30 May 2014

John Bunyan and Emanuel Swendenborg, Mellor's Gardens, Rainow, Cheshire

Mellor's Gardens – the creation of James Mellor junior (1796–1891) – in Rainow, Cheshire. As I said in a blog post below, Mellor's inspiration was John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, the vehicle through which he was expressing Emanuel Swedenborg's theory of the material world's relation to the spiritual universe.

The gardens are only open to the public for two days in the year: the final May Bank Holiday Monday and August Bank Holiday Monday, although group visits can be arranged at other times. The back of Hough-Hole House – or its roof at least – can be seen in the middle background here.

In Mellor's time the path leading up to the house was very muddy, hence the name 'Slough of Despond' used here. The path I trace below includes most of Mellor's Bunyanesque features, plus a few more he added.

Mount Sinai, where Christian, fearing that the hill will fall on him, makes a retreat.

Above the Wicket Gate, the notice 'Knock and it shall be opened unto you.' This is actually a side entrance to the left of the house.

The former stables at the back of the house become the House of the Interpreter.

'Bethel or the House of God'.

The summer house is unrelated to any Pilgrim's Progress feature.

The Cross is now a mere stump.

And the Holy Sepulchre is a hole from the mill pond overflow.

Formalist and Hypocrisy break the law of the Lord by not entering via the gate.

Arbour, for refreshing weary travellers.

The Hill Difficulty.

There are two inscribed stones at the bottom of the hill which are not related to The Pilgrim's Progress:

'BETTER IS THE DAY
OF DEATH THAN THE
DAY OF ONE'S BIRTH.
J. M. CUT THE ABOVE IN HIS NINETIETH YEAR.
JOB SAID I WOULD NOT LIVE ALWAYS
WHEN HEAVEN'S REVENGE IS SLOW. JOVE
BUT PREPARES TO STRIKE THE FIERCER
BLOW.'

'JAMES MELLOR BUILT BILLINGE CHAPEL.
SOON AFTER HE BUILT IT HE PREACHED
FROM THESE WORDS.
AND THE SPIRIT AND THE BRIDE
SAY COME AND LET HIM THAT
HEARETH SAY COME AND LET HIM
THAT IS ATHIRST COME. AND
WHOSOEVER WILL, LET HIM TAKE
THE WATER OF LIFE OF LIFE FREELY.
REVS 22, CHAPTER 17 VERSE 3.'

'The Chained Lions'. There are supposed to be a pair of them, but unfortunately there is now only one.

'The Wobbly Bridge', which is over a stream from the mill pond.

'The Porter's Lodge' to the Palace Beautiful, also anachronistically called Uncle Tom's Cabin: an old potting shed.

Inside the lodge is a large slab concerning Robert Roberts, a preacher who had criticised Mellor's father, James Mellor senior, for taking financial advantage of local Methodists.

'Apollyon'.

'The Mouth of Hell'.

'Hill Lucre'.

'Remember Lot's Wife'.

And so another climb, back past the gazebo.

Two more stones unrelated to Bunyan's book:

'MOUNT CARMEL,
VINEYARD OF
GOD'

'MOUNT GERIZIM,
SAFETIES OF CUTTINGS,
AS OF REAPERS'

'The Deep Pit'.

'Howling House'.

Inside Howling House, behind this sliding panel, was a Jew's harp that made a howling sound when the wind blew.

This stone is at the side of the house:

'MELLOR'S GARDEN
THE STORY OF
PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
RESTORED
BY
RUTH & GORDON
HUMPHREYS
1978 to 1993.'

The tombs of the Mellor family in the gardens.

On one side, the inscription of James Mellor junior.

'IN MEMORY OF
JAMES MELLOR
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE SEP. 14. 1891,
AGED 94.
WHEN I CAN NO LONGER SPEAK,
LET THIS STONE SPEAK FOR ME,
AND SAY, LIVE NEAR TO GOD.
CAREFULLY READ HIS WORD, AND THE
WRITINGS OF SWEDENBORG, YOU WILL
SEE THEIR HARMONY,
LIVE ACCORDINGLY, AND YOU WILL
BEHOLD WONDERFUL THINGS.'

Around the base of the head of the weather vane is inscribed: 'Jemmy, Jemmy, mind your peace': the criticising words of Robert Roberts to James Mellor senior.

'The Dark River'.

Finally, the Celestial City, with its winding staircase.


Mellor's Gardens is quite a remarkable place, although the owners don't advertise it at all, and I suspect that not a great number of people are aware of this hidden gem. The link below is to a long, image-laden post of mine on John Bunyan:

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John Bunyan in Bedfordshire

John Harding: Sweetly Sings Delaney: A Study of Shelagh Delaney's Work 1958–68 (2014)

Not a large number of women writers from working-class backgrounds are associated with this kind of literature, although three who are have roots in the Manchester area: Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, Ellen Wilkinson, and Shelagh Delaney (1938–2011), from Salford.

Delaney would no doubt be more obscure than she is now if it weren't for Morrissey's inclusion of a photo of her on the Smiths's Louder than Bombs compilation, and Morrissey, whose song 'This Night has Opened My Eyes' includes a number of quotations from Delaney's A Taste of Honey (1958), admitted that he 'overdid it with [her]. It took me a long, long time to shed that particular one.'

John Harding's Sweetly Sings Delaney includes the above quotation (from a Mojo interview of April 2006), and the short title refers to Delaney's fictionalised autobiographical work Sweetly Sings the Donkey. The subtitle A Study of Shelagh Delaney's Work 1958–68 (printed on the front cover but not on the title-page) is indicative of the time limitation set to this book, but is nevertheless somewhat misleading: it suggests a critical work although it isn't – it's more a description of the author's writings and theatrical and filmic representations of them, along with details of the reactions to them.

A Taste of Honey is a kind of 'kitchen sink' drama – the kind that consciously or unconsciously reacted against the drawing-room comedies and middle-class dramas of Rattigan and Coward – that would inevitably invite comparison with the work of playwrights the papers liked to dub 'Angry Young Men', more so as they now thought they had an 'Angry Young Woman.' The play, set in Salford, hardly flattered the city, and its content – concerning a teenager pregnant by an absent black sailor, her friendship with a homosexual man, etc, also invited strong criticism at the time.

Interestingly, the naturalistic content of the play wasn't dissimilar to Delaney's reading: the likes of Zola and the Goncourt brothers. And there was a different French connection that the press played with: at nineteen, Delaney was the same age as Françoise Sagan had been when her Bonjour Tristesse (1954) had exploded on the reading public, so inevitably Delaney was hailed 'the English Sagan'.

John Harding gave a talk on Delaney at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford on 28 May 2014, in which he concentrated on the negative response to A Taste of Honey. His main contention was that Delaney's work was probably regarded in the negative light that it was – by Salford Council, for instance – because of her perceived political orientation: although Delaney wasn't a card-carrying member of the Communist Party, she was associated with such far left stalwarts as Vanessa Redgrave, Wolf Mankowitz, and Joan Littlewood. What reason other than political fear can there have been when Delaney and Clive Barker – seeking a venue for a new theatre and thinking of the possibilities for restoring Salford Hippodrome (a.k.a. the Windsor Theatre) – were thwarted by Salford Council's buying the place and then knocking it down.

This book has many interesting and well researched facts. With the self-imposed time frame there is inevitably a concentration on A Taste of Honey, although the (deeply?) flawed The Lion in Love, The White Bus, and Charlie Bubbles are also given good coverage here.

There's a glaring error though: several 'kitchen sink' movies by brilliant young directors are mentioned, but Harding states that 'none apart from A Taste of Honey would be associated so closely with a particular place'. And one of those films is Karel Reisz's cinematic adaptation of Alan Sillitoe's novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – a novel and film with 'NOTTINGHAM' written right through it like Blackpool rock, in spite of the Salford-born Albert Finney playing the lead role in the film.

ADDENDUM: I forgot to mention that – in a seriously delayed volte-face – Salford announced last month that November 25 (Delaney's birthday) will be Shelagh Delaney Day!

A brief interview clip:

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Shelagh Delaney in 1959

27 May 2014

R. C. Turner: Mellor's Gardens (1989)

 R. C. Turner's Mellor's Gardens: The Unique Pilgrims Progress Garden at Hough-Hole House, Rainow, Cheshire was first published in 1984 and updated in 1989. It is not only a fascinating source of information on Mellor's Gardens (which I shall deal with in the next but one post), but also on the Mellor family and the ideas of James Mellor junior, the brain behind the gardens.

James Mellor senior (1752–1828) bought Hough-Hill House in Rainow, where he owned a cotton mill in the village. After a disagreement over a Methodist chapel he built in the village – charging rent for the seats – James and his wife Mary became followers of the Anglican priest David Simpson (1745–99), who was a friend of John Wesley. Their children – Mary, James, Rachel, Ann and William – were brought up strictly.

James Mellor junior – who never married – took over the management of his father's mill after his death, although he gave it up in the 1930s to take up farming around Hough-Hill House. On retiring at sixty he then put his ideas for his garden into practice. Inspired by Emanuel Swedenborg's theory of 'correspondence', that everything in the natural world has an equivalent in the spiritual, he devised a way of illustrating this, in his garden, by scenes from John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.

26 May 2014

The John Turner stone, Rainow, Cheshire

About two miles to the east of the village of Rainow in Cheshire, on Ewrin Lane about two hundred yards north of its junction with Hooleyhey Lane, is the second version of a stone marker originally made by James Mellor junior, who wrote the correct date below as '1735', and who was Turner's great-nephew.

'HERE JOHN TUR
NER WAS CAST
AWAY IN A HEAVY
SNOW STORM IN
THE NIGHT IN OR
ABOUT THE YEAR
1755'

John Turner (1706–35) was the son of Richard Turner of Saltersford Hall.

'THE PRINT OF A
WOMANS SHOE WAS
FOUND BY HIS SIDE
IN THE SNOW WERE
HE LAY DEAD'

The stone is mentioned in Alan Garner's novel Thursbitch (2003).

25 May 2014

Nancy Milford: Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay (2001)


File:Millay magn.jpg
The famous 1913 photo taken in Mamaroneck by Arnold Genthe

'My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends
   It gives a lovely light!'

'First Fig' is undoubtedly the most famous poem by Edna St Vincent Millay (1892–1950), and it is quoted more than once in Nancy Milford's huge, fascinating and highly informative biography of Millay. This scholarly work contains much original research on the poet (and playwright), and much of that came from documents found at Millay's former home Steepletop in Austerlitz, upstate New York: Millay's late sister Norma gave Milford access to this material.

The back cover notes that Thomas Hardy spoke of the two great attractions of North America: the skyscraper and Edna St Vincent Millay, and certainly 'Fig Fig' has played a large part in perpetuating the myth of this New Woman – independent, highly sexually adventurous and very forthright.

Personally, Millay just as much reminds me of being greeted at the entrance to and exit from the Staten Island ferry terminal with her words from 'Recuerdo' – not mentioned in the biography  which convey a similar impression to the lifestyle in 'First Fig':

'We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry'.


Vincent Millay was born into a poor family in Rockford, Maine, which in the poet's early years became a one-parent family with three daughters (Vincent, Norma and Kathleen in that order) after mother Cora gave inadequate father Henry his marching orders: he was abusive, although the book never clarifies in what way.

The book quotes from many previously unpublished poems and letters throughout, and the first half of Savage Beauty charts the progress of Millay (whose mother was a poetry lover) from her first publication 'Renascence', through Vassar and her early lesbian entanglements (especially with Elaine Ralli), the bohemia of Greenwich Village, her first book publications, and her first stay in Paris.

The second half of the book begins in 1923, the year Millay married the older Eugen Boissevain, who was to prove a great stabilising influence on Millay. This was not a conventional marriage by any means though, and Eugen and Vincent had an open marriage in which it was largely Vincent who did the screwing around — indeed, Eugen seemed to get a sexual charge from it. One enduring relationship Millay had was with the younger gifted poet George Dillon, who never lived up to his early promise and with whom she remained in some form of contact for many years.

In the year of their marriage they bought Steepletop, which is where Vincent ended her days. The Steepletop years are those when Millay became very famous — her poetry reaching a much greater public than poetry normally reaches. Milford doesn't attempt a critical biography, but instead uses the poetry more as a means of suggesting what is happening in Millay's head, how she's reacting to different situations.

Millay was full of contradictions and Savage Beauty endeavors to mention them — the desire for independence versus the need for stability, the confident modern woman against the uncertain child within, etc. And although the author seems half in love with her subject, she doesn't try to gloss over Millay's faults.

This is also a story of sibling rivalry within a close family background, of enduring marital love, and of tragedy in the declining years, when Millay takes to the bottle and the needle. When Eugen dies in 1949, a heartbroken Vincent will only last out a little more than a year before she falls down the stairs at Steepletop and breaks her neck. Not a woman you can forget easily, and a book you're bound to remember too.

22 May 2014

Edgar Wood in Victoria Park, Manchester

The Edgar Wood Centre on Daisy Bank Road, Victoria Park, Manchester.
 
'EDGAR WOOD (1860–1936)
ARTIST-ARCHITECT DESIGNED
THIS FORMER FIRST CHURCH
OF CHRIST SCIENTIST
1903'
 
 
 
This is a Grade I listed building, and the Clare Hartwell edition of Pevsner (2001) calls this 'the only religious building in Lancashire that would be indispensable in a survey of twentieth century church design in all England'.

My other post related to Edgar Wood:
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Edgar Wood in Middleton

The Art of Theodore Major

Theodore Major is a relatively little known painter about whom the writer John Berger said 'his canvasses deserve to rank among the best English paintings of our time'.

Comparatively little has been written about him, although a notable (and very difficult to find) exception is Mary Gaskell's self-published Theodore Major: His Life and Works ([Appley Bridge], [c. 1980]), which is in two distinct sections: the first nineteen pages concern Gaskell's father Theodore, whereas the second section contains one hundred and nine black and white photos of his paintings, which — although named — gives no indication of their date.

Gaskell states that he said that his painting was his life and art his religion, and he had many strong views, hating 'Pop music, pop painting, ignorance, gimmickry in art, cruelty and double-talk'. Leaving school at thirteen, Major went to work in a tailor's shop, a job for which he was totally unsuited and, ill, he became unemployed.

He began evening classes at art school until he grew tired of representational painting and branched out into experimental work. He met his future wife Kathleen at art school when he was teaching art in the evenings. Mary – their only daughter – was born in 1944, and her birth caused the family to be forced out of their accommodation. They went to live in Appley Bridge in 1950, where they stayed and where Theodore made a studio of the largest bedroom.

He was, however, producing so many paintings that in time he bought the neighboring semi-detached house to store them.

Gaskell expresses regret that Major hadn't been invited to give lectures, 'possibly to a television audience, or a University', and devotes several pages to his writings concerned with generalisations about the nature of art, one paragraph of which gives a good idea of his aims:

'Art is the spiritual language of man; a language which extends the limits of his mind and consciousness; a key to "shock" the mind into awareness and growth; a door into a future understanding of ourselves, and finally into an understanding of ALL things.'

L.S. Lowry is an obvious point of comparison with Major, although Gaskell argues that there are more differences than similarities between the two. She claims that while Lowry viewed humanity as if from a hill, her father saw people from a crowd, and showed real pity for his subjects.

Many of Major's Lowryesque paintings were already in black and white, and although there is little evidence of the order in which they were painted, Major, apparently as a result of the atrocities he saw in the world – albeit vicariously through the media as he never went abroad and travelled little in Britain – states that his paintings grew darker and more menacing. Human skeletal shapes became common and Gaskell calls them:

'a universal symbol [...] without race or sex [...] no clothing to betray period or country'.

She also sees them as Major's symbols of the emptiness of the lives of people in the modern era. At sixty-two Major underwent a serious illness and felt an urgent need to communicate the dehumanising influences to the people he considered victims of society: he believed that the state, religion and the educational system stunt the growth of a child's mind and personality.

Gaskell reveals more of Major's artistic aims, of which these are a few examples:

'I wish to DISTURB and extend consciousness in the mind of the viewer.'

'I wish to shock into "awareness" the sensibilities of people; to attack accepted standards; to awaken the mind to spiritual values'.

David Buckman's obituary of Theodore Major in the Independent (27 January 1999) sheds a little light on the twenty years missing between Gaskell's book and Major's death, and a little more on the man himself. In 1992, having paid the full poll tax on his house, he refused to pay tax on the house he owned next door, and which he used as a store. The council threatened to imprison him, he told them to jump in the canal, and he was excused on the grounds of his age (eighty-five) and health. But the most interesting thing, not actually mentioned in Gaskell's book, is that the growing mumber of his paintings which necessitated him buying the other house was not due to the fact that he couldn't sell them but because he refused to sell them to rich people!

Clearly, Major is a fascinating artist with many outsider qualities. But some of his views are clearly wrong-headed. The most bizarre statement he makes is that many great artists and writers 'could only come to full stature in the British Isles', as if that country has some automatic kind of superiority: this statement is all the stranger because many of Major's paintings show a marked influence by European artists: Matisse and Picasso, for instance, are written all over many of his canvasses.

My other Outsider Art (or related) posts:
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The Outsider Art of Léopold Truc, Cabrières d'Avignon
Le Musée Extraordinaire de Georges Mazoyer, Ansouis
Le Facteur Cheval's Palais Idéal, Hauterives
Kevin Duffy, Ashton-in-Makerfield