You know how it is. You have an hour to kill between Nottingham and Derby so you start wandering aimlessly about hoping that something will grab your attention. That's what happened to me this morning and I found this, first as an enormous silhouette against the sun across the fields, and then on arriving in Derby Road Draycott I discovered this deeply impressive frontage to Jardine's Victoria Mill. Built between 1888 and 1907 it was started by E. Terah Hooley, a wealthy local industrialist, but finished by Ernest Jardine who stuck his name up below the clock face. It's all here- cream coloured rock-faced stone at the base and then red brick, blue brick, stone dressings and then that fishscale roof topping it out. And the clock still works and does Westminster chimes. They reckon this was the largest lace factory in the world and I'm not surprised, it appears to endlessly march down Elvaston Street at the side. I must come back when the sun lights the western elevation where there are four huge bow-fronted staircase turrets. What do you think? I ran about snapping away like a madman.
To Leicester, and on a beautiful autumn Saturday afternoon we find ourselves in the incredible enclave of Belgrave. Once a small village by the River Soar, it is now surrounded by the teeming life of the big city. But taking a turn off the Loughborough Road brings you into a cul-de-sac where time has stood still. At least on the outside. At the end is the granite-walled St.Peter's church, to the left (top picture) is the early eighteenth century Belgrave Hall (it says 1715 on a rainwater head), opposite gardens that reach down to the river next door to Belgrave House (bottom pic), built later in the same century. The Hall belongs to Leicester Museums, and we would turn up here on winter mornings in the early 1960's just to get a warm from the coal fire that sputtered in the entrance hall grate. It's still much as I remembered, except more museum-ised and all that that means in 2010. Posters stuck to the reverse of the door, computer on a table, exhibits brought in from other houses etc. and what looks like the start of a Christmas (sorry, Celebratory Season) Bazaar. My boys of course were very impressed with the stories of ghosts that have appeared here, particularly the internationally famous one that posed for the CCTV camera a few years ago. They of course saw ghoulish spirits at every turn. Oh, wet leaves, orange brick, the sound of oars dipping in water and then home to fish 'n' chips from the van that chuffs along at 30mph with hot oil slopping about in the back and smoke pouring out across the fields from a tin chimney.A perfect Saturday all round.
PS: Off to Unmitigated Wales tomorrow, so Where's That Then? will be next week
I'm going to do a much longer blog about this place, but the fountain is the quite jaw-dropping centre (and master) piece. Until the end of October you can see it burst into watery life almost every hour between 11 and 4; the 'firing-up' being described as being like 'the noise of an express train'. I discovered it on Saturday, couldn't keep my eyes off it and want to go again as soon as I can. Oh yes, the house is worth a look too. Any ideas?
Inundated with Battle of Britain celebrations (celebs flying Spitfires, everyone making Woolton Pie) I turned to Flying Officer X. He was a kind of uniformed Writer In Hangar for the wartime RAF, and produced two books of short stories: The Greatest People In The World (1942) and How Sleep The Brave (1943). They actually concern Bomber Command, but the ethos is the same- young men flying by the seat of their khaki overalls on operations. The pilots, navigators, observers and rear-gunners of those leviathans of the sky, their bravery, their courage, their bar bills. Flying Officer X was of course the masterful story writer H.E.Bates, and these two little books should help put paid to the lie, recycled by James Delingpole recently when he repeated in the Spectator what friends had told him, namely that Bates books were just 1930's romantic slush. There may be romance (usually bitter sweet) in his work, but none of it is slush. Quite the opposite. And he wrote superb novels, novellas and collections of short stories right up to the 1970s. The two RAF books were combined as The Stories of Flying Officer X and you can get a cheap copy on Abe Books .
Hopefully a less tricky one this week. What can I say other than I'm often going round the ring road here and swerving into the local Waitrose for one of their Hoysin Duck wraps and a bottle of Oasis Summer Fruits. There you are you see, a Waitrose. What a clue.
I felt I had to show another Raymond Hawkey design. The first edition of this book has a tipped-in miniature dossier at the front with perfect facsimiles of British and American government letters and plans of aircraft and maps of China. All in a manilla file with 'Top Secret' stamped on it. I nearly wept in the bookshop. The photographer was Adrian Flowers.
I was very sad to hear a few days ago of the passing of Raymond Hawkey. Without doubt he was the first major influence on my life as a graphic designer. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say his work was revolutionary on its first appearance, and still stands up admirably today. Hawkey once went to a party, and was deputed to eject a gatecrasher who turned out to be Len Deighton. They became lifelong friends, and Hawkey produced the dust jackets for a long series of Deighton's novels. Just take a detailed look at that cover for Funeral in Berlin. And if you want to see one of the best film title sequences ever, watch Oh! What a Lovely War, written and produced by Deighton. (Although for reasons still not entirely clear Deighton took his name off Richard Attenborough's directorial debut.) Hawkey was also the designer who put a bullet hole through the Pan paperback cover of Ian Fleming's Thunderball. Along with John Gorham, he will never be forgotten.
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