First, a very heartfelt thank you to all those who flew in on Friday night to help me bring English Allsorts out to an unsuspecting public. It was so good to see old friends and indeed make new ones. Thank you all, particularly to Beverley and Chris at Quinns who made it happen and who so uncomplainingly tidied up after us.
And so to Sunday night, and The Secret History of the British Garden. What a relief to see a beautifully put together programme presented by someone who actually knew what they were talking about. Not a Stephen Fry or Sue Perkins to be seen, just the calming and knowledgeable presence of Monty Don and other real experts. Concentrating this week on the seventeenth century, Monty very soon turned his Land Rover into the lane leading up to the remarkable Lyveden New Bield in East Northamptonshire. This garden pavilion isn't a ruin, but a building that was never completed. Recusant Catholic Sir Thomas Tresham intended it to be an expression of his faith with mathematical codes and devices, but on his death in 1605, and after his son was well and truly implicated in the Gunpowder Plot, the workmen downed tools and melted away into the surrounding woodland.
Lyveden was virtually our neighbour when we lived down the road, and we continually came up here for family birthday parties or just to sit and contemplate. Very memorably I drove the venerated old school gamekeeper Harry Churchill around the surrounding acres in a Land Rover to watch a pheasant shoot in cold snowy weather. A rare treat. So it all came back to me last night as Monty talked to Mark 'Chopper' Bradshaw, a property manager for the National Trust who in our time was the custodian. He recalled a Luftwaffe photograph of the area coming to light that, with the right light and time of the year, revealed the circles of a lost labyrinth.
Of course Lyveden New Bield had to feature on one of our Christmas cards from that time (top), and the aerial view was perfect for a record card I did for the local shoot (above). It's worth a visit at any time, and if you do, remember this: In the Civil War a Major Butler was here and told his men to cut off the wooden floor beams that were still extant, and take them down to Oundle where he was building a house. Copthorne House on the High Street is a very rare example of Commonwealth architecture, but more remarkable is the fact that the time and weather shrunken remains of the original timbers can still be seen in their holes in the walls of the New Bield. (The Old Bield is the house down on the lane below that runs from near Oundle to Brigstock.)
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