Thursday 16 September 2010

National Savings poster, 1970s

The artist here was Angus Rands (1922-85), a native of Ilkley whose mode of work was portraits of life in Yorkshire and the Dales. The point of this picture, showing the post office in the beautifully tranquil village of East Keswick near Wetherby, was that everyone, even those in remoter rural parts, could make use of the National Savings Bank via their local post office. The National Savings Bank, formerly known as The Post Office Savings Bank, came into being in 1969.

Ironically of course, as the photo above shows, the post office is no longer there and the building, now known as the Old Forge, has been turned into domestic accommodation.

Friday 10 September 2010

Rail poster for ramblers, 1936

This is the most colourful of the posters we have acquired through the project to date. It is the summer number in a series of four - one for each season - created by in-house poster designer Audrey Weber (1917-50) for the Southern Railway. Very deliberately, the countryside is visually depicted in the most attractive light in order to draw suburban commuters waiting on noisy and crowded platforms to the tranquil joys of rambling. The date is 1936, just a year after the formal creation of The Ramblers' Association which provided a national focus for what had become a highly popular pastime. The Southern Railway served counties to the south and west of London and had an obvious commercial incentive in promoting leisure journeys out into the countryside rather than just business travel into the city.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Bourton Model Village souvenirs, 1950s

The Model Village as a tourist attraction first appeared during the interwar years and in the 1950s and 1960s became a popular addition to many resort destinations from Hastings to Blackpool and from Corfe Castle to Skegness. It's not the appeal across the generations of seeing things in miniature but the fact that a traditional English rural village should so often be the subject that brings this within the sphere of the project.

At Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire, a Mr Morris, landlord of the Old New Inn, began in 1936 to build a model village on some rough land behind the inn. Three years later, he and his six helpers, had managed to complete a miniature version of Bourton village in Cotswold stone at a ninth scale - right down to a model of the model village itself.

The model village first welcomed visitors on the Coronation Day of George VI in 1937 and it remains open behind the Inn to this day. Over the years it has generated a variety of souvenir ephemera, like the guidebook above which has Gulliver making a visit to Bourton and marvelling at the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the model's creators.
And there were pottery mementos as well for the day trippers in car or coach to take away with them.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Traffic LP 'Mr Fantasy', 1967

The reason for the inclusion of this item is that when Steve Winwood left the Spencer Davis Group in 1967 to form a new band Traffic he, along with his three fellow musicians, lived in a secluded cottage at Aston Tirrold in south Oxfordshire (formerly Berkshire) to write and rehearse their new material. The result was this LP, a blend of pyschedelic pop influenced and inspired, amongst other things, by the ageless mystery of the surrounding Berkshire Downs. Jim Capaldi, one of the band members, later recalled the place as exerting a Very Strong Presence.

The cover photo and other sleeve images were taken in and around the cottage.

Over a two year period, other prominent musicians of the day, including Eric Clapton, Steven Stills and Pete Townshend spent time with Winwood at the cottage to drink in the atmosphere.

This recent photo of the cottage is from a Winwood website.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Norman Neasom watercolour, 1954

A Fordson Major and seed drill chug their way across the red West Midlands soil in the shadow of Bredon Hill. The date is April 1954, the title is Woollas Hall, seen in the centre of the picture, and the artist was Norman Neasom (1915-2010).

Neasom drew much of his artistic inspiration from the farming landscape of his native Worcestershire. Into adulthood, and in spite of a formal training at Birmingham College of Art, he continued to live and work on Birchensale Farm just outside Redditch where he had been born. His working life after World War II was spent as an art college teacher, first in Birmigham and then Redditch. Hence the innate authenticity in Neasom's farming pictures.

Much of Birchensale Farm has since been swallowed up by outward expansion of the Redditch suburbs. The farmhouse now serves as a community centre. In his latter years, Neasom produced a number of works recalling the farm of his boyhood years.

These were put together in 2004 into a book, Birchensale. Farm Memories in Pictures.

Thursday 12 August 2010

Chapel chair by Alan Peters, 1977

Alan Peters (1933-2009) was commissioned to make the furniture and Peter Tysoe - the Devon-based glass sculptor - the coloured glass window for the small chapel in the new Swiss Catholic Mission in Westminster. The work in wood comprised an altar table, reading stand, candle holder, statue support, and life-size cross, together with 35 chairs, all made from English ash. Our chair is a spare that remained at Peters' workshop and which we were able to acquire from his widow, Laura.

The accompanying paperwork shows that a total of 1123 hours were spent on the project by Alan Peters and the four members of his team between July 1976 and completion in February 1977. Of these, 188 were put in by Peters himself, who charged for his time at £3 an hour. The full labour bill was £2,281 on a final invoice price of £2631.25. There is a letter in appreciation of the work from Father Paul Bossard, chaplain to the Mission.

Alan Peters, one of the foremost English furniture makers of the second half of the twentieth century, had a direct connection to the spirit of the Arts and Crafts Movement in that he served his apprenticeship with Edward Barnsley (1900-87) at Froxfield in Hampshire. After some time spent at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, in 1962 he set up his own furniture workshop at Hindhead in Surrey. Love of craftsmanship and of the countryside were parallel threads in his life, taking him through moves to Devon and then Somerset and through study tours of Japan and Korea. His influential book Cabinetmaking - the professional approach came out in 1985.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Ladderback chair by Edward Gardiner, 1950

Made of ash and with a rush seat, this is a chair with important connections that place it firmly within a continuing tradition of English country furniture. It was made by Edward Gardiner (1880-1958) and was one of a number originally supplied in the early 1950s to the Craggs sisters' famous tearooms in the Suffolk coastal town of Aldeburgh. Here, for the rest of the century they did service to tourists, Festival goers and locals alike. (Photo below by Charles Christian)

Along with the chair, we purchased some bills and correspondence relating to Gardiner's dealings with the Craggs over some years.

The Gardiner connections span the entire twentieth century, and indeed tip beyond it at either end. He learned his chairmaking from Ernest Gimson (1864-1919) and was a partner in Gimson's business based at Sapperton in Gloucestershire from 1904-13. Gimson had many talents and moved in the inner circles of the Arts and Crafts movement. His furniture style was much influenced by the guidance of Phillip Clisset in Herefordshire in the 1890s and refined further by contact with the brothers Ernest and Sidney Barnsley, with whom he moved to Gloucestershire in 1893 for the purpose of putting the countryside at the heart of their respective businesses.

After the First World War, Gardiner set up on his own at a workshop near Rugby in Warwickshire, where our chair was subsequently made, essentially to a Gimson design. In 1939, Gardiner took on a pupil, Neville Neal, who, after Gardiner's death in 1958, continued in business from a workshop in nearby Stockton. Today, Neville's son Lawrence continues the tradition of chairmaking there, and will happily supply a new chair very similar to ours (the Bedales No.1) for around £315. (See

Thursday 15 July 2010

Plant pot by Quentin Bell, 1951

Here's something from another equally well-connected twentieth century potter. Quentin Bell (1910-1996), product of the unconventional marriage between Clive and Vanessa Bell, grew up amongst members of the artistic and literary Bloomsbury set who were frequent visitors to Charleston, the farmhouse near Firle set idyllically into the Sussex downland, that his mother occupied from 1916 through to her death in 1961. It's outwardly an eighteenth century building with a sixteenth century inner core but, from the unique interior decoration applied by Vanessa Bell and her friends, is best remembered now as perhaps the clearest physical expression of the twentieth century connection between art and the countryside.

The base of the pot is inscribed GH from QB 1951 and we know from the provenance that this was a present, Christmas or birthday one imagines, from Quentin Bell to Grace Higgens, who worked at Charleston as variously maid, nurse, cook and housekeeper for fifty years from the age of 16 in 1920. An indispensable part of Charleston life, she was close to the leading players and her own extensive archive of diaries and correspondence is now in the Briitsh Library.

Quentin Bell continued his potting but was also part of the academic world, as a professor of fine art in the 1960s and 70s, and also wrote an acclaimed biography of his aunt, Virginia Woolf, which was published in 1972.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Stoneware bowl by Ursula Mommens, c.1995

I thought the project should include a piece by Ursula Mommens (1908-2010) who spent most of her long adult life - she died earlier this year aged 101 - as a potter. Her metropolitan cultural and artistic connections were impeccable but yet from a rural setting she dedicated herself to producing spirited but practical household wares. She was the great granddaughter of Charles Darwin and great great granddaughter of Josiah Wedgwood; her father, Bernard Darwin (1876-1961) was for fifty years golfing correspondent of The Times and Country Life; she studied at the Royal College of Art and, after setting up a studio near the Darwin home at Down in Kent, by the mid-1930s was active in the London avant garde art scene along with her first husband, the surrealist Julian Trevelyan. A spell working with the great slipware potter Michael Cardew set her on a new course of unpretentious and useful country ware and in 1951 she established a pottery with her second husband, the sculptor Norman Mommens, at South Heighton near Newhaven in Sussex where she remained for the rest of her life. After working initially in earthenware, stoneware became her principal medium from the 1960s, for sensitively decorated, soundly functional tableware.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Stanley Anderson line engraving, 1934

We have taken the opportunity to add to our collection of engravings by Stanley Anderson (1884-1966). This one is entitled Sheep Dipping and is signed in pencil at the bottom. It had been framed with a pristine copy of the Daily Telegraph for January 1934 to provide padding and has the remains of a label on the back for The Birmingham Exhibition 1936 with a price tag of £4 10s (framed).

It is one in a series of precisely-observed rural studies that Anderson produced over a 20 year period from 1933 when he went to live in a cottage in the heart of the Oxfordshire countryside at Towersey (now home, incidentally, of the Towersey Village Festival which began in 1965 and is still going strong).

It would be difficult to think of any other twentieth century artist who managed to capture the ordinary business of farming in such clear and accurate detail, so attractively without tipping over into excessive sentimentality. This one, entitled Three Good Friends, shows a ploughman and his team taking a rest:

The Bristol-born Anderson was apprenticed to his father in heraldic engraving initially but subsequently studied at the Royal College of Art and Goldsmith's College, where in 1925 he was taken on as engraving instructor. He was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy and became a Fellow in 1941. These engravings were produced in 40 print editions and sold through the Royal Academy and other exhibitions. This last example from our collection has the title Good Companions and shows an early morning farmyard scene as a horse is led from the stable ready to be harnessed to the Buckinghamshire type wagon in the background.

Thursday 24 June 2010

The Battle for Middle Oak, 1996

In complete contrast, and thirty years after that bright optimism of The Open Road (see previous post), Middle Oak is testament to the deep divisions evident by the 1990s in the now souring relationship between motor vehicle and the countryside. Middle Oak, as it came to be called, stands at an intersection of the Newbury bypass just immediately to the west of the town of Newbury itself.

/>In the early months of 1996, Middle Oak was one of the focal points for protest against the building of the bypass. This nine mile stretch of new dual carriageway required the felling of 10,000 trees and cut through three Sites of Special Scientific Interest, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a nature reserve and a Civil War battlefield. As with other grandiose and controversial road schemes of the time, such as the Twyford Down extension of the M3 in 1994, the Newbury project aroused a storm of direct action environmental protest. From the summer of 1995, impromptu camps sprang up along the proposed route with tents and benders on the ground and makeshift but elaborately connected and protected structures up in the trees themselves. A guerilla war of attrition with the authorities grew in intensity as the winter progressed and pressure mounted to clear the area.

The number of protestors at times ran well into the thousands, but one of the smaller band involved throughout was Jim Hindle. In the later stages, he was particularly associated with the defence of Middle Oak and we have acquired some items of clothing that he wore whilst living up in its branches. There was insufficient headroom in the treehouse for standing, hence the heavy wear at the knees of the trousers.

Jim subsequently went on to write a book about his experiences, Nine Miles. Two winters of anti-road protest (2006), which is a remarkable insight into the extremes of cold, stress, deprivation and danger that these (mostly) young protestors subjected themselves to for the cause, often to the detriment of their own physical and mental health.

Here is Jim Hindle signing a copy of his book for me recently.

In the event, Middle Oak was given a last minute reprieve and the bypass was constructed around it. It was hardly a victory, but a more positive legacy of the protest and the publicity it drew was much greater public awareness and questioning of the lasting damage to the countryside caused by such schemes compared to their perhaps relatively modest transport benefits.

Thursday 17 June 2010

The Open Road, 1962

The same team of Lampitt and Deverson that produced The Map that came to Life in 1948 came up with The Open Road fourteen years later. It's John and Joanna again but this time Uncle George takes them in his Hillman Minx on a journey from his farm in the country to the seaside.

The countryside has lost none of its allure but it's a different countryside now, one that has become colonised by, and is completely dependent upon, the motor vehicle and all its needs, from road signs to petrol stations and AA motor cycle patrols. 'There are nearly nine million motor vehicles of all kinds on the road', Uncle George proudly tells John.

There is no negative tone to this: traffic and countryside are in harmony.

The car provides a means of exploring the countryside.

John and Joanna enjoy looking round the inside of a Bedford Dormobile camper van.

When they encounter a motorway (the first stretch of the M1 opened in 1959), 'John and Joanna were thrilled at their first sight of the broad, spacious carriageways with their three traffic lanes on each side of the central grass strip'. It too was at one with the rural landscape and the love affair with the motor car was complete.

Thursday 10 June 2010

The Map that came to Life, 1948

This is a children's book that captures the essence of what the countryside meant to post-War England. Ours has a hand-written dedication on the inside page:

It tells the story of John and Joanna who are spending the summer holidays at their Uncle George's Two Tree Farm. The children decide to walk the 'few miles' to Dumbleford ( a striking measure of the change in attitudes to child supervision between the middle and the end of the century), where there is to be a country fair, taking with them an Ordnance Survey map for guidance and Rover the dog for company. Along the way, they have some adventures and encounter different aspects of the country scene.

The sub-plot to the story is the lesson in map-reading and how maps help in the interpreation and understanding of the landscape.

The book was first published by Oxford University Press in 1948 and was the work of Harry Deverson (1908-1972), a picture editor well-known in the magazine and newspaper world, who produced the text and his brother-in-law Ronald Lampitt (1906-1988) who was responsible for the illustrations. Lampitt's work spanned a wide range of popular commercial art from posters for the Great Western Railway in the 1930s to magazines and books, including Ladybird books, over the following decades. In respect to this book, his time spent in RAF intelligence during World War II producing drawings from maps for bomber crews seems to have been a decisive influence. Here we have a countryside as seen from the air with all the features indicated on the map carefully picked out on the ground.

For someone who lived through the War and who spent most of his adult life in Sidcup, on the outer fringes of the London suburbs, it is also an idealised countryside of the mind. In clear melodious colour, past and present, Man and Nature are in perfect harmony with not a storm cloud on the horizon.