A few years ago I turned up here early on a hot summer's evening. Folk were cooking suppers on boats, and the strains of the Archer's signature tune came over the still water. In fact it was very like this 1958 scene, except the boats were more fibreglass and plastic than wood. But the little drainage mill was there, spreading its sails like filigree wings against a deep blue sky. So, where is it, and for extra toast the names of the two rivers that join here.
As an addendum to the last post, I give you The Wheel & Compass public house at Weston by Welland. Not just because they serve an excellent pint of Banks or Pedigree but because of its connection to the railway nearby. As you can see, it has a slightly odd upper storey that is obviously an addition. Originally this was a two storey ironstone pub with a thatched roof. But the arrival of surveyors in the adjoining fields in the mid-nineteenth century meant that life was to be as upturned as the Welland Valley pastures that surround it. An extra storey was added to the pub as a long dormitory for navvies working on the line. One can only imagine the scenes here on a Friday night. The drunkenness, the brawling, the lusting after women. Actually....
It looks plain and ordinary, a house out in the countryside, probably built in the 1970s. Until one looks more closely at the right hand side. Ignore the replacement windows and a little stone built cottage reveals itself. It's just down the road from my village, alone in the fields near a pub we frequently find ourselves in- The Wheel & Compass at Weston-by-Welland. The river is running at the back of the house, but this was a level crossing keeper's dwelling on a lane that crosses the valley from Weston to Slawston Hill. One of many on the line of this branch of the London & North Western Railway (oddly for this part of the world), and to the right of this picture the tracks kept close company with the willow-fringed Welland through Ashley station and on through Rockingham and Seaton, thence to Stamford or, leaving the river, to Peterborough. It closed many years ago, but just off to the left of the photograph is a wood yard on an old junction (soon to be blogged) where they once made pit props and railwaymen tended allotments. It's still open, and this is where I get my logs. A chap working here still remembers steam locomotives snorting and shuffling by as they negotiated the steeper gradients. It's still easy to imagine that on a cold snowy morning, a line of intermittent white smoke drifting off across the valley.
The English Counties Illustrated is an Odhams book. Once so ubiquitous, these were cheaply produced volumes and usually printed in their hundreds of thousands on huge presses at the side of a by-pass in Watford. Except this one, because I see it's printed in Norwich. The jacket blurb says "This is not a guide book but rather an armchair companion, presenting an interesting and readable picture of each of the English counties". And what companions they are. Amongst many others are S.P.B. Mais, James Wentworth Day, Jack Simmons and John Betjeman. Here he is on the county he once lived in: "Berkshire is like a tattered old shoe, kicking out eastwards from Gloucestershire". For so long ignored, and perhaps a little sniffily, I think these books are now certainly worth seeking out again. Does that help with this morning's location? Probably not, but isn't that typography a treat?
Please forgive two postings on one day; but I am aware that I've been a bit dilatory in bringing you scenes from Unmitigated England recently. This melancholy dull afternoon in Leicestershire gives me the perfect opportunity to catch up. Sunday lunch has been, and I hope for everybody still is, a very worthwhile institution. Right from childhood (Father: How much did you pay per pound for these bones mother?) and through all the very memorable lunchtimes with the beautiful women and children who have shared my life since, Sunday Lunch has always been very special. Particularly for the wine-fuelled interchanges that have taken place. So, I just have to share two snippets of conversation that have just taken place over the refectory table here. (Lord Ashley at one end, two of my heirs crouched at the other.) Me to the elder of the two (12): "Will you do this for me when I'm old and you've learnt to do a roast pig as good as this?" Son: "Yes of course, if we can remember who you are". Five minutes of quiet eating and then Son the Youngest (6) puts down his knife and fork and says: "I've got a cure for the Black Death". Me: " Bit late, but what is it?" Youngest Son: "Lemons". Me: "That was to prevent scurvy on ships". Reply: "Oh yes", followed by silence and the passing round of the gravy jug.
Sharp-eyed viewers will probably recognise these buildings from a painting in Unmitigated England. They are without doubt my favourite model farm buildings, a mid-19th century group that, along with stables and a half-submerged church, form all that remains of the Normanton estate in Rutland. St.Matthews is now marooned like a baroque lighthouse on nearby Rutland Water, but for all the cycling, walking and messing about in boats going on so near, hardly anybody appears to come down a little lane opposite one of the main, very expensive, car parks. Normanton Lodge farm comes into view from behind a couple of modern barns (that's their shadow in the foreground) on a bend in the road winding across to Empingham. For a long time there was a bright red portable water tank on tracks in the foreground, and it's there in my watercolour. But on Thursday I took advantage of an extremely cold but bright afternoon to do some preliminary work on a future project, and of course I came straight down here to find that much of the detritus in front of the buildings had been cleared away. Snap. Snap. The big house was demolished in 1925, but it doesn't take much imagination to still feel the presence of many farm workers going about their agrarian business in stone built barns, workshops and stockyards. I imagine the chimney had something to do with steam, probably to drive machinery like a sawmill. And somewhere to get warm on a frosty morning.
My neighbour on the adjoining estate has asked me to plug his new venture at the Goldmark Gallery in the market town of Uppingham. Unmitigated Travellers will have heard of this remarkable artcentric world, and now it has joined the blogosphere with a journal called, in true Goldmark fashion, Butchers' Hooks. I'll say no more, but I take this opportunity to remind Lord Carrot that he still has my Atco in his stable block. Held to Ransomes, you might say. I just hope that it has not become enriched with the Pleasing Decay patina that decorates the rest of his desmesne. Oh how I long for idle Saturday May mornings, thinking about that first cut of the year and the smell of freshly-cut grass under the cedars as...(get on with it. Ed.)
The 1900s saw a plethora of partwork magazines that could be collected and then sent away to get bound into one, or many, volumes. Nothing changes then, as we saw once again in the New Year when you could build your own aircraft carrier in weekly instalments. This picture's from a collection called 'Beautiful Britain', (beautifully done as it happens, in half leather) and this fairly fanciful watercolour was by L. Burleigh Bruhl. Any clues, you ask. Well, it's one of the most visited spots in England, but only really since 1839. I've only been here once, and fled. Which isn't really giving it a chance. I expect to hear amazing stories of more profound visits.
A walk through Borough Market is always a particular pleasure, whether the stalls are crowded with produce or not. First there's Southwark Cathedral towering over it all like a lost Cotswold abbey, and then the railway crossing over the Thames and negotiating the tight curves of track over the viaduct to London Bridge station, the wheels squealing like bacon slicers. Unmitigated Readers may have heard me go on in this vein before, but I expect it will be an annual event like reading Three Men In A Boat. To be on this train and look down on the backs of houses and narrow streets is to experience the ghost of Dickens and the faint outlines of a Gustav Dore engraving. We sauntered through on Thursday, admiring hand raised pork pies and these pheasants bringing a whiff of misty shoots out in the Shires to the noise and bustle of London streets. Was ever thus, the countryside meeting London, and what better place than this with the added extra of the Market Porter pub smelling of stale beer on its wooden floors and fresh Harvey's Sussex Bitter in the taps. Sometimes the eyebrows get raised (Scottish Camembert at Neal's Yard) but overall this is a joyous place to be. Right, time to get the game chips prepared and a frypan of bubble and squeak I think.
So sorry for the delay this morning. School run, blah blah. Much to say about this place, but anything said would immediately give it away. Nevertheless, I think it's one of the most hauntingly spectacular places in England. That's it really.
I am a 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) and Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012)