A large group of Outings Group members met in the heart of the City to visit the London Mithraeum, the remains of the Roman Temple of Mithras properly brought to life by Bloomberg, when it was effectively rediscovered during the creation of the Stirling Prize winning London Bloomberg HQ. (It was initially discovered in the 1890s, then again in the 1950s, but had been moved from its original location and (surprisingly, since it might nowadays be considered an act of vandalism!) filled in with concrete so people were walking over it without realising what was underneath). The temple is 7 metres below what is currently street level and the visit consists of three stages: the ground floor displays numerous objects (eg keys, weighing scales, shoes, pots etc) found during the excavation, and Bloomberg helpfully enabled us to learn quite a bit about these as they provide tablets enabling viewers to hone in on any one object. What’s on display is only a tiny proportion of what was actually found. The floor below consists of an audio presentation, and other displays about Mithras and the cult of Mithraism, without telling us what he was the god of (various sources on this, eg Wikipedia says he was the god of light).
The floor below is the actual temple, in which visitors are allowed 20 minutes to walk, the first part consisting of sound effects to reproduce the atmosphere of Roman temple life. This is regarded as one of the UK’s most significant archaeological sites and we were suitably impressed with the unique aspect of the place and also Bloomberg’s generosity (though they do have the dosh!) in enabling free entry and providing an informative booklet. Afterwards a group of us enjoyed hot drinks and conversation in the striking Wren cafe (reviews hugely praise their artisan coffee) in the soaring St Nicholas Cole Abbey church. A memorable outing!
“The Outings Group enjoyed a good visit to Westminster Abbey in the autumn sunshine. What an awe inspiring place, which quite a few of us had never visited, reflecting so much history and culture. Beautiful statuary and especially impressive were those of Handel, Shakespeare and Sir Isaac Newton. The multimedia guide was good, I thought, and those of us who did the extra verger’s tour were glad we did as one learns much more, John was a good guide and he took us round the normally inaccessible Edward the Confessor shrine. Fran and I toured the gardens later, very quiet by that time. The only downside in my view was the cafe, which only did table service, making the process a bit of a palaver and more expensive.” – Roslyn Byfield, Group Convener
William Morris Gallery
Curator Roisin gave us a lively and informative introductory tour, after which we explored the various galleries with many striking exhibits, including a stretch of the green velvet commissioned to line walls on the Titanic. We all probably learned a lot we hadn’t known before such as Morris back then being better known for his poetry than design. He was ahead of his time in being very concerned about environmental damage and wanting decent pay and conditions for workers. The gallery is also set in an attractive park and Walthamstow itself has changed considerably so much to be recommended!
Lambeth Palace Garden
This was the last opportunity to visit the garden this year! Great weather, good catering, jazz bands and plants on sale, plus some fruit and vegetables, including quinces.
About a dozen members of the Outings Group met for a two hour of the West Cemetery with Julia, our volunteer guide. In the early 1980s it was derelict and overgrown, but thanks to the hard work of the Friends of the cemetery, it is now accessible and beautiful. It is very hilly but the paths are clear and wide. We learned that there are 17 acres in this part – 15 for Anglicans and 2 for Dissenters when built in 1839. In all there are 17,000 people buried in 53,000 graves. This includes some 300 war graves. We learnt about the lovely refurbished chapel, and then we set off into the huge courtyard, large enough for horse drawn hearses to turn. This is backed by an arched colonnade with a large War Memorial cross. On the main path, where the highest in society had their graves, Julia pointed out decorative features used by the Victorians to depict various aspects related to death and burial and people’s occupations. We walked through the Egyptian Avenue, lined with iron doors, to the Circle of Lebanon with its several hundred year old Cedar of Lebanon looking magnificent.
An edited account of the visit by Lesley Ramm
Postscript: A couple of weeks later four members of the Group visited the East Cemetery, which we had not had time for because the recent Group visit to the West Cemetery had taken some time. Due to necessary expansion, the East opened in 1860, some years after the West (1839). You get a map, which shows where graves of interest are and indicates their occupants’ claim to fame. The place was very atmospheric in the dappled autumn sunshine and peaceful as not that many visitors. We managed to see the current and original Karl Marx graves, and numerous others incuding those of Malcolm MacLaren, Colin St John Wilson (British Library architect), Pat Kavanagh (literary agent and wife of Julian Barnes), Jeremy Beadle, Patrick Caulfield, Corin Redgrave and Bert Jansch. Altogether a good afternoon and it would be good to visit the other London cemeteries at some point.
On 15th July a lively group of 17 Outings members, including several newcomers, descended on the lavender farm just outside Hitchin, Hertfordshire (very quick on the train!). The entry fee includes a paper bag and loan of scissors to cut your own, and after an hour or so some bags were bulging.
There are lovely views across the surrounding countryside from the top of the fields and we snipped away, accompanied by zillions of bees, before making for the cafe for lunch. A lovely spot to visit and enjoy the fragrant fields and nice to take it home as that doesn’t happen at the Mayfield Lavender Farm, Banstead.
On 13 June a select and jolly band of Outings Group members visited Hatfield House, described as ‘a fine Jacobean house and garden in a spectacular countryside setting’, owned by Lord and Lady Salisbury, who live in its east wing. As it was warm and sunny we first did the longest parkland walk (90 minutes at least), which took us past the 15 acre Broadwater lake and through woodlands, where we spotted a heron and two red kites. After a stylish lunch in the River Cottage Kitchen and Deli (run in partnership with food writer and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) we visited the lovely West Garden (no shortage of roses, topiary and other plants in full bloom), then the house, with its many Elizabethan associations. A striking feature of the grounds was the lack of signage, which we gathered was due to Lady S disliking it, but we applied our collective brainpower to navigating ourselves around in its absence and had a wonderful day there!
Osterley House and Park
The Outings Group had great weather for its bluebell walk at Osterley. The bluebells really are stunning and you can see successive carpets of them, with the house in the background and get right up to them, too (in some places they’ve had to fence them off because of dangers of trampling). It would be hard to find a better place for viewing them and there’s also an impressive wisteria along one side of the house (in full scented bloom now) and extensive gardens including a walled garden, a garden house designed by Robert Adam, and a Doric temple (probably) by Sir William Chambers, architect of the pagoda at Kew.
RSPB Rainham Marshes
A smaller than usual Outings Group had an excellent trip to Rainham Marshes and we were very pleased to find that entrance was free for first time visitors. We enjoyed a wonderful walk around the whole site in the glorious sunshine. It wasn’t at all busy so there was almost a feeling of having the place to ourselves, though we benefited from the experience of a regular twitcher. We visited all the hides and and a saw a variety of birds including a Wagtail, Little Egret, Lapwing and numerous ducks and geese, although we think the heat may have caused some to lie low. A very noisy marsh frog attracted the attention of visitors near the site entrance and we heard a cuckoo, once common but harder to hear these days. After lunch in the cafe half the group walked an additional 5 miles along the Thames Path to Rainham station, and made their way home via Barking and the London Overground.
Visit Essex says “RSPB Rainham Marshes is a unique nature reserve which has been restored to a grazing marshland following 100 years of use as a MoD shooting range. A fully accessible nature trail allows you to experience nature firsthand throughout the seasons. You can explore this lovely nature reserve throughout the year, and get close to the amazing wildlife. There are a number of hides that give great views of wildlife, even without binoculars.”
The Supreme Court
On a rainy afternoon Outings Group members gathered for a visit to the Supreme Court building near the houses of Parliament, completed in 1913 and very much reminiscent of the similar style (statuary, stained glass etc, light fittings) at Two Temple Place.
Inaugurated as recently as 2009 (initiated by Tony Blair – previously such decisions had been made by the Law Lords) the Supreme Court plays an important role in the development of UK law. The Court is the final court of appeal for all United Kingdom civil cases, and criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Our guide, Rebecca, took us on an engaging tour of courts 1 (traditional), 2 (modern) and 3, besides the library, which is normally closed to the public. She covered the history of the building, the relationship of this court to others within the UK judicial system, and described the kinds of cases heard there. Seven or nine judges often preside, but the complexity of the recent Article 50 case involved 11! As they only offer tours on Fridays, when the court is closed, it would be worth returning at some point on another day to see the court in session.
Myddelton House Gardens
A slightly depleted (due to illness) but cheerful Outings Group visited the lovely Myddelton House Gardens today for snowdrop viewing and weren’t disappointed. Planting has extended way beyond what it was years ago, including the Alpine Meadow, and other paths and terraces are a pleasure to walk along, one leading to the striking Market Cross, which the horticulturalist E A Bowles (related to the perhaps more famous Parker Bowles family) rescued from being made into rubble in 1904. Besides snowdrops, crocuses, hellebores and early daffodils abound. This place is a gem which is delightful and worthwhile to visit at any time of year.
The Cinema Museum
On the last day of the month members of the Outings Group had the temerity to cross the river and venture into unknown territory – south London, and how well they were rewarded! The trip to the privately-run Cinema Museum in Kennington provided an irresistible combination of film and architecture. In the chapel of the former Lambeth workhouse – a Grade II listed building – is a screening area and all manner of memorabilia rescued from abandoned and demolished cinemas. The atmosphere is infused with the spirit of Charlie Chaplin, who was a resident of the workhouse for a while. Within the building there is also another cinema, and corridors lined with Art Deco-influenced artefacts from the Golden Age of cinema-going. Our hosts for the day were Martin (one of the co-founders of the Museum) and an appropriately attired, enthusiastic volunteer Maurice. Martin gave a history of the collection with a slide-show, and we learnt, with some dismay, that its future of the collection was in some doubt as the lease to the building was soon to expire.
Then it was over to Maurice who conducted a brief tour of the outside of the building, explaining more about the workhouse, its architecture, surviving buildings and decorative features (polychromatic brickwork and Venetian Gothic windows) and the water-tower. Then it was back inside out of the cold for a welcome cup of tea (I wonder why Martin thought Crouch Enders would only drink herbal teas?). Maurice then recalled the days of Saturday morning cinema showings for children and invited the visitors to join him in a brief sing-song, and the visit ended with a showing of a number short films on a variety of subjects, feeding memories of London’s trams and coffee bars (with a glimpse of Britain’s first teen idol and rock and roll star, Tommy Steele), and wartime information films, as well as some extraordinary film of flooding of the Seine in Paris, and an example of the avant-garde work of the G.P.O. Film Unit. This was indeed a wonderful visit.
140 Years of Recorded Sound
This free exhibition at the British Library used the National Sound Archive collection to demonstrate just how important have the sounds of the past 140 years been to our lives. It looked at the significance of sound since the phonograph was invented in 1877. Quite a few of the sound effects and recorded speeches you hear on radio and TV will have come from the National Sound Archive.
“We were lucky that it was a clear day and dry – although very cold, especially along some of the windier streets. We left by the rear of John Lewis, which had beautiful strings of white lights from the fifth floor hanging alongside the escalators, and crossed Henrietta Place then Cavendish Square and left on to Wigmore Street where we passed Wigmore Hall. Then into St Christopher’s Place and Gee Court which had wonderful lights strung high above along the road before crossing Oxford Street where the bare trees looked lovely with their fairy lights and into South Molton Street. Here the lights were huge blue and white arches with stars all along the road – very striking. At Brook St we passed the entrance to Haunch of Venison Yard, Handel House museum and Jimi Hendrix house. Then we headed along Lancashire Court (formerly Horse Shoe Yard) decorated with very large bells, to New Bond St, and joined Maddox St. New Bond St was decorated with lovely white Peacock feather lights. At Brown’s dining rooms Roslyn told us it was originally a tailor’s and some of the original décor remains inside. We looked at St George’s Church Hanover Square, where a choir was rehearsing before heading back along Maddox St before crossing Regent St which was decorated with flying angels. A quick look at the Christmas windows in Liberty then down Kingly St and Ganton St, strung with multicoloured bulbs, into Carnaby St, Newburgh St and Foubert’s Place decorated with a tropical theme – palm trees, parrots, party poppers and oversized lightbulbs. We passed Wright Bros Oyster House and The Bag o’ Nails nightclub. Then we were back at Regent St with the angels – and pretend soldiers outside Penhaligon’s. We headed along Regent St to Vigo St, where Pickett (leather goods shop) had lovely trees lit up over the doorway, past Savile Row and into Burlington Gardens towards Old Bond St. cut through the lovely Burlington Arcade where the decorations were beautiful trees with subtle green lights and out into Piccadilly. Looking along Old Bond St we saw the huge diamond light near De Beers. In Albemarle St there was a simple but lovely theme of white lights across the road. Looking across to the beautifully decorated Ritz we were now getting quite cold and tired, so set off for home after a wonderful walk seeing some beautifully lit streets … ” – Lesley Ramm.
“… a large group of us visited Walthamstow Wetlands today. Some met up at Costa Finsbury Park and travelled together to meet others there. We went into the visitor centre/shop/café area in The Engine House. I bought a map – which thankfully Julie Vaggers could read. We set off in improving weather along the top of the East Warwick Reservoir. It was blustery and chilly until we went down to the path again. We returned to the café between eastern reservoirs and saw more birds and several anglers.
Most of us had lunch at the café. Having sat outside some of us soon got chilly. We then went up to the second floor to look south over the reservoirs towards the very prominent church spire of St Mary Stoke Newington (identified by Julie from Google maps). Roslyn and a few others the set off for the northern reservoirs on the other side of Forest Road. We all enjoyed a great day out thanks to Roslyn. – Lesley Ramm.
London Wetland Centre
Osterley House and Park
Successful and heartwarming … Members of the Group visited this handsome (and accessible!) National Trust property wearing its lovely autumn colours. One of the last surviving country estates in London, it was once described by art historian Horace Walpole as ‘the palace of palaces’, Osterley was created in the late 18th century by architect and designer Robert Adam for the Child family to entertain and impress their friends and clients.
“Fabulous visit to Osterley Park and House with the Outings Group on 27th October wonderfully arranged by Roslyn Byfield. We all thoroughly enjoyed the visit, in lovely weather, and much appreciated Roslyn’s efforts on our behalf. Not only was travel free with 60+ Oystercards and Freedom Passes but entry was free with an Art Fund card too! Looking forward to more outings with a lovely group.” – Lesley Ramm.