Tuesday 25 May 2010

Greenham Common poster, 1982

This poster was produced to mark the first anniversary of the day on 5th September 1981 that a Welsh group, Women for Life on Earth arrived at Greenham Common airbase in Berkshire, having marched from Cardiff, to protest at the NATO decision to site ground launched cruise missiles there. A peace camp was set up outside the main gate and remained for 19 years.

The military justification for the missile deployment was one of the more bizarre low points in the Cold War with the USSR. In times of maximum tension, the missiles - and there were 96 of them, each with a nuclear warhead 16 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb - would be dispersed on special transporters from their silos at Greenham out across the countryside where their capability remained beyond the reach of pre-targeted missiles in the Eastern bloc. For training purposes, the cruise convoys would make regular week long forays to Salisbury Plain and these became a particular focus for demonstration and protest by the women's peace camp and its network of supporters.

(Image copyright Ceridwen)

The peace camp was joined by many other protestors for the big set piece demonstrations, as in December 1982 - see image above - when 30,000 women took part in the exercise 'Embrace the Base' and September 1984 when 50,000 women camped around the base's 9 mile perimeter fence. Such events hit the headlines worldwide and the authorities struggled, numerous court actions and evictions notwithstanding, to outflank the peace camp's underlying strategy of non-violent protest.

The cruise missile programme was brought to an end by the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty of 1987 and the last convoy departed in 1990. The airbase, which had first appeared in the 1940s, was later sold to the Greenham Common Community Trust and much of the heathland area has reverted to public use. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and the former missile silos are officially recognised as historic monuments. A Commemorative site now occupies the land previously occupied by the peace camp, close to the former main gate of the base and next to a new business park.

Part of the site is dedicated to Helen Wyn Thomas who was killed by a police horse box on the main road just by the camp in 1989.

The peace camp itself remained until 2000, having turned its attention in the final years to the nuclear warhead assembly and servicing facilities at nearby Aldermaston and Burghfield. Strange that this rural part of Berkshire should have become so closely identified with weapons of mass destruction in the later twentieth century.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Hunting print, 1912

This is one in a set of signed prints, Twelve Hunting Countries, produced in 1912 by the acclaimed animal artist, Cecil Aldin (1870-1935). It has the title 'VWH Cricklade. Into the Vale from Blunsdon', referring to the Vale of the White Horse Hunt with its kennels in Cricklade, Wiltshire and the village of Blunsdon which has since been all but swallowed up by the expansion of modern Swindon. The Hunt is shown in full cry hurtling across the road, over the neatly laid boundary hedge, past the bare pollarded trees, and on into the open winter landscape of subdued colours and small enclosed fields. Hunting was in its heyday and heroic scenes of the chase, popular amongst supporters and followers, were supplied to the market by a coterie of specialist artists including Charles "Snaffles" Johnson Payne (1884-1967) and Lionel Edwards (1878-1966) as well as Aldin himself.

Cecil Aldin, from a wealthy property developing family, trained at what is now the Royal College of Art and then at Midhurst in Sussex, under the animal artist Frank Calderon (1865-1943). From the 1890s, he enjoyed a successful and varied commercial career, designing posters, illustrating books and magazines, and creating stage sets. In his youth he developed an ongoing and consuming passion for hunting that saw him become Master of the South Berks Hunt in 1914 and for twenty years the Hunt's headquarters at Purley near Pangbourne became his base. He is pictured in his studio at the kennels below.

Aldin's book work included a series of illustrations for a 1912 edition of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty.

Aldin's art was empathetic, a visual expression of the relationship between man and beast, and he fixed in the public mind an enduring image of light and life in a horse-drawn countryside.

Friday 14 May 2010

Farmyard alarm clock, 1950s

This is a child's pictorial alarm clock, one of a range made by Smiths English Clocks Ltd in the early 1950s. Smiths had been making clocks for the domestic market since 1931 and stopped in 1979. The trade name on this one Smith Alarm was in use from 1952-5. It was made at the factory in Wishaw near Glasgow.

The cock crowing at the start of a new day is an appropriate visual theme for an alarm clock and there is a typically rustic scene complete with timber-framed thatched cottage in the background. It's a playful, relaxing image to nod you off to sleep and for good measure the pecking hen on the left rocks backwards and forwards in synchrony with the tricking.

Friday 7 May 2010

Ruby Smith's diary, 1927

Ruby Elizabeth Smith was 18 when she started keeping this diary at the beginning of 1927 and she stuck to the task consistently over the course of the year. The diary itself bears the stamp of Liverpool-based livestock feed merchants Calthrop Bros Ltd, and is of the type that would have been issued to regular customers at Chrstmas in the hope of continuing business in the year to come. Ruby lived with her parents and younger brother and sister, Eric and Violet, on a small farm at Licks Head, Ramshorn, in Staffordshire - west of Ashbourne and north of Uttoxeter. The brief but regular diary entries provide a window into the life of this young woman.

She spent her time helping with the milking and other farming tasks, with housework and making her own clothes. There was usually a piano lesson once a week and attendance at both church and chapel every Sunday, presumably to provide musical accompaniment for the singing. Her father often goes to Uttoxeter or Leek on a Wednesday, to sell eggs and buy little necessities - in this case it's a new pair of wellingtons for Ruby, (an early reference to this kind of footwear) perhaps to make up for the ringworm that she's complaining of on the Monday.

There are entertainments too: a frequent flow of visits from neighbouring relatives, the occasional party or dance, and on Easter Monday they all go off to nearby Alton Towers - the ancestral home of the Earls of Shrewsbury, with its fine house and gardens, was taken over by a consortium of local businessmen in 1920 and opened as a tourist attraction four years later.

On the 29th June, she gets up early to experience the total eclipse of the sun, and then much of July and into August is spent dodging the showers and downpours and trying to make some decent hay.

There is a new round of haymaking in late September before the diary entry for 5th October underlines in relief the words Finished the Hay . Then it's on to collecting damsons and other fruits for sale.

In December, there is a flurry of chicken and produce selling, and playing for a local performance of Aladdin before things wind down to a white Christmas.