Back in May 2019 whilst staying in a holiday cottage in the East Riding of Yorkshire with our American friend Nan Quick, we realised that we were in the same area that had inspired David Hockney to paint his series of works entitled “The Arrival of Spring”.
The Yorkshire Wolds in Springtime
My husband David and I have admired David Hockney’s work for many years and had seen his major show “A Bigger Picture” at the Royal Academy in 2012.
This exhibition lived up to its name and was indeed a tour de force filling 11 large galleries which spanned a 50 year period of Hockney’s exploration and fascination with the depiction of landscape.
It included 51 prints created on an iPad, forming the “Arrival of Spring” series, in addition to 36 watercolour works of East Yorkshire in Midsummer and a set of huge canvasses depicting Woldgate Woods.
As we were staying so near to some of these locations, the opportunity to see the places that inspired him in his native county was too good to miss!
Exhibition Catalogue from the Royal Academy
As you can see from the size of this work with David Hockney in front of it, the show really lived up to its title!
We set to work to track down the locations for some of the paintings. In true teamwork style we allocated the research with David downloading some Ordnance Survey maps of the area and finding six digit OS map references.
Nan meanwhile pored over the road atlas for routes and looked up some of the paintings, whilst I found a useful local website listing some Hockney locations and checked out Google Earth satellite images and looked up local Sat Nav postcodes.
We prepared a list of possible locations and routes and set off the next day to try to seek some of them out!
The first was just outside the village of Langtoft to find the location of one of Hockney’s oil paintings of tracks through a wheat field painted in 2005.
Tracks into a Wheat Field near Langtoft July 2005 © David Hockney Foundation
Oil on canvas by David Hockney in a private collection
And what we saw in May 2019…the wheat not yet ripened and a gate across but the tracks visible and instantly recognisable!
So a good start…hope our luck holds!
Puddle near Kilham © David Hockney Foundation
As it had not been raining there was no puddle on the track this day! However there was one by the car!
Off next to the little village of Kilham to find the location of a watercolour painted in July 2004 and one which featured in a postcard set we had bought at the exhibition.
Kilham July 2004 Watercolour on Paper. © David Hockney Foundation
The same location in May 2019 although some trees surrounding the church seem to have been removed since Hockney painted here
Leaving Kilham we approached Woldgate, a minor road which follows the line of a Roman road which runs for 10 miles when it then joins a main road on the edge of the town of Bridlington. Our research had shown there to be many of Hockney painting locations along this route, not really surprising as his mother lived in the town at the time. After her death, he moved into the house and created a studio there.
The former Roman road – the Woldgate
We set off and it wasn’t long until we came across the first location on Woldgate…a work entitled Yorkshire 18 & 31 January 2006.
The tree today albeit in a different season.
We continued our hunt driving along the ancient Woldgate to find the next location which I nearly drove past until I spotted it in my rear view mirror!
Early Blossom, Woldgate 2009 © David Hockney Foundation
The same spot today complete with hawthorn blossom!
Hawthorn Blossom and Red Campions
Hockney loves Spring flowers, and here I quote Hockney in his introduction to The Arrival of Spring…
“I had planned to record the Spring arriving 2011 having observed its arrival for seven years on Woldgate, a small single track road that runs from Bridlington to Kilham, about 10 miles…I had only vaguely planned how to make the work starting in early April. The Winter is difficult because of the cold, which I feel intensely because of my thin legs. when the snow came, I began to draw on my iPad sitting in a car….
…What I began to call Action Week when the Cow Parsley (Queen Anne’s lace) seems to grow a few feet in a week, always comes around early May. Some years there was hardly any blackthorn, although the hawthorn blossom was always there in different amounts. some years a bush had plenty the next year not so much. A very exciting time I thought, especially the hawthorn, of which there’s a lot on the Woldgate….”
We continued along the quiet road and arrived at Woldgate Woods.
Woldgate woods resplendent in their fresh spring leafy growth and cow parsley
We parked up and took a walk along one of the numerous paths and found yet another possible location for one of the paintings….
Green tunnel in the woodland
Late Spring Tunnel May 2006 © David Hockney Foundation
We drove on towards a bridge. Research done using the www.yocc.co.uk website, revealed it is called called the Fond Bridge. Apparently it was in this location where Queen Henrietta Maria sheltered in a ditch in 1643 after arriving at nearby Bridlington on a Dutch ship laden with arms and aid for her beleaguered husband Charles I.
David Hockney painted the bridge here many times for his Arrival of Spring series in 2011.
The Arrival of Spring 11 May © David Hockney Foundation
and the view we saw on 27 May 2019
It was also along Woldgate where Hockney created a video that featured in the Royal Academy show. This was created by mounting several high definition digital cameras atop the roof of a Jeep then driving down to film the Woldgate throughout different seasons. I remember well sitting in the darkened gallery at the Royal Academy and watching this mesmerising video through twice!
We decided to take a short detour to look at a village after leaving the Woldgate, this one not connected to a Hockney painting.
There are so many villages in this area with such unusual names such as Thwing, Warter and Wetwang and the one we wanted to visit was called Rudston, its name allegedly a hybrid between the old English word for a cross “rood” and “stane” meaning stone.
In the village churchyard of All Saints Church stands a monolith or standing stone, a slender pillar of gritstone nearly 8 metres high which is the tallest prehistoric standing stone in Britain…even taller than the standing stones at Stonehenge! This is what we had come to see!
All Saints Church with the standing stone amidst the graves
This Neolithic stone, the weight of which is estimated at around 26 tons, is believed to be sourced from some 9 miles north of the site, and could possibly have been transported to its location during the Ice Age as a glacial erratic.
It is thought the first church was built here in the C12th near to the monolith, the builders following the edict of St Augustine in AD597 to “build your churches alongside pagan temples and show them the love of God”.
Now capped in lead it is a pretty impressive piece of stone and its depth below the ground is thought to be as great as its height!
Nan and I show the scale of the monolith!
It was believed that there was a fossilised footprint of a dinosaur on the stone although in 2015 experts ruled this theory out.
Is this a fossilised dinosaur footprint..?
In the corner of the churchyard is a smaller stone of the same type as the monolith believed to be an outlier stone. A watercourse called the Gypsy Race ran nearby and a Roman villa remains were found. A roman sarcophagus still exists in the corner of the churchyard today next to the outlier stone.
Remains of Roman Sarcophagus…
…and the adjacent outlier stone with the monolith in the background
Walking around the churchyard we came across the grave of the writer Winifred Holtby.
Born to a prosperous farming family, Holtby was born in Rudston passing her exams to enter Somerville College Oxford in 1917, where she later met and became firm friends with Vera Britain (mother of the former MP Shirley Williams) a fellow student and author of “Testament of Youth” which features writing about their friendship.
An ardent feminist, socialist and pacifist, Holtby lectured extensively for the League of Nations Union and is probably best known today for her most popular book “South Riding”. She wrote many others including, “The Crowded Street” and “The Land of Green Ginger” before dying from Brights disease at the young age of 37.
Winifred Holtby’s grave with appropriate open book, lies in the churchyard just yards from the house in which she was born.
There is also a memorial stone inside the church donated by the Holtby Society.
We came upon another significant gravestone next to Winifred Holtby’s…the MacDonalds of the Isles…but we are in Yorkshire not Scotland!
Sir Alexander Wentworth MacDonald Boswell was declared 14th baronet and 21st chief of Sleat and 6th MacDonald of the Isles in 1910. He lived in nearby Thorpe Hall until his death in 1933 and was organist and choirmaster for some 50 years in the church.
Burying place of MacDonalds of the Isles
So after an unexpected and interesting detour, we set off again for another village called Thixendale in search of a further iconic Hockney painting.
Thixendale is on the Yorkshire Wolds Way a long distance footpath, and lies at the foot of hills in what is now the Ryedale district of North Yorkshire, historically however it was part of the East Riding.
We had to drive down some very tortuous, winding, steep and narrow roads to the foot of the hills and it isn’t surprising that until the late 1990’s television signals were blocked by the surrounding hills. A small transmitter was built but now has ceased operation as the villagers today rely on satellite TV and in the last three years fast broadband.
At the bottom of the hill we found the “Three Trees”….
…and as immortalised by Hockney © David Hockney Foundation
We even had a close encounter with a couple of Red Legged Partridges who are probably well used to welcoming the sightseers here!
So our day of hunting Hockney locations came to a close and we spent the remaining days of our holiday visiting other nearby places such as York, Whitby, The North Yorkshire Moors, Rievaulx Abbey and Bempton Cliffs.
On the way home however we drove down the A166 and the well known Garrowby Hill, the highest point in the Yorkshire Wolds and also the subject of a Hockney painting.
As I was driving, David took this picture from the passenger seat of the car!
David Hockney’s more colourful version of Garrowby Hill now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts ©David Hockney Foundation
Before driving on to York to drop Nan at the railway station to catch her train back to London, we stopped a few miles on to grab a coffee and take a look at another famous village…Stamford Bridge.
The village sits astride an ancient ford on the River Derwent and was where the Romans established a fort around 70AD.
It was also the site of the Battle of Stamford Bridge. The battle on 25 September 1066 is traditionally seen as marking the end of the the Viking era in Britain, when Harold Godwinson repelled the invading Norwegian force led by his brother Tostig Godwinson and King Harald Hardrada of Norway. Three weeks later his loss at the Battle of Hastings led to the Norman conquest of England.
The Bridge at Stamford Bridge today
There has been a river crossing here since Roman times. In the Medieval period a new bridge of timber with three stone piers was built and in the 18th century the weirs and the bypass canal and lock were built and the former structure replaced by the current bridge.
The present bridge designed by William Etty completed in 1727, now a Grade II listed monument.
Having said our goodbyes to Nan in York, we decided to end our week on another Hockney note…a visit to Salts Mill at Saltaire near Bradford. We had visited some years ago and whilst not exactly on our way home, we decided on yet another detour as we headed south.
Built as a textile mill in 1853 by Sir Titus Salt, the mill is now an art gallery, shopping centre and restaurant complex.
Titus Salt, a 19th century philanthropist had seen how many textile factories had exploited their workers, with low wages, long hours and dangerous working conditions leading to poverty, disease and accidents. He built the mill and the surrounding town with the aim of improving the working and living conditions for his employees.
The gallery has many paintings by David Hockney who was born in Bradford. Hockney was a friend of the late Jonathan Silver who bought the redundant mill and who was responsible for creating the gallery devoted to Hockneys works. It was believed that Silver’s dying wish in 1997 was that Hockney having lived and painted in California for many years “should go and paint Yorkshire”…which is what he did!
Silver owned the successful chain of clothing shops called Jonathan Silver and after selling the business went on to regenerate other buildings in the area before travelling the world and returning to purchase Salts Mill in 1987. The work done by Silver brought the mill and Saltaire back to life and the village was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
Salts Mill Saltaire by David Hockney ©David Hockney Foundation
Behind Salts Mill and the River Aire
The Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the River Aire near the mill provided ideal transport links for the textile mill.
The front of the mill built of warm yellow sandstone in the Italianate style.
Titus Salt noticed some bales of Alpaca wool at a Liverpool Warehouse and found it could be woven into lustrous cloth. He exhibited alpaca and mixed fabrics at the Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace in 1851.
A Llama carving on the mills brickwork exists today as a reminder.
The Hockney Gallery within the mill is called 1853…the date of the mill. We arrived to be greeted by the exhibition of the iPad artworks “The Arrival of Spring” that we had seen at the Royal Academy. On display for the first time in the North and what a treat to see them again after our day of hunting Hockney!
Here are a selection of photos taken in the gallery…
The former mill makes an impressive space for a gallery
I recognise the Woldgate Bridge here!
Finally we couldn’t leave before a trip to the fantastic art and book shop and we just had to buy something to remind us of our Hockney inspired week…a poster of the “Three Trees at Thixendale”!
There are so many other locations in the East Riding area we didn’t look for so we definitely need a return visit to resume our treasure hunt for the national treasure that is David Hockney.