England, c. 1963

August 16, 2012

Back in the first half of July I spent a few days in Leeds where I attended the International Medieval Congress, the big annual gathering of medievalists from all over Europe (and elsewhere) which has been hosted by the University of Leeds ever since 1994. The whole thing took place at Boddington Hall, one of Leeds University’s students halls which has been the congress venue for many years in a row now.

One of the many buildings that make up Boddington Hall…

Boddington Hall wasn’t only where most of the papers and presentations were happening, it was also my place of accommodation, and while it didn’t have that Brideshead Revisited-feel provided by my lodgings in Oxford earlier this year I found it surprisingly pleasant. I say ‘surprisingly’ because I had heard people who participated in the Leeds Medieval Congress before speak rather dismissively about the place: What I had expected was some bleak and dire architectural atrocity, but what I found was a rather charming piece of 1960s architecture…

I know there are horses in the foreground and they probably take up all of your attention, but in the background you can catch another glimpse of Boddington Hall

Located among woods and meadows outside of Leeds’ city centre, Boddington Hall was built in 1961-1963. With its clear, cubic volumes and its combination of red brick and blue and green panelling, of brown ceramic tiles and metal staircases and balconies, to me it almost looked like the backdrop of a Wes Anderson movie. I must say I really liked the many buildings that make up the complex of Boddington Hall and I wasn’t surprised to learn that its architect Denis Mason Jones (1918-2010) won the Leeds Gold Medal for its design in 1964. [Admittedly, I have no idea what exactly the Leeds Gold Medal is, but apparently it’s some kind of prize, so ‘yay, impressive!’]

Boddington Hall again. Now just imagine Bill Murray with a bleak look on his face standing on one of those balconies and voilà, it’s a scene from a Wes Anderson movie!

Yep, another shot of Boddington Hall…

But of course, at the end of the day it is a student hall, so the accommodation it provides is rather basic. Also, like so many fine buildings from the 1960s, it looks as if it has been a bit neglected during the last few decades and is need of some adjustments/repair. While the bathrooms have been brought up to date in more recent times, the buildings definitely have a problem with air conditioning/ventilation: The rooms and corridors were incredibly hot and stuffy, even when outside temperatures were pleasantly cool. And while the few traces of the original furnishings of the rooms looked quite stylish, they have been refurbished more recently by people who didn’t have any taste or interest in interior design and/or simply lacked the financial resources to satisfy it.

Anyway, as you can see I was sufficiently fascinated by the place to take lots and lots of photos, and I found the architecture of Boddington Hall to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the entire congress. You could say that I had set out to fully immerse myself in the Middle Ages but found myself submerged in the early 1960s instead! And this didn’t stop with my stay in Leeds…

…and another one…

After the congress I spent a few days with [m] in London and one of the first things we did there was to go and see the then newly opened exhibition The Rolling Stones: 50 at Somerset House. Celebrating the Stones’ 50th anniversary, this fine photographic exhibition shows pictures from all stages of the band’s career, but there is a definite focus on their formative years, i.e. c. 1962-1965. What’s more, many of those early photos don’t just show the band onstage or in a studio but e.g. shopping for clothes, having tea or hanging out in the streets of London, Manchester and New York. So what you get is not just pictures of the Rolling Stones but also some fascinating glimpses into life and material culture in the early Sixties. Best of all, in some of those images drummer Charlie Watts really looks like a character from one of the first seasons of Mad Men – and come to think of it, he actually did work in an advertising agency before the Stones got famous, so there you go…

…and Boddington Hall again – notice wood panelling, that’s a feature we haven’t had before…

As if that wasn’t enough, we also went to Saddler’s Wells Theatre to see Matthew Bourne’s Play Without Words, a stunning dance piece based on the 1963 film The Servant. Bourne’s adaption is set in Chelsea in 1965, and just like the Rolling Stones it was very much about sex and social change. And I imagine to a certain extent these two topics must have been prominent back in 1960s Boddington Hall as well. After all, it is a student hall…

Oxford Revisited

April 6, 2012

I realise I still owe you that account I promised to give of my trip to Oxford on the weekend of March 24-25. Well, there really isn’t that much to say… As predicted I didn’t get to see too much of the city this time either. The conference I attended took place in one of the newer (read 19th century) colleges located a 15-20 minutes walk outside the centre, and I was staying in the college’s own B & B. This was actually quite nice since it was a rather pretty Victorian brick building and my room overlooked the college’s extensive, almost park-like garden:

It was, of course, also extremely practical because it meant that in the morning I could simply get up from the breakfast table and casually stroll across the lawn to the conference room on the other end of the garden. And yes, we were actually allowed to walk on the lawn, which from all I hear is quite exceptional in an Oxford college. Actually, on Sunday we even had a wonderful sandwich lunch, sitting, lying and loitering on the lawn in the warm spring sun, surrounded by daffodils in bloom. As for all other meals, there were plenty of sandwich shops, cafés, bars, pubs and restaurants just around the corner to supply us, so there really wasn’t any need to go into town at all. All in all, it really felt like staying in a perfectly secluded ivory tower…

Another view from my room across a section of the college garden - a bit hazy since it was taken at about 7 a.m.

I only made it into the centre once, on Friday evening just after arriving in Oxford. But even on that occasion I didn’t get to see much of the inner city except for the Bodleian Library where a pre-conference reception was held. But at least I got to complete the one task I had set myself after writing that recent post about my previous visit to Oxford, i.e. to take a better photo of the Radcliffe Camera than last time.

Built in 1737 – 1749 after designs by James Gibbs to hold the Radcliffe Science Library, the Radcliffe Camera is probably Oxford’s best-known landmark. And thankfully for my purposes it’s situated right next to the Bodleian Library (on an administrative level it’s actually part of the Bodleian Library, but it’s a separate building). So just before the reception I managed to get a few quick shots of the Camera, the best of which is probably this one:

While it’s definitely an improvement from last time (largely due, of course, to my very much improved camera equipment), I believe it’s still far from perfect. Unfortunately, I was once again in a bit of a hurry as the reception was already starting, and in that rather narrow courtyard surrounding the building, the light was already beginning to fade. Then again, I kind of like the way the evening sun adds a slight red-ish glow to the Camera’s upper parts, creating a nice contrast with the grey of its basement and the cobbled ground.

Hm, I guess I’ll give it another try next time I’m in town – which hopefully will be before another fifteen years have passed. And who knows, maybe I’ll finally find the time to do some proper sightseeing then…