Monday, 6 February 2012

Gloucestershire's connections with Charles Dickens

By:  Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett

File:Dickens London 1858.jpg
Charles Dickens
(7th Feb 1812 - 9th June 1870)
 On the 7th February 2012 we will be celebrating the bicentenary of  the birth of one of the most influential, widely read, Victorian novelists - Charles Dickens.

London played a very big part in Dickens' life and was the setting for many of his novels, but he also travelled extensively.  

We will be remembering Dickens in Gloucestershire as he visited our impressive city on his travels and later came to Gloucester on one of his reading tours.  He enjoyed his visits and described Gloucester as - 'a wonderful and misleading city.' After his visit to the docks he wrote "You will see, suddenly appearing, as if in a dream, long ranges of warehouses with cranes attached, endless intricacies of dock, miles of tramroad, wildernesses of timber in stacks, and huge, three-masted ships, wedged into little canals, floating with no apparent means of propulsion, and without a sail to bless themselves with."

North of Gloucester is the Medieval town of Tewkesbury which was mentioned in the Pickwick Papers, when Mr Pickwick and his friends stopped at a coaching inn  - The Hop Pole, on route from Bristol to Birmingham.

The Hop Pole, Tewkesbury where Mr Pickwick,
Ben Allen, Bob Sawyer & Sam Weller stayed
 On the left is a picture of the coaching inn. There is a large plaque on the wall which quotes:  'At the Hop Pole, Tewkesbury they stopped to dine, upon which occasion there was more bottled ale, with some Madeira and some port besides.... and here the case bottle was replenished for the fourth time. Under the influence of these combined stimulants, Mr Pickwick and Mr Ben Allen fell asleep for thirty miles, while Bob and Mr Weller sang duets in the Dickie.'

The Dickens House Museum, London
 Once Pickwick Papers became a best seller and Dickens was receiving a steady salary as editor of Bentley's Miscellany and was writing Oliver Twist, he and his wife Catherine had enough money to rent this spacious terraced house in Doughty Street, London - this is now the Dickens museum. It is well worth a visit but (NB it will be closed from April 9th this year for refurbishment.)

Another interesting place in Gloucestershire is The Bibury Court Hotel, in the Cotswolds. This is supposed to have been the inspiration for Dickens' novel - Bleak House written between 1852 - 8153.

Originally Bibury Court was a grand Jacobean Manor House dating from the late 16th century and owned by the Sackville family.  The house and estate passed down through the family for a number of generations then through the female line to the Cresswell family.  The Cresswells were among many to suffer the injustices of the English legal system, of which Dickens was so critical, trying to sort out a disputed family will.  It was supposedly this long running litigation that inspired him to write Bleak House and the case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce in the Court of Chancery.

Bibury Court was bought and sold a number of times after the court case.  By the 1920's it had fallen into a delapidated estate.  It was bought by the Clarke family who restored it then, when Lady Clark died in the 1980's, it was sold again and was converted to a large luxury hotel which opened in 1968.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Gloucester makes its mark on the 2012 Cultural Olympiad

By:  Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett

West end of Gloucester Cathedral

Last week's Gloucester city walking tour had an added highlight:  Gloucester Cathedral had became the location for the filming of some of Shakespeare's historical plays - Henry IV parts 1&2 and Henry V.  These plays will be shown on BBC 2 as part of the multi million pound Cultural Olympiad.

The Director chosen for these films is said to be Sir Richard Eyre in conjunction with Sam Mendes and among the actors, many big names, including; Jeremy Irons who will play Henry IV, Tom Hiddleston, Prince Hal, Rory Kinnear as John of Gaunt, Simon Russell Beale, Falstaff, Julie Walters as Mistress Quickly plus many more.

 The Cathedral's policy was not to close to the public during filming, just restrict access, so it was very exciting for our visitors to see the production in progress.  As my group and I walked across to the north side of the Cathedral we noticed a number of generators producing a smoke which was filling the nave.  This created a haze, a special effect to make beams of light show up across the film set. Scenery, looking like great solid stone walls was being moved into place and the costumed actors were preparing for the next take.

We were told that the nave was being adapted to become 
The great Norman columns of the nave
Westminster Hall in London and the choir and high altar was being transformed to become Westminster Abbey.

The cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral
 Our visitors enjoyed watching the preparations.  After a while, we slipped quietly into the cloisters to enjoy some of the Cathedral's finest architecture, the earliest fan vaulted ceilings dating back to 1350's. It was a briefer look at the Cathedral than normal but we look forward to the Shakespeare season later this year on BBC 2 and will try to identify the shots taken in Gloucester.