Last week we had the news that, like Sleeping Beauty, we too are about to wake again (although not quite yet.) Diverging from the original fairy tale it seems that the prick of a needle will allow us to be resurrected rather than put to sleep. It’s exciting to know finally the date on which the doors to our beautiful galleries will be flung open. We are so excited to welcome you all back.
During this time of suspended animation, Helen Bradleys painting ‘The Wakes come to the Lees’ has hung on the wall in the Rutland gallery. It’s been impossible not to be drawn to the crowded scene and endless busy characters in her evocation of the Edwardian fair. She captures the tradition of ‘Wakes Week’ in its heyday as a wonderful affirmation of community identity. This holiday week was established in the 19th to allow trades and mill workers in particular, to take time off. It coincided with the introduction of steam-powered roundabouts and by the time of Helens painting these carousels had become famously known as English ‘Gallopers’.
Over 100 years on now and the steam fair is still a great British holiday tradition which set us thinking about other rituals developed over time and which celebrate the idiosyncrasies of our island.
Many British traditions have morphed into iconic events from their roots in something more integral to the livelihoods of the people and place where they are held. Ronny Moortgat captures Cowes Week in many of his paintings, the wind and the excitement are palpable as the yachts race. Though the first regatta was held at the resort in 1826, pilot cutters had been racing for their licences long before that. Pilot vessels would wait in the channel for ships coming in from the Atlantic and pilot them up to Cowes and beyond. The Annual Pilot review was a spectacle for fashionable visitors, including the Prince Regent, who came to Cowes for its famed saltwater baths and watched the cutters race for money.
Country pursuits though increasingly controversial developed out of British traditions developed to manage the countryside. The painting ‘Huntsmen and Hounds’ by Sir Alfred James Munnings, one of the foremost English 20th century painters of sporting pictures, epitomises this fundamental relationship between man and his working dogs. Tradition has put a red coat on the huntsman at the heart of his pack of hounds but the essential wildness and energy of the dogs around him is captured in the lithe movement of Munnings’ brushstrokes. Similarly the lifeless decoys piled up and ready to go in Paul S Browns ‘Grey Grouse Morning’ are manmade creations finessed over time.
Anyone walking in Scotland must surely participate in the tradition of ‘bagging a Munro’ a Scottish ritual of which I was unaware until we stayed with friends in Fife last summer. The practice is named after Sir Hugh Munro who in 1891 published a list of Scotlands highest 283 mountains. All of them are over 3000 feet and the challenge for some has become to conquer them all. Our first Munro in the Cairngorns was considered “one of the easier ones” and after a few hours climbing on a beautiful day we experienced something akin to a religious experience as we reached the top and marvelled at the endless views stretching away around us. Rehydrating and wolfing down our sandwiches we fell into conversation with a Dundee fireman and his 6 year old daughter (accompanied by their husky dog carrying their provisions in panniers on this back). He explained (the fireman not the dog) that they were just nipping up and down to tick this easy Munro from off his daughters’ list and that by 6pm that day she’d be home with her mother and he’d be on his evening shift. Off they went to tackle another summit as we started our descent. As we straggled into the car park several hours later with thoughts of icecream and a cold beer they were of course already packing up their car and with a hearty waive they were gone.
Peter Symonds - Loch Awe, Scotland