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A Potter's Moll: Conversation In The Great Dome

Liz Robison attends a pottery sale in the Great Dome at Buxton, “the largest unsupported structure in Europe, larger than the Parthenon in Rome.

“I know this because of another remarkable feature of the dome: the acoustics. I heard a man telling this detail to someone, but they were on the other side of the building to me. You kept hearing snippets of conversation as you moved around even though you were standing alone. At one point, a disembodied voice announced: ‘I do like them but I could not eat a whole one’.’’

To read more of Liz’s columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=Liz+Robison

And do visit the Web site of Liz’s husband, potter Jim Robison http://www.boothhousegallery.co.uk/

I seem to have got out of kilter with my fortnights lately, and the reason is that we have been gallivanting: once for work and once for pleasure.

The work bit was a weekend called Pots in the Round at the marvellous Great Dome at Buxton in Derbyshire. About fifty professional potters had stalls in the main area and it was an excellent venue – easily accessible, warm and dry. (Many of these events, like the next one in June at Rufford in Nottinghamshire, are out of doors, and while they are OK if the weather is, it can be horrid if it is rainy and the crowds stay away.)

The building is now part of the University of Derby, Buxton Campus (how times change!) and is a venue for graduation ceremonies, careers fairs and conferences. But it started life as an indoor exercise space for the Duke of Devonshire’s racehorses. A later Duke must have had more of a conscience because he donated half of the building to the sick poor. (Upper half/lower half? Left side/right side?) It later became an orthopaedic hospital and a lady told me that she remembers that the wards were wedge-shaped because of the circular nature of the building and there was a big open area in the centre for wheelchairs and exercising.

The dome is the largest unsupported structure in Europe, larger than the Parthenon in Rome. I know this because of another remarkable feature of the dome: the acoustics. I heard a man telling this detail to someone, but they were on the other side of the building to me. You kept hearing snippets of conversation as you moved around even though you were standing alone. At one point, a disembodied voice announced: ‘I do like them but I could not eat a whole one.’

Handmade ceramics become luxury items during a recession and although our stall did fairly well, many of the potters did not have worthwhile sales. It was good, though, to see what other potters are doing and catch up on trade and professional gossip, as well as seeing old students and friends from across the years.

The other gallivant (is there such a word?) was to Northern Ireland on an annual outing with the MG Owners’ Club. About fifty cars take part and the weekend is based in a different area of the island of Ireland every year. This year was groundbreaking because we have not been in the North before. During the Troubles, there was little or no investment in hotels of any size in Ulster. Now there has been and we stayed in a very over the top resort and spa for which the club was able to negotiate good rates.

I am ambivalent about places like that because of the terrible waste of resources – for example the electricity it must take to dry the tablecloth sized thick towels that they insist on replacing every day.

The organised routes were spectacular – the Antrim coast is breathtakingly beautiful and the Giant’s Causeway in no way disappoints. I had wondered if it was just a small, much photographed phenomenon, but it actually goes on for about twelve miles. The glens of Antrim are beautiful inland valleys and we had a marvellous walk in the Glengariff forest past cascades and waterfalls and full of bluebells, wild garlic, violets and primroses.

The weather makes a huge difference – we were able to have the top down on the car a couple of times, but mainly it was rainy and windy and has been since we came home. We visited Mount Stewart on Strongford Lough, once the seat of the Marquis of Londonderry. The gardens are sheltered and are a spectacular mix of formal and wild. A former society hostess, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, one Marchioness described it as ‘my villa by the sea’. Queen Victoria visited and signed the guest book, adding ‘beautiful but damp’.

A little gem we came across, now a conservation area in a suburb of Ballymena, was Gracehill, an eighteenth century Moravian settlement. Sunday service was just ending so I was able to see the inside of the church and was given a map of the other buildings, including the burial ground where men and women are still buried on opposite sides of the path. The Moravians were a protestant sect who escaped persecution in Bohemia. Intending to go on to do missionary work in the New World, they settled in Britain first and there are still several enclaves with churches, schools and sheltered housing at Fulneck and Gomersal in West Yorkshire, Okbrook in Derbyshire and Dukinfield in Greater Manchester. The buildings are plain and beautiful.

Our local Welsh Society in Huddersfield is joining others tomorrow for the annual Gymanfa Ganu, a hymn singing festival. It’s a tribal affair, nostalgic and atmospheric, but sad as well because most of the members are getting older. With modern means of transport and communication, young Welsh folk do not need a society to remind them of their roots.

Last year the conductor told a funny little story about a lay preacher who preached at a remote little chapel in Snowdonia on a hot Sunday afternoon. He realised that his elderly congregation were nodding off with the heat, so he lowered and lowered his voice until they were all asleep and then he quietly left. He was never invited back.

That reminds me: there was a National Trust second hand bookshop at Castleward in Co Down where the volunteer was fast asleep with a Dick Francis novel open on her
chest.

More from me in a fortnight,

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