked back in the other direction to take another photograph, just to be on the safe side. I marvelled at the crazy pebbled walls, which have now become familiar to me and stroked one appreciatively on the way past. It was shiny and smooth with the passing of many people. I wondered if Stella may have done the same thing.
At the end of the lane I stepped out of the enclosure to the street and into the light of Ship Street, looking back at my find, happily, and pausing to think how interesting it was to actually be walking in the places where my ancestors had been. I peeked across the road. There was another twitten, inviting exploration. I was feeling a little tired and was about to go back through the lane to find a coffee stop, but thought “no, another five minutes won’t hurt”. I walked across the busy street (avoiding the white and teal taxi, whose colours reflect the railings on the promenade) and into the lane. This lane was no ordinary lane. There were buildings on one side and a low wall with gates on the other. Some plants were hanging over the brick wall and some trellis was trying to keep control of a tangle of greenery which appeared to be winning that particular battle. Looking up, I saw bright green leaves with the sun shining through. Slowly it dawned on me that there was something unusual about these leaves. They were a pretty shape and some had fruit. Was this THE tree? Not being the best at botanical studies I doubted my initial judgement, but I took some photographs and thought out loud “how long do fig trees live?”. This was not just any old tree, this was a beautiful tumbling tree, whose branches reached over the wall and spread out happily. Just like the one in Stella’s drawing.
I retired to the 16th Century Cricketers Arms (Brighton’s oldest pub) and had a long lemonade and lime pause. Had I really found the tree? Was this the one in the aquatint? Was this a fig tree or was I just making it up, hoping it was true? I resorted to modern technology; wifi revealed that yes, this was indeed what a fig tree looked like, and yes, it did look remarkably like the one in the aquatint. Ficus said Wikipedia. Ficus religiousa I thought! Not the Bodhi tree, but a little family tree remaining just for me!
The sources of information which I used for this blog post are:
- Aitchison, G (1926) Unknown Brighton (John Lane, The Bodley Head Publishing)
- Antram, N and Morrice, R (2008) Brighton and Hove (Yale Books)
- Brighton Museum information panels and interactive display -the Willett collection
- Brighton and Hove Online Library Catalogue- https://brighton-hove.spydus.co.uk/cgi-bin/spydus.exe/MSGTRN/OPAC/HOME
- Cricketers Arms – information panel
- Hove Museum information panel- the amber cup
- Ye Olde Sussex Pages- The Lanes A History http://yosp.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=517&Itemid=1166&lang=en
- Wikipedia – Ficus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ficus
So, when I was in Bristol I commented on how much I liked my “bike experience” there, and a few people (James Corner and Calmgrove, do check out their blogs) mentioned I should seek out the cycle map. I do indeed rather like it, a 3D view of all of the major cycle routes.
The map is located by the new square, which contains @Bristol and the planetarium; it made me think about the big distances which my family have moved over time, something I am considering for my art project. How did they get where they were going and why did they go there? Where have your family moved to or from? Do you have any exciting genealogical adventures to share?
My bike needs to get out, it is feeling sad attached to the railings where I am staying! I have been walking everywhere here.
Today I went to three museums… the Architecture Centre (well, I would, wouldn’t I.. the planner and conservation-ist in me can’t help it!), Arnolfini and M-Shed. I also wandered along the river and took lots of photographs.
At The Architecture Centre they have an ever changing programme of events and exhibitions, sited in a harbourside building. The current exhibition focuses on what the future of the city could look like, and invites lots and lots of post it note contributions to add ideas to the city map. There are showcases of successful environmental schemes and projects, I was amused and intrigued to see “The Bristol pound”, first of all it looks really aesthetically pleasing, but secondly it is run on the basis of community good and helps support local businesses. Great idea! A small display on “Bristol Opening Doors” was really interesting as it invited people to contribute stories and “favourite buildings”, and also showcased a new app which is a walking trail (available on www.bristolopeningdoors.org ). I enjoyed the illustrations and design of this, and of course the wonderful buildings! I am starting to recognise more and more of the streetscape and landmarks here, and this will help discover more. Chatting briefly to the friendly staff there I also was given a flyer for a website called “Know Your Place: Learning and Sharing Information about Historic Bristol”, run by English Heritage and Bristol City Council. I am looking forward to exploring this properly, as yesterday (on my visit to the City Art Gallery and Museum) I was fascinated with the historic maps… this site lets you overlay and integrate different maps from various eras. Oooh! Just what I am after, as I can spot the places where my ancestors lived. Ideal for “Are You Here” research!
This was my first visit to Arnolfini, I have walked past it many times but always en route to somewhere else or whizzing past on my bike. I enjoyed the Susanne Kriemann’s Modelling (Construction School) exhibition, it brings a little of an “art- planning- environment” discussion into a contemporary art environment. The photographs of quarries were quite spectacular, many of the works are designed to provoke discussion on archives, and also problem solving in design education.
M-Shed could keep me amused for hours, it is full of all sorts of historical bits and pieces, I really did get lost in history. Interestingly for me, there was a whole section on Bristol people and families, saying “it’s important to know where you’ve come from so that you know where you’re going”… the question was posed “why did you leave?”.
In the case of my family I suspect it was for work as it would have to be a fairly major reason such as this to move to the opposite end of the country. There are themed galleries at M-Shed, Bristol people, Bristol life, Bristol places (and a special exhibition, currently on chocolate!), all of them have real objects to explore, some thought provoking interactive displays (I loved the one on “what makes a Bristolian”.. very funny mixtures of answers come out of that!), video and multimedia and also lots of transport to explore. No “please keep off” signs here. I am even starting to recognise the different Bristol districts, having passed through them by bike or bus at various points of my several visits over the years, it is nice to recognise things in a “technically not home” city! M-shed cafe is worth a visit, local produce, family friendly, vegan friendly and lovely views.
Oh, and did I mention the view from the roof terrace….