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Photo Diary: Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

It’s no secret that I’m a Victorian cemetery fan. Some people may find them eerie, and I get that, but I love the history quiet beauty. Plus, they make for nice atmospheric photographs.

London has some of the best old cemeteries in the world. Just over 200 years ago, the dead were all buried in inner-city churchyards, a situation that quickly got out of hand as the city’s population doubled in the early 19th century. To accommodate the new demand for space (and help combat disease), seven grand cemeteries were built on what were then the outskirts of the city. Today, they reside in zone 2.

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Vivien Leigh: A Century of Fame Exhibit

topsham_vivien5

This autumn, Vivien Leigh fans the world over are celebrating the British actress’ 100th birthday. The tributes have kicked off in the cozy village of Topsham in Devon, where several of Vivien’s personal possessions are on display as part of the “Vivien Leigh: A Century of Fame” exhibit at the Topsham Museum.

“Vivien Leigh: A Century of Fame” highlights the connection between Vivien and Topsham, and includes items that explore her image as a film and stage star, as well as the woman behind the star image. The building itself was the former house of Dorothy Holman, the museum’s founder who also happened to be Vivien’s sister-in-law from her marriage to Leigh Holman. Vivien visited Dorothy in Topsham on several occasions. Her daughter, Suzanne, lived with Dorothy for a time during the war before being evacuated to Canada, and still has ties with the museum today.

I went down to Devon with Robbie and my friend Marissa on Saturday. We were met at the museum by director Rachel Nichols, who gave us a lively tour of the exhibit. On display are items from the museum’s permanent collection, including the dress Vivien wore to the premiere of Laurence Olivier’s film Richard III in 1956, and the nightgown she wore as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. The exhibit has been supplemented with items borrowed from the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, the Bill Douglas Centre and Bristol Theatre Collection. Suzanne Farrington has also loaned some personal items, including family photographs and my favorite, a wooden model theatre purchased by Laurence Olivier in 1945 – believed to be German in origin – containing a small doll depicting Vivien Leigh as Sabina in Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth. It’s a small, but intimate space that allows visitors to get an intimate view of these treasures.

I was really glad to hear that the exhibit has attracted large numbers of people to the museum. It just goes to show that Vivien’s allure has transcended decades and generations. The items on display have the effect of making Vivien seem alive and current. Topsham is a beautiful place and I’d highly recommend going for a visit. “Vivien Leigh: A Century of Fame” runs until October 31. Admission is free.

All photos © Kendra Bean, 2013.

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Photo Diary: East Sussex

Herstmonceux Castle Folly

The Herstmonceux Castle Folly – a Victorian facade that served no purpose other than to decorate the landscape.

Romance is when your partner plans surprise get-aways to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. This is what Robbie did for me over the weekend. I knew we were going to the seaside, but had to guess the town before he’d reveal the exact location.

On Saturday morning we caught a train from Victoria Station to East Sussex where he had a whole day planned out. One thing I love most about living in England is the focus on preserving national heritage. It’s just not something we see as much of back home in the States. Stately homes and castles are at the top of my list of places to go and practice photography (two of my favorite destinations are Castle Howard in Yorkshire, and Notley Abbey in Buckinghamshire) because of the opulent architecture, beautiful gardens, and history seeping out of every stone and crevice. 

Our first stop was Polegate station where we hailed a cab and drive to Herstmonceux Castle. Constructed in the 15th century, Herstmonceux was one time the largest private home in England. In the 1520s, the castle was seized from the Dacre family by King Henry VIII, only to be given back under the rule of Elizabeth I. The Restoration period in the 17th century saw renovation and rejuvenation, but also the bankruptcy of Lord Dacre who was forced to sell the castle in 1777. By the 19th century, the castle was in ruins and became a popular tourist attraction for Victorian holiday-makers visiting Brighton and Eastbourne. Herstmonceux took on new life in the early 20th century and is now a part-time wedding venue and hosts international students studying at Queens University.

The grounds at Herstmonceux are stunning and include ancient chestnut trees, an Elizabethan garden, a folly (a house that serves only as decoration), lakes, and sprawling fields.