Yesterday the Archive had to shuffle along the shelves to allow in six of these beautiful little boxes. Complete with everything but the oily thumb print of a garagiste, each box contains a car lightbulb wrapped in a little piece of corrugated cardboard. Five of them have '24v 44w Prefocus' on the end, the last is in 'Cadmium Yellow' and obviously meant for a big winking indicator. It's the drawing of the car that attracted me of course, the result of a designer so obviously carried away by big 40s Americana, getting away with a Packard or Chrysler for an English made bulb. When he should perhaps of been thinking of the Morris Eights we were struggling to make in post-war Britain. But maybe they wouldn't have expressed 'Splendor' in quite the same way. Each bulb has a bayonet-style fitting, but without the little prongs, and one wonders how long these have been tucked away in the dimmer recesses of a workshop, a cheapo alternative perhaps to Lucas originals. Right, so all I've got to do now is find a car in a barn somewhere ('tis the season, we are told) with just these bulbs missing.
I recently went on about the appalling 'W' Wall's Ice Cream identity, but singularly failed to show you how their tin signs once fitted into the English landscape. One can only recoil in horror at the thought of their crass all-purpose heart symbol plastered on to this cottage in Ebrington. I found this photograph, by Noel Hapgood, in Garry Hogg's The Batsford Colour Book of The Cotswolds. Closer inspection will reveal the original Wall's sign, perfectly at home and in scale on this stone-built cottage tucked up in the furthest north east corner of Gloucestershire. Hapgood probably took his picture in the 1960s, and, like so many of the images in these souvenir guides to 'quainte olde Englande', over the years it slowly reveals the treasures of a lost country. The low signpost that Hogg says 'must be for the use of those not yet grown to maturity' and the back of the pre-Warboys road sign on the left that perhaps said 'bend' or 'crossroads' on it. But oh that Wall's sign. Positioned to catch not only the sun, but also the eye of the overheated traveller from Chipping Campden, Charingworth or Paxford.
I don't know about you, but I'm finding some of these puzzle pictures a bit tedious. Looking ahead in the pack of 20 I see far more interesting images, even if the 'fault' itself is obvious. I was summoned to a conference by Commentator Diplo last week where this point about tedium was high on the agenda, and I was left in no doubt that I had to address the issue. I think I said "Don't worry, there's some classics coming up", and then opened the archive box up this morning and found this. I should also be out there bringing you goodies from the leafy Highways & Byways of Unmitigated England, particularly as the weather is so now clement, instead of ferreting about indoors. So what if I skip the boring Fault Pics from now on, and just give you the more controversial interesting ones? Or do you mind waking up to find yourself staring at Uncertain Umbrellas?
Funny how the smallest detail can act as an aide memoire to all things past. I took one of my boys on a tour of the sights of my own childhood- houses, workplaces, places I loved, places where I got to up to no good. I was born in the back bedroom of an 1899 house in Wigston Fields, just to the south of the city of Leicester. You'll find a picture of it on page 13 of The English Buildings Book- at long last in paperback. The back part of the house was once a remote Georgian cottage, but in late Victorian times large houses gathered around it in the fields and the old cottage was doubled in size. The original trackway became sealed-off as a cul-de-sac, and at the top there was a forbidding brick wall- I imagined heaven was on the other side- together with this lovely piece of cast ironwork forming the base of a tall tube that towered into the sky. We didn't think it special then, quite the reverse. For this, we were told, was a Stink Pole. Not understanding this meant a sewer ventilator I just assumed it was where 'Number Twos' were stored. Probably just mine. The lane is almost exactly as it was when I first propped my bike up against it- just more cars parked against the hedges. This was fascinating to my son, who stared at it and then at me and of course tried to climb up it. Something I never attempted, sadly. But I'm very pleased to see it still in service, 'doing the business' as it were.
Clumber Park is an ex-Ducal estate of 3,800 acres south east of Worksop in Nottinghamshire. The grand Palladian house, begun in 1760, has gone, leaving no sign of its passing other than that ethereal ghost that such places imprint on the mind. The substantial remains in the park include a two-and-a-half mile double avenue of limes leading down from the impressive Apleyhead Gate, the stables, a walled kitchen garden with the Long Range glasshouse and a Gothic Revival Chapel of 1889. The latter is one of the most impressive of its type. At least on the outside. I found inside deeply depressing, as dark sandstone interiors tend to be. So what captured my imagination most? Not difficult to guess, it's this pair of watering cans in a side room of the glasshouse. Unloved, unnoticed, I may have missed them altogether if a kindly sun hadn't decided to illuminate them just for a brief moment of time as I walked in. Only a few cans, I expect there were once many more. Up until the thirties there were twenty five gardeners toiling amongst the orchards and herbaceous borders or here in the glasshouse. And then it was all considered uneconomic. Pulling the house down in 1938 couldn't have helped.
Apart from reminding me of that old joke that ends with a newspaper headline "Nut Screws Washers & Bolts", there's not a lot I can say about this. Although I'm slightly bothered by the name on the spanner- "Vanadium". What's that? Sounds like a cream you put on if you've got spots.
A signpost out on the fens east of Cambridge. Having a kind of horrible ring-of-truth for our times I thought 'What's all that about?'. As the River Cam winds across to its confluence with the Great Ouse, an offshoot goes off to the south east. This is Swaffham Bulbeck Lode, and it ends between the villages of Swaffham Bulbeck and Swaffham Prior (where two good-sized churches share the same churchyard), and just across the wide fields from Anglesey Abbey at Lode. The quay was dubbed Commercial End, and in the eighteenth century this was a very useful waterway, enabling local produce to be shipped straight off the fen and into either Cambridge or up towards Kings Lynn and the sea. The railways brought the water-born trade to an abrupt end when the Great Eastern put a branch through to Mildenhall and Bury St.Edmunds. You think everything's going to last forever; flowers in the church, God in His heaven, and suddenly 'pfff!' it's all gone in a puff of smoke.
I am a designer, writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012), Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012) and English Allsorts (Adelphi 2015)
"Open this book with reverence. It is a hymn to England". Clive Aslet
"Enchanting...delightful". The Bookseller "Cheekily named" We Love This Book
The Cigarette Papers
"Unexpectedly pleasing and engrossing...beautifully illustrated". The Bookseller
"Until the happy advent of Peter Ashley's Cross Country it has, ironically, been foreigners who have been best at celebrating Englishness". Christina Hardyment / The Independent
More from Unmitigated England
"Give this book to someone you know- if not everyone you know." Simon Heffer, Country Life. "When it comes to spotting the small but telling details of Englishness, Peter Ashley has no equal." Michael Prodger, Sunday Telegraph