Thursday, 13 May 2010

A mighty dynasty

Kitson is a famous name in Leeds, and in many spheres. The family founded the famous Hunslet Engineering Works whose trains are still to be seen all over the world, some of them puffing up the Andes to Lake Titicaca. There's another one on the Snowdon Mountain Railway and we've got this nice picture of a retired loco slumbering away at Kirkstall, where enthusiasts run a narrow gauge line through the woods from Kirkstall Abbey. By the way, if you are in those parts, the Abbey House museum is great - as is the abbey itself, of course, plus its excellent new interpretation centre, and the cafe/restaurant at Abbey House is just tremendous. Delicious food and really nice staff. See 0256E1B0043190A.
Anyway, the Kitsons also entered politics as Liberals and produced two sons who were great patrons of the arts. Sydney was an architect who designed a number of villas in Leeds and the original building of the College of Art whose alumni include Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth (check out the new Hepworth gallery opening in Wakefield next year - He became the biggest collector of Cotman watercolours in the world and left the bulk of them to Leeds city art gallery although the Victoria and Albert, which was bequeathed a smaller number, fought a desperate but I am glad to say unsuccessful battle to get hold of Leeds' allocation. The story is well-condensed in Cotmania & Mr Kitson by David Boswell and Corinne Miller (Leeds City Art Galleries 1992) which accompanied a very good exhibition.
Sydney's brother Robert was an equally generous patron of the arts, responsible for the wonderful mosaic by Sir Frank Brangwyn in St Aidan's church. This was originally to be a fresco, but Brangwyn declared Leeds' atmosphere too mucky and insisted on the much more expensive tiles. St Aidan's got their own back in a Yorkshire way only ten years ago, when the congregation organised their own cleaning of the mosaic with off-the-shelf materials and a ladder lent by one of them, who worked for the fire brigade. Art experts were in fits, but they did an excellent job.
Robert retired to Taormina in Sicily on his doctor's advice (what a nice doctor to have) and built the famous and wonderful Casa Cuseni there, with more work by Brangwyn. He was so popular that during the Second World War, the locals hid his valuables while he was in exile, and chose him as their mayor when he returned as soon as Field Marshal Kesselring and his Nazis had cleared out. The Kitsons' story unites many aspects - enterprise, philanthropy and art - which deserve a greater prominence in the history and image of the North. For the Casa Cuseni, which until recently has been for sale, though you'd need oodles of cash, see The little pocket book at the top incidentally, is for 1885 and was given to me by the marvellous Enid Lakeman, lifelong campaigner for proportional representation, when I worked with her at the Electoral Reform Society in 1971. She must be strumming her harp at the moment, with Britain's fab new reforming coalition. Her father worked at Hunslet Engineering and the book belonged to him.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Cinema gris

The North has its own version of Cinema Noir, best summed up by Beryl Bainbridge's remark, when filming a documentary on Tyneside, that only a TV crew would choose to go to the beach at Whitley Bay in December. Rain, mist, all continues up to the present day, vide the recent exciting but grimissimo TV adaption of the Red Riding trilogy by David Peace. I have a bash at all this in True North and I have been helped by many books which explore the wider and much benign overall tradition of films about, and made in the three regions.Talking Pictures, The Popular Experience of the Cinema, edited by Colin Harding and Brian Lewis (Yorkshire Art Circus 1993) was one of the first, excellent publications to come out of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (now the National Media Museum) in Bradford - a brilliant location for such a place, with many of the locations used in the film of Keith Waterhouse's wonderfully celebratory Billy Liar nearby. Sorry about the blue line on the cover; that's my incompetence with Adobe Photoshop.

An even better look back is contained in the 324 pages of Movie-Makers and Picture Palaces by G.J.Mellor (Bradford Libraries 1996). A treasure trove.

Finally Dorothy Newlyn's Theatre Connections (Newlyn 1995) is an autobiography by a woman who was instrumental with her husband Walter in getting us the fine West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. Apart from telling the story of that campaign, she is also enjoyable and interesting on the theatre and cinema of her Yorkshire youth.

Not dead, just busy elsewhere

Goodness, sorry (again). It's been more than a month. I really apologise; it's been the election and this and that and the fact that the moth trap is up and running again and I can't resist doing blog entries for Martin's Moths (check out via the profile section on this page, and enter a new world).
I'm also a bit de-motivated by the lack of controversy about my assault on the Grimsters. This isn't just here on the blog, but I've been surprised at talks I've done in Newcastle and Hexham, that there hasn't been more of a fightback by the old Northern guard. At Northern Stage, they put up a lot of the gritty grey photos which have so dominated the Northern canon and we had quite a good discussion about that. But most people seem to be taking my Cheer Up Everyone trumpet calls like lambs. I must just show you my own grim and gritty slide which I showed at Newcastle (satirically, in the same breath as telling everyone how unsurprised I was to be staying at the Grey hotel in Grey Street). That was unfair, mind. It just happened to be Earl Grey rather than Earl Light, although his tea is notably lighter than the standard dark brew.

I took this pic in March and when I went back at the end of April for the Northern Stage talk, the slogan had been sprayed over. But it is a good question. I must find out why the hideous but strangely beguiling walkway below the High Level Brdidge came to such a sudden stop. The metal edge of the HLB, far above, is encrusted with dead pigeons incidentally. I wonder if the Kittiwakes got them.

However, the bibliography must press on, and here are another three publications which I have learned from and enjoyed. Some years ago, I went for a walk in Buck Wood, above the river Aire and Esholt sewage works near here, an area much pleasanter than it sounds. My stumbling across some old foundations led to making a Radio 4 programme on open air schools, because the concrete traces are all that is left of Thackley Open Air School. The programme in turn reinforced Christine Alvin's intention of writing a book on the place, about which she knows much. The result is The School in the Wood, Friends of Buck Wood 2008, which you can get direct from

Thackley is a comfortable and lovely spot. The centre of Bradford has notorious problems, with a huge hole where the Westfield development has run out of private cash. The easing of the recession (fingers crossed) should see work start again, but meanwhile the city council is bravely pressing on with its plans for a mirror pool the other side of the City Hall. Excavators are already at work. You can read all about the underlying thinking in Bradford Centre Regeneration Masterplan, Will Alsop Architects, 2003, probably not easy to get hold of but Bradford council or Alsop's should be able to point you in the right direction.

Finally for now, I like detailed books by enthusiast for recondite subjects, which often contain unexpected wider social issues overlooked by more general historians.
One such is Bradford City Tramways 1882-1950 by D M Coates, Wyvern Publications 1984. It helped me, too, when I was tracking down the former workshop of Bill Cull, the man who made Issigonis' Mini work with his continuous velocity joints - see A Mini Adventure by myself, Aurum Press 2009, if you want to know more...