It has been a while since I last gave my loyal readership an update on work at Pitshanger Manor. Work on the Pitshager Poets’ alma mater continues apace though thankfully the house is no longer being pulled down so much as being put up again. The Victorian ‘infill’ has been demolished and stonemasons are working on restoring Sir John Soane’s classical colonnade. The Council’s Project Manager, Sue Smeed tells me I am always welcome to visit the workings and always seems pleased to see me, although more than once I have come across her seemingly hiding in a cupboard or behind a door when I arrive. I can quite understand that she must need to make a lot of phone calls and that privacy is important, nevertheless it appears she can be quite challenging to locate when I am in the neighbourhood.
The last tranche of heavy earthworks uncovered foundations of the older, former Pitshanger Manor. As you are no doubt tired of hearing, the origins of Ealing’s premier poetry workshop are lost in the mists of time and are at a severe risk of becoming mythologised by irresponsible bloggers. Be that as it may, records of visitors to the Tuesday meetings were diligently preserved, and this week I repaired to the Archive to locate the visits of any notorious poetic grandees from the distant days of the eighteenth century. The house was owned from the mid 18th Century by Thomas Gurnell, son of a wealthy banker and a man who enjoyed the company of the great and the good.
Speaking of the great and the good, this weeks’ Workshop was another packed affair (and where were you?). Martin Choules took an early lead, musing on what Daedalus has said to every airman since Icarus. Michael Harris bemused us all with a piece twinning parks Mullyash and Hyde with a single sad event. Peter Francis took a turn around the garden in a speculative attempt to discover how he uses words. Pat Francis recalled a racy visit to a museum in a city a long time ago in a country far, far away. Caroline Am Bergris made a welcome return to the group with a poem that nonetheless fails all attempts at adequate description. John Hurley recalled seeing a young lad in happier times. Katie Thornton brought us a remarkable first-person piece describing a woman scorned. Olwyn Grimshaw is sure she needs a new computer; however her repair man has a different opinion. Daphne Gloag brought us something experimental written for another workshop, which work we very much hope she continues. Nayna Kumari is working on a series of poems on ‘difficult people’ and this weeks’ was an acute observation of the sort of man who operates more on transmit than receive. James Priestman has been channelling the Bible according to Hamlet, as spoken to Horatio. Finally, Nick Barth rounded off with a poem about not being able to write a poem, but nobody seemed to mind.
Rustling through the illustrious pages of the Archive my eye was suddenly caught, not by the name of a poet but an artist. It seems that Thomas Gainsbrough was more than once a guest at Pitshanger Manor on his way to exhibit his work at the Royal Academy. Gainsborough has of course been in the news recently due to a dreadful act of vandalism carried out upon one of his most famous portraits, The Morning Walk. Much was made in these reports of Gainsborough’s decision to switch from landscapes to portraiture, and of course the hacks of the fourth estate assumed the reason was all to do with filthy lucre, portraits of nobs and their duchesses paying much more than trees and hills, however airy the brushwork. Studying the Archive, I was struck by an incident which contradicts this theory. It appears that Thomas Gurnell had invited Gainsborough to spend a few days on the estate on his way to London to take in the parkland and maybe knock up a few landscapes for the Royal Academy. Gurnell was good enough to lay on some materials and had a stack of canvasses delivered for the purpose. However when Gainsborough inspected the canvasses he found that they were all Portrait rather than Landscape, a technical nicety having apparently escaped the art material suppliers. Stuck with the wrong aspect ratio Gainsborough was forced to paint portraits for the duration of his stay and found that he preferred the new medium. History, once again, being made in Ealing.
If you have been, thank you for reading.