...it's our town

Listed Buildings
of Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House reflected in Willis Building (both Grade I)

Newsletter, July 2003 (Issue 152)

Somerset House

After being greeted by a smiling Mel Johnson we left Crown Street promptly to collect the remainder of our party at Tesco's. We were introduced to our driver who told us that because of our tight schedule there would be no "comfort stop" but that rudimentary toilet facilities could be made available on request. He had a rather robust sense of humour! We moved off along the A 12 at a comfortable speed with our good tour leader struggling down the aisle laden with a bag of one pound coins offering to refund £3 per person as we would be unable to visit the Hermitage Collection as planned.

During the journey, Mel, who had researched the background to the Gilbert Collection, told us that Sir' Arthur Gilbert was born Arthur Bernstein in London in 1913 and on marriage took his wife's maiden name of Gilbert. In 1949 they moved to California where he became a very successful property developer and began his collection of works of art. At that time he also began a close association with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and had intended to leave his collection there but was eventually informed that their real interest was in contemporary art. As a consequence the collection is now housed with that of the Courtauld and Hermitage Collections in the restored and refurbished Somerset House in the city of his birth.

My wife Barbara and I chose to visit first the Courtauld Galleries. The sequence of the works is "broadly chronological" commencing with the 14th and through to the 20th centuries. A magnificent collection from Botticelli to Kokoschka. We spent three hours viewing (not nearly enough time) and then a break for lunch and on to the Gilbert Collection.

In the Collection were such memorable objects as gold snuff boxes, Italian mosaic portraits and miniatures, the oldest golden ewer (c. 2500 BC) from Anatolia with a swastika motif worked on to the base for good luck, and a magnificent pair of silver and silver gilt gates made in Kiev in the l8th century symbolising the entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven. These were beautifully displayed and illuminated with appropriate choral music playing softly in the background - perhaps a Russian or Ukrainian mass.

We had little opportunity to give more that a casual glance to our grand surroundings at Somerset House but the beauty of the E J Safra Fountain Court within the courtyard must have a mention. As does the flamboyant Stamp Stair which led to the former Stamp Office - "From the ground floor upwards the balustrades are decorative, whereas on the lower floors they are plain, reflecting the higher status of those working on the upper floors".

The coach is waiting and Met rather ominously counting heads. We leave promptly at 5.30 pm and enjoy a comfortable journey home. An excellent day which we have enjoyed very much as a result of the care and attention for our well-being displayed by Mel Johnson.


    Front cover of issue 152 Cover, issue 152

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