My cover

My cover
Nell and her oranges

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cambridge and the V&A Museum

On Monday, September 1, I made a trip by train to Cambridge, to have dinner with someone who was very important to my mother in the last couple of years of her life, and in mine while I was here caring for her - her vicar, Martin Seeley.

He was formerly the vicar of Christ Church here on the Island, and while my mother didn't know him until she was too ill to go to his church, he visited her regularly at home, in hospitals, the nursing home, and the hospice, as well as giving her the last rites the night before she died and performing her funeral service. And he was a shoulder for me to lean on more than once when the fear and sadness and loneliness were overwhelming.

Two years ago Martin and his family moved to Cambridge because he had been sought after and hired for a very prestigious new post, as head of a school connected with the university. So now he is The Reverend Canon Martin A. Seeley, President, Westcott House, Jesus Lane, Cambridge!

I had only briefly crossed paths with Martin's wife Jutte (sorry - I'm only guessing at the spelling), who is also a minister, and their charming children, Anna and Luke. We had a lovely dinner (courtesy of my generous Uncle Al) at Fort St. George, a pub right on the bank of the River Cam, and on the evocatively named Midsummer Common.

Before dinner, I spent a couple of hours walking around the old streets of Cambridge and marveling at the ancient colleges (Trinity was centuries old when Samuel Pepys went there in the 17th century) but certainly didn't give it the time it deserved.

After dinner, Martin showed me the chapel and grounds of Jesus College, where he had been an undergraduate, and walked me to where I could get the bus to the train station.

It was great to see Martin and his family, and yes, there is a Nell Gwynn connection. In the last few years of her life, Nell became friends with Thomas Tenison, then vicar of St. Martin in the Fields, and later Archbishop of Canterbury. He helped her make charitable donations (usually anonymously); attended her friend James, Duke of Monmouth, at his hideously botched execution; visited, counseled, and comforted Nell when she had had two strokes and was dying (possibly from syphilis); and gave her funeral service at St. Martin in the Fields.

I told Martin I'd value his advice and input on what Dr. Tenison would have told Nell in those later years. She certainly didn't have any religious upbringing and her life, though nothing out of the ordinary by the standards of Charles II's court, wasn't quite in keeping with what was respectable by Christian standards. The death of her youngest son James at the age of eight must have shaken her world and made her think about the afterlife and her own life as she had never done before. And the years following were no easier, as a succession of her closest friends died, finally followed by the King, to whom she had been a faithful lover for seventeen years and borne two children.

I also told Martin about my search for Nell's grave at St. Martin in the Fields. He asked if I knew the vicar there. Um, no, I haven't had the pleasure. And he kindly offered to put me in touch!

Today I met my friend Donna for lunch at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where she is a senior metal conservator, and then I spent the afternoon going through the British Gallery, with furniture, household items, clothes, paintings, sculpture, and technology from the seventeenth century; and then looking at glass and silver from the same time. I already know a fair amount about daily life during Nell's lifetime, but there is nothing quite like seeing the actual suit that Charles II's brother James, the Duke of York (and later James II), wore at his wedding, or a delicate leather fan of the period with an inctricate landscape painted on it, or feeling samples of the rope support and various layers of mattresses and covers that a bed in a wealthy household of the period would have had.

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

How about this for a design for a wall painting, in the tried-and-true Art Nouveau style?: http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8BWN3L, by the famous English artist, Audrey Beardsley himself. You can also order a canvas print of the picture from wahooart.com.