History and Places
Prison hotels: welcome to a night in the nick
Plans for new ‘superprisons’ mean some of the UK’s most famous old slammers could get a new, very different, lease of life … as boutique hotels. It’s a model that has proved popular elsewhere
British boutique hotels could be about to get a boost from an unexpected quarter. Yesterday, new plans were put forward for a series of “super prisons” holding as many as 3,000 inmates. Which will mean that some of the nation’s most famous old slammers could get a new, and very different, lease of life.
A thinktank has suggested that notorious nicks such as Dartmoor, Wormwood Scrubs and Pentonville could be reinvented as boutique hotels. Where once meals were shoved through hatches in the door, Bolly and blinis will be delivered on room service. In-room massage treatments will replace doing time on a hard bed.
The idea is not entirely new, of course. Back in 2005, the Malmaison boutique hotel company re-opened Oxford prison as a 95-room addition to its cool chain, promoting “Nights in the nick” from £95. In the notorious A-wing (familiar to fans of Inspector Morse), smart rooms were fashioned by knocking together the original 19th-century cells. They had the advantage of nice, thick, sound-proofed walls, if a somewhat claustrophobic feel, courtesy of high windows and iron bars.
The model has proved popular internationally, too. In Boston, Charles Street jail was given a makeover so chic you could be forgiven for never guessing its original role, except for the tongue-in-cheek name – the Liberty hotel. The Karosta hotel in Latvia has taken things in a different direction. This ex-military prison offers a freakish themed experience complete with strict guards and cold, unconverted cells.
Most conversions, though, go for the style ticket. At the Het Arresthuis hotel in Roermond, Netherlands, oversized chandeliers and violet mood-lighting soften the effect of what were once gloomy corridors lined with wrought iron. This Dutch creation is a model of how to spin spartan into modern minimalism.
If every town in England has a prison hotel, won’t the novelty be lost though? And while it’s a bit of a giggle to sip a cocktail where inmates once ferried meal trays, who wants to try to patch up their marriage in a lifer’s old cell?
Certain former prisons lend themselves better to the hotel idea than others, too. It will be one thing to wake up with views across Devon moorland, but not all the prisons on the list have the aesthetic attributes of Oxford, or a location such as Dartmoor. There is a chilling hint of Colditz, for example, about Shepton Mallet in Somerset. At 400 years old, it was the UK’s oldest working prison until its closure in March, and once housed the Krays. It is a forbidding building in a location that has little to recommend it besides being walking distance from the Mulberry factory shop. Then again, it is splendidly handy for bands booked to play at Glastonbury. Who would have guessed that HMP Shepton Mallet could have a future in jailhouse rock?
Gardens provide relaxing stops, allow vacationers to truly unwind
Take time to smell the tulips
By Rick Steves
I head to Europe every spring, ready to start afresh on a new season of travel. It’s an exciting time, as I dive into exhausting days of non-stop guidebook research and travel-show filming. With age and wisdom, I’ve learned to take some of my own advice: on any trip, I slow down and smell the roses — or tulips.
I may not have the greenest thumb (and I’ve got the weeds to prove it), but wandering through a European garden is one of the better ways I’ve found to unwind and enjoy the world. Whether tucked into a little corner of a big city or decorating the grounds of an old aristocratic home, gardens soften the edges of life. Wherever you travel in Europe, there’s bound to be a garden in bloom nearby when you need some (aroma) therapy.
In France’s Loire Valley, Villandry is an average château, but its Renaissance gardens make the estate a show stopper. The original builder, a wealthy 16th-century finance minister, installed the famously formal gardens as an interlocking series of flower and vegetable beds. The eye-popping, geometric plantings are as manicured as a putting green — just try to find a weed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Queen of Hearts pop out from behind the topiary in this wonderland.
On the other end of the valley is the Chenonceau château, France’s first great pleasure palace. King Henry II built it for his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. The girlfriend immediately got to work, planting extensive flower and vegetable gardens. But when Henry died in a jousting accident, his wife, Catherine de Médicis, kicked Diane out. The queen let Diane’s garden go to weeds and planted one of her own. Today, there’s a “Diane” garden and a “Catherine” garden on the estate — each lovingly maintained and safely separate.
Sometimes a garden escape can be no more than a soothing glimpse. Some of London’s residential squares are behind locked gates, but your eye is free to wander over these pretty, well-maintained gardens. In the tangle of Seville’s Barrio Santa Cruz, flowers cascade along the wrought-iron latticework of whitewashed houses, providing a psychic refuge from the heat and bustle of the city.
But for a full-fledged urban break, nothing beats Luxembourg Garden in the middle of Paris — it’s a colour-filled Impressionist painting brought to life. After a day of pounding the cobblestones, I like to stop off here and slip into one of the green chairs that ring the central fountain. I can admire the first flowers of spring, all the while watching Parisians being French.
When it comes to gardening, the British seem to forget all about their stiff upper lips.
The best of their gardens are an unabashed assault on the senses. My nose always thanks me for detouring to the fragrant gardens at Hidcote Manor, in England’s Cotswolds area. Hidcote is where garden designers pioneered the idea of outdoor “rooms.” Close your eyes and sniff your way through a clever series of small, sweet-smelling gardens. In springtime, clouds of wisteria and magnolias drift overhead.
For another take on traditional English gardening, seek out Sissinghurst Castle, near Dover. In the early 20th century, writer Vita Sackville-West transformed the grounds into the quintessential English “cottage” garden. There is always something blooming here, but the best show is in June, when the famous White Garden bursts with scented roses. When the sun is shining, Sissinghurst is perfect.
The granddaddy of the European bloom parade is Keukenhof. This 80-acre park, situated between Amsterdam and The Hague, has the greatest bulb-flower garden on earth. (Those without a car can ride the bus right to the park from Amsterdam, Haarlem or Leiden.) For two months in spring, Keukenhof’s seven million tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils conspire to thrill even the most horticulturally challenged visitor. The place is packed with tour groups daily — go in the late afternoon for the fewest crowds and the best light on all those happy flowers.
Dedicated tulip-gazers don’t have stop with Keukenhof. It’s possible to rent a bike (available at Keukenhof for a reasonable €10/day, about $13.50) and head out into the surrounding Dutch landscape. Tooling along on two wheels among tulip fields is a special kind of bliss.
For me, a garden is a way of thinking about travel. If we are like seeds, the travel experience provides the dirt. The act of travelling plants us. And the people and experiences we encounter in our travels are like watering the garden. Combine the dirt, seeds, and water properly, and you get the blossom. Happy travels!
Connecticut history from the ground up
by Marisa Nadolny
Who says you can’t reinvent history? Or, at least, replant it? On Sunday, June 23, the team behind Connecticut’s Historic Gardens marks 10 years of doing just that with Connecticut’s Historic Gardens Day at 14 historic locations throughout the state.
In 2002, a group of tenders of various historic sites in Connecticut pooled resources to get some visibility by participating in the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show in Hartford. Ten years later, the group continues its work to raise awareness of “distinctive historic sites and gardens within Connecticut’s borders.”
Locally, the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, the New London Historical Society and Shaw Mansion and Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford will participate and offer special events that illustrate the unique nature of their gardens.
And really, what’s a historic house without a historic garden? These living installations provide additional context to the historical periods preserved in a given museum; or they simply offer a window into yet another historic period.
“In terms of Connecticut’s Historic Gardens, we deem ‘historic’ to be gardens designed by a known designer or reflect an historical garden style or design philosophy,” explains Tammi Flynn, a spokesperson for Connecticut’s Historic Gardens. Historical relevance, though, doesn’t necessarily exclude creative expression. “The gardens in New London County have great personality,” Flynn notes.
At the Florence Griswold Museum, the resident beds reflect the eclectic style of Miss Florence herself, who was an avid gardener. None too formal, Miss Florence opted for a hodgepodge of plantings that offered splashes of color. Visitors to the museum can expect to see variations of hollyhocks, iris, foxglove, heliotrope, phlox, cranesbill and day lilies.
Admission to the gardens will be free on Connecticut’s Historic Gardens Day, and painting supplies, refreshments and artist demonstrations will be made available to visitors.
Over at Harkness, park staff and volunteers will lead free tours of the gardens that surround the circa-1906 Roman Renaissance Revival-style mansion. The gardens reflect the work of Beatrix Farrand — one of the first noted female landscape architects in the United States — whom Edward and Mary Harkness commissioned to design their gardens from 1918 to 1929. Farrand’s designs combine Asian statuary, wrought-iron fencing and benches with plants that reflect Mary Harkness’ preferred colors.
Visitors who prefer to cover as much historical ground as possible might consider a stop at the New London Historical Society’s Shaw Mansion.
“You get two time periods at a time at the Shaw Mansion — a formal Victorian garden in front of the house and a colonial garden in the rear of the house,” Flynn says.
The colonial garden is a nod to the mansion’s heritage; Capt. Nathaniel Shaw constructed the building in the 1750s. His great-grandson, Dr. Nathaniel Shaw Perkins, inherited the structure in 1845; the Victorian garden illustrates that transition.
And don’t forget to take a look at the mansion’s accompanying summerhouse, intriguingly referred to as a “gentleman’s folly.” This little getaway was constructed in 1792 and offers views of the Thames River.
A local croquet club will play a match and offer demonstrations at the mansion during Connecticut’s Historic Gardens Day, alongside a plant sale. Refresh after the game with strawberry shortcake and lemonade.
Volunteers repair Louisville couple’s 19th century house
by Martha Elson
A crew of volunteers from St. Agnes Catholic Church on Newburg Road in the Deer Park area painted, caulked and made other repairs to the house on Jordan Avenue as part of New Directions’ 20th annual Repair Affair project, and also for the preservation advocacy group’s S.O.S. — Save Our Shotguns project.
It was among 31 homes in Jefferson County that were scheduled to undergo repairs Saturday during the kickoff day for the summer-long Louisville Metro Repair Affair project, designed to help low-income homeowners who are elderly or disabled. The kickoff for the Southern Indiana Repair Affair was June 8.
The S.O.S. effort began last year to draw attention to the city’s multitude of long, narrow shotguns — considered “historic assets” by the group — and help restore them. It was the second house that Preservation Louisville has targeted for exterior restoration as part of the S.O.S. project, after work was completed earlier this year on the first home on West Main Street in Portland.
At the Jordan Avenue shotgun, a new wrought-iron railing that was donated by the local Marion Development company had been installed Friday along the steep front steps leading from the sidewalk, and the Door Store was donating a historic-looking security door.
Max Monohan, a resource development specialist with New Directions, noted that the Jordan Avenue shotgun still had its fish-scale siding, which was being painted mauve by St. Agnes volunteer Chris Hettinger and others.
“It’s all original,” Monohan said said of the front exterior. Marianne Zickuhr, executive director of Preservation Louisville, who also was helping at the site on Saturday, said the joint project came about after she was invited to speak to New Directions about the S.O.S. project, and Monohan realized that the Jordan Avenue house could be a candidate for the program.
New Directions expects to improve about 150 homes throughout Louisville during the summer, Monohan said. The Jordan Avenue home is in the shadow of the historic former American Standard manufacturing building, which has been converted into a parking garage for University of Louisville’s Bellamy apartments — a project that won U of L a “Preservation Success” award from Preservation Louisville.
The St. Agnes volunteers included the Chandler family — father Todd; mother Sarah; Camille, 13; and Campbell, 11. Todd Chandler had volunteered for Repair Affair in the past, and Sarah Chandler said they wanted to teach their children how to help the community.
The couple in the house had been living without running water, and it was an opportunity “to make their lives a little easier,” volunteer Judy Steilberg said.
Cemetery gets bicentennial fix-up
by Howard W. Appell
Last autumn received a call from Livingston County Historian Amie Alden, alerting Olson to the fact that, with the bicentennial for the Town of Groveland approaching, the historic Williamsburg Cemetery on Abel Road was in need of refurbishing. Specifically, the wrought iron fence surrounding the cemetery was suffering from frost heave, breakage and severe corrosion.
In November, Olson’s class of first-year students visited the cemetery, bringing sections of the fence back to the classroom shop. New bollards (vertical support members) were made while the fencing sections were straightened, had bottom pieces replaced, and then underwent a thorough wire brushing and painting.
This spring, 18 sections comprising the road frontage side of the cemetery boundary were set back in place in three step-like groups, with each group properly plumbed to the horizontal and vertical. (Originally, the fenced was set at an angle matching the hill slope.) The BOCES conservation class assisted, clearing away vegetation, shooting the grade elevations, auguring post holes and pouring concrete footers. The project included restoration of two original gate posts which, Olson anticipates, will eventually be sporting hinged gates built to match the rest of the fence.
The present front of the cemetery along Able Road — which had yet to exist during the 1792-1813 flourishing of Williamsburg — was the original cemetery back. The first entryway to the cemetery utilized two still existing gullies approaching the northern cemetery boundary.
The fence itself post-dates the settlement and most burials by a great many years. It matches the northern segment of wrought iron fence along the Avon Road fronting the Hartford House property. This northern segment of Hartford fence is now being removed, but at one time extended as far north as the central school property.
Hartford House owner Corrin Strong suspects the fence was placed by “the boss,” James W. Wadsworth Sr., son of the Civil War general, perhaps in the late 1800s. A family legend says that Wadsworth purchased and installed the fence after winning substantial stakes in a horse race.
Installation of the Wiliamsburg cemetery fence is similarly attributed to the goodwill of a Wadsworth who supposedly “won the fence in a bet.”
The western, northern and eastern cemetery fence lines remain disheveled and in need a repair. Olson envisions future classes completing the full cemetery perimeter. The final effort may end up being a few sections short, since it will continue to be necessary to cannibalize some sections as replacements for others which are beyond repair.
Complimenting the BOCES metal trade and conservation class efforts is the work of Groveland Highway Superintendent Greg Adamson and his crew, who have been busy clearing, mowing, mulching and landscaping the old cemetery.
This cemetery is the last remnant of the short-lived Williamsburg settlement, whose structures had mostly vanished by the second decade of the 19th century. The settlement was founded by land agent Charles Williamson, and supposedly named after his British sponsor, Sir William Pulteney.
Plagued by poor roads; sabotaged by immigrant tenants lacking in wilderness survival skills, and surpassed by later settlements in Bath, Geneva and Geneseo, Williamsburg has become one of the “lost” villages of the American frontier.