So, we've apparently got until Wednesday to use up all those £20 notes with Elgar on them we've been hoarding under the futon. I thought they'd got rid of 'im years ago, and thought it an utter disgrace then as now. But here's a tale they won't remember. When the Elgar note first came out, it coincided with the house you can see in front of Worcester Cathedral being put up for sale. The estate agent quickly capitilised on the fact and made a big thing about it in the press. That's it really.
This will all seem incredibly self-indulgent (so, what's new) but it's hot and I thought you'd all like to see where I went yesterday. Eagle-eyed UE followers will probably recognise this fishing boat, because it's just about the only one left on the beach at Aldeburgh in Suffolk. I've been coming here since 1968 when I got both Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears to write their names on a postcard of Aldeburgh, and at the same time managed to get Mr.Britten to bang his head so violently on the boot of his white Alvis drophead that a load of crotchets and quavers fell to the ground outside the White Lion Hotel. The great thing about this little coastal town is that it hasn't really changed all that much in the intervening forty two years. Quite apart from the excellent fish 'n' chips down at the Slaughden end, cool pints of Adnams in the Cross Keys and music snobs swatting flies with the Telegraph, you can still buy fish straight out of a tarred hut on the shingle. This boat, Silver Harvest, caught a hundred lobsters at the weekend, and I took one of them home with me, together with some delicious green samphire. And I want to go back for more NOW.
Whenever I say to anyone that my favourite film of all time (possibly) is Tom Jones, certain amongst them always start singing 'It's not unusual to be loved by anyone'. But of course those not given to this will remember perhaps that it's the film of the first great English comic novel, by Henry Fielding. I simply couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw it in the Picture House in Leicester. Directed by Tony Richardson in 1963, it was blessed with a script by John Osborne and photography by Walter Lassaly, every frame of which was (and still is) a great joy. It also went on to sweep the board at the Oscars. Most importantly it unlocked the door for me that opened up to reveal the immense possibilities that the English countryside had to offer, and, well, the rest is history I suppose. So this was the house used for the home of Squire Western, played by the irrepressible (and drunk) Hugh Griffiths. One memorable scene, filmed on hand-held cameras, followed the raucousness of a hunt meeting here, positioned as it is facing the end of a cul-de-sac that runs down from a magnificent church. Don't worry about the name of the house, only the village.
Straying behind the lines here, but look at this, surely the ideal car for Wartime Housewife to go to rummage sales in. I passed over £1.50 for this December 27th 1944 copy of The Motor yesterday, and I think it's worth a tenner just for the front cover. By this time England was thinking that the end of the war must be in sight, as indeed it was, and the Riley ad. says: "Through the years, Riley enthusiasts have valued increasingly those excellences which so unmistakably individualize this Car of Quality. Their approbation will be further heightened, when, as expeditiously as may be, the post-war Riley comes into service." You don't get the word 'approbation' much these days, certainly not in car advertising. Note the hint of expectancy in these advertisements for so many products unavailable in the duration, marking time before everyone could run down to the shops on V.E.Day for gravy browning. And the likes of Horlicks, which was kept back for convalescing troops. I somehow doubt that Riley ever produced this car in such a 21st century colour, but when I get mine I'll be very tempted to get it resprayed just like this.
Monday morning, the Dorset coast on the Isle of Purbeck. We walk from Worth Matravers down a narrow dusty lane white with dust between two hills striped with lynchetts. Round a corner we disturb an adder, basking in the hot sun. It loops its way back into the bracken, the stones under its belly shaking like tiny maraccas. It could have been 130 years ago on Hardy's Egdon Heath, and any minute expected the reddleman to appear round a corner with his cart stacked-up with blocks of red sheep dye. The lane ran deeper until suddenly opening out into a disused quarry, the empty quay just feet from a heaving blue tide. This is Winspit, where stone was taken from under the cliffs and shipped directly out by boat. The empty caverns are simply awesome, and frightening when we thought about the sheer weight above us. One entrance had an iron grille over it and a forlorn notice about horseshoe bats, and then I spotted an equally sinister growth of fungus on an elder branch fallen across the opening. I haven't identified it yet, expecting it to be called 'silk purses' or even better 'pig's ears'.
After the excesses of Blackpool last week, something a little quieter and more ecclesiastical. Could be anywhere, I hear you say, but I suppose that little tower standing on its own might be a clue. And the fact that something very noisy will be nearby shortly.
Yesterday I discovered Lansdown Tower, William Beckford's 1826 eyrie up on the downs above Bath. I'm keeping the photograph of it for the in-progress folly tower book, but just as a taster here are the railings of the cemetery consecrated soon after Beckford's death that adjoins the foot of the tower, and affords spectacular views down over the city.He and his architect Henry Goodridge are both buried here. Anyway, there are railings and there are railings, and these are simply superb. Also designed by Goodridge, they are heavily Romanesque, their elaborate detail only enhanced by the ivy creeping slowly over them. I do hope they don't trim it all off on the next maintenance run, which by the look of this and the cemetery thankfully isn't very often. Which is a good thing, as in and out of the sombre tombstones are profusions of wild flowers. These overgrown acres are a true oasis from modern life, one of those very rare places where it is still possible to reach out and palpably experience the distant past.
Sorry for delay. Leaves on the line, carriage taken out of service at Evercreech Junction, wrong kind of rain. But here's a sunlit evening to make up for it. Taken by G. Douglas Bolton AIBP, ARPS, FRSA, FRGS (alright, alright) for his book Presenting Britain, Oliver & Boyd 1957. Still raining, hope it turns out nice again.
Youngest Boy and I found ourselves yesterday on the River Wye below Monmouth. Not strictly in England, although the eastern bank must have been at one time. We inexplicably ended up at the Boat Inn at Penallt, staring at the cast-iron columned bridge in the top picture. A footbridge is attached to it that takes you over to the village of Redbrook, and after we'd done that we settled down to a Wye Valley Bitter straight out of the barrel and a bottle of ginger beer. Studying the map we thought we'd try and find some more Wye bridges, and so ended up just south of Monmouth. The centre picture that looks like the ruined end of a Roman aqueduct is in fact the ruined end of a viaduct that now doesn't carry the railway across the Wye on its way down to Penallt and Chepstow. The bottom photo is of the iron bridge right next door that once took another line from Monmouth down to Newport. Just look at that floodwater debris that's collected and built up against one of the columns. We had a picnic amongst the buttercups of big ham rolls, prawn sandwiches and orange juice that burst out all over us when we took the cap off.
After all the troubling pictures I've given you recently, or failing to put one up at all last week, I thought I'd make it a bit easier today. Certainly one of my favourite towns, it has a very fine and comprehensive viewpoint on the south side, for which I am very grateful. I first saw it on a December morning in 1978, with folks gathering to buy mistletoe in the market hall and round-ended boxes of 'Eat Me' dates on a fruiterer's window sill. Visiting again recently, I'm pleased to report that a stroll around the streets is as rewarding as anywhere, particularly on a sunny Sunday morning with the bells from that church tower ringing out over the rooftops, as indeed they were when this photograph was taken. Extra toast and black pudding for anyone who can remember the poetry which has this couplet about the town in it: Oh I have been to ------ fair / And left my necktie God knows where. Or something like that, I haven't got it immediately to hand.
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