“Bronte Territories” by Melissa Hardie-an Appreciation

The Brontë sisters with their brother, Branwell, in a painting by him called the Gun Group Portrait.

Wandering down Chapel Street in Penzance, you cannot fail to recognise that you have entered that part of town where history feels close-by. The sea in the distance, the church and the chapel architecture is impressive, the Turk’s Head Tavern and the baroque wonder of the Egyptian House, the Portuguese consulate and almost opposite the house where George Eliot stayed waiting for calm weather for her voyage to the Scillies. Reading Melissa’s book is like taking a similar peregrination through lost corridors of time to recover a sense of the rich liveliness of Penwith’s past. Welcome to the psychogeography of Bronte’s Territories.

The Brontes are still much in the news. The Irish Times, just two weeks ago, were reporting on the O.U.P. computer analysis of Wuthering Heights apparently confirming it to be the work of Emily and not, as had been suggested, that of her brother Branwell. Iconoclasm may be in vogue. However, a square in Brussels – the city where two of the Bronte sisters studied French – is to be named in honour of the literary siblings. Other authors make claim to curious events in Shropshire in the early years of the 19th century drew the parents of genius together. It is to the intellectual and feminine furore of Penzance and its inspiring hinterland that Hardie’s work appropriately returns us.

In a key chapter on the literature and legend of Cornwall from 1760 much mention is made of the intriguing and taciturn figure of Joseph Carne, a geologist of great renown and an energetic banker. His personality was such that he combined a skill with numbers with a strong Methodist belief and mixed in a variety of literary circles. Nearby Falmouth was a key port for the Packet boats recorded in the poetry and memoirs of Byron and Southey. It too was the home of the Quaker family of Foxes who founded the Cornwall Polytechnic Society in 1832. Carne was a friend and shared their Non-Conformist beliefs. Hardie shows how Carne encouraged his daughter in her geological studies and mentions the doctors, engineers, vicars and scientists whose cultural sources were enriched by contacts which included Bretons, Huguenots, Hessians as well as a significant Jewish community. She reminds us that in reading Davy, for example, we encounter not just a socially beneficent scientist, a traveller and a poet. This is the endowment the Branwell sisters took to Haworth.

It is interesting to consider that within this Cornish background at this period there were a number of competing beliefs and attitudes. There were the mythical beliefs fostered from folklore- piskies and stories in the expiring Cornish language. There was the old religion of Rome not far beneath the surface. Yet there were also new discoveries especially in medicine and geology that fostered a scientific empiricism. This can be seen in figures such as Davies Gilbert to whom this book gives due prominence- a polymath, mathematician, engineer and President of the Royal Society and a wonderful diarist to boot. William Temple much later stated, “The Church exists primarily for the sake of those who are still outside it. It is a mistake to suppose that God is only, or even chiefly, concerned with religion.” It was the evangelical zeal of the Wesley brothers and their belief in education, temperance combined with stunningly beautiful hymns. It was also a challenge to superstition. It is often said it averted revolution which France and later Peterloo portended.

Melissa Hardie shows us the other supportive factors that came into this heady mixture and sustained the Branwells and flowered in the Bronte’s work. These are twofold; the societies and the family or kinship links. The Penzance Ladies Reading group who carefully studied together a stunning variety of literature from the classics of the Ancients to the contemporary travel writings. Not forgetting the subversive eloquence of Lord Byron, a gentleman with Cornish links through the Trevanions. The founding of libraries and collection of artefacts had practical even economic benefits. The Royal Cornwall Geological Society studies into metallic intrusions assisted the efficiency of mining. Local banks provided the capital for further developments in the industry as well as the magnificent Wesleyan Chapels that the Carnes, Branwells and Battens founded and fostered.

The author has researched both land and legacy extensively. Her approach is frequently imaginative and sometimes speculative. This is a strength because she is also at pains to inform the reader of the limitations of the evidence. Footnotes and suggested reading in themselves are useful but the illustrations are worthy of pondering- several works of art in themselves. They add significant detail. This patient work by Melissa supported by other members of the resplendent Hypatia Trust must be counted as filling a deep fissure, or as we might say in Cornwall, a zawn in Bronte Studies.

See also from the Guardian –

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/29/bronte-grandfather-smuggling-past-financed-books-charlotte-emily-anne

 

Early Aviation in West Cornwall

Image result for grahame white aviation+fleet in mounts bay

The first flight over Penzance was a short affair lasting just 3 minutes at a height of 200 feet. This was achieved in a rather fragile biplane called a Farman with a propeller in the rear. This was around 6.00 p.m. on Saturday July 23rd, 1910. The pilot was the renowned Claude Grahame-White whose purpose was to fly over the three fleets assembled in the bay where they were expected to be informally reviewed by the recently crowned King George V. Poor weather had delayed the flight and high winds curtailed this first effort.

Grahame-White’s second flight from Marazion at 9.00p.m. that same evening was more impressive. It lasted some 15 minutes over the now illuminated fleet. Among the 200 ships present he was able to identify the flagship of the Home fleet, The Dreadnought, and the Admiralty yacht, The Enchantress. It had been his intention to show the vulnerability of the Navy to aerial attack. He had been supported in this endeavour by the photographer of The Daily Mirror, Vaughan T Paul. Grahame-White had learnt to fly at Reims under Bleriot who was the first to cross the Channel, the previous year in 1909. The next month Grahame-White flew his Farnham biplane over Washington landing close to the White House.

Despite the attention which it attracted this was not the first heavier than air flight to take place in the Duchy. Jack Humphries, a Dental Surgeon from Fowey had observed bird flight and made at least two flights with gliders from nearby cliffs. In 1912, the French aviator Henri Salmet, with the financial support of Lord Northcliffe arrived with his Bleriot machine on the 14th of June in Falmouth. He had intended to fly over Lands End, however the headwinds proved too strong for the monoplane.

On 24th September 1913, the Hamburg born Gustav Hamel, just 24 years old, arrived at Trengwainton from whence he flew his Bleriot monoplane over Penzance where he could be seen clearly from the Market Place, Market Jew Street and then to Newlyn Coombe and on to St Ives and was greeted by a large crowd upon his return. After meeting Lord and Lady St Leven and the local M.P., Mr T. Bedford Bolitho who examined his aircraft. The energetic Hamel flew off once more at 5.30 and returned having fulfilled his ambition of being the first aviator to have flown over Lands End.

Hamel and Grahame-White collaborated in the development of Hendon airfield which became a flying school, a site for aircraft manufacture and later taken over by the R.A.F. and is now its museum. Ballooning at Hendon had taken place as early as 1862. Airship bases were built in Cornwall during 1915 and 1916. For example, the Royal Naval Air Station Mullion was developed on a 320-acre site near the village of Cury and the first airship transported here by train. This Lizard Airship Station was later to contain a hydrogen producing plant and a small Marconi transmitter. Its situation was ideal for attacking U-boats in accordance with the intentions of the First Sea Lord, Lord Fisher.

Image result for Lizard Airship Station

 

The Penzance Arcades Project; Prinzessinnengarten Sonntag Flohmarkt in Kreuzberg

I like rooting around in secondhand shops, in fleamarkets and car boot sales-see my posting on Rosudgeon market. The Arcade building at the top of Chapel Street is often missed by visitors in search of other delights such as the Exchange Gallery. img42A long time ago-I will need to consult the Penwith Local History Group to discover when-certainly before the Srcond World War this building was W>H.Smith as the photograph shows.Chapel Street. Chapel Street Further details of the intriguing history of this street may be found at http://www.chapelstreet.co.uk/accommodation.html In any event the upstairs and downstairs regions are well worth a visit-these photographs show some sketches that I was able to purchase for a very modest price.F

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On the hunt for books rather than pictures, much fun is to be had in the Fleamarket in Prinzessinnengarten-close to Moritzplatz on the U-bahn. It always seems to be very hot weather when I have visited and a good reason to have a cool Weissebier at the trestle tables under the trees and to read the Sunday newspapers. There is always an interesting range of literature in at least three languages. There are a good range of other items including records, CDs, dresses and jeans. There is often a music group on hand and the atmosphere reminds me of St Ives in the Sixties or the summer exhibition at Falmouth Art School. There is a big emphasis on green issues, multiculturalism and the folk all seem jolly and entspannend. Further details may be found at http://prinzessinnengarten.net/de/was-passiert-im-garten/projekte/regelmaessige-veranstaltungen-in-der-gartensaison/F7F6

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Mr Warren’s Turner- Penzance Public Library

As the winter storms hit Penzance, so does that great painter of storms, steam and whirling chaos, Joseph Mallord William Turner. Not the great English Romantic himself of course, whose late works are currently at the Tate Britain in London until January 25th next year, but as a film, Mr Turner, by Mike Leigh and in the form of an exhibition currently on view in Penzance Public Library, Turner and Me painted by Vaughan Warren R.A.S. Ancillary works by Vaughan are also on view on the first floor of The Arcade in Chapel Street.

Timothy Spall in Mr Turner
Timothy Spall in Mr Turner

In a year of sombre reflection upon the futility of war, the appearance of original films like Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall and Mr Turner, are inspiring visually. The technique of Loach and Leigh, both of whom use improvisation as a means to authenticity, is inspiring and instructive. Mr Turner has renewed interest in a rumbustious, querulous figure and promises to be exciting viewing. Turner was a protean traveller and visited Cornwall and painted the local landscape including Mounts Bay and the Tamar Valley. Sketches at St Ives established him, according to some authorities, as the founder of the painting tradition there. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-st-ives-from-porthminster-beach-d41327 Timothy Spall, an exceptional actor and a keen sailor brings his talent and determination to portraying Turner in both his vitality and in his melancholy moods.Mount

Vaughan Warren  http://vaughanwarren.weebly.com/ has a tremendous enthusiasm for Turner and has won the Turner Award himself, as well as the Reynolds Medal and Landseer Award. He also has a track record of interest in the history of art which informs his work at a deep level. He also has an interest in local history. He has, himself, put together an interesting film 2003 with Window Box productions on the strained life of the Cornish antiquarian, John Blight. He and his partner Melanie Camp share an enthusiasm for Daphne Du Maurier’s novels and in particular Rebecca and its associated film which was, of course a Hitchcock classic. This has provided the inspiration for an Acrylic, a medium which Vaughan assures us Turner would have loved, The Wreck of the Rebecca, which appears in the current show. Vaughan Warren has found much inspiration too in the work of Julius Olsson, whose contribution in St Ives is the subject of much intriguing study by David Tovey, as well as Whistler, Mondrian and Kandinsky. The latter was an acquaintance of Naum Gabo, who also worked locally, is famous for his writings on the spiritual in art. Warren declares too his intention to strive,” towards an abstract beauty through paint and the image”.PSX_20141004_222450

The Victorian restrained grandeur of the public library in Penzance makes for a suitable context for Vaughan’s Turner inspirations. However, because they have to be mounted so high up above the installed illumination, they are not as visible as they might be. It is a reminder that despite the town having many galleries there is limited space in which even experienced artists can display. Turner’s palette is of great interest to Vaughan Warren and more details can be found at http://www.winsornewton.com/uk/discover/articles-and-inspiration/palettes-of-the-masters-jmw-turner

Self-portrait by Vaughan Warren
Self-portrait by Vaughan Warren
Mr Warren RAS
Mr Warren RAS

In the current display three works particularly appealed to me. The acrylic on canvas of St Michael’s Mount predominates because of its free use of colour. I also greatly liked small watercolour called Turneresque. It almost goes without saying that this painter shows great facility in all three mediums. The two pictures which are mounted in oval frames make a refreshing change here too. The small painting in the corner which appeals to me most however is Red Interior; Music Room whose contrasting colours remind me a little of Sickert and a little of Gwen John. Anyone who has the opportunity should see the film and Vaughan Warren’s work in Penzance.

In addition to the works displayed in the library there is an opportunity to view Vaughan’s drawing of Nelson’s death mask at the Redwing Gallery, Wood Street in Penzance. The display in Penzance Library may be viewed until mid-December.

On View at Penzance Library, Morrab Road, Penzance
On View at Penzance Library, Morrab Road, Penzance