On my way to my junior school I would pass a pub (don't do that now) where a black glass plaque on the wall by the door had gilt letters on it that said Mitchells & Butlers. And an evocatively coloured painting of a stag leaping over a chasm. I stood there and wondered. Did the stag make it? Or was it just a crucial couple of feet short? Somehow I found it a slightly disturbing image, one that I put into a mental box that included the chimney sweep's brush popping-up out of a pot and shaking itself free of soot against a very early morning sky.
Yet another rummage produced this label a few days ago. Mitchells & Butlers appear now to be a pub business that manages places like All Bar One, but back in the day they were a frequent presence in Leicester and its environs. Indeed in the late sixties and seventies we were continually regaled with the fact that M&B's Brew XI was brewed for the Men of The Midlands. I never drank it, mainly because, like Watney's Red, it was said to be of such low strength it could legally be sold to children. (I wait to be disabused of this notion.) My researchs tell me that a park called Deer's Leap two and a half miles from Birmingham city centre gave its name in support of the brewery not far away.
I find this puzzling. Even a hundred years ago I can't imagine a deer leaping anywhere near the centre of Brum, and I'd always thought that it was part of some Exmoor legend concerning a stag leaping over a ravine during a pursuit by hounds. I have heard of stags escaping into the sea along the rugged coastline here, so it makes it all the more difficult to imagine the scene depicted on this fabulous label being in Birmingham. Or perhaps it's all just fancy anyway.
Perhaps we could argue about it in Quinn's bookshop in Market Harborough this Friday night over a glass of wine as we toast the arrival of English Allsorts (6-8pm)
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