A ride through London – with added death

My last metropolitan ride featured a fair amount of death, a notable example being an inspection of the London Necropolis Railway.  I refer you to this piece on The Fridays’ “Windows and Death Ride”.

This time I joined an iBikeLondon ride, starting from Hyde Park and finishing at a pub in Kensington.  This had two attractions for me: (1) several members of the London Brompton Club had arranged to join the ride; (2) the last point of interest before the pub was Brompton Cemetery.

It was great fun meeting up with Mr B and Mr O – the authors of those fine blogs,”The Legend of the “Brompton Bumble B” and “My Orange Brompton” – and with David and Anne.  They excused me riding a large-wheeled bicycle; my Brommie is “mechanically indisposed” at the moment.  [It awaits new rear cogs.]  In the two blogs, you’ll find many good pictures of the ride.

There were three nice surprises for me on the ride.  First, one of the leaders had been a young member of the Olympic Torch Relay Team last year.  She brought her torch along and we passed among ourselves.


Secondly, those of you who know of my fascination with Soviet history will see that I got very excited at coming across a Soviet T-34 tank in Southwark!


By the way, that’s Mr B’s Brompton Bumble Bee.

And, thirdly, here off Shakespeare Road, between Southwark and Brixton was James Joyce Walk:


You need to know that Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, is buried in Kingsthorpe Cemetery at the bottom of my street:


which brings us nicely to graveyards and, towards the end of this ride, to Brompton Cemetery.

Thanks to Dinah Roe (author of “The Rossettis in Wonderland” and other fine books on the Pre-Raphaelites) – I heard her lecture last year – I knew from her fine blog, The Pre-Raphaelites in the City, that Maria Rossetti was buried in Brompton Cemetery.  Dinah sent me instructions and a plan with lettered plots direct to my mobile phone on Saturday and I found Maria Rossetti’s grave.



The gravestone does not appear to have any name inscribed but is the most easterly of three stones marked originally with a crown of thorns and three nails.  Who was Maria?  And why was she buried like this?

Maria (1827 – 1876) was the eldest of the four Rossetti siblings.  Her brothers were Dante Gabriel Rossetti, poet and painter (1828 – 1882), and William Rossetti, art critic (1829 – 1919).  Her sister was Christina Rossetti, poet (1830 – 1894).  Christina dedicated her poem “Goblin Market” to Maria.  Maria was a scholar of Dante; I have a copy of her book, “A Shadow of Dante”.


It has this wonderful diagram of Hell (Dante’s Inferno) which I have used in teaching 11-year-olds about the beliefs of the Middle Ages.  They found it fascinating!

Dante's Inferno

So why isn’t Maria buried in the Rossetti family graves in the western half of Highgate Cemetery?  Well, to keep the story short, she joined a group of Anglican nuns, the Sisters of the Poor based at All Saints Margaret Street.  The order bought plots in Brompton Cemetery and that’s how Maria ended up here.

Not far from Maria is another painter associated with the Pre-Raphaelites – and a member of the Holland Park Set – Val Prinsep.  This is quite a sarcophagus:



Alas, through insufficient preparation, I failed to find the tomb of one of the great patrons of the Pre-Raphaelites, Frederick Leyland; or of Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, a “third-generation” Pre-Raphaelite painter whose work is currently the subject of an exhibition – A Pre-Raphaelite Journey – at The Watts Gallery.

And then, on to the end of the ride at The Builders’ Arms in Kensington.  My route, from Euston Station, is here.

A local CTC ride what I led!

I’ve actually written about the recce for this ride, and for the ride itself on Sunday 17th February, on the blog I keep for CTC Northampton.




A bike ride to a jumble sale – with added Arts & Crafts / Garden Suburb features

Part of this ride I’ve already covered in the CTC Northampton blog here.

Four wet riders met in the pouring rain at Hunsbury: David, Phil, our leader Bill and me.  The destination was the A5 Rangers Clubhouse in Towcester which was hosting the annual Cyclists’ Jumble Sale!

We didn’t hang about for latecomers and Bill set a good pace to get us to Towcester and dry shelter!  It was the first time I’d been to this annual event and it was fascinating – not just for the items for sale but for the coffee and cake and, of course, the conversations with old friends.IMGP5682

The plan was always that we would make our ways home independently.  Phil pretty much turned round for the return leg straightaway; David must have followed him shortly afterwards; and Bill was to head for a cycle shop in Milton Keynes.

I had two lots of coffee and cake and felt fortified enough not just to skip lunch at Greens Norton (my original plan) but to add to that part of the loop by going through Abthorpe, Slapton and Bradden as well.  Route here.

From Hunsbury back to Hunsbury, this was 26 miles.  Add to and from home, and I enjoyed a  very damp but worthwhile 37 miles.

And then the bonus: returning to the town centre down Towcester Road, I stopped to photograph two houses which a friend who grew up in the area told me were the only houses built in a proposed Northampton Garden Suburb.  Presumably this was in the 1920s?  They looked to me like William Morris’s Red House (in Bexley) arrived in Northampton, perhaps via Philip Webb’s Worship Mews (in Shoreditch).  Here’s the most striking bit of their Arts & Crafts inheritance:



with a detail of the entrance doorway:



Here’s the whole house:



And here’s its next door neighbour:IMGP5683

and another view:



Now, Pevsner says nothing about this development in his volume on Northamptonshire.  A Google search reveals nothing.  And so I’ve added another item to my task list: to visit the Local Studies Department of the Central Library in Northamptonshire and see if it holds any further clues – beyond the oral history of my friend, Paul Bland.

Upgrading the Brampton Valley Way Cycle Path, part 2

At the end of CTC Northampton’s bike ride on Saturday morning Iain Dawson and I took the opportunity to look at and photograph the improvements to the Brampton Valley Way cycle path – this time where it goes under the Northampton-to-Rugby railway line (between King’s Heath and The Windhover).  I’ve written text and photos on the blog I maintain for CTC Northampton here:

Upgrading the Brampton Valley Way cycle path, part 2.

To whet your appetite, here’s a nice photograph of what I mean:


Modernist domestic architecture in Northampton

There was much looking at London architecture on the Windows and Death Ride at the end of December.  By the end of January, I’d had a little ride locally around Northampton looking a two pieces of modernist architecture – in particular, “New Ways”, the house designed by Peter Behrens just after the First World War.

At the time, Behrens was Head of the School of Modern Architecture in Vienna.  The driving force in Northampton was a man called W J (Wenman Joseph) Bassett-Lowke. He had built up a business in model engineering. His model railways, mostly in “O” gauge (compared to the “OO” or “HO” gauge – for the former of which Frank Hornby came up with “Hornby Dublo” as a brand name which represented both the brand and the scale), were produced from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Thanks to the work of a local trust, WJ’s house at 78 Derngate, Northampton, is well known as the only house in England whose interior was largely designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Closed to visitors in the winter months, this is the outside which gives only a little hint, in the style of the door, of the treasures within. So far, so well known.IMG_1144IMG_1146

Bassett-Lowke had hired Rennie Mackintosh in 1916 but, when the war was over, WJ decided to build himself a new house in a completely modern style. This house, because it is still privately owned, is little known beyond a black-and-white photo and a description by Pevsner in his volume for Northamptonshire (1961, rev 1973). It also appears dwarfed by its later neighbours.

Through the Werkbund Jahrbuch, WJ knew of the factories and other buildings in Berlin, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt designed before the war by Peter Behrens. He wrote to Behrens in Vienna and they agreed to meet in Paris. WJ took his builder with him to the meeting as Behrens made clear he would not visit Northampton.

By 1926 the house was built. Here is a view of the front, or entrance, side. The photographer for the Pevsner volume must have stood on the same spot on the pavement.IMG_1139 Here is a detail of the front side, the triangular projecting staircase window. IMG_1140Pevsner described this as “a completely new style of architecture then entirely untried in Britain … How revolutionary this style must have appeared at the time …” So far, so Google Street View.

Pevsner goes on to say that “how prophetic it was of the future … can only be seen from the garden side.” He didn’t include a photograph of this facade. But the garden does back on to Abington Park. Strolling through the park with my bicycle did not offer a promising view. The fences and vegetation are high.IMG_1143 An old bicycle, however, can double as a ladder.
One is rewarded with a view of the garden side, a “two-storied facade … divided into three parts, with the centre recessed.”IMG_1141

Peter Behrens provided decorative schemes for the lounge and the dining room, although the dining table and chairs came from 78 Derngate, as did the furniture, also designed by Mackintosh, for the study and the main bedroom. The two blended well, noted Pevsner, owing to the remarkable fact that Mackintosh had turned quite independently from his exquisite Art Nouveau to a private Expressionism. The whole was featured in an article in “The Architectural Review” in 1926 and again in “Decoration of the House Beautiful” in 1932.

Pevsner concludes, “One does not know what to admire more, Mr Bassett-Lowke’s discrimination in engaging Mackintosh … or his courage in engaging Behrens.”

[I am grateful to my good friend Paul Bland for his advice on model railways, their engineering, scales and brands.]