Thursday 28 January 2010

Cyclists' Touring Club sign, 1930s

These signs were once a common feature of the countryside, (and some are still to be found) attached to the front walls of selected hotels, bed and breakfast establishments, and tea shops where the Cyclists' Touring Club member would receive a preferential rate. This enamel type appeared in the 1930s, replacing a larger shield-shaped cast iron version that had been used hitherto. The wheel and wings emblem was adopted in 1886, eight years after the Club's foundation to promote the interests of serious 'cycle tourists'. Improvements to cycle technology, including the introduction of the Rover Safety bicycle in 1885 and of pneumatic tyres in 1888, made it a popular form of leisure transport for exploring the countryside and by 1900 the Club had over 60,000 members. Thereafter, it waned somewhat as the early motor car started to attract attention but then came back strongly after the First World War. In the 1930s, the Club enjoyed royal patronage from both George V and George VI.

The Club's Annual Guide listed thousands of cyclist friendly establishments by county with their current charges. Each county had a local club representative, known as the Chief Consul.

On request, the Club would draw up recommended excursion routes for members to follow for a cycling holiday. In 1955, the first in a series of special cycle-rail day trips was organised with the participants being delivered out of London to a rural spot from where local members would guide them on a circular tour.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Woodcraft Folk badge, 1951

It is not uncommon for the countryside to assume importance in our culture as a kind of polar opposite to the city. If the countryside might be seen as embodying health, beauty and goodness then it follows that the city represents the reverse: disease, ugliness and evil. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was concern in some quarters that the growing urban mass of population in the towns and cities was itself being imbued with these qualities. How could the nation continue to manage and control a far-flung empire if the regenerative capacity of its people were subject to moral and physical corruption? The result was a rash of uniformed, semi-militaristic youth organisations aimed at easing the urban adolescent’s turbulent passage into civilised adulthood by teaching the virtues of loyalty, self-discipline and exercise. The most successful of these was Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouting movement of 1908, based in no small degree on a youth group called the Woodcraft Indians that was founded in the US by Ernest Thompson Seton in 1902. Seton’s group raised to a heroic ideal the outdoor life, the bush skills of self-reliance, and the communal life of camping as practiced by the native American Indian.

After the First World War, some looked to continue these interests in the character-building pursuit of outdoor life but without the quasi-military overtones of national chauvinism. Out of this came The Woodcraft Folk movement, which was instigated by Leslie Paul and first appeared in Lewisham, south London, in 1925. Adopting its tribal training philosophy from Seton, it placed camping and open air activities like hiking, together with pageantry, at the heart of its programme. Unlike scouting, it was an avowedly working class organisation, open to girls as well as boys from the start, and aligned with the international cooperative and socialist movements.

The Woodcraft Folk never had mass appeal at the time - 5,000 members by 1939 - and was variously criticised in some quarters for supposed pacifist or communist sympathies. Its connections with international childrens' organisations and its international camps - the badge above is from the 1951 camp held in connection with the Festival of Britain - remain a vital component of its work. In the last quarter of the century, the movement enjoyed a revival as its positive environmental credentials received wider recognition.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Emmerdale Farm poster, 1977

How does TV affect cultural perceptions of the countryside? Does it reflect them or does it shape them - or perhaps a bit of both? Certainly, over the last quarter of the century there was plenty of material, with Yorkshire featuring particularly strongly. Last of the Summer Wine, for example, the world's longest running sitcom, first appeared on the BBC in 1973 and continues to be filmed in and around Holmfirth. Thirsk was the setting for All Creatures Great and Small based on James Herriot's vet stories and first screened over the period 1978-90. Always in ITV's top five performing shows since 1992 has been Heartbeat, a gently nostalgic rural police drama set in the 1960s and filmed around Goathland on the North Yorkshire moors. In each case the programmes have spawned lasting local tourist industry initiatives - Visit Herriot Country etc.

And then there is Emmerdale Farm. Conceived as a kind of televisual Archers, it was first screened in October 1972 with the Sugden family and their farm providing the core storyline. Arncliffe in north Yorkshire was the location for the early shooting, followed by Esholt near Bradford from the mid 1970s. Since 1989, the programme has been known simply as Emmerdale to indicate its transition to a general purpose early evening rural soap. It remains at No.3 in the TV soap rankings. Shooting now takes place at a purpose-built village set on the Harewood estate near Leeds.

I have dated the poster to 1977 because this is the year that Hugh Manning, the Vicar in the picture, first appeared. Trident Television, listed at the bottom, had ceased by 1982. No doubt Emmerdale aficionados will correct me if I'm wrong!

Wednesday 6 January 2010

The Pony Club, 1929

This recently acquired sign relates to one of those key communities of interest in the twentieth century countryside - the Pony Club. The arrival of riding as an organised leisure and sporting activity for children owes much to the rise of an affluent middle class with rural connections in the decades either side of mid-century.

The Institute of the Horse inaugurated its junior branch, the Pony Club, on November 1st 1929 with the aim of 'interesting young people in riding and sport and at the same time offering the opportunity of higher instruction in this direction than many of them can obtain individually'. A nationwide network of district committees was set up, closely allied to the territory and organisation of local Hunts. By 1931, there were 59 Pony Club Branches, with a total membership of just over 4,400. In 1958, membership stood at over 25,000.

An enduring favourite, the Pony Club camp, made its first appearance in 1931 and the sign above is evidence of efforts at the time to create riding-friendly establishments around the countryside.

In 1934, the Institute of the Horse and Pony Club merged with the National Horse Association of Great Britain to form the British Horse Society, with the Pony Club as one of its constituent parts.

The Pony Club now has over 110,000 members spread through 18 countries and celebrated its 80th year in 2009 with the opening of new offices at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire, and the announcement of a new President, Lady Lloyd-Webber.