22 September 2019Ironbridge and Shropshire
15 September 2018The Art & Palaces of St Petersburg (continued)
12 September 2018The Art & Palaces of St Petersburg
17 September 2017The Art & History of Glasgow, Edinburgh & Dumfries House
19 September 2016The Art and History of Dresden, Saxony Switzerland and Meissen
28 June 2016Visit to Dedham and Munnings Museum
14 September 2015The Historic Houses & Heritage of Devon
17 June 2015Turner's Contemporary Gallery in Margate and Pugin's House including St Augustine's Church in Ramsgate.
11 December 2014Visit to Guildhall and Christmas Lunch at the Swan, Lavenham
23 March 2014New York
19 October 2013'Fireworks and Feelings' Young Arts project 2013
24 September 2013Visit to Watts Gallery
29 April 2013The Art and Houses of Bath, Wells and Tyntesfield
07 March 201340th Anniversary Luncheon

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Ironbridge and Shropshire
Day 1 of Visit to Shropshire

Thirty one of us left Essex and travelled to Shropshire.

On the way we were able to visit Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which was a great start to a fascinating few days.

We had time to take in the various galleries before our guided tour. The listed building has been imaginatively used to display its industrial heritage as well as a fine collection of artworks.

Our Guide drew our attention to the once innovative gasoliers. But they gave out so much smoke and smuts that a Benefactor refused to donate until electric lighting was put in.

We then saw the exceptional collections of Pre-Raphaelites, Impressionists and Arts and Craft objects. A bronze statue of Lucifer when he was an angel was spectacular.

It was a Museum we all enjoyed and would have liked to revisit.

Gill Ablewhite

Monday 23rd September - The Ironbridge Gorge
The Ironbridge Gorge today is an attractive and tranquil place with the Severn River passing through. It was not always this peaceful. In the 1770s industrialisation flourished and this area was central to its success. It was rich in natural resources, coal, clay, iron ore and limestone, and the valley became a noisy, smelly and smoky place with ironworks, potteries, tile works and limekilns scattered along its banks. Abraham Darby was the first ironmaster to use coke rather than charcoal to smelt the iron ore and production of pig iron (a precursor of cast iron) increased by 3,000 %. Later in 1779, Abraham Darby III used his grandfather’s methods to cast the ironwork for the Iron Bridge, which opened as a toll bridge in 1781. This was our introduction at the Museum of Iron, the first stop on today’s itinerary.
Our next stop was to see the iconic bridge itself, forming a semicircle as it spans the river Severn. The colour has changed from black to red since my last visit 14 years ago. Recent restoration has seen it revert back to its original colour. We walked across admiring the views upstream and downstream and on the Tollhouse at the far end we could see the tolls originally levied (eg. for one foot passenger - one half old pence). Even Royalty had to pay, only the ferrymen who had lost their livelihoods were exempt. This bridge was the first in the world to use cast-iron structurally and it drew crowds from all over.
With time pressing, we moved on to the Coalport China Museum where we joined a tour. Pat was both knowledgeable and passionate about her subject . She expertly explained the process of producing a highly decorated bone china plate starting with the transfer of the design followed by hand painting. After each application of a single colour, the plate is fired. Seeing and ‘hearing’ the noise of the huge bottle kiln made us realise the skill of the kiln workers and the hot, sweaty, noisy and dangerous environment in which they worked. The museum houses a vast array of pottery but there was only time to see a part of it.
Our final stop was the open-air Blists Victorian Town Museum. This museum extends for two miles on the hillside along by the river Severn and recreates life in the year 1900. It is composed of remains from the industrial past (eg. Brick and tile works, blast furnaces, mine shaft) together with shops (eg. Grocers, chemist, general drapers, sweetshop), homes (eg. Victorian Terrace and Wash House, Cottage and Doctor’s Surgery, Squatter Cottage) and light industry (eg. Decorative Plasterers, Printing Shop, Candle Factory). Other exhibits include a school, a fairground, pleasure gardens, a bank, a pub and a post office. Pigs and hens are also on site. The museum is ‘staffed’ by people in costumes of the period and we were encouraged to engage them in conversation and thereby find out more about their lives. Unfortunately the rain caught up with us and curtailed some of the activity.
Our blue badge guide Dorothy, who accompanied us on three days, had a passion for history and a store of stories. She topped and tailed this second day firstly with Roman links as we were driven along a scenic route through the Shropshire countryside and at the end of the day, pointed out some highlights as we passed through the town of Shrewsbury. Our day had been packed with information and had given us an introduction to this fascinating area.

Susan Neville

Tuesday 24th September:
A damp autumnal day for our visit to Kedleston Hall.
Dorothy our Guide kept us entertained during the coach journey through Shropshire and Staffordshire to Derbyshire with local stories, myths and legends from Caractacus to the present day. The grand 18th Century Palladian villa, the seat of the Curzon family (originally Norman) since the 13th Century is very largely the work of Robert Adam. Then relatively unknown he was asked to take over the architectural, landscaping, interior decorative and even furniture design of the house. This he did in incredible detail
stamping his particular mark on every aspect - particularly the wonderfully symmetrical south face of the the Central building (based on the arch of Constantine in Rome).
The jaw dropping magnificence of the main hall of the piano nobile with its twenty massive fluted alabaster columns and inlaid marble floor leads through to an even taller circular saloon surmounted by a dome containing an oculus and designed to display sculptures. Each of the surrounding rooms show the Palladian proportions well known to those taking the ‘Grand Tour’ and no doubt profoundly impressive to the many eminent visitors. In the rusticated ground floor is a fascinating exhibition of eastern artefacts associated with George, Lord Curzon of Kedleston who was Viceroy of India at the turn of the Century.
Appreciation of the grounds, the ‘Adam’ bridge, outbuildings and the adjacent 13th Century All Saints Church which contains striking memorials to members of the Curzon family was not enhanced by the persistent rain and closure of the church but we were able to return to the hotel with the deep impression of the design and decorative world of Robert Adam and an intention to visit again.

Bruno Handle