I rediscovered this detail from a map in the archive, and can't remember where it came from. Except it must have been from a 50s holiday brochure for someone like British Railways. I've always loved picture maps of England; their simplicity and naivety have a particular resonance in reducing the country to the barest essentials. This one of the south east keeps it very basic: An immense Canterbury Cathedral and a pair of oast houses cipher Kent, in Brighton the Prince Regent spies a Norman conqueror splashing into the English Channel and Chaucer resolutely approaches Penshurst wondering if it wouldn't be quicker by rail on the Pilgrim Express. And Morris Dancing seems to be the only thing going on in Essex, although I do worry about the swimsuited girl on her inflatable spotted duck being so far out to sea. Picture maps were (and sometimes still are) seen on posters and postcards, and Esso once did a whole, much more detailed, set of maps in a bound book. Which is also around here somewhere. Perhaps there should be one for Unmitigated England that's just our sort of pubs indicated on rusty signposts being looked at from Austin Somersets.
This is the head of Admiral Lord Howe, and he stares imperiously out over a hedge as you approach The Lee, up in the land of my maternal ancestors in The Chilterns. It is course a ship's figurehead, taken from the navy's last wooden warship- HMS Impregnable. The rest of the ship, broken up in 1921, was used very visibly in the extension of Liberty's store in London, and the house he guards is 'Pipers', the then home of Ivor Stewart-Liberty. Many of my family members worked in various guises for the Liberty's (my Great Aunt Pattie was inducted as the local District Nurse by Lady Liberty) and a decade or so after the appearance of the figurehead my father bicycled up from Great Missenden station to visit my mother-to-be at her grandfather's house in Lee Common. Unaware of the figurehead, his gas-fired cycle lamp suddenly picked out the admiral looming over the hedge, (only comparatively recently was he encased in a wooden shelter), and he promptly fell off into the ditch in fright, the lamp being immediately extinguished.
After aquaplaning down the Great North Road to London yesterday morning, through the worst rain I've experienced whilst driving, the clouds later scudded away rapidly to reveal this in Hornchurch.Opened as the Towers cinema in August 1935, the first double bill was The Phantom Light and Vagabond Lady. The faience-clad front elevation was designed by Kemp & Tasker, the interiors by Clark & Fenn that included a cafe and ballroom. It still seats 1,800, and was taken over by the Odeon chain in 1943 who stuck their neon sign over these architectural letters for a re-opening in 1950. The last film to be shown here was the James Bond movie Live and Let Die in 1973. And so I suppose we have to thank Mecca Bingo for revealing the sign once again. Clickety-Click.
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