A Heavyweight at Harewood House

Harewood House is the archetypical country house. Built for Edward Lascelles, the first Baron Harewood, in the mid eighteenth century to designs by John Carr and Robert Adam, it is set in one hundred acres of garden designed by Capability Brown. It’s among Yorkshire’s most prized treasures. These days, such treasure has lost some of its lustre as people remember that the Harewood family acquired their immense wealth from being slave owners and having plantations in West India. The present Harewood family can’t change that past, but their exhibition programme does what it can to redress the balance: this month there’s an exhibition on Windrush generation Arthur France, founder of Leeds West Indian Carnival.

I mention this, because as you enter the house, this is what you see:

A spacious and gracious entrance hall: delicate plaster work, elegant columns: and slap bang in the centre, a mighty sculpture, monumental, assertive and demanding attention. This figure isn’t a slave: he’s not even Afro-Caribbean. No, this is a sculpture by Jacob Epstein, who was greatly influenced by what was in the early twentieth century thought of as ‘primitive’ art – that of Polynesia and Africa. This is Adam.

How he got here is a curious tale. Back in 1961 the then Lord Harewood saw this sculpture in of all places, a Tussaud’s peep show in Blackpool, together with other works by Epstein. A long and complicated story, but he eventually bought it, and now it’s recognised for the stirring and monumental piece that it is, rather than a grotesque to be laughed at. Do look at this post here to get a flavour of how Epstein’s work was regarded in its early days, at least as it was displayed in Blackpool. The short video below however places Adam in the context of Harewood House.

I wanted, for this week’s Lens-Artist Challenge #220 One Subject Three Ways by Patti, to observe Adam in several ways, to look at how this potent figure works in a space to which it seems in many ways unsuited. I found the lighting difficult and am not pleased with my results, but … I did it anyway. You’ve seen the first one already. Here are more…

So … Adam. But knowing the story of Harewood and where the money came from to build it, I found this figure, which relies on an African, rather than an European artistic heritage, makes a powerful statement to those who enter this house to enjoy its treasures and its finely proportioned and handsome grandeur.

I’m going to have another go at the challenge, perhaps tomorrow, when I take a stroll in the artfully designed ‘natural’ landscape of Harewood House.

‘Except ye Lord keep ye Cittie, ye Wakeman waketh in vain’ revisited

Ten years ago today, long before we imagined we’d one day be living here, we were having a short break from our lives in France here in Ripon. And this is what we saw…

July 2012

‘Except ye Lord keep ye Cittie, ye Wakeman waketh in vain’

That’s the  verse from the Psalms, inscribed above the town hall in Ripon, where we’re spending the next few weeks to avoid the cold and rain of the south of France (no, really, they’ve got the heating on over there).  It reminds us that every evening – EVERY evening – for well over a thousand years, the Ripon Wakeman has sounded his horn to the 4 corners of the city to announce that all is well.

We had to go and check it out yesterday evening.

Promptly at 9, a smartly dressed individual in buff coloured hunting coat, tricorn hat and white gloves took his place before the obelisk on the Market Square and sounded his horn 4 times, once at each corner of the obelisk – one long mournful note each time.

Then he grinned at us, a small crowd of 20.  ”Want to hear a bit of history?’  Well, of course we did.  He made us introduce ourselves, and we found we too came from, well, about 3 corners of the world: Catalonia, Italy, Australia, even South Shields and Merton.  And here’s some of what he told us:

In 886, Alfred the Great, 37 year-old warrior king, was travelling his kingdom to defeat the Vikings and to drum up support.  Arriving at the small settlement of Ripon, he liked what he saw and granted a Royal Charter.  He lacked the wherewithal to produce an appropriate document, and so gave a horn which is still safely locked in the town hall.

‘You need to be more vigilant, there are Vikings about’. Alfred warned.  So the people appointed a wakeman to guard the settlement through hours of darkness, and he put that horn to use by sounding it at the 4 corners of the Market Cross to announce that all was well as he began his watch.  The city’s now on its 4th horn.

If you want to know more, our current Wakeman, George Pickles,  has written the whole tale for the BBC website.  It’s a good yarn.  Read it when you have a moment.

The Market Square, where the Wakeman does his job.

2022 Update: These days there’s a team of three Wakemen, and one of them is a woman. Only Lockdown – sort of – interrupted the tradition, when the nightly task was performed from the comfort of the duty-Wakeman’s garden at home, courtesy of Facebook.

For Fandango’s Flashback Friday

A History of England in Six Bridges

This post title is completely misleading. I’m showing you six bridges, it’s true. But only one pre-dates the eighteenth century. Only one is neither in Yorkshire or London. But there’s a footbridge, a canal bridge, a railway bridge, a transporter bridge, a road-bridge which opens, and one for the Millennium, so maybe we’re covering quite a lot of bases.

This first two are really quite small. Here’s a fifteenth century bridge, leading over the moat to Eltham Palace. Then here’s one of the bridges over Ripon Canal, opened in 1773. This canal may be the shortest in England – it’s only 2.3 miles long.

Knaresborough Viaduct is a railway bridge which spans the river Nidd in truly majestic fashion. I bet I’d have been a NIMBY protesting against such a huge change planned for the view of my town if I’d lived in Knaresborough back in the 1850s. Now I’d be joining the demonstrations if anyone suggested dismantling it.

This Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough is quite a thing. You can read all about it here.

1910

Last of all – my favourite: the world’s first and only tilting bridge – Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

The header photo shows what may be England’s most famous bridge: Tower Bridge, opening and closing for London’s shipping since 1886.

For Cee’s CFFC: Bridges

… and Alive and Trecking’s Which Way Photo Challenge.

Historic Borders

Travel Between the Pages …. You Couldn’t Make It Up is a blog that always produces interesting, thought provoking, or just plain amusing content, This post fascinated me by showing the way in which our world map is in a state of constant flux. As it may be again …

Travel Between The Pages

With the tragic news unfolding daily in Europe, it’s an appropriate time to take stock of how we got here. I’ve always found that maps can be an excellent way to help visualize geo-political conflicts. I recently discovered this simple, but elegant website that allows users to see exactly how borders have shifted over the decades.

Historic Borders colorfully helps to visualize the seemingly arbitrary nature of national borders and how politics and war have reshaped the world. The app features a basic world map topped by a timeline slider. Just click on a date to discover the national boundaries of that time.

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