Monday, July 17, 2017

The Cathedral Ark Exhibition: a reaction in poetry.

Ark is Chester Cathedral's exhibition of 90 pieces of modern art called Ark.  It is a great space for art and I particularly liked the thoughtful ways the pieces were presented, sometimes emphasising the traditional pieces already there, sometimes presenting an interesting juxtaposition that made me notice both old and new a little more.

Here, for instance, is the cast of an eagle in bronze by Elisabeth Frink posturing at another, older eagle in another lectern

Eagle Elisabeth Frink

while Antony Gormley's exquisitely-carved foetus in a highly polished surgical bowl is placed in a glass box of other small and heavy objects

Home and Away by Antony Gormley

David Mach's 'Vessel' with its millions of carpet tacks each laboriously tacked onto wood in the cloisters where the monks once worked

Vessel by David Mach

and Emily Mayer's 'Final Voyage-Precious Cargo (a dead dog crammed in a suitcase)

Final Voyage by Emily Mayer

is placed on an old-fashioned hearse in the Chapter House

Final Voyage by Emily Mayer

I was pleased to learn that the calf in Damien Hirst's 'False Idol'was stillborn with its golden hooves representing the golden calf that the Israelites worshiped while Moses was busy receiving the ten commandments on Mount Sinai.  

False Idol by Damien Hirst

Particularly suitable for the nave then, as was Jon Buck's 'Ark: High and Dry' (its intricate patterning set off by the equally intricate patterns on the screen to the choir)

Ark: High and Dry and Jon Buck

and  'Noah and the Raven'.

Noah and the Raven by Jon Buck

There were many representations of birds including Geoffrey Dashwood's Peacock

Peacock by Geoffrey Dashwood

and, outside, Anthony Abraham's dove.

Figure with Bird 1997Anthony Abrahams

Figure with Bird (Haiku)
She stands, while a dove
settles on her outstretched hand.
After chaos, calm.

Chromosomal Dance 2009 by Sue Freeborough

Chromosomal Dance.
Your Y, my X.
We shuffle, melt 

Becoming 2017 by Sue Freeborough
Your copper, mtin.
Each time  
a new alloy.

The Patriarch, Jambo 1995 by Ralph Brown

The Patriarch, Jambo.
Stand tall Silverback.
Parts of you have 
traveled the world
like dandelion seed
taking root.
Jambo (detail) by Ralph Brown

But your strongest part
that sat bridge-like over the child -
would have died with you
except for this
memorial in bronze.

I hear that it's a test.
Draw a spot 
and at a certain age 
we know, as humans,
that the mark is on our skin
when we see it on ourselves.

The Birth of Consistency by Angus Fairhurst

For some of us
this is just the start
an endless inspection 
of face and smile
at the end of a stick
or mirrored in a pond.

The Birth of Consistency (detail) by Angus Fairhurst
A reflection of words then -
or an image of a contoured pout
crafted from pigments
and held for the click.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Brown's Department Store: a potted history.

Until 1976, Debenhams on Eastgate Street was 'Browns' a family-run department store.  For three generations, starting in 1819, it was run by a series of brothers all of whom contributed a huge amount to the city.  But the business was started single-handedly by Susannah Brown (née Towsey), a draper and haberdasher who, in 1791,  moved from her previous premises near the Cross to more commodious premises on Eastgate Street.

Entrance to Browns along Eastgate Street

Susannah seems to have been an impressive person.  To restock her shop she would have to make an arduous six-day journey to London to buy hats, haberdashery, and gloves, which she would then advertise in the local paper.  As well as being the mother of three sons, she quietly expanded her business, so that when she died in 1819, it included baby and funeral wear.  Susannah's building was above the 'Honey Steps' - the place where honey was sold as part of the thirteenth century Corn Market.   Her son William, joined later by his brother Henry, expanded the shop and replaced the Honey Steps with a shop in the neoclassical style.

By now the shop was being compared with shops in Regent Street, and the brothers - both Whigs and both mayors at one time or another - made great contributions to public life in the city.  It was thanks to them, for instance, that Chester became a centre for rail travel.

The brothers died within months of each other by 1853 and, since neither were married,  they were succeeded by their nephews William and Charles.  They continued the family tradition of improving the city: in particular the Rows, the Groves walkway and the Flookers Brook garden area
in Hoole.  They also expanded the shop, building in both the Gothic (Crypt Building)

The Gothic Building (seen from Eastgate Street Row North)
and half-timbered style (at first leased to Bollands', confectioners to royalty).

Bollands' Building from St Werburgh Street

This was the time of a 'live-in' glamorous staff in black uniform selected from London and Paris, and when titled shoppers would arrive in carriages with footmen, who would transport their wrapped purchases on a velvet cushion.

In 1900, it was the turn of brothers Francis and then Harry to take the reins.  In this Edwardian era, the shop was again extended and improved with the arcade (still visible on the first floor), a dance floor, a restaurant and a roof garden.

Eastgate Row South.
To the disgust of some, shoppers were encouraged to come in and browse - as well as entertained by mannequin displays, lectures and shows - and even 'people from the back streets' were included.  The public works continued: before Harry Brown died in 1936, he and his wife Phyllis gave the Meadows to the people of Chester, and in 1938 Phyllis, Susannah's great granddaughter-in-law, became Chester's first female mayor.  A fitting way, perhaps, to end this short account of one of Chester's great family dynasties.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Isolation Hospital, Sealand Road

Today it's called the Mulberry Centre.  A red brick chimney and some walls.  These are the remnants of the isolation hospital that opened in 1899 at the city boundary.  Plans from 1908 show the main building consisted of a series of small one- and two-bedroomed wards (each with nurses' quarters and bedrooms attached), a laundry and a washroom.  Presumably, it is the laundry that remains - together with the chimney that once serviced it.

The 1910 map shows there was also an administration block and then four separate pavilion wards in the grounds beyond a wall.  Maybe some diseases were considered to be more infectious than others.  Altogether, it could take forty-six patients.  It was built to accommodate and treat patients with certain notifiable infectious diseases: scarlet fever, diphtheria, and typhoid. 

There is little of this left now.  In 1947 the isolation hospital was closed, and patients transferred to other hospitals, including, eventually, the City Hospital in Hoole.  In return, elderly people from the City Hospital were transferred here.  Today, it is the Mulberry Centre - a day centre for adults with severe learning difficulties.  A circular driveway leads to a barred gate, making it difficult to see anything very much: but there is the chimney and one of the one-storeyed wards with vents where the windows used to be.  An old wall surrounds what used to be the hospital garden and includes the Park West Employment Park - the botanical theme extended to include five separate offices named after trees: Elder, Maple, Poplar, Willow and Beech. From March 2012, Beech House, one of the larger buildings, has been the home of the Chester Chronicle.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Once I saw a porpoise roll within you
another time the velvet of a seal
grey within grey.

Once I saw the silver flash of fish
on the part of you broken by the weir
and once the shadow of a shoal

And once, that street of fishermen's houses 
led down to their boats, their nets
where they took turn to take what they needed to feed themselves.

And once, it was my job to rob you too
- to take a part of you and shake it in a glass flask
 and extract your poisons and unwanted debris.

I saw then how heavy rain disturbed you and made you thrash your banks,
how a farmer's slurry or chemical spill would deaden you 
and how a long hot summer could stop you in your tracks.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Old Palace

I should like to see inside this place
once bishop's home,
once palace,
once sumptuous hostel
for youths.

A chippendale balustrade,
a panelled room,
a plastered ceiling,
fireplaces, overmantles, two sets of stairs.

A printer hums,
a busy secretary processes words,
upstairs, with views of the nearby river,
the board members struggle to remember why they're here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Here, where felons used to prowl
wedge-shaped yards
then retreat to cells arranged along a
hexagonal wall,
a warden watched
from high on the hill
above an obligatory chapel.

I've heard there are still tunnels.
where the soon-to-be-convicted
are held
awaiting their call to court
and judgement.

The rest of this humming hive
was swept away
replaced, decades ago,
- after war and impoverishment -
with a nest of wasp-like workers,
chewing and manufacturing paper
with their spit.

And now it's this:
the shell left when that swarm
- long overgrown -
leaving their former residence
for those that tend the young
and carry outsized eggs to safety
when disturbed with a spade.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

River Walk

Just here
- where skinners stretched out skins
and manufactories once added
their own peculiar stench
- is now an artifice of trees
and genteel path
enclosing earlier ramparts.
Age within age.