Friday 30 October 2009


Over in Norfolk I came across this shed, looking very appealing with its red trailer parked-up inside. A typical corrugated iron structure, but it was the frontage that caught my eye. The ends of sheds like this are usually finished-off with just plain timber doors or infilled with bricks, but often the iron curves were deemed just a bit too prosaic, and so were screened with slightly more upmarket facades. This one in Wereham looks like it was probably once a garage, decorated with petrol signs and the ubiquitous M.O.T triangles. The curved top echoes what lies behind, but two little wings were added to make it 'just that little bit different'. More often we will see crow-stepped gables, painted or rendered to give the illusion of a much larger building behind. Very pre-war, very much a fashion. And of course once you start looking, you see them everywhere. Workshops, factories, cafes; sometimes extended out from the workaday end to form offices with Crittall metal windows. I once went to a cinema in Suffolk that had an art deco facade hiding a corrugated iron-roofed auditorium. Which was fine until a prolonged storm broke out over the town and the noise of hailstones hitting the roof completely obliterated the soundtrack of Witchfinder General. (Screams, noisy dismemberments, Vincent Price's accent.)

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Lancashire Hotspot

Early last August a friend and I found ourselves in the Forest of Bowland, by the simple expedient of following a little road out of the back of Lancaster, under the M6 and up over Appletree Fell. After passing a little observation tower erected for Queen Victoria's Jubilee, from where it was possible to see just about everything westwards from Blackpool Tower to the far side of Morecambe Bay, we descended into the valley of the Marsh Wyre at Abbeystead. The Forest of Bowland, composed of high moorland and deep valleys, is one of the most beautiful, remote and relatively unvisited areas in England, although Lancashire industrial towns are never far away. Much of it belongs to the Duchy of Lancaster, and the Duke, oddly enough Our Queen, has I believe said that if she wasn't obliged to live in a succession of royal palaces then she quite fancied a house here. On leaving the wonderfully compact and quiet estate village of Abbeystead, the road soon starts to follow the river until a bend reveals a superb little building (above) standing alone above the rushing waters of the Wyre. This is Tower Lodge, where first a lane and then a footpath leads up on to White Moor. Our road continued into the Trough of Bowland and over to Dunsop Bridge, but not before we found refreshment at Annie's snack trailer with chairs set out under sighing firs. I wonder if Her Majesty would come down here in her headscarf for a bacon sandwich.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Find The Fault No 45

Well, what can I say. There are enough 'faults' here to keep us going for some time I should think. My main concern is why a 1950's caravan manufacturer should employ the services of an Italian hearse designer to do the interiors. Good luck with this one.

Monday 26 October 2009

The Singing Keyhole

We're so used to seeing humour in the ornamentation of medieval churches- gargoyles, fantastical corbels, carved bench ends- but Victorian churches and restorations tend to be far more austere.
I still can't quite make my mind up about this keyhole in the door of the little church in my neighbouring village of Blaston in Leicestershire. It isn't as though this escutcheon would go unnoticed, and I really like to think that the church furnishers saw the joke and let it pass. After all, our notions of stiff and starchy Victorians has continually been disabused- their Queen had a laugh from time to time I'm sure. It could have course be that someone drilled those eyes in at a later date, but I doubt it. The great architect Sir Ninian Comper appears to have done something similar with the keyholes at his stunning St.Mary's in Wellingborough, and he never appeared to be a barrel of laughs either. Perhaps they're just happy accidents, because we are always oddly attracted to any inanimate object that makes a face, everything from buildings with windows for eyes to certain views of electrical plugs.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Railway Echo No 12

Marefield is remote Leicestershire, up on the eastern approaches not far from the borders with Rutland. The Great Northern Railway opened a ten mile line from Leicester's red brick Belgrave Road station in 1882, out through Ingarsby and Lowesby until joining up with the GNR/LNWR joint track from Market Harborough to Melton Mowbray at what became known as Marefield Junction. An unadvertised daily train took workers to the dairy at John O'Gaunt (just north of this red brick viaduct) until 1957, and the last passenger traffic of summer holiday excursions from Leicester to the Lincolnshire coast finished in 1962. I must have gone over this viaduct many times, clutching an enamel bucket and spade and wondering 'are we there yet?'. We weren't. Further south from here a beautiful blue brick viaduct over the Eye Brook was detonated as a cheap source of hardcore, so I marvel even more at the continued existence of this lone survivor, admired now only by walkers and the odd cow ruminating in the field close by. Whose milk I suppose goes by road to some industrial plant far away, when once it ended up in a dairy next door that sent three or four tankers of milk to London every day.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Find The Fault No 44

Apologies for that break in transmission. Candles and whiffs of steam are intermittently available, so I'm typing very quickly before the valves get turned off. I hope you think this one is worth it.

Monday 19 October 2009

Find The Fault, I Wish Somebody Would

Only Daughter speaking. Intergalactic radio waves failing to get into Father's village. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Chain Saw Reaction

Elsewhere on this blog I have drawn attention to the remarkable history of Scots Pines in the landscape. The tree here is opposite my home, and is in all probability a truncated Wellingtonia. There is a Scots Pine next to it, positioned at what was once a crossroads, now a T-junction at the centre of the village, but this magnificent specimen is one of the tallest and most magnificent trees in the area. So of course the good folk in whose garden it stands want to chop it down. And why? Because after the removal of a brick arch that allowed for any movement of the tree roots, the replacement wall with foundations is now prone to damage. And of course this might well effect the smooth operation of an electronic gate. Heaven forbid. The wholesale destruction of trees is usually the preserve of over-zealous councils in a deadly pact with contractors to avoid what they perceive is litiguous action. But for a private individual to destroy a tree as old and as important to the local scene and history as this one is thoroughly reprehensible. There might be some point if the roots were interfering with household wainscoting, plumbing, televisions and wi-fi's, but irresponsible destruction of this kind should surely be a very last resort. It just isn't any threat to anything important, and attempts to fell it before have apparently failed because of the good sense of those brought in to do the deed who have driven off shaking their heads. Not so now. I understand a chainsaw is being primed far away in an adjoining county. And yes, I believe there's a Tree Preservation Order on it.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Find The Fault No 43

First, an apology for the quality of the picture. That's not the fault, honest, it's just that my scanner has now decided to do everything except actually scan, and so I had to resort to a hand-held camera lit by an oil lamp. Anyway it won't make any difference; all I will say is that the answer was a complete surprise, and will no doubt cause yet another heated debate that will take us through until at least Wednesday.

Monday 12 October 2009

Creature Feature No 7

I promised more from Carters Steam Fair, and these wooden horses do the trick. One of the now rare places where genuine popular art can still be seen, the traditional fairground gives up many treasures in handcrafted decoration. Noel Carrington and Clarke Hutton's King Penguin English Popular Art gives many superb examples from canal boats to gypsy caravans, and I expect the often itinerant artists would be just at ease painting a merry-go-round horse as the odd inn sign. Carrington thinks that fairground horses 'have something too of the medieval knight's charger or lady's palfrey as seen in paintings of the sixteenth century' and mentions that King's Lynn in Norfolk was once a principle centre for circus and fair outfitting. And how often do we say "That horse has got my name on it?". A closer look at this picture revealed that in my case one of them certainly has.

Friday 9 October 2009

Model Vision

I am reminded of illustrator Tony Meeuwissen, who this month has a restrospective at the Museum in The Park in Stroud, Gloucestershire, where he has made his home for many years. Searching in The Unmitigated Archive this morning this book fell into my hands. Without doubt it's one of my favourite book covers, a witty and beautifully executed illustration that turns images of estate or 'model' village buildings into an intact plastic kit of parts. Meeuwissen always has a penchant for the cottage ornee style, giving as it does decorative bargeboarding and characterful windows and chimney pots so suited to his meticulous style. This is the 1978 paperback cover, sadly not reprinted for the latest version, but I expect there will be copies hidden away in dusty bookshops and dusty internet sites. And I can also thoroughly recommend the contents. Gillian Darley has written what must be the definitive book on villages that instead of growing organically over centuries were artificially introduced by 'aesthetic, philanthropic or political reasons'. But keep looking at that cover. You'll find something new every time you look, and there's more about Model Behaviour on page 64 of More from Unmitigated England.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Find The Fault No 42

A lonely double-decker bus plies through the countryside. Probably lost by the look of it. That ground clearance is going to be a bit of a problem when they come to the hump-backed bridge by Maggot's Farm, and if Maggot has had the cows out those white-walled tyres will take a pasting. And what do we think of Bovril? There's always a jar around here somewhere, ready for those frosty mornings just around the corner.

Thursday 1 October 2009

Wellington Shoots

Recently seen on Midsomer Murders, this is Wellington College near Crowthorne in Berkshire. It stood in as a dodgy university with people in those funny crash helmets cycling all over the inner quadrangle whilst the usual surfeit of corpses piled up in the surrounding countryside. I spent a lot of time working here last year, but was continually drawn to the south elevation. On this occasion it's about eight o'clock on a summer's morning, after a very early start and a hearty breakfast with yawning masters. Founded in 1853 as a memorial to the Duke of Wellington, who'd died the year before, it opened six years later. So this year sees its 150th anniversary. Pevsner thought the building highly important in the history of Victorian architecture, and it's one of those eyecatching structures you just can't stop looking at. Originally intended for the orphaned children of military servicemen, the entire first intake ran off in fright across the then bare heathy landscape after just a week. Now it's a 'vibrant and popular co-educational boarding and day school where girls and boys learn to be leaders for life'. And presumably how to avoid Inspector Barnaby.