Saturday, June 30, 2012
I’ve been away for just over a week, hence the recent posts of pictures from my archives. Now I’m back, he’s a third stick-on sign, this time from the town where I live, to symbolize my return to the land where cups of tea are a way of life. These signs are on a window that until a while ago fronted a small grocery shop. The building is now used residentially, but the tea signs remain and add some colour to the rather sober window frame. They advertise two brands of tea that have been part of British life for over a century.
The Typhoo brand began in 1905 and was successful partly as a result of astute marketing – even in the 1900s the company produced teapots with the Typhoo name emblazoned across them and included collectable picture cards in packets of tea. In the early days the company also claimed their tea was health-giving, and the curious name derives from the Chinese for “doctor”.
Brooke Bond is even older. The company was founded by Arthur Brooke in 1869 and launched its famous P G Tips brand of tea in the 1930s. Brooke Bond tea was very successful from the 1950s onwards, when packets contained collectors’ cards that were probably even more popular than those given away with Typhoo tea earlier in the century. Brooke Bond tea is not widely sold in Britain now but the brand is still widely available in India and Pakistan.
I’m pleased these colourful signs are still adorning this former shop window. Whereas the Brooke Bond one sits quite neatly in its rectangle, the Typhoo sign has been cut up to fit – but in spite of the interrupting glazing bars its bold letters shout the message loud and clear.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Another trawl through my archives threw up this window sign from Bromyard. The photograph is a few years old, so I’m not sure if the sign is still there. When I took the picture it was already time someone took this damp and dilapidated building in hand, though of course I hope that if they did, they managed to restore the flaking “BREAD” sign and perhaps even preserve the blue and yellow Procea one in the window.
Procea bread began in New Zealand as Procera and was sold a lot in Britain, where the name was changed to Procea, until the company was bought by Spillers in the 1970s. Procea was advertised a lot in the 1950s, when the use of a kind of informal script lettering for the brand name became common. This sign is later – the script seems to have got thinner and slightly more refined as the years went on. The name was often accompanied by a slogan, of which there were many. Brown bread was fortified with wheat protein: “The meat of the wheat”. The stuff was so good that it was a case of “Once tasted, never wasted”. “Procea Brown is so much Better it deserves a capital B.” “You never have a stale loaf problem when Procea’s your daily bread.” And so on.
Customers were exhorted to “Buy it where you see the Procea Bakerman”. That’s him, just visible on the side of the window in my picture. There must have been thousands of Bakerman stickers on bakers’ windows in Britain in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Now they are few and far between.
Friday, June 22, 2012
When I was looking at the ironmongers in Uppingham a little while ago, the remains of its Ever-Ready Batteries sign set me thinking. I have noticed these old stick-on signs on shop windows before. Perhaps two or three might make a short series. I was soon looking through my photographic files and came up with this one, specially for those of you who like to travel on two wheels: an old stick-on sign advertising Ariel motorcycles on a shop window in Frome.
Ariel was a company that began in the 19th century as a manufacturer of bicycles. they made their first motorcycle in 1902, and produced such popular machines as the Red Hunter in the 1930s. Ariel was bought up by BSA in the 1940s and BSA continued to make motorcycles with the Ariel badge until 1970, advertising them as "The Modern Motorcycle" if this sign is anything to go by. Given the bright orange and yellow colouring it's hard to believe that when I passed it a couple of years ago it must have been the for forty years or more. The style of the lettering, with its contrasting capitals and script forms, seems to hark back still further. It certainly makes a bright and striking contrast with the classical, 19th-century looking shop front, with its dentils and mouldings. A lovely find.
Monday, June 18, 2012
Timber and tin
Chris Partridge, of the excellent Ornamental Passions blog, has sent me some photographs of a building recently erected at the Weald and Downland Museum, seven miles north of Chichester, and has given me permission to share them with my readers. Many of you will know that the Weald and Downland is an open-air museum that specializes in preserving buildings by re-erecting them on their site, so that visitors can enjoy them and learn about their history. Most of their buildings come from southeastern England and many are timber-framed structures, including houses from the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.
Their latest addition is a very different kind of timber-framed building, a corrugated-iron church from the Hampshire parish of Wonston, near Winchcester, which was first built in 1909 and last used in 1996. Buildings like this were bought as “flat packs” by parishes who needed an inexpensive church, often as temporary building before they could raise the funds for a more elaborate building. Many, like this one, lasted far longer than their original users might have imagined.
Resplendent in its new green paint, the church of St Margaret, Wonston is now looking as good as it must have done when new in 1909. Its design is quite simple – there is no spire as there was on some corrugated-iron churches, and the windows are rectangular – although their individual lights do have a pointed upper section. But at one end, the building does look more ecclesiastical, with a corrugated iron bellcote and a small quatrefoil window.
I’ve posted about “tin churches” before. There’s an example from Gloucestershire here and another from Worcestershire here.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
As a pendant to my previous post about the ironmongers on the Market Place in Uppingham, here is a photograph of the sign above F W Collins, the ironmonger in Earlham Street, on the edge of London’s Covent Garden. In business since 1835 and owned by the same family until just a few years ago, Collins is the archetypal ironmongers, first stop for tools, screws, buckets, oil, etc, etc, for many who work in Central London and for those who live in the Covent Garden area too. The sign is a reminder that traditional ironmongers made – and occasionally invented – things as well as selling them.
Back in the 1980s I worked in an office in Covent Garden as an editor of illustrated reference books, and I or one of my colleagues often had to pop over to Collins to buy items for photo shoots. The shop usually came up with the goods, but not without a lot of banter, which usually involved the shopkeeper looking down on customers coming in to buy screws, say, or saws, with no intention of actually using the things.
I once had to buy a hammer and a sickle for a photo shoot. The response came pretty smartly: “You don’t want a ’ammer and sickle.” What business did I have with such tools of manual toil? But of course it didn’t take long before a hammer of exactly the right shape was found. Then came the question of the sickle: “A sickle? What you want a sickle for?”
“I haven’t got a sickle.”
“But I’ve got a short-’andled baggin’ ’ook.”
Mr Collins vanished into a pile of garden tools, bins, and buckets, emerging, with remarkably little clanking, holding two bagging hooks, large and small models. To my untrained eye they looked very like sickles.
“Which one d’you want?”
“I’ll take the small one, please.” It looked best with the hammer.
“This? It’s a boy’s one. You want that one. That’s a man’s ’ook, that is.”
Exit “boy”, looking sheepish.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
“Four candles,” says Ronnie Barker, starting off a chain of misunderstandings with his comedic partner Ronnie Corbett in one of the funniest sketches in British comedy. Corbett, behind the counter, is soon climbing stepladders, opening drawers, shifting boxes of goods, and sorting through a seemingly endless stock to find what his customer wants.† He is also evoking the world of the old-fashioned ironmonger.
Going back a few more decades, the Victorian ironmonger was one of the key people on the High Street. You could see his shop from far off because of the arrangement of buckets, bins, and brooms on the pavement outside. Coming closer, you would be able to make out rows of lamps in the window, a range of metal items such as kettles, pans, jelly moulds, and all kinds of other kitchen equipment. Then there would be tools, from hammers to saws, and all kinds of fancy work, like bell pushes and bird cages. The cavernous interior would be full of drawers and shelves, and in the gloaming beyond the front of the shop were larger items, such as tin baths and baby carriages, kitchen ranges and stoves. Somewhere in the rear would be a doorway leading to an outhouse full of farm equipment, such as the kind of plough that was often the ironmonger’s sign, and a forge where some of the stock was manufactured and where the proprietor would repair metal goods.
D Norton and Sons in the middle of Uppingham was probably like this once upon a time. It is still a cornucopia of gardening equipment and household goods and still has its 19th-century shop front, with a plough above the door and elegant classical columns on either side. I would like to ask my Uppingham correspondent to go up to those columns and tap them next time he passes by. When I was there I forgot to give them a tap to see if they produced the dull thud of stone and plaster or the ring of iron. I have posted before about an ironmonger’s shop with an iron facade, and I did wonder whether these were metal columns, but a commenter on this post says that he has tapped them, and that they feel like wood.
A lovely feature of this shop is the stained glass panels in the upper sections of the windows, advertising some of the goods and services on offer when the window was installed in the 19th century. The one on the right tells us that the proprietor was a “FURNISHING IRONMONGER”, which I take to mean that his stock was aimed mainly at the domestic market – whether fitting a kitchen range or supplying a canteen of cutlery, he would be your man. And on the left, there’s more: “GAS FITTER & BELL HANGER”. Does that mean church bells? The business of fitting door bells and the kinds of bell systems that Victorians with big houses used to summon their servants was more the usual line for ironmongers, but who knows? When the interior gleamed with oil or gas light, these stained-glass panels must have glowed, drawing the eye of passers-by on winter evenings.
Now shops like this also sell more up-to-date items such as bulbs and batteries. Part of a stick-on sign for the latter, a bygone of a more recent period, survives on this window, the blue suggesting the Ever-Ready brand. Its presence reminds me once again that there is so much more to look at in shop windows than the goods on display.
† Or what he doesn’t want. What Barker is actually after, he soon reveals, are “Fork ‘andles. ‘Andles for forks.” And so the dialogue goes on.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Windows and webs
This building in the Leicestershire village of Quorndon was built in the 19th century on the site of an older flour mill. In early the 19th century lace and cotton items were made on this site, but after the arrival of mill owner Michael Wright in 1860, the mill produced elasticated webbing – the strong, flat strips of material used in a variety of fields from furnishing to military kit.
The demand for this material increased hugely during World War I, when the factory employed some 2000 workers. Webbing production continued through World War II, when the factory was still the major employer in the village. Its large windows must have made for just the kind of light, bright interior that the textile industry required and that so often makes textile mills far from dark or satanic.
The company still operates in Quordon, but at a smaller more modern site. Recently the old mill building has been converted to apartments and the top floor and the tall chimney have been removed. Even with these alterations, the warm red brick walls and large round-headed windows make the former mill an impressive focal point in the centre of the village, and the water is an evocative reminder of the era before the steam engine transformed industry.
Monday, June 4, 2012
The monks and the birds
Near the border of England and Wales, deep in Herefordshire’s Golden Valley (the valley of the River Dore), among high hedges and garrulous rookeries, within sight of the Black Mountains with their evocatively named heights (Hay Bluff, Lord Hereford’s Knob), and close to one of my routes to the book-lovers’ haven of Hay on Wye, lies the sandstone Dore Abbey, home of the royal arms in my previous post. It’s the kind of quiet spot the Cistercians favoured, away from the distractions of the world and the city, where they could farm in peace (they were among the most successful sheep farmers in the Middle Ages), and build their monasteries and their communities.
Most of Britain’s greatest Cistercian abbeys, such as Yorkshire’s Fountains and Rievaulx, Gloucestershire’s Hailes, and Tintern in the valley of the Wye, are ruins now, but at Dore Abbey, part of the building – the choir, transept, and crossing of the original church – remains in service for parish worship. In the monks’ time, where there are trees in the left-hand part of my photograph above there was a long nave, and its disappearance accounts for the unusual shape of the church. As we look at this fragment, though, with its continuous background noise of cawing rooks, the tall pointed lancet windows give an idea of the building’s strong but simple Gothic architecture.
It is even more impressive inside. Repeated lancet windows, pointed arches, and piers with multiple shafts line the choir. Light pours in from the splayed upper windows, creating patterns of light where the arches are deeply moulded. There is a minimum of carved ornament (the austere Cistercians eschewed the sort of rich foliate carving that covered other Gothic churches of the time) but a strong sense of linear pattern. The arches and mouldings create a clear sense of the kind of space the monks wanted – and it is a rare treat to find it all surviving as an interior, roofed and used and protected from the elements and enhanced with fine furnishings from the 17th-century restoration. And so quiet too, in little known southwestern Herefordshire, in a corner where now the rooks must far outnumber the human population but the lucky few who are left can enjoy a place of peace and a setting for contemplation.
Friday, June 1, 2012
The king's arms
As Britain is celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, I thought it might be appropriate to share an example of the royal arms from an English Parish church. Royal arms have been displayed in English churces for centuries, but especially since Henry VIII assumed leadership of the Church of England in 1534. The composition of the arms has changed over the years, with the comings and goings of different monarchs and ruling houses, and during the Commonwealth (1649–60) royal arms were removed, to be replaced later. The result is that English churches display arms from many different periods, with the 18th and 19th centuries well represented.
Sometimes a coat of arms from before the Commonwealth escaped the hands of Cromwell’s supporters – or was replaced when the monarchy was restored. An example of one of these Stuart coats of arms is in the wonderful gothic church at Abbey Dore in Herefordshire, a building that began as a Cistercian abbey 1147. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the building and land passed to the Scudamore family, who dismantled many of the abbey buildings and sold off the stone. In the 1630s, John Viscount Scudamore restored the abbey as a parish church, and amongst his gifts to the building was a magnificent classical screen topped with this coat of arms, which is that of Charles I. The characterful lion and unicorn are surrounded by vigorous carved wooden scrolls in the style of the time. The detached tail of the lion is a poignant touch: I think of it as an accidental symbol of interrupted Stuart rule.