And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

mandag 31. oktober 2011

Life's Little Oddities, part II - Voracious Vagrancy

To whom the Prince, him fayning to embase,
Mylde answer made; he was an errant Knight
- The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser

There are several terms that, with variable accuracy, denote a person finding pleasure in sauntering and serendipitious discovery, and I have a particular fondness for these words. One of the first that springs to mind is "flaneur", a word borrowed from the French and, in the course of a linguistic evolution spurred on by Charles Baudelaire, meaning a person who wanders about aimlessly with the purpose of discovering the area he or she saunters. A similar meaning can, I will argue, be given to the word "vagrant", especially in its poetic ornithological meaning, referring to a bird found outside the customary range of its species. In addition we also find "vagabond" and, in almost allegorical rendition, the "knight errant" of so many wonderful Medieval and Medievalesque romances. I will happily adopt all these sobriquets as a way to describe how I have gone about exploring York during my stays there.

In this blogpost I aim to present some of my various findings as I roamed the streets of York in September trying to take note of as many quaint curiosities as I could. There is no unifying theme here except from the difficulty to put them in any other category than "sundries", but as a topic for an anthology I trust this will suffice.

Outside York Castle Museum

And you you're always the same, you persevere
On the same old pleasure ground
- It Never Rains, Dire Straits

Two sights from Micklegate

This pun might actually be better than the punner had intended, since redolence in Medieval hagiography was considered to be a token of sanctity or at least a virtuous life. Exhumated bodies of aspiring saints are often described as smelling of a flowery perfume, while Aldhelm of Malmesbury claims in his book De Virginitate that Ambrose of Milan's doctrine had a "mellifluous sweetness" to it.

A cruciform lantern hook situated, if I remember correctly, at the junction of Finkle Street and Swinegate.


Two findings from Walmgate

I sort of regret I never had the courage to try this venue.


  Yes, I am ashamed of my gritty sense of humour displayed here.


York was having a Canada day.

St. Mary's

This little fellow was found on the cellar stair of Constantine House, having sought indoor warmth in the approach of winter. It is an English house spider, the largest species of arachnids I've ever come across, and it looked so scared I didn't want to use the flash in case it would find it disturbing.

Goodramgate (presumably)

Yes, this is what matters to a true Yorkshireman. And Yorkshirewomen too. I'm not absolutely certain whether it is meant to be a guide of good beer or a beer guide which is considered good.


Mild warning found on the lintel of a shop purveying coat-of-arms customers design themselves.

Next time around I'll be looking for more of these.

lørdag 29. oktober 2011

Life's Little Oddities, part I - The Fountain

Drink, Pilgrim, here; Here rest! and if thy heart
Be innocent, here too shalt thou refresh
Thy spirit,
- Inscription for a Fountain on a Heath, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In this blogpost I want to present one of York's many minor monuments, one of those oddities you can pass by a hundred times without noticing but which, once they have been noticed, you treasure greatly precisely because they are obscure, because you may feel that these little secrets belong to you and you alone, that you, by finding them, have become acquainted with York in a manner reserved for the elect few. However, as an explorer of the world I ought to be considered unforgivably self-centred were I to keep such secrets as my own.The very purpose of exploration - scholarly or not - is to present your findings to an audience and to bring your findings out of darkness and into the light. The gem this time is a small 19th century fountain and although it is far less awe-inspiring than the mythical fountain of youth it is at least real and can therefore properly be enjoyed for what it is.

Admittedly the fountain in question is not situated on a heath unlike the one alluded to in the epigraph. It is, however, found near the ruins of a Medieval hospital dedicated to St. Leonard and as such does have a tenuous link to the pilgrim part of Coleridge's poem. The structure came to my attention by chance on one of my walks early in September and I found very pleasing, chiefly - I believe - because I thought it a very charming attempt to emulate the carved stones of ages past, so very typical of the Victorian era.

Seemingly fallen into desuetude this fountain is situated near one of the entrances to Yorkshire Museum and Garden, close to Lendal Bridge. Aside from its year of construction I have been unable to find any further information, sadly.

And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
- The Hound of Heaven, Francis Thompson

And you, all shapes beside, that fishy be
- The Fish, the Man and the Spirit, Leigh Hunt

On the whole I have an unfortunate tendency to yield to prejudice and discard Victorian Medievalesque architecture as naïve, childish, emulating the splendour of past ages while wearing a romantic veil distorting reality beyond what can be condoned. In this case, however, I have decided not to be swept away by pretentious snobbery and I declare I quite enjoy this little treasure

fredag 21. oktober 2011

Cheese and a Secretive Fruit

Have you in fact got any cheese here at all?
- The Cheese Shop Sketch, Monty Python

The fig is a very secretive fruit.
- Figs, D. H. Lawrence

Fortunately for me, a turophile in spe, The Hairy Fig is richly furnished with cheese of numerous sorts and it was here, earlier this year, I learned of the Richard III Wensleydale. I have described this cheese in some detail in previous food-related blogposts and I shall refrain from unnecessary repetition on the subject. Upon my return to York this September I was eager to revisit the shop and explore it more thoroughly, as I had taken little care to do so sufficiently during my student days.

The Hairy Fig is yet another of York's minor gems scattered throughout the city, a small food shop situated on Fossgate well-known for its fine produce. It is more than a mere cheese shop, however. The selection includes various oils, bread, sea-food and beverages, purveyed by a welcoming clientele happy to satisfy the culinary curiosity of their customers. I was first notified of its existence by a flatmate who spoke very warmly of the place and in due course, driven by curiosity, I came by to have a look myself. I was not disappointed, but I have not yet perused the selection as meticulously as I would like, not even on my return in September.

For all its splendid assortment I was first and foremost drawn to the selection of cheese, being overly pretentious in that particular department. I was aiming to bring home a small variety of what the shop could offer and accordingly I dropped by the shop after a small raid at the conveniently nearby Fossgate Bookshop and ended up with three slices of different cheeses: Richard III Wensleydale, Fountains Abbey ewe cheese and Ribbledale smoked goat cheese.


In the Middle Ages Fountains Abbey was one of the Cistercian houses in Yorkshire until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, renowned for its sheep farming as recorded by 12th century historian William of Newburgh. Today it is a World Heritage Site open for visitors and one of Yorkshire's most famous historical sites. The ewe cheese produced in its vicinity has a mild flavour suitable to its soft texture and as such differs little from cow's cheeses like norvegia or gouda. It is excellent on freshly made wholemeal bread or it can be enjoyed on its own as a light but tasty snack between meals.

Ribblesdale is one of the Yorkshire Dales known for its market towns and walks and described by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins as a "sweet landscape" in his sonnet Ribblesdale. The smoked goat cheese comes from Hawes, produced by a three-person cheese maker company with its very own blog. The texture is quite creamy and a little crumbly, most easily handled in not-too-small pieces and with a pleasant sting to its taste. It is very well suited for wholemeal bread but to me it seems to be one of those cheeses that can be enjoyed when combined with almost any conceivable flavour fit for cheeses.

From left to right the above picture shows Richard III, Fountains Abbey and Ribblesdale, packed to maintain flavour and scent, suitable for journeys or long storage.


mandag 10. oktober 2011

Unbridled Imagination

There is much unbridled imagination - much fine, free drawing, and much good colouring, in this singular sketch. Such scenes are not, however, of this world, nor for people who are in it, and where one will feel the poetry of the work, a thousand will reckon it ridiculous.
- Review of "Destroying Angels and Daemons inflicting Divine Vengeance on the Wicked and Intemperate" in The Athenaeum 2 June 1832

And so I would not Etty be,
To shock my Prince's modesty.
- A Painter's Wish, Paul Pindar, published in Punch and Judy vol. 8, 1845

As the above quotes illustrate William Etty (1787-1849) was a prominent public figure, subject to praise and panegyrics alike and not afraid to cause controversy. His paintings featured nude figures, male and female, inspired by the works of Titian and Peter Paul Rubens and attempting to bring their subject-matter into an age whose inhabitants were not always quite ready to appreciate it. It was not, however, the mere nudity itself that evoked censure from the critics, for, as stated in the previous blogpost, he received, from time to time, lavish praise for his works and several aspects of his compositions were treated very cordially by critics. The problem was in most cases how the nudes eyed the audience or other figures on the canvas, how licentious their postures were and how strong were the sexual overtones. It was this that enraged his contemporaries and a prime example is his rendition of the Lydian king Candaules who, according to Herodotus, allowed his minister Gyges to watch his queen undress, a subject so frivolous in its very nature that it shocked the sensitivity of art-lovers.
We reprobate both the subject and the execution of this production.
- From The Morning Post, 1 June 1830

On other occasions his portrayal of females and perhaps particularly female virility - to indulge in an oxymoronic pun - met with applause, as when he illustrated a scene from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene. The image of the female knight Britomart salvaging the fair Amoret from the vicious wizard Busirane extracted the following panegyric from a critic of the Literary Gazette, 11 May 1833:

Grace and beauty in the female form, spirited action in the knight, and the fiend-like expression in the magician, unite with the splendid depth of effect produced by the architecture to render this, nothwithstanding a slight tendency to blackness in some of the half-tints, one of Mr. Etty's "gem's of art".

Ne liuing wight she saw in all that roome,
Saue that same woefull Ladie, both whose hands
Were bounden fast, that did her ill become,
And her small wast girt round with yron bands,
Vnto a brasen pillour, by the which she stands.
- The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser

William Etty moved to London in his twenties to pursue his vocation as a painter but he retained a strong affection for his native city of York. Thanks to his energic campaign he saved much of York's architectural heritage, including the city walls and particularly York Minster which might, had it not been for Etty, have been radically altered in its design during the restoration after two fires in 1829 and 1840 respectively.

  York Minster seen from the very walls Etty saved from demolition.

The City of York from very early on cherished their prodigal and already in 1829 Etty was made an honorary member of Yorkshire Philosophical Society in gratitude of his endeavours. He was persuaded by the Society to give a public address concerning the education of artists in 1838 and as a consequence the York School of Design opened in 1842.

Upon his retirement to York in 1848 William Etty settled in a house on Coney Street next to St. Martin's Church, today the location of York City Screen. According to himself he relished his new situation thoroughly, but he was only to enjoy it for less than a year and a half as he died in November 1849.

St. Martin's Church.

 View towards the Ouse, a spectacle William Etty was very fond of.

William Etty's dying wish was to be buried in York Minster, the church he so dearly loved and whose Medieval design he had saved from contemporary whims. Sadly the proper funds could not be raised for this to be arranged, a sad irony considering Etty's own fundraising for the rebuilding of the Minster. Instead his body was carried in a hearse from Coney Street to Galmanho where he was interred at St. Olave's Church and the city mourned its loss. Today there is a stained glass window in St. Olave's portraying William Etty.

Wonderful! Wonderful! This death!
- William Etty's dying words, November 13 1849

The City of York has not forgotten William Etty and this year he is honoured by an exhibition at York Art Gallery. Outside the gallery a statue of Etty is situated, looking towards Bootham Bar and York Minster beyond it. At his right leg is a miniature of Bootham Bar, an unostentatious homage to Etty's endeavour to save it. 

The statue was made by George Milburn, a local sculptor, and presented to the public in 1911, the same year as an exhibition of Etty's work.

A less opulent memorial of Etty's life and work is found at the place where it started, at No. 20 Feasegate where young William would draw figures on the floor tiles of his father's bakery. The memorial in question is a little plaque in the Bhs shop currently occupying the space, but I was myself unable to find it.

Although William Etty was greatly influenced by Venetian masters, Peter Paul Rubens, the lectures of John Opie and Henry Fuseli, he certainly had his debt to growing up in York as well and Etty knew it. He spoke of York Minster as his bride and already as a child he would stand outside the bookshop of No. 35 Stonegate, "entranced" by the prints behind the window and sketch them, nurturing his unbridled imagination that would in ages thence split public opinion and harvest praise and protest alike.

John Todd's bookshop, one of William Etty's muses.