Thursday, 25 August 2016

On the Arthur Romney Green Christchurch trail - the Priory

Walking out of the former 3 Bridge Street, Arthur Romney Green's (ARG's) workshop, showroom and home, it is only a few metres further down the road until you reach the bridge over the River Avon.  ARG "loved the symmetry of the five arches...describing the built arch 'so gracefully suspended over empty space by virtue of its weight' as one of the miracles of human art like the sailing shop and the bicycle."  (Life to the Lees, Elkin, Susan, 1998).

View of Prezzo, formerly 3 Bridge Street, from the bridge,
Christchurch, Dorset

The bridge over the Avon by 3 Bridge Street,
Christchurch, Dorset

From the bridge you can see the Priory, the remains of the great tower of Christchurch castle and the Norman House.  You have to walk past the Norman House and castle remains to access the Priory.  English Heritage describes these buildings as "the mound top-keep or great tower was a part of a large Norman castle that once dominated the town...Nearby is the 12th century riverside chamber block known as the Norman House, one of the few remaining examples of domestic Norman architecture in England.  Built in about 1160, it provided grand and comfortable living quarters for the lord of Christchurch.  The tall circular Norman chimney is a particularly rare survival."
The view from the bridge across to The Priory,
Bridge Street, Christchurch
The Priory approach is particularly impressive.  Following the description of the ARG furniture in the  Priory by Elkin (ibid.) we were aiming to go to the Lady Chapel at the far end of the building, but we stopped to see the main features on the way.

It was a good job we did because the nice surprise was that the ARG chairs are now placed at the front of the nave altar and choir stalls.   Elkin describes only one of these chairs in her book, the one of the right below, although surely they are both by ARG and are displayed opposite each other as "a magnificent ceremonial chair".  The geometric designs on the chairs are classic ARG, the mirror of the cut-out pattern on the left opposite the other carved with various Christian symbols.

the nave altar at Christopher Priory,
the ARG chairs facing each other either side of the altar

There 'IHS' at the top, and a star of David below it on the right, with another star of David below on the far left.  A circle with a cross in them are I think referred to as a 'solar cross' or 'sun cross'.  The fourth row of symbols are two 'X's.  The final row, that can be seen at least from standing as a visitor, seems to have the initials HRX.  These symbols by the side of the altar which has the large altar cloth symbol of the triquetra reflects an interest I suspect by someone at the Priory in Christian symbolism.  Wikipedia explains the triquetra as representing "the Holy Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The unbroken circle represents eternity. The interwoven nature of the symbol denotes the indivisibility and equality of the Holy Trinity. It symbolizes that the Holy Trinity is three beings of power, honor, and glory but is indivisibly one God".

ARG ceremonial chair engraved with Christian symbols,
Christchurch Priory
Walking further into the Priory, looking at the High Altar, we saw the two prayer desks opposite each other.  Elgin describes these as "Instead of a ball shape for the hand to grasp at the top of each upright, there is a truncated octahedron.  It's a mathematical idea typical of Green.  He had the same shape carved in stone for eventual use on his tombstone." (ibid.)

High altar, with ARG prayer tables opposite each other
Christchurch Priory

The positioning of the chairs at the nave altar and the prayer desks at the High Altar is all the more remarkable for the story behind ARG's commission, as Elkin explains "She and Green were still unmarried, and although most of their London friends had been away of their position, they saw little need to advertise it on arrival in Christchurch.  When, however, the Vicar of Christchurch, Canon Gay, decided to order some pieces for the Lady Chapel in the Priory, Green thought that he had better 'own up'.  And his honesty cost him the order.  It wasn't until several years later, when Gay's successor saw Green's and Bertha's dog, Fanny, clad in a cosy jacket, that he observed that a man who looked after his dog so well couldn't be all bad, so he placed an order." (ibid.)

ARG prayer table, high altar
Christchurch Priory

ARG prayer table, high altar
Christchurch Priory

ARG prayer table, high altar
Christchurch Priory
I could not find the moveable altar rails which Elkin had also identified as at the Priory, but I think that the chairs and prayer tables are more distinctive and pleasing to the eye.  ARG's memorial stone is shown on the Dorset Life website here.

Head of ARG's memorial stone,

Saturday, 20 August 2016

On the Arthur Romney Green Christchurch trail - the workshop, showroom & home

Today we decided to visit Christchurch to see the Arthur Romney Green pieces and his old workshop.  I have been meaning to visit for about 5 years since I was given Life to the Lees (Elkin, Susan, 1998), 'A Biography of Arthur Romney Green'.   It took less than 90 minutes to reach from Haslemere which was a pleasant surprise and made me wonder why we had not visited earlier.

First we passed what had been 3 Bridge Street, Arthur Romney Green's (ARG's) workshop, showroom and home.  The road still retains some character, being a single lane as it passes the former 3 Bridge Street.  Although I had seen this on the map, visiting in person I was surprised by the proximity of the Avon Bridge and the nearby Priory.

25 Bridge Street, Christchurch

It is always fascinating to see an old photograph and the present day view.  Whilst the outside has inevitably changed a great deal in the passing of almost century, the bow windows lend a constancy to the scene.  Elkin describes the scene "An old Victorian grocer's shop, 25 Bridge Street, lay a few yards over Avon Bridge heading out of Christchurch in what was then Hampshire.  With the river so close and the muddy creek running down to the Avon along the back of Green's and other properties, he effectively had river access just as he had had at Strand-on-the-Green.  Although the creek sometimes dried out in summer, for much of the time Green could, and did, swim or sail away from the bottom of his own garden into the Avon, past its confluence with the Stour and towards the open sea." (ibid)

25 Bridge Street, Christchurch, August 2016

A. Romney Green's workshop
3 Bridge Street, Christchurch

The blue plaque to the right of the right hand window is almost hidden behind an olive tree.  It reads "ROMNEY GREEN 1872-1945 Master craftsman lived and worked here from 1920 until his death", "donated by friends".  It is interesting that the plaque dispenses with his first name 'Arthur'.

Blue plaque to Arthur Romney Green,
Bridge Street, Christchurch
When we returned to Prezzo for lunch and went inside the building it was fascinating to see what a comparatively small space was occupied by the workshop and showroom.  According to Elkin "The right-hand shop, nearest to the Avon Bridge, was the low-ceilinged workshop containing several work benches.  Green liked the fact that passers-by could look through the window and watch the work in progress, some of which went on in here and some in the converted apple loft outside.  Finished items were displayed in the left-hand shop which served for many years as Green's showroom.  Some of the heavy work was done in a converted tool shed which the men called the 'article' shed because is contained such 'articles' as a circular saw and a band saw, driven b hand or foot power." (ibid.)  Now, the right-hand side of the shop is almost totally taken up by the serving bar for the restaurant.  

interior of 25 Bridge Street, Christchurch
A. Romney Green's old workshop and showroom

Sitting in-between courses, with a treasured swan feather found from the riverbank, it was nice to read the poem that Elkin prints of ARG describing "his beloved home":

"And so we come by an old-world street, through a modern thoroughfare
To our river-skirted home in the poignant borderland;
Past whose ancient front the tide of painted automobiles flows in fury,
But whose posterns open to the cry of the redshank,
Hyacinths beneath the mulberry
And the music of the flight of the swan."

When we used the toilet, it was interesting to note that "When Green took over 25 Bridge Street its only sanitation was what Graham Castle describes as a 'midden' in the garden.  Inevitably, it wasn't long before Green was compelled by the authorities to install adequate sanitation for all the people using the premises.  This he did - with a certain amount of wryly amused resentment.  Two flush lavatories, one for the men and another for Green and Bertha, were put in the back of the building.  Only Green, lover of 'rural hygiene' and forward-thinking environmentalist would then pen a sonnet 'To a Water Closet'." (ibid)  The sonnet contains the lines:

"The sea, once blue, now foul'd, on which our sway
Declines, our fields, once green on which it grew"

There are only two toilets downstairs at the property still, could these be in the same place?  Hopefully we used the right one.  ARG's sonnet reminds me of the tale of the Blount's gardener from Therese Le Chard "When taking tea on the lawn, the stately old gardener could occasionally be seen passing slowly by with two buckets of human excrement on their way to remoter fertilizing duty.  In nature nothing was held to be unpleasant or unclean." (A Sailor Hat in the House of the Lord, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1967).

We looked outside in the garden for the mulberry tree which of course was not to be found.  There was no prospect of a swim from the end of the garden.  Elkin explains "Today the geography is different.  Bridge Street was re-numbered in the 1930s and the French restaurant which now occupies Green's former premises, and sports a commemorative blue plaque, is No.3.  The back garden behind it is quite short, the creek has been filled in and there are newish buildings behind.  Christchurch Marina, built after Green's time, has altered the views."  

The French restaurant of 1998 has now become Prezzo, an Italian restaurant.  The kitchen occupies the back of the building, maybe in an area that had been used as a tool shed!  The restaurant takes over the adjoining buildings also, maybe what was 2 further properties in ARG's time.  Whilst the non-solid wood furniture in the restaurant would not have met with ARG's approval, it is interesting that the old showroom and workshop are still full of chairs and tables almost a century on from ARG's time.  And the food was very nice.

No prospect of swimming to the sea from 25 Bridge Street
in August 2016

The back of 25 Bridge Street, Christchurch

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