Category Archives: Architecture

Inspiration: Sucking up History

20140927_135032As a special treat last weekend, Husband took me to visit a local National Trust property, Oxburgh Hall.

Built about 1482, Oxburgh was the home of a well-connected family who hung onto their Catholic faith throughout a period in English history when it was dangerous to dissent from the religious line the Crown laid down.  Oxburgh’s inhabitants  suffered as a result, passed over for lucrative posts at Court, closely watched for sedition and treason, and restricted from certain occupations as well as from celebrating their religion openly.

The result of this (relative) penury is that the building escaped the zealous passion for updating property that characterised the aristocracy, and many of its original features remain intact, including the King’s Room and the Queen’s Room, authentic Tudor bedchambers in the tower house that spent many years used only as storage spaces!

Oxburgh Hall:  The Moat

Oxburgh Hall: The Moat

Oxburgh appears to float on its moat, which cannot be drained as the 500-year-old elm wood posts which support the foundations would crumble were they to dry out.  It still has the barleysugar chimneys and characteristic towered gatehouse that recalls the Wars of the Roses.  Inside the sombre portraits of nuns, the needlework sewn by Mary, Queen of Scots in her years of captivity, and the Priest Hole, where illegal Catholic priests had to hide from government troops, speak of a dark history of dissent and risk, of members of the family living in fear for their lives, simply because of their religious beliefs.  Oxburgh was a particular target during both the Reformation and the Civil War.  And yet, despite this, the little rowing boat that floats beside the steps on the moat is  named ‘Le Boat sur le Moat’, so the family still kept their sense of humour!

I started wondering what it would be like to live through that?  Never to be able to trust your neighbours, your servants, even your family?  To live constantly in the shadow of the block?  To live in fear of the next knock on the door?  To question your beliefs every day because they challenge your personal safety and that of those you love?  To always be regarded as ‘Other’?

Oxburgh Hall

Oxburgh Hall

The history around us gives us an opportunity to look at our own lives through a different lens.  What happened in England in the 15- and 1600s is not really much different to what is happening in parts of the world now.  Being inside a building where these things happened, seeing and touching the belongings of people who lives through such terrifying times, brings the realities home in a much more deeply felt way.  If we do not live under such stresses ourselves, we can never truly understand what they mean, but we can imagine.

I live in a house that was built in the 1880s.  Its just a little country cottage, the middle one of a row, the kind that are common in the UK.  It was originally built as two houses, one up-one down dwellings with an outside wash house, coal hole and privy each.  The men who lived here worked for the local Lord as farm workers or gamekeepers, and got the house as part of the deal.  Their women kept the house, cooked the meals, raised the children, and spread their washing out on the pasture behind the houses to dry on wash day every week.  The children would have walked across the fields to school each weekday, and worked alongside their parents when they got home.  They would have worshipped at the medieval parish church whose tower can be seen from our livingroom.  How different the lives of those souls would have been from mine.

Inspiration:

Think about historic buildings and places near where you live.  try to visit one or two if you can.  They don’t have to be as old as Oxburgh to count.  What about a coffee shop built in the 1930s, during the Depression, or a 1950s diner?

Take some time to soak up the place.  Think about the people who have lived and worked there.  How would the community have reacted or been affected when the building was put up?  They might have had to sacrifice their own land or homes, for instance, or they might have objected on moral or economic grounds.  How would it have felt to visit this place in those days?  What kind of day to day issues would have been on the minds of those who lived here?  What stories are concealed in their lives?

Take some time to write a few pages, answering these questions.  It doesn’t have to be historically accurate, but it helps.  Use the building or place as an entrance into someone else’s life and see where it takes you.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

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Inspiration Monday: Gardens and Gardening

Ickworth Garden Temple - take a moment to reflect

Ickworth Garden Temple

(WARNING: photo-heavy post!)

You think gardening is for oldies, don’t you?

Not so.

Go and visit a big garden in your area, a park, a stately home if you have one nearby.  As you wander round, take the time to look at the flowers, plants and trees.  Take the time to appreciate the long vistas the designers have laid out for you to enjoy.  Think about why each plant has been positioned exactly there in the scheme.

The garden house at Ickworth House, Suffolk

The garden house at Ickworth House, Suffolk

Who has walked this path before you?  What is their story?  Read ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ if you can’t think of something better, or watch ‘Downton Abbey’ to clue you in to what might have happened in a garden like this, the secret assignations between the lady of the house and the gamekeeper, the Lord and the scullery maid, or the married gentry who came to visit for shooting weekends in winter, eager to continue their private affairs without their spouses knowing, stealing away into the shady nooks of the different garden ‘rooms’.

Inside the Yew Hedge at Blicking Hall, Norfolk - who might have hidden here?

Inside the Yew Hedge at Blicking Hall, Norfolk – who might have hidden here?

As for public parks, well, imagine all the spies who have met their KGB handlers by the duck pond, the mothers who have pushed their prams through the rose beds and contemplated running away from loveless marriages, the children who have imagined faeries and elves in the trees.

If writing is not your thing, you only have to look at what Monet did with his garden at Giverny to see that gardens can be an endless source of inspiration for visual artists of all kinds.  Maybe your garden flowers could inspire a colourful quilt or embroidery.  There is so much beauty in your back garden and local park – all you need to do is use your eyes.

arbour and urn cropWhat about getting your fingers in the soil yourself?  Gardening is a true art form.  It allows you to create a complete world within the four hedges of your back yard.  You might prefer growing vegetables to flowers, in which case, google ‘potager kitchen gardens’ to see how amazing kitchen gardens can be.

Roses in my own garden.

Roses in my own garden.

There is nothing like actually getting down to business with the mulch and seeds.  Yes, it is often hard work, and it takes time and patience, but it is so incredibly rewarding, creative and satisfying.  Even if you just have a tiny balcony or window ledge, you can fill it with pots of colourful bedding plants and grow-your-own lettuce varieties.  Go to any Mediterranean village, and you’ll see what marvels of gardening can be achieved with a few old olive oil cans, some white and blue paint, and some bright geraniums!

And once the hard work is done, you can get out your deck chair, and muse.  And then maybe paint a picture or write a story about your green empire.

Happy creating,

EF

Inspiration Monday: Architecture

Travel Pictures Ltd

Shark House, Oxford

The Inspiration Monday series is designed to give you a selection of places to look for inspiration for whatever art you create, from writing to quilting, from dance to pottery.  There are places and things to inspire you everywhere, no matter how blocked you feel!

Alright, I confess.  I’m a bit of an architecture nut.  I’m lucky.  I live in a country that is just bursting with fabulous buildings, from the modest to the outrageous.  So much has survived from our long past, and so much is being produced now that is thrilling and new.

Architecture provides a great inspiration, even if you are not into history, as I am.  It is especially useful as a starting point for the visual arts (how about making a quilt based on architectural motifs from your local area, especially if you live in a place that has an interesting and original vernacular architecture of its own.)

For a writer, architecture can be more than just set dressing.  Think of the magnificence of the stately home, Brideshead, in Evelyn Waugh’s novel, ‘Brideshead Revisited’, a building whose ornate Catholic imagery permeates the relationships of all the characters.  Or perhaps the dark secrets represented by the rambling corridors of Manderley in Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’, where the gothic corners hide secrets that threaten the happiness of the unnamed heroine.

Architecture is not just about the grand mansions of the rich and privileged.  The sqallid, shabby, utilitarian flats of Orwell’s ‘1984’ are just as terrifying as the monumental Ministry of Truth.  Or perhaps the rickety walkways and rookeries of Oliver Twist’s Victorian slum dwellers, or the eponymous ‘L-Shaped Room’ described by Lynne Reid Banks.

Peter Mothersole's House

Peter Mothersole’s House, Norwich

I’ve had a fascination with the building pictured above for some years now.  It’s eccentric and rather alarming pitch to one side only makes me love it more.  I’ve made it the home of one of the characters in my new novel.  In fact, it would not be so far fetched to say that this house has inspired the entire novel.

Compare the pictures below, and consider the kinds of stories that might happen in each, architecturally different, setting:

Speedies

Speedy’s, well known to all ‘Sherlock’ fans.

Greek villa

Greek Holiday Villa, Lesvos

terrace houses

Terraced Houses, Northern UK

awesome-modern-house-mediterranean-coast-1

Modernist Mediterranean house

Architecture can be the starting point for your art and writing.  It can be set dressing, atmosphere, even a character in its own right.  Using architecture as a starting point can ground your work in it’s local context, add weight to the story, place it in a particular time, economic class, religious mode or social millieu.  You can say a great deal about your characters through the kinds of houses they live in, the buildings where they work and worship, and why they choose these and not others.

Writing Exercise:  Look Up

Porch heraldry, Blickling Hall, Norfolk (NT)Porch heraldry, Blickling Hall, Norfolk (NT)

Next time you are walking around town, look up above the shop fronts.  You usually spend your time looking into the plate glass windows at all those gorgeous things you can’t afford.  You may not notice the kinds of buildings they are housed in.

In Britain and across Europe, you may see fascinating architectural details that you never noticed before, even in a street you have walked up all your life.  In other countries, you may see less history, and more the story of the way the architecture is used by it’s inhabitants, the way they have added to it, moulded it to their own needs over time.  What kind of lives are lived out behind these walls?  What stories have these beams and doorframes witnessed?

You might like to learn to read a building, to spend some time researching architecture in your area, the little quirks that are local.  In most countries you will find builders have used the materials that come to hand: wooden logs, local stone, thatch, reeds, brick of different colours, pantiles. What is local to your area?  What is the local style? What shapes do the buildings make – are they low, huddling to the ground against the weather, or do they tower above the streets, dwarfing the inhabitants, statements of power and wealth?  Can you incorporate this into your art?  What does it say about the kinds of lives people live, and have lived, around you?

Happy Creating!

EF