The Eccentric Aristocrat: Sir Tatton Sykes, 4th Baronet.

As you travel on the B1252 to Driffield in East Yorkshire, you may notice ahead of you a strange spire thrusting skywards. Is it a steeple? No, too slender. Is it some piece of machinery, agricultural or otherwise? No, that’s just … wrong.

The Sledmere Monument, a first glance.

Then suddenly, you’re upon it – it’s there, at the side of the road, a needle-sharp column rising some 120 feet towards the heavens. You get out. You read the story. And then you come home and find out more about the extraordinary man whose life is commemorated in this memorial.

The Sledmere Monument: a second glance.

Sir Tatton Sykes was born in 1772: and he chose to wear 18th century dress all his life. He lived on the 34,000 acres of the family seat of Sledmere House, the largest estate in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The Sykes family was one that thought little of building an entire village – Sledmere – to support it, or of hiring the most noted landscape designer of the age, Capability Brown, to transform its parkland. They employed the foremost designers, plasterers and architects of the period to fashion the house itself. They were rich, energetic, resourceful … and eccentric. You can read all about it here.

Sledmere House (geograph.co.uk)

Sir Tatton grew up to be an informed and intelligent sheep breeder, but his first love was horse racing. Apparently he even sold a copy of the Gutenberg Bible to support his stables and foxhounds. In the unlikely event that a copy of this book came onto the market today, it would probably sell for between $25 million and $35 million.

He’d travel miles on horseback – or even on foot – to see a horse race. He’d even be found riding the winning horse himself. He bred horses – some 200 at a time, and held quality stock, paying 3000 guineas for one particularly fine animal.

 

So far, so fairly normal for an upper class English eccentric. But here is a man who was also a bare-knuckle fighter; a man who’d roll up his shirtsleeves and work alongside his labourers, earning their admiration and respect. He noticed the grass growing more lushly where his foxhounds buried their bones, put two and two together, and invented … bonemeal.He didn’t marry till he was fifty, but then he went on to have eight children, seven of whom lived, before he finally died aged ninety.

Some 3000 people, rich and poor came to his funeral. And it was some of these people who came up with the idea for this monument. It comes complete with keeper’s cottage (Job? Keep the place in order, and conduct visitors up the presumably horribly narrow stairs to the viewing room at the top).

Sir Tatton Sykes, as shown on his monument.

‘To tenants he was a liberal landlord, to the poor a kind and considerate friend’, it says on the information board by the monument. Not a bad epitaph.

Virtual Vermeer

I spent a lot of 2018 being angry: most of you know why – the ‘B’ word. While our rage motivated us to take action and become more politically engaged than we’ve ever been in our lives, we were also probably largely impotent to effect change.

So in 2019, I at least am going to look after myself a bit more. How about spending a bit of time with Vermeer, that supreme documenter of everyday life among the Dutch merchant classes of the seventeenth century? He takes us into comfortable homes, and shows us simple moments of domestic life: a woman playing the lute, a servant patiently pouring milk. He shows their faces, expressive and full of inner light and makes us wonder about them and their thoughts.  He makes the ordinary extraordinary.

Maid pouring milk: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

I’m revisiting Vermeer and his work thanks to an exhibition curated by the Mauritshuis.  No, I’ve not been to den Haag to visit this museum since about 1970.  But in a pioneering project with Google, it has brought together every surviving Vermeer painting for the first time and exhibited them on-line.

Here, I’ve been enjoying looking again at all his work.  I can examine any individual work in great detail, or consider recurrent themes that Vermeer returns to: paintings within the painting: musical instruments; maps…. I can read articles about his technique, his influence on pop art…. I can lose myself for as long as I wish in his world, and return as often as I want to.

Sadly, neither my computer nor my phone are as state-of-the-art as they could be to get the most out of all the features offered.  But I’m happy enough.  While I’m in the company of a young lady playing her virginal, observing a tired maid snatching a quiet moment’s sleep, a young woman making lace, or a reflective astronomer  I’m not engaged in twenty-first century life for a while.

And that’s all to the good.  Happy New Year!

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “Virtual Vermeer”

Taking my new camera for a walk

Father Christmas came early.  Three months without a camera was enough, he reckoned.  He lacked a beard and red clothing, and looked remarkably like Malcolm, but he helped me choose, provided the credit card and carried the new camera home for me.

We trialled it on Sunday.  The grounds of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal is familiar territory, but reliably photogenic.

A misty morning over the Moon Ponds.

Even at ten o’clock, there was still mist rising from the Moon Ponds.  And even though the view from Surprise View is no longer surprising, it’s none the worse for that.

A distant view of Fountains Abbey from the High Ride, Studley Royal

But look!  This is what we spotted in a distant meadow.  Time to put the zoom lens through its paces.  Aren’t these deer magnificent?

Later, we passed the fine Elizabethan Fountains Hall.  It was fun to contrast the view of the house itself with the version spotted in a puddle we passed.

A good walk, and it’s good to have a camera once more.

Back in the valley, a less distant view of the Abbey.

As usual, click on any image to view it full size.

I enjoy Jo’s Monday Walks, and browsing through the posts of some of those who contribute too.  So I thought I’d join in the fun.  Yes, I know it’s Tuesday…..

Fields of mud – seeds of hope

Citizens of Ripon and beyond have been calling into the cathedral as often as they could over the last few weeks.  Not necessarily to view this ancient building, or even to spend quiet moments reflecting.  Perhaps not even to view the poppies which are here, as they are throughout the city centre.

We’ve all been visiting the Fields of Mud  in the Cathedral itself.  Back in early October, that’s all we could see.  A large brown rectangle of damp mud, surrounded by sandbags.  This mud is from Passchendaele, and from a Great War military camp in Ripon. As, over the weeks, the wet earth dried and cracked, five ghostly, battle weary figures slowly emerged on the surface.

This image, exhibited in the Cathedral, is a print projecting the final appearance of the piece.

There are millions of ungerminated poppy seeds lying dormant in that mud.  When the piece is decommissioned later this month, it will be broken up and segments will be made available to the public to create their own memorials.  This work’s legacy can continue indefinitely.

This astonishingly moving and evocative piece is the inspiration of Dan Metcalfe: his farming background has given him an understanding of mud.  It’s disagreeable, destructive and even dangerous, as every WWI tommy well knew. But it also harbours seeds, waiting to flourish and grow when conditions are right .

Now the figures are fully visible, as the mud which surrounds them has dried out.  And so we can see that these are the same figures that have appeared round town, near North Bridge and the Cathedral itself, at Hell Wath and Rotary Way: and in nearby Sharow, where the British Legion home for former service personnel used to be.  These soldiers, and a nurse appear as silhouettes, made from rusted metal, and they are trudging home, their backs to the conflict and facing the future.

Ripon city has recently made us keenly aware of the sacrifices  made in the Great War.  But the poppies, the Fields of Mud are not the whole story.  Tomorrow, on Remembrance Day, I’ll show you Ripon’s Remembrance Light Show.

Fred and Old Bones trudging home near North Bridge, Ripon. The soldier’s pipe is turned upside down to keep his baccy dry during the inevitable rain. This brilliant image was captured at sunset by Andrew Dobbs. (https://www.andrewdobbs.photo/)

Click on any image to see it full size.

Castle Howard

The weather is far too glorious to sit inside reading and writing blog posts. Let’s just go for a walk round the grounds of Castle Howard, which everyone of my generation knows as the star of  the 1981 production of Brideshead Revisited on ITV. If you want to know more about the building’s real history, just look here.

For a closer look at any photo, click on the image.

Snapshot Saturday is being replaced by Ragtag Tuesday: watch this space.

London Gasholders

I was in London yesterday, but due to travel back to Yorkshire from King’s Cross when Judith’s blog Beyond the Window Box tumbled into my in-box. She’d been exploring the area round the station, just alongside Regent’s Canal, and found some gasholders…..

As a child, these fascinated me.  Those circular cast iron skeletons, housing storage cylinders which telescoped up and down depending on how much gas they contained were a source of wonder to me.  Though assertively industrial, they were graceful too, rising above the narrow terraced houses and the factories and trades which grew up alongside them. But ‘Gasworks Street’ was nobody’s idea of a smart address.

The King’s Cross gasholders in their workaday world.

How things change.  Gasholders London is a site transformed from its dirty, workaday past into a smart desirable residential quarter.  All but one of the gasholders now contain not gas cylinders, but luxury apartments.  The remaining one has become a small  park with a gleaming reflective canopy with grass beneath.

Nobody seems to want to hide the area’s busy industrial past.  The über-smart shopping quarter, just being developed on the site of the cobbled streets and railway sidings where coal from the North of England was received and sorted is called Coal Drops Yard.

Gasholders London, seen from the Regent’s Canal.

Round here, if you need to know the price, you can’t afford it.  A hundred and fifty years of dramatic social change.

Click on any image for a closer view.

 

Snapshot Saturday: many stories – one cathedral

This week’s pictures hint at two or more stories: at that of the life of Jesus, from whose life and teaching spring one of the world’s great religions. And at the building of La Sagrada FamiliaAntoni Gaudí’s cathedral celebrating Jesus’ family, created by thousands of craftspeople with special stories to tell, gathered over the last 136 years …. maybe only another eight or so to go.

 

 

 

‘Story’ is this week’s WordPress photo challenge.  Click on any image to view full size.