Brighton Pavilion

In the 1780s architect Henry Holland converted an old farmhouse near the sea front in Brighton to be a pleasure villa. That building was altered, on the instructions of George (Prince Regent, later George IV) to become a glorious folly in which he could entertain guests. Work began in 1815 under the instructions of John Nash, but it was not until 1823 that the final flourishes were added to the building.

The site already had a domed structure in the form of the Stables, created in the early 1800s in the then fashionable “Hindoo” style. The design bore little or no resemblance to true Indian architecture and was rather more a dream of what England thought India was like – or should be like. In 1809 the fiirst Indian restaurant opened in London but it was never a huge success and closed three years later. All things Indian and “Hindoo” were therefore already falling from fashion when George gave the style his support.

While the exterior of the building is based on Indian influences, even if loosely, the interior is decidedly Chinese. Once again, however, the artists and craftsmen involved in its production knew very little about the country and the overall result is a dream of how they believed it was, rather than reality. Lots of dragons and bamboo but very little restraint. Overall the result is the architectural equivalent of a wedding cake – over dressed on the outside and extremely cloying on the inside. However, it is typical of Brighton, the home of Aubrey Beardsley.

In his BBC2 series Abroad Again in Britain historian Jonathan Meades pointed out that the building was never at the height of fashion and was certainly nothing like the commonly-accepted Regency style. He also called it an “ode to excess” and said: “It’s so rich it’s almost emetic”. That is probably true. It is, however, typical of George – Prince of Wales, Regent and dandy – overblown and extravagant.

Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial is one of the best known monuments of the Victorian Age. Architect George Gilbert Scott wanted to set up something similar to a Medieval shrine and is believed to have been influenced by the Eleanor Crosses set up by King Edward I after the death of his Queen. Those crosses were built at all the places her coffin rested on her funeral procession. Few remain but there is a fine example at Geddington in Northamptonshire.

The memorial to Albert, Victoria’s Prince Consort, has 169 carved figures on a frieze as well as sculptural groups at each corner representing Agriculture, Commerce, Engineering and Manufacture. Other groups represent Africa, America, Asia and Europe. The figure of Albert himself, sculpted by John Foley, is seated at the centre and is covered in gold. The enormous edifice is highly ornate and typical of the overblown High Victorian design of its time. The whole thing is more than 170 feet tall.

Materials used in the construction include glass, stone, cast iron, lead and bronze as well as the gilding on Albert himself. The statue was re-gilded as part of a major overhaul of the monument in the 1990s and was officially reopened in October 1998.

Moira Furnace

In 1792 a plan was launched to build a canal near Ashby de La Zouch, although the cut never actually reached the town. In 1800 the local land was enclosed and the mineral rights granted to Francis Rawdon Hastings, 2nd Earl Moira. Four years later he sank the first coal mine on his land and built a lime kiln. Work began on constructing a blast furnace. The combination was the ideal way of using all the local minerals, ironstone, limestone and coal.

However, the furnace was never a success and worked for only a total of a few months before being finally closed in 1811 after a disastrous fire that reached temperatures high enough to melt the brickwork. The associated iron foundry was a huge success on the other hand and remained in operation producing smallware until the 1850s.

The lime kilns were also a commercial success, producing quicklime for the building industry and agriculture until the 1850s. Coal mining continued in the area until the 1980s.

Moira had a brief spell as a spa in 1812 when it was decided to exploit the salt water from down the mines but the site proved unpopular so the water was later shipped to the Ivanhoe Baths in Ashby by canal and tramway.
Moira Furnace is now a listed building and preserved as a museum at the centre of a heritage park in the National Forest.

Crich Tramway Museum

Crich Tramway Village in Derbyshire is a working museum where it is possible to ride round on trams all day and see a slice of life in “the olden days”. Although there is no specific date given at the museum some visitors can remember catching trams to go to work when they were young. That probably puts it around 45 to 50 years ago. The village is quite small by comparison with others of its type (Black Country Living Museum, Blists Hill, for example) but it has a few fascinating details to discover as well as having an authentic “bygone” atmosphere with its tiled Red Lion pub, cobbled streets and enamel advertising signs. One nice touch is that visitors are given an old penny with which to buy an all-day ticket to ride on the trams.

The Tramway Museum Society has also rescued a few buildings, notably the old Derby Assembly Rooms, which once stood on a city square but now grace the Town End tram terminus that marks the start of many of the rides. Other structures rescued from around the country include a number of old Birmingham tram shelters, a horse trough and a drinking fountain. There are workshops where the tram enthusiasts repair and restore the old machines or just haul them in for a wash when they start to look grubby from their trips up and down the hill.

Even if antique transport is not for you there is still plenty to see with an old mine at the other end of the tramlines as well as a woodland walk and sculpture trail. The museum has an exhibition “Tracks in Time” with a reconstructed street scene that has plenty of historic information hidden among the replica shop fronts. Near the centre of the site is a reconstructed 1844 cast iron bridge that used to stand on the Bowes-Lyon estate at Stagenhoe Park at Ware in Hertfordshire.

Black Country Living Museum

The Black Country Living Museum is a 26 acre site on the edge of Dudley, West Midlands that houses a collection of buildings and structures from around the Black Country.

Where is the Black Country? Well, experts have failed to agree on exactly what its boundaries are in spite of generations of arguments. Some say it is the area that used to be coloured black on geological maps of the Midlands, indicating the presence of coal. Others say it was the traditional iron working area to the north west of Birmingham. Perhaps the best definition is that it is certainly NOT Birmingham but is wherever a Black Country person says it is. For the purposes of this site it is the four boroughs of Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell and Dudley.

The museum has a fascinating collection of items that were manufactured in the Black Country, now housed in a building that used to be a swimming baths. Each small town and village in the area was famous for its own trade. There were leatherworkers in Walsall, brickmakers in Aldridge, enamellers in Bilston, glassmakers in Stourbridge, chain makers in Netherton, the list is huge. The museum also has an open-air section that takes the form of an early 20th century industrial village, with a picture house, a chip shop, a pub, chapel, cake shop, sweet shop, lots of workshops and all the other necessaries of living.

During a visit to the museum the Anorak decided to take a different view of the site and explore it with one material in mind – iron. It was mostly cast iron, though forges of various kinds can be found there. And it is amazing how much of life involved cast iron in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That picture above left, for example is the inside of the exhibition hall, the former Rolfe Street Baths building. The roof trusses, or supports,  are made of cast iron. But a look around the site showed that humankind has never really left the Iron Age.

On the Streets, for example, cast iron could be found everywhere. Lamp posts were made from it, as were the traditional red pillar boxes. Roadsigns were also made from cast iron. Even the window frames were iron.

Bridge parapets and boundary fences were also made from the ubiquitous material. It was simple to create elaborate designs by making a mould in sand with a former or pattern. Molten iron was then poured into the mould and left to cool. Repeating patterns could be made in modular form then fixed together.

Everyday items were all made from iron. The bootjack by the door that helped a miner take off his dirty footwear before he went into the house was made of cast iron. The one on the left is shown still in its sand former after manufacture. Chimney pots on top of houses, guttering and down-pipes were made of iron. Even the straps around the barrel that helped to make it waterproof were iron bands.

Hinges to work the gate, latches to open the door, almost everything was made of iron. And even after it had served its original purpose, some iron found a new lease of life. A discarded horse shoe was nailed over a cottage door to bring luck. Sometimes even the houses themselves were made from iron.

In the 1920s, when bricks were in short supply, Dudley Council tried an experimental form of construction as a way to clear old slum housing quickly. The walls consisted of 600 plates that were bolted together to make pairs of semi-detached houses. Only a very few were built because the cost proved prohibitive, but two are preserved at the museum.

Avoncroft Museum

Avoncroft is a collection of old buildings that have been rescued from demolition and decay then transported to a site near Bromsgrove in Worcestershire. It contains structures from all over the West Midlands and from seven centuries.

There’s housing, agricultural and industrial buildings, a toll office, chapel, windmill, 1940s prefab and even a fibreglass church spire.

Working life is represented with workshops from Black Country chain making and nail making. These are not the huge manufacturing units of the late Industrial Revolution but the small, household workshops where every member of the family was expected to contribute to the work – including women and children.

The Museum was founded in 1964 following an unsuccessful attempt to preserve a listed Tudor house in Bromsgrove from demolition. Campaigners managed to save only the timbers but the Merchant’s House became the first exhibit to be restored and reconstructed on site.

As well as buildings it is possible to see old skills and industries recreated at the museum. There are also regular costumed re-enactment days. And for the communications enthusiast the museum houses the national collection of telephone boxes – including a Tardis!

 

A view of heritage

cow shaped cream jugs
A collection of cow creamers at Stoke Potteries Museum

Extract from Three Men in a Boat (1889)

Why, all our art treasures of today are only the dug-up commonplaces of three or four hundred years ago. I wonder if there is any real intrinsic beauty in the old soup-plates, beer-mugs, and candle-snuffers that we prize so now, or if it is only the halo of age glowing around them that gives them their charms in our eyes. The ‘old blue’ that we hang about our walls as ornaments were the common, everyday utensils of a few centuries ago; and the pink shepherds and the yellow shepherdesses that we hand round now for our friends to gush over, and pretend they understand, were the unvalued mantel-ornaments that the mother of the eighteenth century would have given the baby to suck when he cried.

Will it be the same in the future? Will the prized treasures of today always be the cheap trifles of the day before? Will rows of willow pattern dinner-plates be ranged above the chimney-pieces of the great in the years 2000 and odd? Will the white cups with the gold rim and the beautiful flower inside (species unknown), that our Sarah Janes now break in sheer light-heartedness of spirit, be carefully mended, and stood upon a bracket, and dusted only by the lady of the house?

That china dog that ornaments the bedroom of my furnished lodgings. It is a white dog. Its eyes are blue. Its nose is a delicate red, with black spots. Its head is painfully erect, and its expression is amiability carried to the verge of imbecility. I do not admire it myself. Considered as a work of art, I may say it irritates me. Thoughtless friends jeer at it, and even my landlady herself has no admiration for it, and excuses its presence by the circumstance that her aunt gave it to her.

But in 200 years’ time it is more than probable that that dog will be dug up from somewhere or other, minus its legs, and with its tail broken, and will be sold for old china, and put in a glass cabinet. And people will pass it round and admire it. They will be struck by the wonderful depth of the colour on its nose, and speculate as to how beautiful the bit of the tail that is lost no doubt was. In 2088 people will gush over it. The making of such dogs will have become a lost art. Our descendents will wonder how we did it, and say how clever we were. We shall be referred to lovingly as ‘those grand old artists that flourished in the nineteenth century, and produced those china dogs’.

The ‘sampler’ that the eldest daughter did at school will be spoken of as ‘tapestry of the Victorian era’, and be almost priceless. The blue-and-white mugs of the present-day roadside inn will be hunted up, all cracked and chipped, and sold for claret cups; and travellers from Japan will buy up the ‘Presents from Ramsgate’, and ‘Souvenirs of Margate’, that may have escaped destruction, and take them back to Jedo as ancient English curios.

Jerome K Jerome