Friends walked via Sydney Gardens behind the Holburne Museum and along the
Kennet and Avon canal, to reach the Cleveland Pools. The group was led by Sally Helvey, one of the Trustees of the Pools who is also a local historian and tour guide. The Pools are certainly tucked away at the edge of the river Avon on a leafy bank, and are the country’s only surviving Georgian lido, providing generations of Bath citizens a chance to cool off in the summer heat until its closure in 1984. We were given a slide show where Sally delighted us with the history of the Pools from its construction in 1817, expansion to include a special Ladies Pool and “Perpetual Shower Bath”, even its use for immersive baptisms and a trout farm, through to present day plans for restoration and eventual re-opening.
The future of Cleveland Pools, as a first class natural swimming pool for the local community, is contingent on the raising of additional funds (£220,000) in order to unlock the Heritage Lottery matched funding of £3.6 million. The Cleveland Pools are currently open by appointment or on a local tour that Sally Helvey leads on Tuesdays at 11 am from the Bath tourist office. All current details and events are found on their website: www.clevelandpools.org.uk.
Woolstone Mill House, is being developed by garden designer Justin Spink. It is a garden in progress, but it is already magical in its imaginative intimacy. We were escorted informatively by Justin around the garden’s different areas; divided by yew hedges cut so that their contours harmonise with those of the rolling landscape.
At one end was what Justin calls his ‘Perennial Meadow’ – a visually delightful tapestry of subtle autumn colours. At the more traditional end of the garden, on chalkier soil, are medlar trees and chalk-friendly roses.
The day continued in the afternoon with a visit to The Old Rectory at Farnborough which was once judged by Country Life magazine to be the “finest Parsonage in England”. In 1945 it was given to John Betjeman and his wife by his in-laws; he described it as “dirty but classy looking”! We saw the arboretum with it’s excellent collection of magnolias and a fine double herbaceous border across the rolling lawns. The large vegetable garden was particularly impressive. The swimming pool garden was a particular delight, sheltered by walls of cypress and hydrangeas. There was an elegant summerhouse which housed the changing rooms at one end. The back wall had a large window which overlooked the arboretum and the views beyond. Before leaving for home we walked over the road to All Saints Church to look at the Betjeman Memorial Window designed by his friend John Piper.
Michael Jones (Woolstone)
and Brenda Beeton (The Old Rectory)
Trish Tassis’s latest tour was to Downside Abbey. The Abbey has never been completed; what we see today was built in four stages between 1882-1925. The first part of the Abbey opened in 1882 and unusually has a north-south axis. There is a shrine to Oliver Plunkett – the last Catholic martyr in Britain, executed in 1681. Among the magnificent stained glass windows is one showing St. Wulstan, distracted by the aromas of a roasting goose, resulting in him praying for deliverance from such distractions and vowing to become a vegetarian!
We then visited the St. Sebastian chapel, designed by Ninian Comper. The altar figure of Sebastian was carved from a single piece of alabaster, and flanked by statues of St. George and St. Nicholas. Nearby hangs a beautiful 15th-century painting by Botticini of saints attending a bishop. In the Lady Chapel, also by Comper; the altar is also a single piece of alabaster surmounted by gilt reliquary arks. The stained glass windows of the chapel depict biblical scenes but poignantly, several of the figures are shown with real faces of pupils from Downside who never returned from the First World War. The final highlight was a mid 15th-century life-size wooden statue of the Madonna and child, most unusual in portraying her with very long flowing hair. We were lucky to see it; the statue is often on loan to museums worldwide, such is its rarity. Finally, we entered the Library which contains over 500,000 items of which we could see just a fraction. Of these, perhaps the most magnificent was the exceptionally rare 1000-year-old Lambach Prophetorium volume.
The last weekend in June was a lively mixture of pleasure, celebration and business for The Friends. Friday evening was packed with events. We had a private viewing of Stubbs in the Wild, held our AGM, were entranced by music, songs and poetry performed by the Holburne Ensemble and our own Richard Frewer and ended the evening enjoying a convivial party meeting Friends old and new. Our Silent Auction opened to get our fundraising underway.
On Sunday we turned our attention to marking the 40th anniversary of Sidney Blackmore’s fundraising book sales as well as the Holburne’s 100 Years Here centenary celebrations. Fun and money-raising combined as the Silent Auction entered its final day, we had stalls offering professional valuation of antiques, books, pictures and collectibles and selling items including hats, bags and beads and we ran a tombola. Sunday’s chilly, drizzly weather did not take the shine off a great weekend, as we raised just over £7600 whilst having a lot of pleasure.
A heartfelt thanks goes to all who helped in our success by giving Silent Auction lots, Tombola prizes, Hats, Bags & Beads and books; lending tents, tables, equipment and bunting; designing posters and signs; arranging publicity; baking delicious cakes and other fare; setting up stalls; giving time, trouble and effort; or simply coming along. Many thanks too, to the Museum staff for all their patient help and support!
At the Grove, David Hicks’ last house and garden, we were met by his designer son, Ashley. We were given a wonderfully personal and episodic tour of the great man’s garden, which was laid out with all the precision of the Draughtman’s Contract. Nature had definitely been bent to David Hicks’ will with trees felled, trees planted, walls holed, barns dismantled, all to attain ‘the best possible taste’.
Stand-outs for me were a room of magnolia grandiflora and a row of mounted Corinthian capitols rescued from a Mountbatten house being dismantled in London. The garden was as full of artefact as plants and designed with great wit. The visit was like a theatrical performance from an assured comedian.
After lunch, we moved on to Haseley Court, where we were greeted by owner Fiona Heyward. Here we felt the influence of another stylist, Nancy Lancaster, of Colefax and Fowler fame, who had designed this garden amongst others. Once you entered the garden you became aware of Nancy Lancaster’s guiding hand. It was all about colour, whether the stunning yellow of the laburnum walk, the coral of the huge peony blooms or the pink of the clematis climbing at least two stories up to the roof. The garden itself was a plantsman’s heaven and Fiona Heyward appeared well in control of it, with the undoubted assistance of her stalwart head gardener.