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Visit to Hampshire & West Sussex



 

 

 

Bombay Sapphire Visitor Centre, Laverstoke
We set off on a wet morning and, with slow progress in the Leicester traffic and a diversion from the M1, arrived unavoidably late in the little town of Whitchurch, Hampshire; a place of narrow streets. It was here we witnessed the impressive skills of Richard, our driver, as he took us through the town to our destination just down the road: Bombay Sapphire’s Gin Mill in the village of Laverstoke. A relief to be there and have a fine industrial renewal and development to behold.

The village and nearby Freefolk were designated as one conservation area in 1990 by the local planning authority, Basingstoke and Deane BC.
(Laverstoke derives its name from the Old English ‘lafercestoc’—lark dependant farm. In Old English, Freefolk means just that.)
In the 18C the Portal family came to the Whitchurch area; their business being paper manufacture, including notes for the Bank of England. They acquired the lease of the Laverstoke Mill in 1724 and later, their business flourishing, purchased the Laverstoke estate. Both villages are related in their development to their situation along the River Test, their mills, with horizontal wheels, were there at the time of the Doomsday survey. With these mills, farming was and remains the significant influence on the area. The river Test forms a key natural asset for the villages and, surrounding Laverstoke, is the Laverstoke Park Grade II Registered Garden. The Test here is an SSSI, a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
With the success of paper manufacture further industrial buildings were added to the site of the Mill from the 1850s onwards. It became a cramped jumbled complex over the years, including buildings over the river Test. Paper making came to an end in 1963. Use for differing purposes followed but the factory became vacant in 2005. The site includes three Grade II listed buildings; the Mill House, the block of mill cottages in flint with red brick dressings and behind these a taller range of buildings, again flint and red brick. The planning authority adopted a conservation area appraisal as planning guidance for Laverstoke and Freefolk in 2003 and seven years later, with the Mill vacant, English Heritage’s Research Dept. produced a comprehensive Historic Buildings Report, a document running to nearly 100 pages.

Any scheme here was going to be a serious heritage matter indeed. There had been speculation in 2009 for housing purposes, with a scheme for conversions of factory buildings to form 28 houses and 24 apartments plus 20 new houses; it was approved but not taken up.
The following year along came a godsend with Bombay Sapphire Gin’s interest in the site and a godsend with a bonus in their commissioning of Thomas Heatherwick to prepare a master plan for its redevelopment. Throughout, his Studio were to work closely with English Heritage and Natural England.
Bombay Sapphire were not only seeking to establish their own distillery – they had been sharing in Warrington – they wished to create a place where the public would to be able to see their processing and manufacture. ‘’We wanted a place with tons of history and character worthy of the brand’’, to quote their estate manager speaking to the Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright. (I’m sure members of ADG would conclude that they have succeeded, not least, perhaps, after sampling one of their cocktails!)

To quote Heatherwick himself in his ‘Making’, Thames and Hudson, 2012, ‘How could a jumbled site make sense to a visitor? He and his team have successfully answered that. There has been careful demolition to open up the river, plant the foreshores, allow views into the surrounding countryside and make better spaces. Neatly paved areas have been created between the saved buildings and these latter cleaned up.
The tour is enhanced by leading the visitor through the production process: the cultivation and preparation of the ‘botanicals’ through which alcohol vapour is passed and then distilled. The firm uses ten botanicals, more than other producers. Throughout, energy efficiency has been a prominent consideration and on completion it received a BREEAM ‘Outstanding Award’ (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method)

The gem in the whole renewal design are the two intertwined new glasshouses, which demonstrate the growth of the plants providing the botanicals. One glasshouse creates a humid zone for tropical specimens, the other a dry and temperate atmosphere for Mediterranean plants. The design of these glasshouses is inspired; they are a structural masterpiece.
They sit above the river and are shaped as botanical glasshouses. Their structural ribbing, its members bringing heat to the glasshouses, ‘bursts’ from of the adjacent distillation hall, each rib then spreading into the desired shape to form the new buildings. No less than 893 individual shaped glass pieces enclose twin enchanting environments; everything made even more delightful by the river Test around and beneath.

The tour goes on, taking the visitor to experience the botanicals first hand by a system of savouring their scents. Using the ‘interactive guide’ given to visitors, you are able to record your favourites by punching an ‘aroma card’ and, presenting this at the Mill Bar, be served a cocktail which meets your particular taste. After the aroma rating, on past the  distilling apparatus, which we see from two levels, and in this we have the benefit of an expert guide. 
With a busy time at the Mill Bar it was not always possible to identify just which of the ten cocktails available you had selected by your preferences among the ten aromas. For most of us, disregarding taste, perhaps ‘Sublime Moment’ would have been appropriate.  

John Dean

 

 

Stonehenge Visitor Centre
In my opinion it is world-class and I have attempted to capture this in my watercolour.

The paper thin undulating steel canopy, so thin, that it requires over 200 slender square columns to support it, gives shelter to the three blocks, Café & Shop, Museum and Office. It is located 1.5 miles to the west of the stone circle with mini-bus connection for visitors.
I like the way Barrie Marshall of Denton Corker Marshall Architects described the building complex;
“The design of the centre is based on the idea that it is a prelude to the stones, and its architectural form and character should in no way diminish their visual impact, sense of timeless strength and powerful sculptural composition”.

Douglas Smith

 



 

 

The Mary Rose Museum
Visiting the Mary Rose Museum by Wilkinson Eyre Architects was an architectural and emotional journey.  The new museum construction was complex and challenging.  The architects working on the interior and exterior had to plan round a working conservation site that couldn’t be substantially disturbed.
Their response was a remarkable achievement.  Contextually, the dough-nut shaped building takes its place discreetly in the historic dockyard.
The number and scale of artefacts recovered by Alex Hildred’s diving team was awesome – from giant cannons to myriad coins.  The display techniques used were both subtle and dramatic, incorporating low-level and back-lit lighting systems generating a strong emotional feeling.

Grant Pitches

Portsmouth Dockyard, No. 4 Boathouse
No. 4 Boathouse is a rare example of an inter-war engineering workshop by the architect E.A.Scott.
At present it is being refurbished for re-use as museum space.

Rob Purdy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth
The Spinnaker tower gave us a good view of our recent visit to the dockyard and the Mary Rose Museum.
High enough to give a good view, low enough to see the detail of the world below.
The information on the displays indicated the site of the sinking of the Mary Rose.
We had a very good ploughman’s lunch in the Waterside Café.

Rob Purdy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Links to the Weald & Downland website about the Gridshell construction:
[Pre-construction ]                      [Basement]
[Erection of deck and end frames]
[Erection of scaffolding platforms]
[The end frames]          [Assembling the grid]
[Constructing the roof] [The cantilevered roof]
[Exterior cladding]     [Project history & brief]
[What is a gridshell?]

Weald & Downland Open Air Museum Gridshell Building
The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, set in lovely South Downs countryside near Chichester, is home to over fifty buildings dating back hundreds of years which demonstrate all aspects of Sussex and Kent rural life.  All the buildings were threatened with destruction but were carefully dismantled, conserved and rebuilt in their original form by the museum's volunteers. They include homes, farmsteads and rural industries like a joinery shop, a smithy, a plumber's workshop and a working watermill.
Arguably the Museum's finest structure though is its newest, the Gridshell Building built in 2002 as a workshop for their conservation and craft activities. Of necessity it needed to be a well lit, large space, uncluttered by roof supports to allow the unhampered reconstruction of the old buildings.

The structure, conceived by the structural engineer Ted Happold and Edward Cullinan Architects, is brilliantly functional and very unusual. A lattice work of green oak lathes has been lowered to form a dome shaped like a series of eggshells, clad with red cedar, which nestles unobtrusively into a wooded hillside.
 
On the day of our visit the workshop was gratifyingly full of young people learning rural construction crafts.

Beneath the Gridshell is a very large basement repository of rural artefacts donated to the museum over the last fifty years which we were lucky enough to peruse in the company of a very knowledgeable volunteer.

The construction, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the museum's own fund raising cost a modest £1.8 million - a remarkable result for the outlay.                                      

Richard Thumpston

 

Splashpoint Leisure Centre, Worthing
We drove to Worthing for a short stop to have coffee and see the new Splashpoint Leisure Centre by Wilkinson Eyre.
Divided into two groups, the first group  were very efficiently shown around by Amy, our enthusiastic guide. We toured the outside first to see the copper and cedar clad exterior. The complex consists of a series of extruded ribbon forms giving a very interesting articulation to the exterior as well creating some exciting  interior spaces.
The copper cladding will eventually weather to green.
The building has an excellent position next to the shingle beach - although the proximity of shingle and large areas of glass had invited some vandalism.
As well as a six lane, 25 metre pool there is also a combined learner/diving pool. This is achieved by an ingenious system which allows the pool bottom to be raised from diving to paddling depth - and all stages in between. In fact, the indoor pool floors can be raised to form a large social space for dry events. 

There are also indoor leisure pools with rapids, flumes and outdoor waters. It has a small café,  crèche facilities and flexible spaces for other activities.
In the large, well-equipped fitness centre members at rowing machines have wonderful views of the sea.

Rob Purdy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Watts Gallery
The Watts Gallery is situated in attractive countryside at Compton, south of Guildford in Surrey and is the only purpose-built gallery in Britain devoted to a single artist – it opened in April 1904, shortly before Watts died.  It is close to the Watts Mortuary Chapel, which Watts paid for and which was designed by his wife Mary.  He had married Mary Fraser Tytler, a Scottish designer and potter in 1886 after the failure of his first marriage to the actress Ellen Terry.

George Frederic Watts was born in London on 23rd February 1817 which was the birthday of George Frederic Handel – after whom he was named. He died 1st July 1904.   His father was a poor piano-maker and George was home-schooled.  Christianity and Classics were dominant subjects and the latter was an important influence on his art.  He showed artistic promise very early and he enrolled at the Royal Academy at the age of 18.  Within two years he began his portraiture career, receiving patronage from many contacts.  He entered competitions including one, in 1843, for a mural at the new Houses of Parliament and won first prize.  This funded a long visit to Italy where Watts stayed and made many friends who would become patrons.  He was inspired by the work of Michelangelo and Giotto.  He returned to London in 1847 living in Holland Park area alongside many artists and bohemians, including Lord Leighton.

In the 1860’s Watts’ work shows the influence of Rossetti and the Aesthetic Movement, often emphasising sensuous pleasure and rich colour.  From the 1860’s until well into the 1890’s the Symbolism Movement covering all the arts – literature, music and painting and later, film – influenced how work was produced.

It was largely a reaction against naturalism and realism; it was a move towards spirituality, the imagination and dreams.  Watt stated that he ‘painted ideas, not things’.  In his late paintings Watts’ creative aspirations mutate into mystical images such as The Sower of the Systems, in which he seems to anticipate abstract art. The symbolist painters were an important influence on expressionism and surrealism. Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period show the influence of symbolism and in Belgium symbolism became so popular that it came to be thought of as a national style; the static strangeness of Rene Magritte for example. He also continued to paint portraits of many famous men and women. 


In the gallery there are many interesting portraits, landscapes and allegorical paintings but there is a particular one which still inspires and influences those who see and understand it.  It is ‘HOPE’ , a symbolist allegorical painting of 1886.  

In 1990 Barack Obama heard a sermon by the Rev Jeremiah Wright and the focus of the sermon was Hope, Watts’ melancholy painting of a hunched and blindfolded girl who sits atop a globe and tentatively plucks at a single string on her crude wooden lyre.  Wright said,  ‘with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to hope’. Having attended the sermon Barack Obama later adopted the phrase ‘audacity to hope’ and used it as the title of his rousing address to the Democratic Convention in 2004. 
Obama is not the only black leader to have been inspired by ‘Hope’:  Nelson Mandela kept a reproduction on his wall while imprisoned on Robben Island.  Martin Luther King Jr referenced ‘Hope’ in his sermon ‘Shattered Dreams’ and after Egypt was defeated by Israel during the Six-Day War the Egyptian government issued copies of it to its troops.
  When he was alive Watts gifted his allegorical painting ‘Love and Life’ to the American people and it is now in the White House.
When he died Watts was one of the foremost artists in the land, lionised as ‘England’s Michelangelo’.
Watts refused a baronetcy twice, offered him by Queen Victoria;  he was elected as an academician to the Royal Academy in 1867 and accepted the Order of Merit in 1902, in his own words ‘on behalf of all English artists’.

The composer Charles Villiers Stanford wrote his Sixth Symphony, ‘In Memoriam G. F. Watts’.  It was composed in 1905 and first performed on 18th January 1906 in London under Stanford’s direction and was inspired by several works of art by Watts.
The visits to the gallery and chapel were an artistic revelation. 

Alwyne Dean

 

The Watts Chapel

Extraordinary, magical, overwhelming. 

This small red brick chapel set in its cemetery is all of these and more. 
It’s a unique Arts and Crafts masterpiece designed by Mary Watts and consecrated in 1898. 
The beautiful patterns of the external terracotta and hand-painted gesso interior reflect its function, symbolic of death and resurrection and consolation for the bereaved.

Imagery covers every internal surface from the dome of heaven and the tree of life to the Watts altar painting “The All Pervading”.   

Our visit to this stunning chapel was a fitting end to an excellent ADG tour.                         

Elisabeth Watkin

 

   

 

Another View Hampshire & West Sussex

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