So, there we were bowling down the A303 on the way to Cornwall, more of which later. Suddenly we came to a screeching halt at the end of a queue for roadworks traffic lights, on that stretch leading down to Honiton that is more like a trunk road from the 1930s, after those gloriously sweeping dual carriageways across the Wiltshire downs. We called this The Blind House, and after taking a quick snap through a break in the incessant traffic we carried on. On our return in the gloom and rain of a late afternoon, we looked more carefully out for it. All I know is that it's after Honiton but before a crossroads I think was Eagle Cross. So can any of you out there remember what the pub was really called? Indeed, have you partaken of drink in there, or pulled out in front of someone from the car park?
On Sunday afternoon the skies above Bedfordshire were awash with vapour trails and echoing with the evocative engine noises accompanying the last flying day of the year at the Shuttleworth Collection. I get very excited by flying machines and the magnificent men who fly them so well, but you can probably guess by now what it was that had me running about pointing with childish enthusiasm. This is a 1913 McCurd, a 5 ton box van that is very likely the only survivor of its kind. Look at that stunning script flowing over the top of the radiator, marvel at the beautifully drawn packs of sugar and the Afternoon Tea box. It is, quite simply, one of the the best signwritten vans I've ever seen, and apparently it still belongs to Tate & Lyle. Imagine it, rumbling on its solid tyres out over the cobbles at the Silvertown Refinery in the East End of London. Very sweet.
The good news today is thatthe Crystal Palace may be built again on Sydenham Hill in South London. Almost the only thing left of the original is a pair of stone sphinxes that once crouched inscrutably next to one of the entrance staircases. The rest of it burnt down in 1936, the inflagration watched by my girlfriend's mother looking out of a bathroom window in Peckham. I remember asking her if she had to stand on the toilet seat and she gave me a funny look and said "Probably." Although smaller in plan, the building had as its core the original Great Exhibition building built in 1851 by Joseph Paxton, erected in Hyde Park and visited between May and October of that year by over five million people.
But what will the new one look like? Some bloke on the wireless this lunchtime said he expected there'd be some glass and iron in it somewhere, as if acres of glass wasn't a prerequisite. Ten years ago I remember seeing a design by Chris Wilkinson of Wilkinson Eyre at an RA Summer Show, and it would certainly suit me. A real new Crystal Palace for our own age, something we should've insisted on for the Millennium instead of that bloody awful tent in Greenwich stuffed full of tat. I couldn't find a decent photograph of the Wilkinson proposal to show you, but here's another BBC report from 2003 with a murky image attached. The brilliant thing about this Dan Dare spaceship is that it doesn't take up any parkland space, being mostly suspended in thin air as it were. Dust off those plans Chris please.
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