Visit to the Sandham Memorial Chapel and Cookham
October 20th 2015
Twenty four members set out on a dull morning to learn more about the life and work of the artist Sir Stanley Spencer. Fortunately the weather improved as we made the long journey down the M4 to Burghclere, near Newbury, Berkshire and we enjoyed the wonderful autumn colours of the trees as we whizzed past.
On arrival, we had coffee at The Carpenter’s Arms followed by a fascinating talk by one of the guide at the Sandham Memorial Chapel which houses a series of large scale paintings, some over 20 feet high, by Sir Stanley Spencer reflecting his experiences in the First World War. It is a very moving war memorial in that it does not show the deaths but the lives of the soldiers. Panels such as Scrubbing the Floor and Bedmaking depict the unremarkable everyday facts of daily life in camp or hospital and a sense of human companionship rarely found in civilian life. On the end altar wall Spencer imagined the Resurrection of the Soldiers taking place outside the walled village of Kalinova in Macedonia with soldiers rising out of their graves and handing in identical white crosses to a Christ figure. The work on the Memorial Chapel has been described as a six-year process of remembrance and exorcism for Spencer.
Following a delicious lunch at The Carpenter’s Arms we set off back down the M4 to Cookham, near Maidenhead, where the group was split in order to make it easier for us to have both a tour of the Stanley Spencer Gallery and a tour of the village of Cookham.
Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) lived in Cookham for most of his life and he immortalised the village through his paintings. He regarded Cookham as his ‘village in heaven’ and he used it as the setting for visionary religious and figure paintings, several of which are in the Gallery which opened in 1962. We saw paintings such as The Last Supper and the unfinished Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta. It was also quite poignant to see the pram in which Spencer, who was in a difficult financial state in his later years, carried his canvas and easel whilst painting around the village.
The tour of the village enabled us to see the places he most frequently used in his paintings such as the church, the High Street, Cookham Moor and the Thames. We were also shown Spencer’s birthplace, ‘Fernlea’, on Cookham High Street and his burial place in Cookham Churchyard.
Despite the long journeys it was a wonderful day and the visit complemented the fascinating lecture on Stanley Spencer given to members earlier in the year.