A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and Their Remarkable Families by Michael Holroyd was only at the bottom of my to-read list because of its size. I’m glad I read it though – it’s a fascinating insight into the Terry-Irving partnership as well as their individual lives and their families. Definitely recommended for all theatre lovers.
The Garden Museum can be found near Lambeth Palace, a place where the history of gardens can be explored. I’m no gardener, but I was interested in visiting, especially after seeing a play in the grounds earlier this year. The Museum was originally founded in 1977 in order to save the church of St Mary’s from demolition; this church is the burial place of John Tradescant (c.1570-1638), the first great gardener and plant-hunter in British history. The garden of the museum, at the back of the church, contains plants from the seventeenth century, such as the scarlet runner bean, red maple and tulip tree, which originally grew in Tradescant’s garden. His tomb can also be found here. The knot garden was designed by the Museum’s President, The Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury.
In 2008, the interior of the church was converted into a centre for exhibitions and events. Three exhibitions and over 30 talks and interviews each year explore figures from garden history; there is also a permanent display of items relating to gardening.
When I first entered the museum, I headed towards the temporary exhibition, Gnome & Away: Secrets of the Collection. This is the last chance to see many of the weird and wonderful items from the Garden Museum’s rich collections, including gardening tools, a desk, toy greenhouses, numerous garden gnomes, and even a 1950s flamingo ornament.
After this, I went up the stairs to the permanent collection. This was an eclectic range of gardening-related items, including works of art, photographs and gardening tools and accessories. Despite not being a gardener myself I found this interesting: my favourite items were the old-fashioned lawnmowers, the adult version being displayed alongside a miniature model for children.
Outside, the knot garden is a lovely relaxing oasis where you can sit and enjoy the flowers. If you are interested in gardening, this would be a lovely place to examine all the different species of flowers and plants they have.
Finally I stopped off in the cafe for a cup of tea and a piece of cake, which was delicious.
The Museum is due to close on 30 October for a major refurbishment project, and is not due to reopen until early 2017. You only have a couple of months, therefore, to visit. It’s a really nice place to visit even without a strong interest in gardening, so I do recommend it.
Address: Lambeth Palace Road, London, SE1 7LB
Opening Hours: 10.30am-5pm (4pm on Saturdays)
Prices: £7.50 adults, £6.50 concessions, £3 students and Art Fund, children free
Agatha Christie: Unfinished Portrait, subtitled A Life in Photographs, is an exhibition of pictures from the popular author’s life on show at Bankside Gallery. As a fairly recent but enthusiastic fan of her work, I went along to the free exhibition.
The collections cover Christie’s life from her early childhood and adolescence to her first and second marriages and the birth of her daughter, as well as her burgeoning literary career. It was really interesting to see her life in pictures, and the images were accompanied by Christie’s own words which really brought her to life. The exhibition also featured the portrait of Agatha Christie by expressionist painter Oscar Kokoschka, painted in 1969 for Christie’s 80th birthday.
For my birthday in July I got some money from my auntie and I decided to spend it on a jewellery-making workshop at Tatty Devine. I really enjoyed the previous workshop I took part in – a charm bracelet, which I made last year – and this one appealed to me because it involved making a parakeet necklace.
The red multi parakeet has been on my wishlist for months, but it’s near-impossible to get hold of one these days. However, the jewel-toned colours of this unique workshop design are gorgeous too. I signed up for the Wednesday evening workshop at the end of August.
The workshop was held at Tatty Devine’s Brick Lane store, so I headed there after work. I got there in plenty of time and was able to admire their relatively new workshop space.
I was offered a glass of rosé while I waited for the others to arrive. As they all trooped in we sat down and began to lay out our parakeet pieces on the handy template.
We then had to peel a little of the protective film off each piece to ensure the parts were facing the right way – obviously I’d managed to get some of mine the wrong way round so this step was much needed!
To turn our feathers into a beautiful parakeet, we then needed to use two pairs of pliers to open up a jump ring, slide one, then two feathers onto it (making sure they were the right way around), before closing the jump ring. On the advice of the lovely Tatty staff I put together one wing, then another, before joining them up to the parakeet body.
After my parakeet was complete, it was time to attach the chain. I chose a silver chain, and as instructed, cut it in half, fixed jump rings to either end, and attached the chain to the parakeet.
I had a lovely time putting my parakeet together; it was tricky but I think I got the hang of it fairly quickly. It definitely helped that I had done a workshop before, and I really enjoyed chatting to other Tatty fans. I drank a couple of glasses of wine too – slowly, though – wine and pliers don’t really mix! I took my parakeet home in a Tatty Devine box to keep it safe.
Interested in a Tatty Devine workshop? Workshop dates are announced frequently and you can make all sorts of interesting things. You can find details at tattydevine.com/workshops.
The exhibition Out of Chaos – Ben Uri: 100 Years in London is currently running at the Inigo Rooms in Somerset House‘s East Wing (part of King’s College London). Marking the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Ben Uri Gallery, it brings together many of the treasures of the collection.
The exhibition explores the history of the Gallery, which began as a London-based art society founded in Whitechapel in 1915. After a rocky start and a turbulent history, covering two World Wars and multiple venue changes, it is still going strong.
The rooms cover the historical timeline, the Ben Uri archives and the theme of immigration, with different rooms devoted to identity, conflict and the postwar world. Early works include those by Simeon Solomon, Solomon Hart and Lily Delissa Joseph, while the later “Whitechapel Boys” include figures such as David Bomberg and Isaac Rosenberg. One room “Forced Journeys”, looks at the impact of the Holocaust, while other displays examine art after World War II.
The final section of the exhibition is focused on the present, displaying works by artists working now and laying out the plans for the Ben Uri Gallery to be a space for all migrants, not just Jews.
I really enjoyed the exhibition, which was fascinating and contained lots of different styles of artwork. The idea of transforming the Gallery into a space for migrants of all kinds is a brilliant one, too, and I wish them the best of luck with their endeavour. Hopefully I can get to the Ben Uri Gallery itself before this happens.
The free exhibition runs until 13 December and is open 12pm-6pm Monday to Sunday, and until 8.30pm on Thursday.
In London on a weekday with time to spare, I decided to head to the BDA Dental Museum, a small museum located in the headquarters of the British Dental Association not far from Oxford Street. The museum aims to explore the history of dental care in the UK, and has over 20,000 items, making it the largest collection of dentistry-related material in the UK.
I owe a great deal to dentists – I spent a great deal of time at the dentist’s and the orthodontist’s as a teenager, as I had an extremely awkward set of teeth that insisted on growing on top of each other in a mouth that was really too small for all of them – a bit like an Underground train during rush hour, except that Tube trains don’t tend to get random commuters popping out of the roof. I spent three years with a fixed brace but ended up with normal straight teeth, so it was worth it. After visiting this museum, I am even more thankful that I was not born a hundred or more years ago when dentistry was in its infancy.
The Museum began in 1919 with a collection of dental instruments donated by Lilian Lindsay, the first woman to qualify as a dentist in the UK. These days, the collections comprise photographs and archives, art, furniture and a variety of dental instruments and equipment. Originally designed specifically for BDA members, it was opened to the public in 1967 and redesigned in 2005.
The museum is small, consisting of one main room plus a handful of display cases in the foyer of the BDA itself and in the basement. When I visited, the basement display consisted of information about dentistry during World War I: dentistry was not classed as a reserved occupation, despite the fact that dental health was considered important for all-round health. Upstairs, the foyer displays were concerned with the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, looking at the fact that many dentures were made from the teeth of soldiers who died in the battle.
The permanent museum, which traces the history of dentistry as a distinct profession, can be found in the small room on the left as you enter the BDA building. It has interesting displays with accompanying information boards, exploring the treatments people used for dental ailments in centuries past and the eventual establishment of the BDA, which ensured recognition of the dental profession. During the nineteenth century in particular, anaesthetics were introduced, new instruments were invented (such as drills) and materials used to make dentures were improved. I was interested to see the different kinds of drills on display as well as the rather posh red upholstered dental chair, though I’d still rather have the stark, slightly boring decor of a modern dentist’s surgery with all the modern treatments that it entails! One particular character mentioned several times was John Tomes (1815–1895) – he was instrumental in transforming dentistry from a trade to a respected profession, and with James Smith Turner was responsible for the Dentists Act 1878, which ensured the registration of dental professionals.
There are a couple of screens on which you can view old, rather amusing dental videos. There is also a tiny gift shop, where you can buy things such as tooth-shaped push pins and toothpaste keyrings.
With its odd opening hours, small size and specialist collection, The BDA Dental Museum is unlikely to be anyone’s first choice for a museum visit, but if you are in the area at the right time I’d urge you to go. If nothing else it will give you an appreciation for modern dentistry!
Address: British Dental Association, 64 Wimpole Street, London, W1G 8YS
Opening Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 1pm-4pm
With an afternoon off, I went to Somerset House to check out some of their exhibitions. Beneath the Surface is presented by the Victoria & Albert Museum, Photo London and Somerset House and includes works from the V&A that are rarely displayed.
Commissioned by Photo London, the exhibition contains a huge breadth of works, ranging from Charles Thurston Thompson’s (1816-68) early photographs of paintings for conservation purposes to Nigel Shafran’s (b. 1964) unusual images taken for the 2012/13 V&A Annual Report. Because of Somerset House’s location by the river, the pictures selected largely focus on the water, too. They have been chosen by the V&A’s Senior Curator of Photographs, Martin Barnes.
Among my favourites were William Strudwick’s (1834-1910) photos from the Old London series, taken in the 1860s: these captured the riverside shortly before the construction of the Embankment, and include scenes of Lambeth, Westminster and nearby areas, as well as several medieval coaching inns shortly before they were demolished to make way for the railways. I also liked Thurston Hopkins’ (1913-2014) scenes of underground London life in the 50s; the street scenes in particular were full of energy.
Some of the pictures were more abstract: John Gay (Hans Göhler (1909-99) took pictures of lots of different manhole covers in the 1960s, revealing a wealth of different patterns. Robert Brownjohn (1925-70) took interesting pictures of street signs at around the same time, while Naoya Hatakeyama’s (b. 1958) image of a darkened sewage tunnel in Japan, from his series “Underground 1999”, is atmospheric and haunting.
Other works were particularly unusual: Benjamin Stone (1838-1914) and George Scamell (active 1900s) photographed Newgate Prison before its demolition in 1900-1902, resulting in some truly eerie images of immense historic significance. As part of the National Photographic Record Association, their job was to record a variety of subjects, many more sinister than those typically captured on film. I really liked Pedro Meyer’s (b. 1935) work, in which he set a digitally-manipulated photograph of himself as a young boy with his father alongside a picture of his adult self with his own son.
The exhibition runs until 24 August and is fascinating viewing for anyone enraptured by old photographs.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is about the lives of many different characters, visited at varying points during their lives. I did enjoy it, but I thought there were a few too many characters and some of the ideas weren’t developed enough. It should have been a longer book, really.
I still have no idea what the title means.
I spent some time during my day off at Somerset House, which always has plenty of exhibitions to see, and visited the Terrace Galleries to view the exhibition Unseen Waterloo: The Conflict Revisited. This is a collection of photographic portraits taken by Sam Faulkner to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.
Faulkner has taken pictures of participants in the annual re-enactment of the battle that takes place in Belgium. Those who take part dress in historically-accurate uniforms, paying close attention to detail. The portraits could have been taken at the time of the battle itself – if photography had been invented then. From teenage drummer-boys to old and grey-haired generals, the exhibition really emphasises the humanity of those who took part.
The pictures explore how we remember those who died in war before the invention of photography, and I thought they were very effective in bringing home the individuality and personality of each soldier. Sometimes it’s difficult to comprehend the humanity of the 54,000 soldiers who died at the Battle of Waterloo, the last major European battle which was not recorded in photography (the Crimean War of the 1850s marked the entrance of the war photographer, bringing home the human cost of battle. Seeing so many pictures alongside each other, each representing a dead soldier, was sobering.