The Wonders of West of England – Bath, Bristol and Wells: A Multi-Part Journey with Dr. Susan Steer

The Wonders of West of England – Bath, Bristol and Wells: A Multi-Part Journey with Dr. Susan Steer


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From the elegant city of Bath with its famous Georgian architecture to the diverse and vibrant city of Bristol, which is still coming to terms with troubling aspects of its past, and finally, to England’s smallest city of Wells, set in a lush bucolic landscape, this is a personal account of three of the finest cities in the West of England.

Each city will be described in its broad social-historical contexts, with particular emphasis on architecture and historic sites, but as a personal account, the seminars will also draw on material from the lecturer’s own experience, her family’s oral history, and her work as an art researcher in the region’s art museums.

Led by an expert on the history of art, Dr. Susan Steer, this interactive seminar will explore three of England’s most interesting cities. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with a good understanding of these cities' histories, their most significant monuments, and art museums. But participants will also experience these cities as they are lived today, through the eyes of a local, whose family history is long entwined with the region.

 

Lecture 1: Beautiful Bath

From the Roman baths to the medieval abbey and elegant Georgian terraces, Bath is famous for its architectural heritage and has well-deserved status as a UNESCO heritage site. We will take a broad look at Bath’s history from a place of sacred hot springs in Roman times, through becoming a fashionable spa resort in the time of Jane Austin, to eye-witness accounts by Susan’s family of bombs falling on the city center in World War II. The lecture will take in the city’s famous architecture, its several art museums, and will include a historic art scandal investigated by Susan in her role as an art researcher.

Lecture 2: Vibrant Bristol

A large, diverse port and university city, Bristol has long been the economic powerhouse of the West of England. Its architecture extends from medieval churches through 1960s brutalism, and its art museum boasts paintings by the most famous European masters as well as works by accomplished Bristol-school artists. In 1497 John Cabot set sail from Bristol, headed for the New World. In the eighteenth century, Bristol’s merchants, including a certain Edward Colston, prospered through the transatlantic slave trade. In recent BLM protests, the statue of Colston was toppled unceremoniously into the harbor. The great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel built the city’s iconic suspension bridge in the nineteenth century. And in the 1980s the world-renowned graffiti artist Banksy grew up in Bristol - although Susan remembers how his prolific early efforts were diligently cleaned off the city’s walls by exasperated municipal workers!

Lecture 3: Wells, Glastonbury and Beyond

The tiny city of Wells is England’s smallest, and one of its loveliest. Wells may be small, but it boasts one of Britain’s most important gothic buildings – a truly magnificent cathedral, as well as a medieval Bishop’s Palace, deliberately ruined by a nineteenth-century bishop in search of a picturesque garden feature. The lecture will take a close look at the cathedral and its associated complex, but we will also take in more modest buildings like the Wesleyan chapel, which was strongly associated with the Wesleyan Methodist movement. We will also pay a brief visit to Glastonbury, site of Arthurian legends, as well as a once-powerful monastery, ruined by Henry VIII. Since 1970, Glastonbury has been home to the UK’s most famous music festival and the town now has a distinctly hippy vibe overlaying its genteel market-town traditions. We will also take in the village of Cheddar, home of the eponymous and much-travestied cheese; and Wookey Hole, where local caves are associated with legends of a petrified witch. Close to the village, there was a World War II pow camp, which allowed its detainees, nationals of hostile countries, to pay visits to local families - including Susan's grandparents.

Susan Steer PhD is an art historian specializing in Medieval and Renaissance Venice. Susan has an extensive teaching background, lecturing on Italian art for universities in the UK and in Italy. She has also worked as a paintings researcher at museums in the UK, and has published on Italian Renaissance and Baroque art in leading specialist journals. She has lived in Venice for over 20 years.

 

How does it work?

This is a three-part journey series held on consecutive days and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the journey?

$105 for three 90-minute lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our journeys are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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