Monday, 2 March 2009


Today, we have been exploring North Wiltshire, so near (from home), and yet so far. Caroline had never been to the Swindon Museum & Art Gallery before - and indeed I only went there last year for the first time: currently, they have an Arts Council touring exhibition of Matisse's Drawing with Scissors lithographs. This was interesting, as are some of the Modern British works in the permanent collection, and indeed the 20th Century pottery.

The Gallery feels rather a sad place to visit though. Swindon's population is nearly twice the size of Cheltenham's, but its arts facilities bear little comparison.

Things looked up as we left to visit three churches nearby, Simon Jenkins's guide in hand. St Mary's Lydiard Tregoze was luckily open, but only briefly: I should like to return, to look longer at the extraordinary array of memorials, and some rather tantalising mediaeval glass fragments.

St Mary's Purton we thought was probably less likely to get a second look, though the setting is delightful, the twin-towered church alongside a fine late Elizabethan manor house and enormous L-shaped barn. There's some mediaeval wall painting, and a 17th Century "Last Supper" over the main altar: Jenkins describes the reredos as an "awful tapestry", but he visited at a time when the Flemish painting had been stolen, and a local artist had lovingly created a version to fill the gap. (It now hangs at the West end of the church: Jenkins was not too cruel.)

Finally, to St Sampson's in Cricklade. Its disproportionately large tower dominates the Upper Thames valley, and should certainly be seen from within, so we gathered. But the church was locked. Happily, a kind Churchwarden came rapidly along to open up for us in response to my phone call: most impressive. St Sampson, a rare bird, appears in a Kempe West window.

The cat accompanied us as we explored the church: it apparently lives locked up inside.

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