Monthly Archives: June 2015

Movies return to the Abbeydale

Former Abbeydale Cinema, Sheffield

Former Abbeydale Cinema, Sheffield

I’ve been providing historical back-up to an events organisation, Hand Of, who are devising an film weekend to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the last picture show at the Abbeydale Cinema, Sheffield.

Picture House Revival: a Festival of Film takes place on Saturday July 18th and Sunday July 19th 2015, combining films, food, popcorn, ice cream, real ale and a sarsaparilla bar, a recreation of  a once much-loved temperance alternative to Sheffield’s pubs:

In fact, the event doesn’t take place on the actually anniversary (which would be July 5th) and it doesn’t reproduce the last picture show (Charles Bronson in Breakout, supported by Lords of Flatbush).

Instead, the programme includes the very first film ever shown at the Abbeydale, on December 20th 1920, a costume romance called The Call of the Road, billed as “a picture that will make history”, alongside Laurel & Hardy and more recent Yorkshire favourites, Brassed Off (Mark Harmon 1996) and Four Lions (Chris Morris 2010).

It’s a very exciting development to bring back movies to one of the few surviving Sheffield suburban cinemas:

I hope it’ll be the first of many film revivals in the Abbeydale.

Stately pre-fab

Hill Bark, Frankby, Cheshire

Hill Bark, Frankby, Cheshire

Robert Spear Hudson (1812-1884) was the man who first popularised soap powder, working from his modest shop in West Bromwich. He eventually moved his business to a factory in Bank Hall, Liverpool, and went to live in Chester.

His son Robert William Hudson (1856-1937) became extremely wealthy and sold the business to Lever Brothers in 1908.

He commissioned the distinguished local architect Edward Ould to build a Black-and-White Revival house in 1891 on a site near Bidston Hill on the Wirral.  It bears more than a passing resemblance to Little Moreton Hall, near Macclesfield – but built in reverse. It was named Bidston Grange.

Typically of its time and its style, Bidston Grange contained sumptuous glass by William Morris, and architectural bric-a-brac with antique associations – dining-room doors from a tea-clipper and a fireplace dated 1577 reputedly from “Sir Walter Raleigh’s former home”.

It was apparently the model, or at least the inspiration, for Cecelianhof, the Potsdam residence of the Crown Prince Wilhelm, son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, built c1911 and subsequently the site of the signing of the Potsdam Agreement of 1945.

In 1921 Bidston Court was sold to Sir Ernest Royden (1873-1960), one of a dynasty of shipbuilders and shipowners.

Because Lady Royden disliked the way its setting was encroached by housing [] the 1891 structure was dismantled and re-erected a property she had inherited five miles away at Frankby.

There it replaced a house of 1868-70, originally built for Septimus Ledward JP, which took its name ‘Hillbark’ from a stone barn that had stood for several centuries.

The Roydens’ transplanted residence became known as Hill Bark.

The original site at Vyner Road South, Bidston, is now a public garden.

When Sir Ernest Royden died in 1960, Hill Bark was purchased by Hoylake Urban District Council and converted into a residential home for the elderly.

It was sold in 1999 for £300,000 and converted first into a catering-facility specialising in weddings, opened in 2000, but using only the ground-floor rooms. In 2002 it was restored as a luxurious 19-bedroom five-star boutique hotel:

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

Leasowe Castle

Leasowe Castle, Cheshire

Leasowe Castle, Cheshire

One of the most distinctive places to stay on the Wirral is Leasowe Castle, which was in fact never a castle, though it has been put to many uses in its four-hundred-year history.

Leasowe Castle is identified with the “New Hall” built by Ferdinando, 5th Earl of Derby in 1593, the year of his accession to his title, possibly as a stand from which to watch horse-racing on the flat shore.

A datestone bearing the Stanleys’ triskelion, the three-legged symbol of the Manx kingdom, is now in the Williamson Museum & Art Gallery in Birkenhead.

Ferdinando, Earl of Derby’s original structure was an octagonal tower with walls three feet thick, to which were later added four square towers, possibly by William, 6th Earl, in the early seventeenth century.

By the late seventeenth century the building was derelict and known locally as “Mockbeggar Hall” and for much of the eighteenth century it was used as a farmhouse.

In 1802 was sold to Margaret Boole, “the kind old lady of Leasowe Castle”, which she had made a refuge for the victims of shipwrecks and wreckers on the Wirral coast.

She set up Dannet’s Rocket Apparatus on the shore in an attempt to prevent shipwrecks and the pernicious activities of the local wreckers, who would show false lights in an attempt to lure vessels ashore.

Margaret Boole died in 1826 as a result of a carriage accident, and the Castle passed to her daughter and heir, Mary Anne, the wife of Col Edward Cust.

Colonel Cust converted the Castle to a hotel with the intention of establishing a resort in the grounds, and when this ambitious project failed in 1843 he turned back it into a residence which he kept until his death.

Edward Cust added most of the features of the building as it now stands –

  • the perimeter wall and entrance gateway
  • the Battle Staircase, its 84 wrought-iron balusters each carrying a painted nameplate commemorating a British victory
  • the dining room panelled with wood ostensibly taken in 1839 from the original Star Chamber in the Exchequer Buildings of the Palace of Westminster
  • the supposedly haunted library fitted with oak timbers from the submerged forest at Moels

– and possibly the oak Canute’s Chair, now lost, which stood above the high-water line, carved with the motto “Sea come not hither nor wet the sole of my foot”.

One of Col Edward Cust’s successors sold the Castle in 1891 to the Leasowe Castle Hotel company.

The original Star Chamber panels are reported to have been sold in the contents sale which took place on September 16th-20th 1895: the existing ones may be reproductions.

In 1910 the Castle was bought by the Trustees of the Railway Convalescent Home and, apart from an interlude during the First World War when it housed German prisoners of war, it remained in their hands until 1970.

In 1982 it returned to hotel use:

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

Museum Mile – the Guggenheim Museum

Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York City

Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York City

Solomon R Guggenheim (1861-1949) was a younger son of the mining magnate Meyer Guggenheim (1828-1905) and the founder of the Yukon Gold Company. He collected modern art and displayed his paintings at his apartment at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, until the collection became so large that it grew into the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, which opened in 1939.

In 1943 he commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright’s only New York building, the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum [], which eventually opened in 1959 – after the deaths of both the founder and the architect – at 1071 Fifth Avenue at 89th Street in the midst of the city’s Museum Mile.

There it sits, looking as if it’s landed from outer space, a deliberate challenge to the rectilinear patterns of the streets and the buildings around it.

Frank Lloyd Wright would rather have built it elsewhere – not in New York City, which he disliked – and chose the Fifth Avenue site because of its proximity to Central Park.

The spiral shape reflects a nautilus shell, and the divisions of the display areas echo the membranes of citrus fruit.

Like most Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, it looks remarkable yet has turned out to be remarkably difficult to maintain, and it’s undergone a series of repairs and renovations.

Though its aesthetic appeal is a matter of taste, there is no denying the impact of this sensuous, swirling structure.

Its practicality can best be appreciated by taking the ovoid lift to the top and following the gently graded spiral ramp, which inevitably dictates the order of viewing exhibits, round and round the central space.

The peculiarities of its display-space have irritated some artists and, indeed, some curators. It’s impossible to hang a flat painting on a concave wall, and difficult to place a rectilinear canvas on a sloping floor.

Others regard it as an exceptional context for showing artworks. Indeed, one of its most memorable exhibitions, Frank Gehry’s The Art of the Motorcycle (1998), was built around an assemblage of 114 historic motor-bikes.

The Guggenheim’s eccentricities do not suit all types of art by any means, but the building is a consummate work of art in its own right.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City, please click here.

Museum Mile – the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

You could quite easily spend an entire rainy week in New York working your way round the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This vast treasure house consists of almost 250 rooms filling something like twenty-one acres of floor-space, roughly two million square feet, and only about a quarter of the permanent collection can be exhibited at one time.

The core of the museum was built by the co-designer of Central Park, Calvert Vaux, in collaboration with Jacob Wrey Mould in 1880 to house a collection that had already outgrown two previous buildings on other sites in ten years: long since buried amid later accretions, the original museum has since been extended on at least eight occasions.

Among the most memorable experiences the Museum can offer are the 1978 Sackler Wing which houses the entire Egyptian Temple of Dendur and the Astor Court which contains a reproduction of a Ming dynasty Chinese garden.

A hint of the wealth of paintings in the Museum’s collection can be found simply by checking the Wikipedia entry’s ‘Selections from the permanent collection of paintings’:

Whenever you become footsore or simply overstimulated by this great world museum, the consummate life-enhancing experience is the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden, where the memorable views of Central Park and midtown Manhattan compete with the exhibits.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City, please click here.

Museum Mile – the Frick Collection

Frick Collection, New York City

Frick Collection, New York City

There’s a stretch of New York’s Fifth Avenue, bordering Central Park, that’s known as Museum Mile. It’s actually slightly longer than a mile and boasts, in its official definition between 82nd to 105th Streets, nine major city museums, with another couple further along.

My personal favourite is actually just outside Museum Mile, at 70th Street.

When I first visited New York City courtesy of Freddy Laker’s Skytrain in 1981, I knew only two people who’d ever been there. One was my friend Bill, who had lugged his motorbike aboard a tramp steamer and ridden across the USA both ways, and he made me promise that while I was in the Big Apple I’d go and sit by the fountain in the Frick Collection.

This I duly did, and every time I’ve returned to the city I make a point, if possible, of sending Bill a postcard from the Frick.

Built in Louis XVI style by Carrer & Hastings (1912-14), this was the town-house of Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), the unlikeable and notably unpopular chairman of the Carnegie Steel Corporation. After the death of Frick’s widow in 1931 the building was adapted as a museum which opened in 1935.

Of all the city’s many museums and galleries, the Frick is intimate and reassuringly calm. The Fountain Court created by John Russell Pope in the 1930s refurbishment must be among the most congenial places to sit and relax in the whole of New York City.

The core collection reflects Henry Clay Frick’s personal taste. I remember standing in front of a fireplace, looking at the Holbein of Sir Thomas More on one side and the same painter’s portrait of More’s nemesis, Thomas Cromwell, on the other.

There’s nowhere in the world quite like the Frick.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City, please click here.