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Martin Richards writes about Alfred Waterhouse in Reading and beyond

A famed Victorian architect’s time in Reading and beyond

A guest post from Martin Richards

What is the connection between the great Victorian architect, Alfred Waterhouse and Paddington Bear, who arrived at the London railway station from deepest Peru? Well Michael Bond the bear’s creator was brought up in Reading and his witnessing the evacuees arriving at Reading General station at the beginning of WW2 was an inspiration behind the Paddington Bear books. In his late thirties Alfred Waterhouse who hailed from Liverpool and Manchester built a house, Foxhill (1867-8), for himself and his family on the Whiteknights Park estate on the edge of Reading, while running his practice in central London. Concurrently Waterhouse was designing London’s Natural History Museum, which just happens to be Paddington Bear’s favourite building as witnessed in his first film outing.

In a career of nearly fifty years Waterhouse became a foremost exponent of Victorian Gothic architecture and was involved in designing, adapting or restoring around six hundred and fifty buildings, including town halls, university colleges, museums, private homes and ecclesiastical buildings. In Manchester for instance he designed the Assize Courts, a much praised early work that established his reputation for large and well-planned projects. Much damaged, it was pulled down after WW2 but his imposing Strangeways prison close by and his towering gothic masterpiece, Manchester Town Hall are still extant.

In the 1850s the Whiteknights Park estate (now the University) was divided into six plots of land that were sold off with a sizeable house built on each. After retirement Waterhouse’s wealthy textile manufacturing father, also Alfred, and Quaker mother bought one of these in 1859 and a few years later leased a part of his land to his son to build Foxhill House, by Whiteknight’s lake. Waterhouse had already built a house Erlegh (sic) Park on the opposite side of the lake for a plantation owner from the West Indies; this was pulled down in the nineteen sixties to make way for Wessex Hall, student accommodation for the University that had recently been re-sited to the park. His third building on the estate, Wilderness House was also demolished in the nineteen fifties.

In the ten years before he moved his family to the delightful west Berkshire village of Yattendon in 1877, Waterhouse left his mark in the Reading area. He built the south end of Reading Town Hall which included the iconic clock tower; the north end – nearer the railway – was started in 1877 but was the work of Thomas Lainston, a cheaper option. His rebuilt and greatly expanded Reading Grammar School (1868-72) was relocated to Craven/Addington/Erleigh Road from its central site: it is one of the oldest schools in the country, starting out in the mid-twelfth century as the school for Reading Abbey but by the nineteenth century had declined and needed reinvigorating. East Thorpe in Redlands Road was built as the marital home for George Palmer and his bride Alice Exall; it was later given by Palmer, the founder of Huntley and Palmer’s biscuits, to University College, Reading (later Reading University) and is now the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL). In 1877 he was asked to build a Temperance Building in Silver Street, a poor area just south of the centre of the town. By the 1980s the Rising Sun Institute, as it was by then known, was in a semi-derelict state and after a semi-squat by campaigning local artists, was reopened as the Rising Sun Arts Centre.

Oh yes, there is another connection with children’s literature. Not a bear but a squirrel and a rabbit. Early on in his life as an architect he built two neighbouring houses by Derwentwater near Keswick in the Lake District. Beatrix Potter when holidaying from London stayed in both of these and was inspired to create Squirrel Nutkin and Peter Rabbit, well-known characters in her children’s books.

A lot more can be read about these matters in Alfred Waterhouse, architect. The life and works of a Victorian Goth, a ninety-page A5 illustrated book that can be bought privately from Martin Richards, £10 incl. p&p.

Email Martin at: newleafdesign@waitrose.com

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Poet of the Week – 21: René Noyau

TWO RIVERS PRESS POET OF THE WEEK—21: RENÉ NOYAU

René Noyau (1911/12-84) was a Mauritian poet of African and European descent. He was also an essayist, playwright, chronicler, short story writer and aphorist. He wrote in French and Mauritian Creole and used a number of pseudonyms and initials: Jean Erenne, Jean-Claude Bouais, Michèle Bouais, Prof, Observateur, R., N., R.N., J.E., as well as his own name. He tended to use Jean Erenne for his poetry.

He influenced literary and social events in his island: for example, in 1934 he introduced surrealism with L’Ange aux Pieds d’Airain (The Angel with Feet of Bronze) and importantly in 1971 relaunched Mauritian Creole in literature with the fable Tention Caïma (Beware Crocs About). He was happy to acknowledge and celebrate his origins at a time when African ancestry and heritage were not prized or even mentioned. He was strongly for an independent Mauritius and in the 1950s made writing about politics and the dispossessed his main priority. He described himself as shy but audacious. In his writings he was prepared to stand against what he felt was unjust: he was a strong polemist.

His output is remarkable in quantity and quality. Apart from trying his hand at various genres he was also a prolific letter writer. His commercially published work was limited to two collections of poetry: L’Ange aux Pieds d’Airain (1934), Le Labyrinthe Illuminé (1939) (The Labyrinth Alight), one book of aphorisms and reflections: Le Poinçon de Cristal (1942) (The Cristal Punch). Those three books were signed Jean Erenne. He also published a book of short stories called Passerelles (1936) (Gateways) signed Jean-Claude Bouais. He edited Frontières (1940) (Frontiers) a collection of writings by various authors including two of his own: La Lettre (The Letter)a short story signed Jean Erenne and an essay Filière (Connections) signed Jean-Claude Bouais. Finally, in 1971 he published Tention Caïma, the fable in Mauritian Creole accompanied by a French version, Il y a Toujours des Caïmans (There will Always be Crocodiles), both signed René Noyau. In 2012/13 Gérard Noyau, his son, introduced and edited four volumes of his works, René Noyau, l’oeuvre, in Mauritius with the help of Culture et Avenir (Culture and the Future)a department attached to the office of the then Prime Minister of Mauritius.

As a journalist and chronicler, René Noyau contributed to the dailies Le Mauricien, Le Cernéen, Advance, Action, and to the fortnightly Zamana. In all about 350 of his articles and chronicles have been recovered. The magazine, Le Musée Vivant, Paris, published two of his essays L’Europe et l’Afrique se sont retrouvées dans un tableau de Lapicque (1955) (Europe and Africa meet in a painting by Lapicque) and Présence africaine à l’île Maurice (1956) (African Presence in Mauritius), and three poems: Terre en Feu (1955) (Earth on Fire), Les Arbres Volent et les Oiseaux Tombent (1957)  (Trees Fly and Birds fall) and Sega de Liberté (1959) (Sega of Freedom). His Présence Africaine à l’Île Maurice was republished in Sève, a Mauritian publication, in 1958.

Many of his works were published privately, very often for fear of reprisal by the authorities, and circulated among friends in Mauritius and abroad. His long political poem Les Amis du Peuple Veillent (1965 and1968) (The Friends of the People are Watching) is a good example. It saw the riots and the resulting state of emergency as a scheme by the colonial power to quell the voice of the people and surreptitiously annex part of the Mauritian islands before independence, for their oil deposits.

René Noyau and Two Rivers Press: In March 2021, Two Rivers Press will publish Earth on Fire and Other Poemsa selection of René’s poems in bilingual format, the English versions by his son Gérard Noyau with Peter Pegnall. The three poems that follow give a bare indication of the scope of his poetry. The first Fierté (Pride) is illustrative of his love poems. Sadly, for Noyau, love is a ‘microbe’ always ending in separation or other longing. The second, Nature Morte (Still Life), published posthumously, is a moving sketch of a moment in time. The third is the first part of Légendes de Temps et de Lieu (1939) (Legends of Time and Place) which he described as a poem for children.

~

FIERTÉ (1939)

Mes mains avaient appris à t’appeler parmi les foules.
Je t’avais reconnue au signe simple de la joie
et nous sommes restés longtemps à regarder
les hommes qui passaient au son tumultueux des cuivres de l’amour.

Puis tu m’as demandé d’oublier comme on demande à boire …
je t’ai tendu ma grande coupe débordante de silence.
Et depuis, entre nous, il existe un regard
dont la lumière est déchirante comme un cri !

PRIDE

My hands had learnt to call you in a crowd.
I had recognised you from the simple sign of joy
and we stayed a long time looking at
people who passed to the swirling fanfare of love.

Then you asked me to forget like we’d ask for a drink …
I stretched out my great goblet overflowing with silence.
And since then, between us, there exists a look
whose light is as heartrending as a scream!

~

NATURE MORTE

Sa grâce suspendue
la grenade mordue
les arbres décollés
une chevelure éparse
un étui de violoncelle
un bruit de moteur
un vendeur de journaux
toute une simplicité de femme assise
triant du riz

STILL LIFE

Her gracefulness suspended
the pomegranate bitten into
trees blasted off
hair wind-blown
a cello case
an engine sound
a newspaper seller
all the simplicity of a woman sitting
cleaning rice

~

LÉGENDES DE TEMPS ET DE LIEU (1939)

I

Les étoiles ne sont plus des lampes,
Ce sont des visages qui sourient
Parce que le ciel ainsi que mon cœur est clair.
La lune n’est plus l’écuelle du chien,
C’est une chèvre qui s’en va
Très lentement boire à l’étang
Et qui sème sur la prairie son lait pur
Et dans mon cœur sa laine grise.
Et l’arbre n’est plus l’arbre,
C’est un pauvre au bord du chemin,
Un mendiant qui tend les mains
Au bord du chemin de mon cœur.
Et je chante pour lui qui ne peut plus m’entendre
Que par le beau miracle vivant de ses sèves.

Et je ne chante pas.
Je trace simplement des routes
Parce que des visages me sourient.
Parce que la chèvre va boire
Et que m’écoute un mendiant.

LEGENDS OF TIME AND PLACE

I

The stars are no longer lights,
They are faces that smile
Because the sky as well as my heart is clear.
The moon is no longer the bowl of the dog,
It’s a goat which moves
Very slowly towards the pond for a drink
And which sows its pure milk on the meadow
And its grey wool in my heart.
And the tree is no longer the tree,
It’s a poor man at the side of the road,
A beggar stretching his hands
At the edge of the road to my heart
And I sing for the one who can no longer hear me
Except through the living miracle of his lifeblood.

And I do not sing.
I only map out the way
Because faces smile at me.
Because the goat goes to drink
And because a beggar listens to me.

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Reading’s Influential Women – an inspiring read!

Reading’s Influential Women features more than 60 individual Women who have a connection with Reading and have made a notable difference in the world. Some are well known international names, others deserve to be. They are pioneers, familiar faces, recognisable voices, unsung heroes, campaigners, world changers, socialists, celebrities, Olympic and sporting champions, writers, artists, and scientists. It’s an inspiring read!

Authors Terry Dixon and Linda Saul write:

‘There are innumerable men and women from Reading who have achieved significant things or contributed to the life of the town and/or the wider world. Some, unfortunately, have gone unrecognised or are forgotten. Also, we know that in the past, the contribution of women was often dismissed, overlooked or attributed to somebody else.

In this book we can’t hope to document all those women connected to Reading who deserve to be mentioned but we can raise the profile of some, especially those whose connection to Reading is relatively unknown. To be included, women need to have been born, bred, educated in the greater Reading area, or to have lived there, or else have made an indelible mark on the town. We have included a couple of ‘unsung heroines’, but we know there are many more.

Many of the women in this book will have had their lives affected by misogyny. Several have played their part in challenging such attitudes. Edith Morley was a Suffragist (although Lady Wantage was antisuffragism), Ethelwyn Trewavas campaigned for married women to be able to keep their jobs. Some, such as Lettice Curtis, just got on and proved how good they were in a field dominated by men. Modern campaigns, such as Me Too, and the under-representation of women in many fields and the top tiers of organisations remind us there is still more progress to be made.

One area which has seen massive improvement in recent years is sport. Elite sportswomen are clearly influential in encouraging wider participation in sport, at all levels, and we have several examples in this book. But who knows how many more there might have been if women’s sport had not been discouraged in the not-too-distant past.

In writing this book some interesting threads emerged, and there are always questions. It is fun to try to find any connections between the individuals – were Jane Austen and Mary Mitford friends? Is it coincidence that one of the first female professional photographers set up a business in the same town where William Fox Talbot had made major advances in photography just a decade earlier?’

The authors’ royalties from the book are to be donated to Berkshire Women’s Aid.

About the Authors:

Terry Dixon was born in Tilehurst, Reading, and held the post of National Publicity and Development Officer on the National Federation of 18 Plus Groups NEC for 6 years. In his day job he was an electronics engineer and project manager. Taking early retirement in 2016, he started ‘Terry’s Reading Walkabouts’ to get fitter, and to introduce visitors and residents to the hidden culture and history of Reading. In 2017 he decided to celebrate Vote 100 by creating a new guided walk called ‘Famous/not-so-famous women of Reading’ which was launched in February 2018 to coincide with the date the Act of Parliament received royal assent. His research for that walk is the basis for this book. His walkabouts have raised over £7500 (including £1000 for Berkshire Women’s Aid) for local charities and he is a member of Reading Civic Society’s committee.

Linda Saul was born and raised on the Isle of Wight but has lived in Reading for about 35 years. After studying at Cambridge, she embarked on a successful career in IT. In her younger, wilder, days she developed a habit of falling out of aircraft before finally learning to fly one. She is now a full-time artist, her work focusing on the built environment. She exhibits regularly in London and is an active member of the Reading Guild of Artists. A perpetual student, she has completed a physics degree with the Open University and is now studying for a Masters in mathematics. In 2019 Linda cocurated an exhibition of art inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Galvanised by the campaign to save Reading Gaol for the town, she conceived and organised the Reading Gaol Hug with the help of many others, including Terry.

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WHY I PAINT LICHENS. And mosses. And butterflies and bees, and bunches of primroses, and skeleton leaves… by Christina Hart-Davies

Photograph of Christina Hart-Davies by Hattie Miles
Photograph of Christina Hart-Davies by Hattie Miles

When Two Rivers Press suggested that I should write a book in their Botanical Portfolios series, following on from Julia Trickey’s beautiful Botanical Artistry, I was excited and flattered but rather nervous. My two previous books were about the history and folklore of plants and involved a great deal of very enjoyable research. But this book was more personal, more exposing, with no research to hide behind. But it was an opportunity to explain what inspires me, and to show some of my working practice.

I wondered how best to describe my work. Looking back over my long career, it became obvious that one driving principle was my passion for ALL things natural, how they work and how they relate to one another. Although my main interest is in plants, I am very aware that they do not exist in isolation, but are part of a bigger story.

At school in the 1950s there was always a class Nature Table. It inspired our interest in nature in a way that glossy TV natural history programmes just can’t do, and laid down foundations for a lifelong interest in the natural world. That wiggly mark on a leaf was caused by a tiny caterpillar eating a tunnel between the layers of the leaf. That sculptural, hard, brown pupa case contained a formless goo that used to be a caterpillar and would soon become a butterfly. Those attractive lines on the petals of a wild Geranium were there to guide insects to find nectar and at the same time pollinate the flower. Marvellous!

Living in a small country town, I and my friends spent our time, as children did in those days, playing in the fields or walking unaccompanied to school. We became familiar with wild plants, even using them in our games. I was a major contributor to the class Nature Table and my painting still draws on that fascination with all things natural and the connections between them.

Forced at school to choose between arts and sciences, I opted for the arts route but never lost my interest in the science of nature too. I ended up as both a professional botanical artist and illustrator – there is a big difference between the two, but that is a subject for another time! Isolated plants can make a striking portrait and, of course, are essential in illustrations intended to assist identification. But in reality plants are not perfect; they have dead leaves and caterpillar holes. They grow in habitats with other species around them. They start off as fragile seedlings and may end up as skeletons. Insects come to drink their nectar or lay eggs on them. I enjoy showing all this in my ‘art’ work, telling more of their story.

Butterflies, beetles and moths sometimes appear in my exhibition paintings too, and not always to cover an accidental paint spot! Even if animals themselves do not appear, I like to include evidence of their activity, such as galls, insect damage, empty egg-shells or fallen feathers. Many of these have the advantage that, on the whole, they don’t change colour, or wilt.

Like many botanical painters, I had included little tufts of moss or lichen when I found them growing on the twigs I was painting. Once I started studying them I became totally hooked, and have been painting them as subjects in their own right ever since. Although by no means an expert, I cannot resist pointing out these normally unregarded organisms to everyone. I just love that moment when, having handed someone a lichen-encrusted twig and shown them how to use a hand-lens, I hear them gasp in astonished admiration!

We are surrounded by plants and have always depended on them. The history of our interaction with them is endlessly absorbing to me and ranks alongside the aesthetic and scientific aspects of my work. I like to remind people of bluebell woods, picking blackberries, harvesting from the garden. As a society we are losing touch with nature and the seasons, and that alarms me. Our long traditions, the folklore we have woven around plants, which ones we have used as simple remedies – all this too is part of the story.

As I near the end of my painting career, writing this book has been a useful review, reminding me of what I have done and what more I would still like to do. I hope The Whole Story will transform people’s perspective and inspire them to look beyond the flowers to the wider story.

Christina Hart-Davies

Christina Hart Davies is well known for her precise and accurate botanical watercolours, which feature in prestigious collections worldwide and have won many awards including several RHS Gold medals. She has illustrated many books and field guides, most notably The Collins Wild Flower Guide. In 2016 Two Rivers Press published Christina’s own book A Wild Plant Year on the history, folklore and uses of Britain’s wild plants. The Whole Story: Painting more than just the flowers is her latest book and is available to order now. Christina graduated in Typography from Reading University. Her design background is invaluable in her illustration work and influences the composition of her exhibition paintings. She is an experienced and popular tutor and enjoys encouraging people to find their own style in which to celebrate plants of all kinds.

www.christinahartdavies.co.uk

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The Art and History of Whiteknights – A roundup

Over the summer we have posted a series of articles and videos, which you can link to below, celebrating the art and history of Whiteknights. The series accompanied the publication of The Art and History of Whiteknights book, which we published together with the Whiteknights Studio Trail, with support from The Friends of the University of Reading.

2020 is the trail’s 20th year and in the unfortunate absence of the trail itself in 2020 (it will be back in 2021!) we hope that the book, together with these fascinating posts and videos, will remind you of the wealth of creative talent in our locality, as well as inspiring you to reflect more deeply on the history and roots of this special part of town.

‘There’s something about the Whiteknights area that makes people stay here.’ – From the Foreword by Fiona Talkington, BBC Radio 3 Presenter and long-term resident

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 1 – A visit to the studio of local artist Sally Castle

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 2 – Jenny Halstead writes about the Whiteknights Studio Trail and Christchurch Green

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 3 – Martin Andrews on the Old Dairy, and a tour of his studio

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 4 – Chris Mercier

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 5 – Carole Stephens

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 6 – Andrew Boddington

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 7 – Salvo Toscano

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 8 – Kennet Quilters

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 9 – Hilary James

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 10 – A tour around the Whiteknights campus with John Grainger and Ian Burn

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 11 – A tour around Southern Hill and the area around Whiteknights with Evelyn Williams and Dennis Wood