Sunday, 10 April 2016

Church, Hall, Gasworks, Bookshop, Lake

This grumpy-looking lady sits, bodiless, on a ledge to the right of the altar in the church of St John the Baptist, Boylestone, in (you guessed!) Derbyshire. The church is essentially an early Victorian rebuild, but it's nicely done, with a strikingly Germanic-looking pyramidal roof to the tower - and, as with almost any church, there's always something to be found, if only a severed head.
My cousin and I dropped in on this one, and a couple of others, after a visit to Sudbury Hall, that beautiful 17th-century mansion with its shimmering diapered brickwork and wide lake. I often find visiting 'stately homes' a wearying and not very rewarding experience - so many of them seem to be variants on the same plan of ostentatious display - but Sudbury is different, being on a relatively modest scale and, though hardly homely, not at all overwhelming.
In the village of Sudbury, hidden away up a grassy path, is a most curious survival - a small-scale Victorian gasworks that is surely the homeliest ever built. It was designed by George Devey, an architect whose work I am very fond of, who also built the low west wing of Sudbury Hall - and, as you can see from the picture, it is in an advanced state of disrepair. Happily, however, plans are afoot to rescue the building before it is too late, restore and refurbish it and put it to community use.
 Back in Wirksworth (where my cousin lives), a visit to Derbyshire's finest small bookshop - The Bookshop - yielded two small books (I'm buying small just now) that I was glad to find: Hugh Kingsmill's study of Frank Harris (Holiday Library reprint, 1949) and a book of colour reproductions of Hans Memling paintings.
 The day before, over the border in Staffordshire, brought the first swallows of the year (despite the cold) - first a singleton, then later a pair, circling lazily over Rudyard Lake, the beautiful stretch of water that gave Kipling his name. His parents, John Lockwood Kipling and Alice MacDonald (one of the extraordinary MacDonald sisters), met at the lake, on an excursion from Burslem, and had such fond memories of the place that they gave its name to their first-born son. A good thing they didn't meet at Boylestone.

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