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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