Search This Blog

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Hills and views- The Hardy Monument

The monument in the Autumn mists
High on a hill near Dorchester, and visible for many miles around, stands a monument to a man chiefly remembered for kissing a sailor.
The Hardy monument, a rather squat ugly edifice, was erected in 1844 to the memory of the other Hardy, Trafalgar veteran Admiral Thomas Masterman Hardy.
So kissable....
Hardy, born at Long Bredy in1769 lived close by at Portesham. 
He was captain of the Victory at Trafalgar when his dying friend, Nelson, uttered those three fateful words, 'Kiss me Hardy,' so consigning the poor bloke to be the butt of schoolboy jokes for eternity.

There is another more prurient version of these events, by the way, with Nelson's dying words being interpreted as 'Kismet, Hardy'... meaning...'Fate, Hardy.'
Away from the smoke of battle the views across Dorset are breathtaking. Footpaths radiate to all points of the compass as do bridleways; so bring you dog or mountain bike or even a mountain biking dog.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Creative Dorset - Augustus John

Augustus John bearing an uncanny resemblance to my father
My four years at art college was wasted on my old pot and pan... real artists wore sandals, shunned soap and lay in an absinthe haze, with a nubile nymphette in each arm. I, on the other hand kept both armpits and nose clean.  

The Bohemian lifestyle invented by the Impressionists was eagerly adopted by Augustus John, Britain's foremost portrait painter, after an encounter with a group of gypsy tinkers, a meeting which began a lifelong obsession with the gypsy lifestyle.  
It was in 1911 John first appeared in Dorset driving a gypsy caravan  and accompanied by an entourage of women, children and hangers-on. They were headed for Alderney Manor, a grandly named crenellated pink bungalow in 50 acres of heathland. 
John was already a celebrated artistic genius, though the less generous attributed this genius to a crack on the nut while at college. Either way, a genius he certainly was. 

T. E. Lawrence
Alderney soon became a mecca for the most notorious creative minds of the era. Visitors whose names read like a who's who, stayed in brightly painted gypsy caravans in the grounds; while the children ran wild through the heath and animals of all shapes and sizes wandered the grounds, even a token monkey made an appearance. 
The creative chaos was presided over by his wife Dorelia, dressed in flowing Pre Raphaelite robes.
It was not just a fertile period for his art, Augustus carried on hoovering up the women as well, even Ian Fleming's mother was counted as a mistress. In fact it almost became de rigeur  to claim to have fathered one of his many children. Some put the number at 100 though a more modest nine were acknowledged. It was said that he patted each child on the head when walking down the Kings Road in case one might be his own.
Thomas Hardy
He meanwhile produced a series of brilliant portraits including those of a couple of the local lights; T. E Lawrence and Thomas Hardy, who commented "I don't know if that's how I look, but that's how I feel," Controversially a portrait of Lord Leverhulme was returned headless because the soap millionaire didn't appreciate the likeness. This caused a global scandal with artists and models going on a one day strike in Paris...presumably refusing to starve in their garrets for twenty four hours.
Nothing lasts, though, and in 1927 the group upped sticks and moved across the border to Fordingbridge in Hampshire.
Alderney Manor, alas, is now no more, having been demolished years ago while Augusus crumbled away in 1961.
The Blue Poole near Wareham

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The lost chapel

Lyscombe Chapel hides in an unspoilt and hidden valley, no signpost marks it out, while the only way to reach it is on your plates of meat. 

Dating from the 13th century, it was connected to the monastery of Milton Abbas, possibly as a stopover for wandering monks with the princely rent of twelve fishes being paid to the landowner. Following the Dissolution the chapel and accompanying priest's house became a bakehouse for several hundred years.

More recently it lay abandoned and was doomed to crumble to nothingness until the enlightened landowner breathed life into it once again.
The resulting restoration meant that in 2007 Mass was celebrated here for the first time in 500 years.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Portland lighthouse

At the Bill, Portland's furthest tip, strong currents meet causing the waters to angrily boil and froth like the contents of a devil's cauldron. 
It is surprising to find, then, that the first pair of lighthouses only appeared in 1716.

These were replaced in 1789 with a lighthouse running on new-fangled oil lamps and later equipped with two cannons to warn off any invasion by old Boney. A further pair erected in 1869 were superseded by the present lighthouse in 1906.  
Today's lighthouse is every child's dream of a lighthouse. On a clear day its clean lines dramatically outlined against an azure summer sky are unforgettable.
No whiskery lighthouse keeper is in attendance though, as the lighthouse finally became automatic in 1996.
Two of its precursors can also be seen, one of them, the Old Higher Lighthouse, owned from 1923 to 1958 by birth control pioneer, Mary Stopes, even has cottages to rent (click here).

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Dorset Detail - Swanage ephemera

Town hall facade by a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren taken from the Mercers’ Hall in Cheapside

Architectural salvage from Victorian London brought to Swanage
by Victorian civil engineer and benefactor George Burt

The Swanage lock up

Sunday, 14 September 2014

By George !...George III's holiday snaps Pt.10

More tittle tattle from the shoreline...
George III's king-sized bathing machine

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Hills and Views - Durlston Country Park

 Durlston Country Park sits high on the Purbecks above Swanage. It possesses probably the best views for the least amount of effort in Dorset and...better sit down at this's free.

Durleston Castle - Knights Templar...?
The Durlston estate originally belonged to George Burt, local boy made good, who made his money helping his uncle John Mowlem in London.  If the surname sounds familiar it is because uncle founded  Mowlems, one of the biggest Victorian civil contractors which survives to this day.
George had dreams of putting Swanage on the map and of his schemes was to create an upmarket housing development at Durleston.
The centre piece Durlston Castle was built in a typical Victorian mish-mash of styles. Alas, the castle was the only part of the plan ever to be realised. 
...or Italian Rennaisance?
Burt also arrived in Swanage with a whole bootful of large architectural antiques picked up from Mowlem developments from around the Victorian capital. These he  sprinkled around Swanage and explain the appearance of typical London cast iron bollards that are dotted incongruously around the castle grounds.

Durleston has recently been the subject of a brilliant piece of renovation with the castle now restored to its full glory, serving as an excellent interpretation centre and cafe.
The view from the cafe terrace is stunning, on a sunny day you really could imagine yourself sipping your cappuccino in Amalfi. 

Below the castle stands an iconic giant stone globe also installed by Burt and subject of a million happy holiday snaps over the last century.

The cliff path winds on past the quaintly titled Tilly Whim caves, in reality old quarry workings. These were once open to the public but are now unfortunately deemed unsafe. Beyond the view encompasses the whole of the Purbecks, while at your feet soft, springy turf beckons you to stretch out and
Durleston lighthouse

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Dorset Detail - Milestones

As you scoot along the roads of Dorset luxuriating in the cosseted comfort of an automobile, you may sometimes be aware of regular flashes of white at the periphery of your vision. The humble milestone begs your attention.  
Milestones still line Dorset roads at regular intervals, redundant witnesses to a slower, bygone age.
They were first used in Britain by the Romans, though it wasn't until the 1767 they became mandatory. Before this time even the length of a mile varied...hence the saying 'give him an inch and he'll take 1759 yards'... but with the advent of the mail coach strict  standardisation became necessary. 
The milestone's relevance gradually disminished with the arrival of the railway and the increasing speed traffic at the end of the 19C.
Nowadays they occupy some enviable pieces of real estate. Those along the A35 have stunning views, though actually reaching them means taking your life in your hands as the photographer (me) found.
Of course Britain being Britain there are milestone enthusiasts and a society, the Milestone Society (see here), though whether they actually uproot them and paste them in albums...

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Dorset Museums - Portland Museum

In the 1840s Portland saw the arrival of a bunch of rather reluctant visitors.
The building of the Portland breakwater, one of the largest civil projects of the period, needed manpower; so who better to provide it than Queen Victoria's prison population?
They gave new meaning to jailhouse rock as they sweated and manoeuvred thousands of tons of rocks into place. The jailbirds even became something of a tourist attraction, with wily Portlanders renting out rooms overlooking the prison quarries to London sightseers who quaffed tea and munched cakes while watching the hapless inmates
By the 1860s the prison population had risen to 1,800 and the prison regime had become noted for its brutality. Deaths averaged one a week. 
This grim situation was somewhat alleviated by the surprise arrival of Edward VII in1902 who promptly ordered the distribution of half a pound of roly poly and two ounces of golden syrup to each and every inmate.
In 1921 the prison was replaced by a borstal, and now houses young offenders. 
The two objects pictured can be found in Portland Museum and date from the prison's early years. The delicate ivory object was lovingly carved by a sentimental old lag, probably for sale to the public; while the chains...well they can be summed up with a sentence...

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Dorset Churches - St Georges, Portland

Imagine a Wren church lifted bodily from its foundations and placed atop the bleak and windswept heights of Portland. This is the Church of St George.
The incongruity is increased by the fact that it is perched on the very edge of a deep quarry.
The church was erected  between 1754 and 1766 by a local architect and replaced the original church, the remains of which can still be found above the appropriately named, Church Ope Cove.
Killed by lightening
Aside from its windswept beauty, St George's also possesses  an unusually complete graveyard of about 2500 graves containing a number of fascinating and elaborate gravestones.

Shot by the Pressgang

After 150 years St George’s closed for worship in 1914 but was saved from dereliction by a group of volunteers. It now opens during the summer months. The interior is beautifully preserved and includes a twin pulpit for those who preferred to hear the Word in stereo.
Open 10:00-17.00 Until End of October.
10.00-15.00 Winter Months
Died in childbirth