Friday 28 August 2009

The Country Picnic

This is an ‘En Route’ tea-making basket produced by Drew & Co of London probably around 1905. (The design number on the little stove shows that it was registered in 1900, and some of the other components were registered a few years earlier). Originally, a device like this was associated with railway travel, and even the horse drawn carriage. But by the Edwardian era, it was increasingly about the relationship between the motor car and the countryside – going for an afternoon jaunt into the country and having a nice cup of tea in a secluded scenic spot before returning to the clamour of the town. It became an enduring tradition, spreading as the century progressed to a wider and wider sector of the urban populace as the price of cars dropped and their availability grew.

By 1912, when this catalogue was produced, Arthur Gamage's department store in London had large motoring and cycle sections, and a big mail order business. The picnic paraphenalia continued to grow in sophistication and ingenuity.

The Morris dealer in Oxford created a country picnic scene in his front window to advertise the 1925 Bullnose. Morris was selling more than 50,000 cars a year by this time and prices of standard models were dropping dramatically.

Monday 17 August 2009

Glastonbury Festival

That a dairy farm in Somerset should have emerged in the late twentieth century as a pilgrimage site for celebrations of music, performing arts and alternative lifestyles, drawing thousands from around the country to rough it for a few days in the open air whatever the weather might throw at them, is reason enough for examples of its memorabilia to be included in this project.

Myths, mysticism and the Arthurian legend have swirled around Glastonbury for centuries giving it a magnetic sense of mystery and fascination particularly for those with a pantheistic world view seeking harmony with Nature and the passage of the seasons. There were earlier festivals of music and drama in the town during and immediately following the First World War that drew many of these elements together, so that what has subsequently become known as the Glastonbury Festival is not entirely without precedent.

Dairy farmer Michael Eavis organised his first festival at Worthy Farm, Pilton (near Glastonbury) in September 1970. He had been inspired by a visit to the second Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music in June that year - held on the Showground in Shepton Mallet of the Bath & West of England Agricultural Society - and wanted to mix a musical event with the concept of the traditional country fair. It was deliberately low key and laid back, with the audience of 2,000 or so getting free milk from the farm's herd included in the £1 ticket.

It was followed by the free Glastonbury Fayre during the summer solstice the following year, where a pyramid-shaped stage made its first appearance, and by occasional ad hoc happenings thereafter - often sparked by the arrival of New Age travellers from Stonehenge - until the first commercial festival event in 1979. CND were actively involved as co-organisers and beneficiaries from 1981, when a new pyramid stage that doubled as a winter cow shed was constructed.

By 1989, when our copy of Glastonbury Global - the Festival's own newsheet - was produced, attendance had risen to over 60,000 and £100,000 was raised for CND.

Our twentieth anniversary programme of 1990 shows that it was now called the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts to reflect the great range of non-musical activity. The Green Field, an area of the site first introduced in 1984 to highlight eco issues, was expanded to 60 acres.

The New Musical Express started sponsoring the Festival in 1989. Our badge is from 1992 and was given away at the NME stage. Showing how campaign concerns had moved on, this was the year that Greenpeace and Oxfam rather than CND became major recipients of Festival profits.

In 1994, the pyramid stage burned down shortly before the Festival start. A Greenpeace wind turbine was installed to generate power for part of the site.

As the poster shows, 1995 was the 25th anniversary of the first Festival. It was just like the old days of Woodstock and the Isle of Wight when part of the perimeter fencing was pulled down in an effort to make a free festival. Nevertheless, £400,000 was still raised for the charities.

Worthy Farm was rested in 1996. The Festival returned in 1997 but to a sea of mud due to bad weather. The whole site now stretched to 800 acres and attendance hit 95,000.

Mud Festival again in 1998. Bob Dylan is on the bill. Greenpeace, Oxfam and Water Aid share £500,000.

In 1999, sponsorship from The Guardian, Orange, and the BBC, shows how far up the establishment ladder the Festival has climbed.

Thursday 6 August 2009

'Oi! Get orf moy laand!'

Following a suggestion made at the recent Social History Curators Group conference, we are happy to oblige with these two new acquisitions relating to the Viz character Farmer Palmer. The first is a mug dating from 1993 complete with its original box.

Farmer Palmer first appeared at the start of the 1990s, the creation of cartoonist Simon Thorp (1965-) who was behind a gallery of some of the comic's other stalwart characters including Eight Ace, Finbarr Saunders and Student Grant. He had been producing work for Viz since the mid-1980s, shortly before it hit the bigtime. From small beginnings in 1979, a cottage industry run from a suburban bedroom in Newcastle, Viz was selling more than 1 million copies per issue by 1990, putting it in the same league as The Radio Times and Reader's Digest and turning it into an anarchic institution in its own right. It thrived on original humorous content that was outrageously crude, puerile and offensive and in so doing developed a readership profile far wider than might have been predicted.

Dog shooting ('Ee wuz wurryin moy sheep') Farmer Palmer and his dim-witted son Jethro are way over the top caricatures of just about every anti-farming stereotype that our culture can come up with - that's why they're funny and important for this project.

Our second item is a piece of original Simon Thorp artwork from the end of the century featuring Farmer Palmer and Jethro getting enthusiastically involved in a demonstration. This was the era of the Countryside March of 1998 that brought 250,000 people noisily to the streets of London to protest against an amalgam of grievances - including anti-hunt legislation - affecting the rural community.

Farmer Palmer is still going strong today, athough Viz circulation has long since retreated from its earlier highs. His notoriety has been put to good commercial use by some other farming Palmers - see below.