Stanley Spencer’s ‘village in heaven’: an arty weekend in Cookham, Berkshire | Berkshire holidays

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Cookham, a Thames-side village in Berkshire, was described as “a village in heaven” by the artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), who lived there most of his life. He’s greatest identified for his work of biblical occasions transposed to Cookham’s streets, gardens and riverbanks. In the present day the village homes the Stanley Spencer Gallery, a transformed Methodist chapel run completely by volunteers. The gallery opened in 1962 and was refurbished in 2007, with a mezzanine flooring added to point out extra of the 100-odd works within the assortment. Two exhibitions are staged yearly. The summer season present, A Brush with Historical past: Stanley Spencer and Fashionable British Artwork, runs till 5 November. The winter exhibition, All over the place is Heaven: Stanley Spencer and Robert Wagner, begins on 9 November and is the gallery’s first collaboration with a residing artist. In addition to work and drawings, the museum incorporates memorabilia equivalent to Spencer’s pram, which the eccentric artist used to push his canvas and easel across the village – carrying his pyjamas below his go well with if it was chilly.
£7 adults/£3.50 age 18-25/under-18s free, every day till 5 November, Thursday to Sunday solely from 9 November to 24 March

Thames Berkshire map

Guests can ebook a guided stroll round Cookham to see the place Spencer lived and painted. Sights embody his birthplace Fernlea, a home constructed by his grandfather (its backyard impressed the stunning tulip-sharing portray Neighbours); the road the place Sarah Tubb and the Heavenly Guests is ready; Holy Trinity churchyard, the place he painted The Angel; the Thames, scene of works equivalent to View from Cookham Bridge; and the warfare memorial (Stanley’s elder brother Sydney was killed in the previous couple of months of the primary world warfare, and he painted the memorial’s unveiling).
£10pp for the stroll, £15 together with gallery entry, e mail [email protected]

Inside Cookham’s Stanley Spencer Gallery {Photograph}: Neil McAllister/Alamy

Lower than an hour’s drive away is the shifting Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere, close to Newbury in Hampshire. It homes 19 large-scale oil work by Spencer overlaying three partitions, which took him six years to finish. They depict the on a regular basis lifetime of the “forgotten lifeless” of the primary world warfare, impressed by Spencer’s experiences as a medical orderly and a soldier in Macedonia. His youthful brother, the artist Gilbert Spencer, additionally served, and each had been official warfare artists within the second world warfare.
£9 adults/£4.50 youngsters/free for Nationwide Belief members, open Thursday to Sunday till 12 November, reopens in March

For Spencer tremendous followers, different galleries with substantial collections embody Tate Britain and the Imperial Struggle Museum in London – the latter has a number of work from his Shipbuilding on the Clyde sequence; the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, the Leeds Artwork Gallery and the Southampton Metropolis Artwork Gallery; and the Artwork Gallery of Western Australia in Perth. The complete checklist of galleries worldwide is at

What now?

The John Lewis heritage centre in Cookham has shows from its 30,000-piece textile assortment, courting again to 1799. There are samples in paper and material from designers equivalent to William Morris, Charles Voysey and Lucienne Day (free, open Saturdays).

Close by Cliveden, the previous residence of Nancy Astor, the primary lady seated as an MP (1919-1945), is now a luxurious lodge, however the sculpture-filled gardens and woodland are nonetheless open every day; curiosities embody the traditional Egyptian baboons. There are additionally guided excursions of the home’s opulent rooms thrice every week; guests are regaled with tales of the Astor household and their illustrious friends equivalent to George Bernard Shaw and Amy Johnson.
£17 adults/£8.50 youngsters/under-fives and Nationwide Belief members free, plus £2 for the home tour

The traditional Egyptian baboons on show at Cliveden are considered between 2,000 and a couple of,500 years previous

The Stanley Spencer Gallery sells prints and the Little Bookshop is an unbiased on the Excessive Avenue. Neighbouring Cookham Dean has a Metre Market each Friday, promoting artisan food and drinks, and plus items equivalent to artworks, candles, jewelry, baggage and soaps. There’s a Christmas Market in Cookham on 26 November.

When to go

Winter is sweet, with lots to do and quiet streets, however different occasions are value placing within the diary. The Cookham competition is held each different Might, that includes artwork exhibitions, workshops, talks and artists’ open studios, plus dwell music, theatre and comedy. Derek Bond, the competition’s chairman, describes it as “a celebration of the humanities in its widest sense, with occasions from poetry to pottery, Shakespeare to Strictly Cookham dancing lessons and Bach to boogie.” The competition features a sculpture backyard on the Odney Membership – an excellent probability to snoop round a non-public members’ membership with 53 hectares (130 acres) of grounds.
Subsequent competition 4-19 Might 2024

Cookham High Street.
Cookham Excessive Avenue. {Photograph}: Alla Tsyganova/Getty Photos

Within the third week of July, Cookham is one in all spots alongside the Thames the place the traditional Swan Upping ceremony takes place – the king’s swan marker counts all cygnets, weighs, measures and checks them for harm, and assigns possession. Spencer’s portray depicting the follow is owned by the Tate.

The Cookham Regatta takes place in early September, with dragon boat racing and different contests, plus bands, a canine present and kids’s actions. Spencer’s unfinished Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta, his final main work, is on long-term mortgage to the Stanley Spencer Gallery.

Get outdoors

There’s a beautiful riverside stroll from Cookham station to Marlow station (5.5 miles), or all the way in which to Henley (13 miles), passing landmarks equivalent to Winter Hill. Kenneth Grahame lived along with his grandmother in Cookham Dean, and The Wind within the Willows was impressed by this stretch of river.

Drinks and dinner

The Ferry pub at Cookham, Berkshire
The Ferry pub in Cookham; the setting for Stanley Spencer’s Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta {Photograph}: Maureen McLean/Alamy

Cookham is nicely served with pubs, together with the Ferry, the place Christ Preaching … is ready, and the Crown, which has been not too long ago refurbished and now shows framed prints of a lot of Spencer’s best-known work. The ramshackle Bounty, at close by Bourne Finish, is an area establishment and a welcome cease on the stroll to Marlow.

There’s a vigorous restaurant scene, too, together with Indian, Chinese language and Thai choices. The White Oak serves seasonal meals equivalent to ricotta gnudi with butternut squash, pumpkin seed pesto, crispy sage and black garlic pesto (£16.50), or hake with jerusalem artichokes, samphire and inexperienced sauce (£24). For even higher-end eating, it’s a few 10-minute drive to the foodie mecca of Bray, residence to Heston Blumenthal’s Fats Duck and Alain Roux’s Waterside Inn.


Bel & the Dragon (doubles from £139 B&B) in Cookham is a 600-year-old teaching inn; its 10 trendy bedrooms are stocked with free sloe gin and single malt. Hurley Home lodge (doubles from £190 B&B), a brief drive away, was tastefully remodelled just a few years in the past, incorporating flagstone flooring, woodburning stoves and a Japanese restaurant. There are 10 rooms, some with rolltop baths and personal patios.

Getting there

Cookham is on a department line between Marlow (about quarter-hour) and Maidenhead (10 minutes). From Maidenhead, it’s quarter-hour to Studying and 25 minutes to London Paddington on the quickest trains.