Friday 24 July 2009

Isle of Wight Festival, 1970

An important strand that will be developed as this project progresses is one that links popular music with the countryside and brings in such factors as alternative lifestyles, youth culture, social protest and environmentalism. The music festival embodies them all. In the modern era, the journey began with the Beaulieu jazz festivals on Lord Montague's estate in Hampshire 1956-61, where opposing followers of modern and trad jazz knocked spots off each other, and ended the century with the counter culture pillar of the establishment that Glastonbury ultimately became. The three Isle of Wight festivals of 1968-70 are landmarks along that road so we have acquired a poster from the last of them because it represents a watershed moment in music festival history.

This is not connected with the organisers' promotional artwork that was done by David Fairbrother-Roe but part of a range of printed material produced unofficially in the encampment on site and sold to festival goers.

With opposition from local authorities and residents mounting following the previous year's event, the 1970 festival was hard pressed to find a venue on the island and was ultimately obliged to make do with a farmland site at Afton Down. This was bound to cause problems because the main arena was overlooked by a great hillside, beyond the perimeter fence, where fans could and did camp out and watch the proceedings for nothing. So it was that at least half a million people turned up - more than to any other comparable event since - on a gloriously sunny bank holiday weekend to witness a glittering line-up of acts, including Jimi Hendrix giving his last public performance, amid a mix of chaos, confusion and recrimination that roused a nation and ensured that nothing quite like it would ever happen again.

Friday 17 July 2009

Darling Buds of May

We have now added these two items of costume as worn by Pop and Ma Larkin (David Jason and Pam Ferris) in the 1991-3 Yorkshire TV series Darling Buds of May. Running to 18 episodes and two specials, it was immensely popular with the first season of programmes breaking viewing records when all six episodes reached number 1 in the ratings.

Shot on location in the Kent village of Pluckley, it presents a Chaucerian vision of a lush and bountiful countryside of the 1950s presided over by Pop, a smallholder and chancer, with an enormous family and a heart of gold. As the Television Heaven review puts it 'The combination of good writing, excellent acting and the inherent "feel good factor" of the series proved to be the perfect antidote to a televisual dramatic universe dominated by cold, hard-hearted cynicism. Darling Buds of May proved to be a delightfully unexpected oasis of golden summer sunshine in a wasteland of post-modern grimness'.

The series was based on the 1958 novel of the same name, and its four successors, by H.E.Bates (1905-1974). He and his wife Madge had made their home since the early 1930s in a formerly derelict cart shed and granary in Little Chart, close to Pluckley in Kent. In his second volume of autobiography, The World in Ripeness (1972), Bates describes how the idea for the Larkins developed:
I had long been fascinated by a rural junk-yard I used to pass two or three times a week. Its crazy mess of old iron, rusting implements, pigs, horses, geese, turkeys, haystacks and useless junk of every kind sat incongruously next to the most beautiful of bluebell woods, the junk mocking the beauty, the bluebells mocking the junk. Here, it seemed to me, was something that had to be written about.

And then:
One early summer evening Madge and I were driving through a Kentish village twenty-five miles east of us, in apple orchard country, when she suddenly had reason to stop and make a few purchases at the village shop. As I sat waiting for her in the car I noticed, outside the shop, a ramshackle lorry that had been recently painted a violent electric blue. Two or three minutes later there came out of the shop, in high spirits, a remarkable family: father a perky, sprightly character with dark side-burnings, Ma a youngish handsome woman of enormous girth, wearing a bright salmon jumper and shaking with laughter like a jelly, and six children, the eldest of them a beautiful dark-haired girl of twenty or so. All were sucking at colossal multi-coloured ice creams and at the same time crunching potato crisps. As they piled into the lorry there was an air of gay and uninhibited abandon about it all. Wild laughter rang through the village street and the whole scene might have come out of Merrie England.

And so the Larkins took shape:
The entire family is gargantuan of appetite, unenslaved by conventions, blissfully happy. Pop is further revealed as a passionate lover of the countryside, as ardent a worshipper at the bluebell shrine and its nightingales as he is of Ma's seductive, voluptuous bosoms. He yields to no man in his warm, proud love of England. All is 'perfick'.

Thursday 9 July 2009

'Mouseman' stool, c.1920s

The distinctive carved mouse on the edge of the seat shows this oak stool to be from the workshops of Robert 'Mouseman' Thompson (1876-1955) in Kilburn, North Yorkshire.

Thompson was part of that rural craft revival which was evident in the opening decades of the twentieth century. As a young man he joined his father in the family joinery business - having already completed an engineering apprenticeship - and continued to live in the cottage that had been his childhood home in Kilburn for the rest of his life. He was inspired by examples of medieval craftsmanship in oak to be found in the region's ancient churches and jumped at the opportunity to develop his own expertise that was provided by commissions from Ampleforth College at the end of the First World War. The carved mouse, both a signature and a proof of pure craftsmanship, began to appear on his work soon after.

Over the following thirty years Thompson was responsible for a stream of screens, pulpits, altars, pews and stalls in churches great and small around the land and chairs, tables and panelling for both domestic and institutional settings. The business continues as Robert Thompson's Craftsmen Ltd in Kilburn today. A number of former Thompson apprentices went on to make their own name as furniture makers in Yorkshire and with their own signature carving devices: for example, Wilf 'Squirrelman' Hutchinson, Peter 'Rabbitman' Heap and Martin 'Lizardman' Dutton.

(Robert Thompson, from Mouseman by Patricia Lennon and David Joy, 2008)

Thursday 2 July 2009

Rowley Gallery inlaid wood panels, c.1912

These panels were purchased at auction in the West Midlands recently. Both present the hard physical nature of farm labour at harvest time rather in the manner of the nineteenth century - Millet's The Gleaners of 1857 and Sir George Clausen's The Mowers of 1892 come particularly to mind. The first panel is called Reaping - although the tool being used is a scythe not a sickle so technically the title should be Mowing - and the other Binding. By the time they were created both these operations of cutting the crop and tying it into sheaves had largely been mechanised. But the purpose here is the noble depiction of rustic labour for a metropolitan audience.

Albert James Rowley (1877-1944) set up his picture framing and gilding business in Kensington in 1898. He was an artist/craftsman himself in the Arts and Crafts tradition and moved in the artistic circles of both London and Ditchling in Sussex (which included Frank Brangwyn and Eric Gill) where he subsequently had a house.

In the years leading up to the First World War, the Rowley Gallery began to produce inlaid wood panels like these, some designed and made by Rowley himself as here, and others by invited artists including his friend William Chase (1878-1944). The distinctive Pan label on the reverse of the panels, to a design by Chase, was introduced in 1912.

The Gallery's output expanded through the 1920s and 30s, particularly with the addition of Albert's son Laurence to the business, from panels into decorative mirrors and items of furniture. The Rowley Gallery still trades in Kensington today, although the family is no longer involved.