Sunday, 16 March 2014

How I meant to visit the Stanley Spencer Art gallery in Cookham and never made it.

By the time Friday came, I was getting tired but I had another chance to grab some freedom and I took it with both hands. I intended to spend the afternoon at The Stanley Spencer art gallery in Cookham, on the river Thames.

First off, for no obvious reason, I stopped at the Animal Sanctuary at Dorney and I had such a special time that I'm going to have to do a special Blog on that, next week. It cost me the best part of an hour.

By the time I got to Maidenhead I was already tired and I hadn't really been anywhere.

I parked near the river and walked down - the floods have passed and while it's moving fast, the river is quiet again.

I walked along the bank to Ray's Mill island at Boulter's lock.
Here's the weir - still a bit of foam;

Then on the Island I had an ice cream in the sun. This is the hundredth anniversary of the First World War and, among other things, it transformed Maidenhead forever.

The wide promenades, the pleasure gardens, the fountains here are all relics of another age - they don't seem to fit.

From the mid 19th century until 1914, this was the most fashionable place to be seen. On a sunny day like today, hundreds would come, while on a spring weekend or a holiday upwards of 50,000 could be here - brought by the railway from the smog and grind of London on cheap excursions.

The Big Houses were where the wealthy and powerful did their deals, the rest walked up and down in their Sunday best or hired a boat - you can see some of that in the film 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' where one of the murders takes place here or at Henley, just upstream.

With the war, a hundred years ago, all of that stopped overnight. Afterwards with so many dead, injured or unemployed, the crowds never came back. Like an old abandoned gold rush town, it was quiet again.

I didn't go back to my car - I walked on along the river bank. I was looking for the few trees with new leaves. Sprouting that fresh, bright green that only lasts a week or so.

Halfway along I came across The Clivedon Estate - the big house on the top of the hill for the artistocrats, the discrete lodges down by the river bank for the less socially acceptable weekend guests. it was almost a palladian scene. 

This was the  home of  the Astor family and in the 1930's the infamous haunt of 'The Clivedon Set' - those right wing establishment figures who sought to appease Hitler; Geoffrey Dawson editor of the Times newpaper, Montague Norman of the Bank of England - Hitler's banker, who famously was organising loans to prop up the regime as late as August 1939 - just before war broke out.

Another anniversary - it is 50 years since 'the Profumo Scandal' brought down a cabinet minister and in the end the conservative government itself, a story with links to where I grew up.

Finally, I made it to Cookham, footsore and tired out.

Lots of ivy and lots of oak beamed cottages to see;

But too late for the gallery which was closing as I got there. So, a long walk back under a hot sun at the end of another good day.

Click on any picture to get a slideshow.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)



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