Liz Hand is visiting and we talked about Brits and rain. If you live in London you quite simply don’t let rain change your plans – you just go out there and keep your umbrella angled into the wind. And so yesterday, on a very wet Sunday afternoon, Liz and I were exploring the lanes and passage ways around Playhouse Yard Blackfriars and discovered, by chance, the beautiful Apothecaries Hall was hosting an open house. Here is Liz in the courtyard.
Inside, while my camera misted, I caught an atmospheric pic of liz listening to an explanation of how the foul and smelly Fleet River had a special walkover. It was designed for Henry V111 so he could pass from the Whitefriars side to the impressive, dominant Blackfriars without offending his delicate nose. It was sided with stain-glass. This was the route by which Henry V111 brought Katherine of Aragon to the Domincians for trial. And so the world changed.
The Rhinoceros horn stood for the unatainable Unicorn’s horn in the middle ages when first this company was engaged in herbs and spices and drugs. The rhinoceros makes up the crest in the coat of arms. Here it is on the Master’s Chair.
And a member of the Guild showed me that the rhinoceros was not only depicted on his tie, but also on his cuff link.
Here is a carouche from one of the Company’s River Barges. The Thames was London’s central highway in the old days and the City Livery Companies vied with each other for the beauty of their crafts. Especially important were the processions by barge on the river for the annual Lord Mayor’s Show. The Apothecaries were 58 in precedence. Still are.
The Apothecaries Hall is a special survivor. It was quickly rebuilt after the devastation of the Fire of 1666. 1672 is given as the date of completion and we see panelling and carving from this time.
And a general range of interiors starting with a circular mirror above a small painting of Katherine of Aragon’s Trial at Blackfriars.
As we left this beautiful Apothecaries Hall we thought about the stroke of luck and great daring implicit in its survival. So much of this part of London was flattened by bombs during the Blitz. There was the terrible night on the 29th of December, 1940, when almost everything around St Pauls was damaged. Then there was another devasting onslaught of raids in May 1941, when many of the ancient halls of the Guilds of the City were gutted and that is when an unexploded bomb lodged in the main chimney of the Apothecaries. It was carefully taken out by a bomb disposal team and taken to Hackney Marsh where, in a controlled explosion, it left a huge crator. It would have completely destroyed the hall had it exploded in situ.
In 1859 The Red House was designed by Philip Webb (1831-1915). It was to be in a “non historical” style and here’s our first view as we enter from the street – a sort of monster face with close set eyes, and an open mouth entry. But that’s not our beginning.
We walked around a bending path and through a segment of garden to find the real entry, a hidden one, and we, Morna Livingson and I, were delighted as we strolled, to study the ever changing red brick facades and various angles of steep sloped roof. There is a gracefulness in all the off-centred proportions. Here are some of my pictures.
Friends, living and working together – that was the basic idea when young William Morris (1834-1896) commissioned Webb to design this house. William Morris had studied in Oxford, intending to be a clergyman but moved from the church as it were, into art. Likewise his good friend Ned Jones (Edward Burne-Jones). Both were married by the time the house had been built, Morris to Jane Burden, and Burne-Jones to Georgiana MacDonald.
Georgiana Burne-Jones remembers the”Pilgrim Rest” entrance room as “practically a small garden-room. There was a solid table in it, painted red, and fixed to the wall was a bench where we sat and talked and looked into the garden well-court.”
Inside, with available light I was able to photograph a couple of fireplaces, the central stairway decked out for Christmas, an upstairs ceiling, and William Morris’s own little work chair. I’ve photographed it from behind to show the painted decoration.
Of the garden, only three pictures. The first being Bleinheim Orange apples still on the tree in December.
In conclusion we should note that we owe much to a dedicated couple, Ted and Doris Hollamby, who lived in the house in the 1950′s and began restoring it back to its origins. Then in 2003 an anonymous benefactor bought the property for the National Trust so that public access would be safeguarded. We are very lucky. It is a beautiful place to visit.