Victoria square is A leafy Early Victorian promenaded square of sumptuous four story town houses in stone that glows the colour of toast, commonly known as Bath Stone. In the centre of the square are very well tended gardens with not a cider bottle in site.
The square was designed to resemble a quad within a palace and they have certainly achieved that. It’s all pretty impressive. It was built for the decedents of the original local merchant adventurers who made their fortune in the ‘triangle trade’ out of the port of Bristol, sending Rum and textiles to Africa in exchange for slaves who were shipped over to the Americas to work on the planatations. When Victoria Square was built all this had been going on for a few hundred years and thus Victoria Square had to have the look of ‘old money’ about it, and it still does today.
Snuggled in one corner of the square I was commissioned to paint, Arch House. This beautiful house has an arch running through the centre giving access to Kings Street on the other side, which I may add has a pretty good collection of shops and Cafés.
Now I have no idea why or what the arch house was built for, it may have been a sort of guard house where a paid watchmen might live in some comfort in exchange for keeping out the riff raff. All I can tell you is that it’s rather charming and beneath the arch is a pretty fine delicatessen. That said its original name is ‘Pharmacy Arch’ so its origins are anybody’s guess.
A very nice part of town
I went on site at the end of the first week in January and made my way past the rows of toasty town houses up to Arch House at the far end. You could immediately tell that this neighbourhood is still pretty well-heeled because it was bin day. You can tell much from someone’s rubbish. This particular day was the first collection after Christmas as outside every house was a neatly laid Christmas tree ready for recycling. When I say every house I mean every house. Proof if proof were needed that no house in this square had a fibre optic plastic one from B&Q which is collapsible for next year. Also none of the trees had the remnants of spray snow on them and most impressive of all every tree still had all its needles attached, which of course means the best quality tree was bought and not a tree which would shed its needles the moment you turn your back to resemble a ragged broomstick by boxing day. I was not the only one taking an interest in the rubbish, there were plenty of cats about As well. These too were quality, not the collarless, motley, patchy, chancers you tend to see on the streets. These were pampered Burmese, Siamese and Persian all with the correct amount of ears and eyes. That said, despite their pedigree they were still slumming it around the bins nosing for scraps like any good honest cat should.
I set up a portable easel on the pavement to get in the composition and started to work out the shapes. I wanted the market stall peering through the centre so I pushed things about a bit until it began to work. I was also keen on getting the evergreen trees and bushes in right and left to create a sort of funnel for the eye to lead up to the market stall. I noticed that the famous cricketer Dr W G Grace once resided in the house to the left of the bushes. I wonder if he ever made himself unpopular by putting his neighbour’s windows in with stray balls?
Meeting the locals
While working away an elderly man came by and gazed quietly at my drawings. He was stooped and wore an old rain coat and what I took to be a military tie with what might have been gravy on it. ‘No one sees what I do!’ he lamented in a soft Bristolian burr. He could see I was confused by this comment so he went on ‘I have always said that there are doers and organisers, you are a doer and I am an organiser, we can see what you do though no one ever saw what I did.’ By ‘saw’ I took to mean ‘appreciate’ and was about to respond in some positive way then without saying another word he just wondered off towards the arch all unseen and unappreciated. As he went I quickly drew him in the picture so at least he can at least be seen and appreciated in my painting even if he will never know it.
I worked through pretty steadily despite the cold and got all I needed out of my day. Afterwards I popped into the Farm Café in Kings Street which, if you are ever in the area is just through the arch and turn right.