A beautiful autumnal morning, yesterday in Norfolk. I was very glad to turn off from the incessant traffic on the Cromer road to find two villages I hadn't seen before. Great Snoring and Little Snoring, which sound like two characters in a fairy tale. As you leave Little Snoring a bend in the lane reveals the remarkable little church of St.Andrew. Apparently it's a bit of a Norfolk mystery as to why an early Norman church was demolished so soon, and its replacement, certainly within a hundred years, built just to the north. My guess is that building at this time could be a bit hit and miss and the original church lurched with subsidence. The now detached round tower survives, and its magical red cap, again like something from a fey tale of long ago, looks like it may have been used as a dovecote. The louvered openings seem very small if they're for bells. Pevsner doesn't mention them, but then he didn't mention that you can still clearly see where the original church met the tower either.
Further down the lane is Great Snoring, a very pretty village with the church of St.Mary's. Worth visiting for the 15th century painted panels on the rood screen, defaced in the Tudor Reformation, and a superb late seventeenth century coat-of-arms towering over the inside of the south door.Near to Fakenham, near to Wells-next-the-Sea, both churches are worth the little detour.
Now this really was unexpected. I discovered it on a wall at the Blists Hill Victorian Town in Ironbridge and immediately knew what this was all about. Not that I'm given particularly to non-shrinking wool underwear, but when I was a lad I walked past the Two Steeples factory in Wigston Magna every day on my way to my junior school. The large Leicestershire village was sometimes called Wigston Two Steeples, on account of it having, well, two steepled churches: All Saints and St.Wistans, (later two of the houses at my next school), probably only half a mile apart.
But it was another memory that was stirred on seeing it. The owner of the factory lived at the top of the cul-de-sac road I lived on in Wigston Fields, in a large mid Victorian house, and every day could be seen walking very purposefully down the lane to his work. He wore heavily checked plus fours and carried a cane that he raised to us in greeting. I think he had a monocle, but this may be something I picked up from a character in the Eagle comic. Opposite my house my friend had a large yew tree in his front garden and we would perch up in its sooty branches to spy on people walking below. "Here comes Spring Heel Jack" we whispered as one poor chap strided beneath us as if on rubber springs, his head in a cloud of pipe smoke. I'm not sure what we called Mr.Plus Fours but it was either Two Steeples or The Colonel. He had a mate who used to come and visit him driving a mid blue 1920's Rolls Royce with disc wheels, the hood down and him sporting a Panama and a huge white moustache. "Here comes Mr.Pastry" we shouted to each other, and ran behind the car trying to jump up on the back. Blimey, all this from a sheet of vitreous enamelled iron advertising wool underpants. Whatever next.
I'm walking down the street having just come out of chapel. I pass the ironmongers with tin baths hanging outside and then remind myself I need a mattock like the one in the tool shop.The greengrocer waves to me as I descend the blue brick steps to a canal wharf where a pretty girl comes out from a corrugated iron hut to greet me, our conversation gently drifting from canal boat painting to other things. It's very warm, so I feel obliged to drop into the cool shadows of the public bar of the Bottle & Glass public house, where another delightful girl pulls me a pint of mild and furnishes me with a cheese and onion cob.
Have I gone to some kind of Unmitigated Heaven? In a way yes. I'm in the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, and I urge you to engage with the rigours of the West Midland motorway system and innumerable traffic lights and roundabouts in order to pay it a visit. You won't be disappointed.
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