West Sussex

East Grinstead, Sussex: Standen House

IMG_20151129_135434448_HDR_stitch   IMG_20151129_135617645_HDR

Another week, another Philip Webb designed Arts and Crafts house.  This was mainly coincidental…I wanted to go somewhere that was decorated for Christmas that we hadn’t been to before (read, NOT Polesden Lacey), and this was the nearest property to us that sounded appealing (especially because Waddesdon Manor was completely booked up for the entire Christmas season, despite this only being the last weekend in November, and my looking it up just a few weeks before, when there was no mention of their Christmas events on the terrible new National Trust website (seriously, you can’t even search for properties near your location anymore.  It’s the worst.  I hope they fired whoever designed it)).  Also, I really like Philip Webb after admiring his awesome chicken/rooster windows at Red House, so I confess I was hoping to see more of his animal art.

IMG_20151129_130039480_HDR_stitch - Copy   IMG_20151129_135725963_HDR

Anyway, Standen House is a typically overpriced National Trust property that you shouldn’t bother visiting without membership (11.50, yikes!).  It was built for the Beale family (yeah, I have no idea who they are either), and every Christmas they do up the rooms with decorations corresponding to each decade the family lived in the house (1890s-1970s, though that obviously involved multiple generations).  This year, they also had a Zandra Rhodes (weirdo fashion designer) tree outside the house, and this was the ugliest tree I have ever seen.  It’s that bright pink monstrosity in the picture above.  Did anyone else read the Amelia Bedelia books when you were a kid?  The premise is basically that she’s a really stupid maid with no apparent grasp on reality, and every time the family she works for directs her to do something, she completely screws it up, but they continue to employ her because she makes a killer spice cake (blergh).  Anyway, the reason I’m bringing up Amelia Bedelia is because in the Christmas book, they tell her to decorate a Christmas tree and put a star on the top, and because she apparently doesn’t know what a star is, she instead hangs a mirror on the top with a little sign saying, “See the Star,” so everyone can be a star.  I have to wonder if Zandra Rhodes is an Amelia Bedelia fan, because this tree had hundreds of little mirrors dangling from the branches.  In addition to all the day-glo orange and pink tinsel.

IMG_20151129_130540131 - Copy   IMG_20151129_130549199 - Copy

But enough about that bizarre tree that had no apparent connection to the rest of the house, which was all Arts and Craftsy fabulousness.  Because Philip Webb and William Morris were thick as thieves, most of the interior decoration came straight from Morris & Co.  Except, I would think, that charming rocking horse named “Dobbin,” shown above (he was no match for my beloved childhood rocking horse, Buckles, but still seemed like a perfectly nice horse).

IMG_20151129_130758775 - Copy   IMG_20151129_132009724 - Copy

So yeah, there were a lot of Morris carpets, tapestries, and of course, wallpapers, including a repeating theme of Trellis in every hallway in the house.  I love Trellis, so I was completely cool with this.

IMG_20151129_131120826_stitch - Copy   IMG_20151129_131613470 - Copy

The Christmas decorations were quite nice too, for all that some of them bordered on the creepy, like those dolls underneath the tree (I overheard one of the volunteers admitting how scary that baby doll is).  They also had a board in each room explaining how Christmas differed in that particular decade compared to the decades that preceded it.

IMG_20151129_131641731 - Copy   IMG_20151129_131606845 - Copy

The house was fairly sizable, even considering that there were a couple floors we weren’t allowed to see, and the room guides were reasonably extensive; for once, no one else seemed to be looking at them, so I didn’t have to impatiently wait whilst some jerk took their time flipping through every page.

IMG_20151129_131823015 - Copy   IMG_20151129_131358511 - Copy

Of course, this being the National Trust, they had to cover a couple rooms in sheets so they could blab on about how much work conservation is (in what I always imagine is a ploy to get people to donate money, like admission isn’t enough as it is).  I guess I should cut them a break at Christmas time, but meh, I’m a scrooge.

IMG_20151129_132052548 - Copy   IMG_20151129_132145765 - Copy

In addition to being partial to Philip Webb’s animals, I also love William de Morgan’s animal tiles, especially the dodo, which they had on display in one of the rooms in a cabinet of his own design.  The side of it was meant to look like a dragon, with a row of triangles representing a row of teeth (see if you can spot it in the picture above; the two sticky up bits are meant to be his eye and a curly bit on the top of his nose).

IMG_20151129_133305970   IMG_20151129_131744713 - Copy

William Morris and his cronies sure did like to stick together, so of course Edward Burne-Jones featured here too.  He not only did a few tapestries, and a whole room full of sketches (though those were probably added after the family moved out), he also painted an excellent desk showing St Agnes (I think?) taking her dragon for a walk, you know, as you do.

IMG_20151129_133344482   IMG_20151129_132459941 - Copy

Back on the subject of creepy Christmas decorations…we spied the creepiest thing of all resting on one of the beds upstairs.  It was a Santa costume, which wouldn’t have been so bad if it didn’t come with that terrifying mask (is the fact that most British people now refer to him as Santa rather than Father Christmas a sign of increasing Americanisation?).  A volunteer informed us that the house patriarch used to dress up in it every year to scare shitless delight his children, and one of his daughters carried on the tradition after he died (though I honestly think it would have been less scary to just stick the Santa cape, sans mask, on his corpse).

IMG_20151129_130828236 - Copy   IMG_20151129_130426456 - Copy

After leaving the house proper, we encountered a smaller museum room telling the story of the servants who lived in the house (who apparently fared quite well thanks to the Beale’s progressive values, with “airy” attic bedrooms and a special servants’ hall for dining and entertainment purposes), including a butler who was relieved of his duties thanks to an incident involving the master’s whiskey.  And there was a tree where you could write down your Christmas traditions on a card, and tie it to the branches.  There was a working kitchen too, where you can sample some traditional fare on weekends; unfortunately, they gave away the last of the mulled cider to the people just ahead of us, but I did get to try a slightly dry piece of lemon drizzle cake (I think it needed more drizzle, though some cider to wet my throat would have helped too).

IMG_20151129_135044184   IMG_20151129_135134148

It was very cold the day we visited, but we did explore the gardens a bit.  Philip Webb had created a cool rock garden thing in the back of the house, and there was a nice bench outside the conservatory (nice and cold, that is.  I probably risked piles by sitting on it).  The whole thing was arranged on a number of different levels, and we definitely didn’t have a chance to see it all, because we were muddy and freezing our asses off.

IMG_20151129_140240063   IMG_20151129_140334375

We did stop to admire the chickens, however, since I quite like them (they were named after Beale women who lived in the house).  There was a small vegetable garden, and apparently an orchard, as there were some wormy old apples available for the taking, with donation (I somehow managed to resist.  I also resisted the gluten-free millionaire’s shortbread in the cafe, because why would you make something that is mostly flour gluten-free, and not have a normal version available as well?!).  All in all, it wasn’t a bad little property (though not worth the admission charge) for members to visit, and I did enjoy all the William Morris interiors, as well as the Christmas decorations, for all that I felt there could have been more of them (maybe more lights outside?).  3/5.

IMG_20151129_140006134_HDR   IMG_20151129_140434016

 

Advertisements

Chichester, West Sussex: The Novium

IMG_20150808_140514170_HDR_stitch   IMG_20150808_140448486

“Oh boy, Roman crap!” I thought sarcastically to myself as I entered Chichester’s Novium.  But really, it turned out to be ok in the end.  I can’t pretend that it’s worth making a special trip to Chichester for any reason, but if you are stupid enough to do it, like me, you’ll probably find yourself inside the Novium at some point, since aside from the cathedral, it’s really the only tourist attraction to speak of there.  Fortunately, it is free and offers clean toilets with no daddy-long-legs in them, which is more than can be said for Chichester’s public toilets (ugh, I can still picture their horrible thin legs crawling around.  When I say daddy-long-legs, I mean it in the American sense of a spidery thing.  I think Brits call them harvestmen, but I’m not looking it up because I don’t want to have to look at pictures of the damn things).

IMG_20150808_140350708_HDR   IMG_20150808_141033102

It is perhaps apt that the Novium offers nice bathroom facilities, since a Roman bathhouse used to stand on this very spot, and the museum has been cleverly built around the ruins so you can admire them without having to exert yourself too much.  Unless of course you want to look at them from the special viewing area on the first floor, which you will want to do because that’s where all the galleries are.  Then you have to walk up a bunch of steps (though a lift is available).

IMG_20150808_141259569   IMG_20150808_141318666

There’s a kind of foyer area outside the first floor gallery that is currently dedicated to Sir George Murray, a Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy from Chichester who was chummy with Nelson, and his wife, Ann, who outlived him by nearly half a century.  The main gallery features a huge glass “cube case” holding objects relating to Chichester’s past, from the Roman era through the present day.  I was partial to the former possessions of Joe “Pie Man” Faro, including his baker’s hat, gravy warmer, and a few ads for his pies.

IMG_20150808_141539901_HDR   IMG_20150808_141826417_HDR

The second floor’s distinguishing characteristic was a huge window overlooking the cathedral (you might be “blinded by the light” shining in if it’s a sunny day), with a little map describing everything you can see from this vantage point, including some unique Chichester-made chimney pots (they have a couple examples you can touch sitting out).  The gallery up here, by far the largest in the museum, has objects currently grouped by the type of human emotion they represent: Joy, Sorrow, Bravery, and Creativity.

IMG_20150808_142107460   IMG_20150808_142325449

I was digging it, because there was some pretty rad stuff in this gallery.  My absolute favourite thing was a sling produced by St. John’s Ambulance during the First World War, showing all the different ways it could be used to wrap various injuries (with a mustachioed man as model.  Something about the moustache really takes it up a notch.  I’ve always kind of wanted a phrenology head, and I found one the other day with an amusing moustache.  If I had 3700 euros laying around, you’d better believe that’d be the one I’d buy).  There was also a drinking mug with a fake frog moulded into the cup, to give whoever was drinking out of it a fright.  Excellent. UPDATE: My boyfriend noticed how much I liked that sling (probably because I kept talking about it) and bought me one for my birthday, so now I have my own WWI instructional sling.  Kick-ass.

IMG_20150808_142455575   IMG_20150808_142537293

With the centenary and all, there was a fair bit of WWI stuff, including a little trench hut set up in the corner (you weren’t allowed inside though, boo) and a wounded soldier mannequin lying on a cot, but I gravitated towards the display of hats for trying on.  I think I probably look better in a standard British Army cap than a German one, though I have to say the pickelhaube really kind of suited my boyfriend (every time I see a pickelhaube, I just think of that 3 Stooges short where they’re doughboys who accidentally set off a canister of laughing gas, and get captured and taken to the German headquarters where they all laugh their asses off when one of the Germans falls on his spiky helmet.  Classic).

IMG_20150808_143042203   IMG_20150808_143149272

They also had a mobile stocks cart (built in the 1820s, yikes! That’s more recent than I would have thought) for wheeling offenders around the town so they could be pelted with rotting vegetables, or worse, if they were really unpopular.  And a small display of skulls explaining what each one could tell us about the person it came from (the one with a hole in it from a person with a persistent ear infection made me cringe a little.  I only had a couple ear infections when I was a kid, but I still remember how agonising they were, and I can only imagine letting it progress to the point where the pus punched a hole in your head.  Jeez).

IMG_20150808_141343390   IMG_20150808_141722841_HDR

I should also mention that there is a small temporary exhibit on the ground floor about the history of collecting, which has as its prize object an old Japanese Shogi game on loan from the Horniman in London, as well as some information about explorers and their collections, including Cook and Livingstone.  Although I read a couple negative reviews of the Novium on Trip Advisor before going, I frankly don’t see what their problem was.  It was a free museum, and I was actually pretty impressed with many of the objects on display, as well as the labelling, which, despite a few spelling and grammatical errors, tended to be comprehensive, educational, and often amusing.  It has clearly been renovated in recent years, as all the facilities seemed pretty up-to-date, but hadn’t lost the old-fashioned charm of a local museum.  3.5/5.

IMG_20150808_144147744   IMG_20150808_144204405

Oh, and because the cathedral was also free, we popped in there too, so I’ll just show you a few highlights.

IMG_20150808_144451689   IMG_20150808_145354834

The 3-dimensional man on the wall is to commemorate a local man, John Cawley, who was one of the MPs who signed the death warrant of Charles I.  He managed to survive the Restoration (just) by going into hiding in Belgium, but died in the 1660s.

IMG_20150808_145539801   IMG_20150808_145115346

They had a small treasury room containing a lot of boring silver and pewter (basically a bunch of “you have chosen…poorly” Holy Grail replicas like in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Damn I love that film), but also a weathercock with dents on his tail where he was clipped by bullets during the Battle of Britain, so that was pretty cool.

IMG_20150808_145810648   IMG_20150808_150255755

And they had a bunch of large wooden paintings depicting kings of England, and I guess some popes?  Or maybe something more Anglican, like Archbishops, I dunno.

IMG_20150808_144539711_HDR   IMG_20150808_150506964

There are also some pretty cool gargoyles on the outside of the cathedral, and apparently a pair of peregrine falcons roost in the tower, so those are things to look out for.  As I said at the start, I really don’t think Chichester’s the kind of place that merits a special trip (in retrospect; at the time, it seemed like something reasonable to do of a Saturday, at least until we got stuck in traffic for a couple hours) but if you find yourself in the area, there’s a couple of free things you can do to kill some time.  And clearly there are people out there that really like Roman stuff, as judged by the unexpected popularity of my old post on the Verulamium, so you may also enjoy the bathhouse ruins in the Novium if this is so.

 

Balcombe, West Sussex: The Wings Museum

DSC01208   DSC01254

I seem to keep bringing up Damian Lewis on the blog these days (I mean c’mon, codpieces!), but yeah, one of the main reasons I checked out the Wings Museum (“where history comes alive”) was because part of Band of Brothers was filmed inside the C-47 Dakota in the museum, and I welcomed the opportunity to sit in the same place Damian Lewis did (or, as I more crudely put it at the time, “My ass has touched where Damian Lewis’s ass touched!”).  But Wings advertised more attractions than simply plonking your butt down on the same seats as famous people.  They also promised recovered airframes set up into crash site dioramas, a real Anderson shelter to explore, the opportunity to own a small piece of downed aircraft of your very own, and many other displays inside the draughty hangar-style building.

DSC01175   DSC01176

The Wings Museum seemed to assume a certain degree of enthusiasm for military history (the volunteer at the admissions desk even asked my boyfriend if he was an “enthusiast,” which led to a rather awkward silence.  Also, why did he just assume that I wasn’t the enthusiast?  I mean, I’m not, but he didn’t know that), as I guess most people aren’t willing to drive out to a hangar in the middle of nowhere and part with 8 quid if they’re not really into this stuff.  Truthfully, as I am not really into this stuff (nor is my boyfriend, obviously), some of the very lengthy descriptions of missions and all the names and numbers of various aircraft were lost on me, but it was a large building with a lot of crap in it, so there was still plenty to enjoy.

DSC01177  DSC01185  DSC01199

The museum contains quite a few salvaged Nazi aircraft parts (as those were a large proportion of what was crashing on British soil) and some uniforms and things; I definitely understand the importance of making sure both the Allied and Axis Powers were represented (including some things from the Pacific Theatre), since despite the focus on aviation, one of the museum’s stated goals is to tell the story of World War II.  However, the process of the actual “telling” could use some work, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite so many spelling and grammatical errors in one place.  I get that they are volunteer run (and only open on weekends), but you’d think one of the volunteers could spell properly.  The use of the contraction “it’s” instead of the possessive “its” is a personal pet peeve, but a common enough mistake, I suppose.  But given that they’re dealing with military history, they should at least know how to spell “bail.”  You “bail out” of an aircraft, you “bale” hay, got it?  Same thing with “hale” and “hail.”  Homophones: learn how to use them! (And for that matter, the building the museum is housed in is called a hangar; not a “hanger” as their website would have you believe.) ETA: I’ve been doing a bit of research since writing this, and while it seems that “bail out” is the correct American usage, apparently in other English speaking countries, both variants are accepted spellings, so I’ll give them a pass on that.  However, my point about the spelling errors still stands, as there’s really no excuse for the incorrect “it’s” or their misspelling of hangar.

DSC01180   DSC01181

Now that I’ve gotten that rant out of the way, in fairness to the museum, some of the stories were very interesting, if you took the time to persevere through the errors.  There was one about a man diffusing some notoriously tricky type of German bomb in a tunnel that ended with him emerging from this tunnel “looking and smelling worse than the dirtiest London tramp,” and an extremely lengthy, but fascinating account of a man in a Japanese POW camp being fed on a few lumps of rice a day.

DSC01205    DSC01206_stitch

And there were some hand-painted bomber jackets belonging to various pilots.  I remember seeing a really large display of these at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Museum many years ago, and I’ve always liked them (they may have played a small part in my becoming a punk as a teenager, since punks like to paint their leather jackets too, but because I was never any good at painting I just ended up wearing an old one that my high school boyfriend’s friend had painted with an Exploited skull.  It was well done, perhaps too much so, since it ended up getting stolen out of a car when I was at a punk show, with all my money and IDs in the pockets).

DSC01227_stitch   DSC01229

On a more serious note, they had a small hut devoted to the Holocaust (that we didn’t take pictures of, as it seemed disrespectful), which covered a camp called DORA, where prisoners were forced to manufacture airplane parts and other things for the Nazis.  It came complete with moving illustrations done by what I believe was one of the survivors (though I’m not quite positive about that, and the information isn’t on their website so I can’t check).  There were also memorials throughout the museum to the pilots who lost their lives in the war.

DSC01219  DSC01215  DSC01217

I was pretty keen to get into that Band of Brothers plane, and we took plenty of pictures in there (though as usual, I look terrible in all of them).  There was a video of the relevant episode playing on a small TV, and you were free to explore the plane (and yes, plant your ass on all the seats), so I enjoyed myself.  It was nice that the museum wasn’t very crowded so I had plenty of time to sit everywhere without being interrupted.

DSC01241   DSC01235

And there were all those promised dioramas of aircraft in various stages of disrepair, pleasingly made into scenes with the use of (often hilarious) mannequins (I hope this isn’t construed as being too flippant, since I am aware that some of the pilots may have died in these crashes, but the museum’s approach overall seemed to be an interesting mix of the sombre and lighthearted).  I think I may have actually enjoyed some of the more mundane objects in the museum more though, like the bell shown towards the start of the post with FDR, Churchill, and Stalin moulded on it, and the sake cup pictured below that somehow survived Hiroshima.  To me, artefacts like that tell more of a story than an enormous hunk of rusting metal (though I’m not knocking the hunks of metal, if that’s your thing).

DSC01230   DSC01240

There’s also a vintage radio hut parked outside, which one of the volunteers led me into as I was obviously cold (it was not a warm day, and the building was unheated, so it was basically just as cold as outside), the radio hut being compact and heated, and a place to learn more about antique radios than I ever wanted to.  They had a radio in there from Bletchley Park that was used in the filming of The Imitation Game (which I still haven’t seen, so I can’t say for sure whether Benny touched it, but at any rate, the opportunity to touch it myself never presented itself, so my hand was not where his hand was).

DSC01253   DSC01231_stitch

They did indeed have an array of aircraft parts for sale, for prices ranging from 50p up to about 50 quid, so we ended up with our own bit of twisted metal for a pound, which isn’t a bad deal.  I mean, it’s pretty clear the museum could use the money (maybe to re-do the signs after correcting them?), and I could see that the place was a labour of love, even if I’m not a military history buff.  Though I wasn’t completely captivated by the museum, there were plenty of things that caught my interest, and it was nice reading some of the stories of men who’d been there (including one pilot from Lakewood, Ohio!), so I have no regrets about going (especially venturing inside that neat plane).  My mother loves planes and stuff, and I spent a lot of time being dragged around various aviation museums as a kid, so I have some grounds for comparison; while Wings is obviously nowhere near the level of Wright-Patterson or even the International Women’s Air and Space Museum, for a small museum without much (any?) funding, I think they did a decent job.  But while I love the quirkiness, that shouldn’t come at the expense of correct spelling, so I’ll give it 3/5.

DSC01225   DSC01189_stitch