Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A poignant visitation...

A few days just spent in Norfolk included a visit to the tiny village of Nordelph a few miles from Downham Market. It was here that the Uranian poet Edwin Emmanuel Bradford spent the lion's share of his clerical career. If you are looking at this slightly forbidding, bleak and isolated place and thinking this doesn't seem to be the kind of place that you would be posted to if you had a stellar career in the Church of England, you'd be right. Although, it's not clear exactly why Bradford ended up here it is very likely something to do with his sexuality.
Bradford started off his career in the 1890s in a very promising way being curate of the up-and-coming Anglican chaplaincies in St Petersburg and then at St George's Paris. On his return to England, he was posted as the Curate of Eton, the town not the school, which seems a good 're-entry' post before moving to the cure of souls of some large and prestigious parish. Things would have seemed set fair at that point but then, any canny interpreter of his listing in Crockford's Clerical Directory, would know that something must have gone badly wrong. His feet barely touch the ground on his way to being vicar of Nordelph: a church described on the Churches of Norfolk website as "probably the most remote of all Norfolk Churches". There was then, and basically still is now, a quarter of a mile of houses running in a single-file line up a single track road and a long, narrow irrigation canal called the Well Creek. That's it!

The panoramic photo at the top is the view from the row of housing that makes up the village, across the creek and into the Norfolk flatlands. On Sunday, when I visited, it was a cold, clear, crisp day, it was possible, on a short visit to appreciate that there was some beauty in the flat, misty landscape but to live there and to serve the very few people of this tiny village from 1917 till his death in 1944 must have been a saintly labour. (and yes, that creek is actually frozen solid!) And yet, by all accounts Bradford was a humble, quiet and charming man. There is a little more about him and a couple of photos (the originals of which are now in my collection) on the Norfolk Churches site but on this visit I had hoped to see the crumbling and overgrown church but instead I found this:

Opposite the church was a the school house, now in a parlous state with ivy and other foliage growing through the roof. It was here that Bradford taught and supervised the small group of village children in their education. I hadn't thought of it before I went but as I trawled up and down the side of the creek looking for the site of the church I also came across the graveyard. I spent a cold half-hour or so checking each grave but I could find no trace of Bradford. All in all, a sad and poignant visit.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Best Letter Head Ever

This, surely, is one of the most glorious pieces of headed paper you have seen this year? Covering nearly half of a foolscap page, the recitations of Professor Venkutrao's achievements are closed with the statement that he is "the world's most eminent aeronaut" - so eminent that in 2010 Google still hasn't heard of him, nor does he appear to rate a mention in any of the millions of electronically searchable 19th century newspaper pages available to me... nothing...

The context of the letter is Indian and the letter itself reads as though it might be written by someone for whom English is a second language.

Certainly the best thing about this piece of ephemera though has to be the two vignettes of a man parachuting and another making a balloon ascent, apparently without the aid of a basket!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Vintage Health & Strength

Another small collection from the auction last week. This time we have about twenty copies of Health & Strength from the 1950s and 60s. I have to confess that I can find little appealing in this kind of extreme muscle-pumping and the posing just makes me laugh, which is probably not the reaction they were hoping for. Nonetheless I can see they have a kind of kitsch appeal. I particularly like the one on which someone has written in pen by the front cover model "Irv's Hero". The other amusing thing about this lot is that it was made up of these magazines and about the same number of The Evangelical Magazine from the 1860s - and that was it!

Quentin Blake at Chris Beetles Gallery

Starting tomorrow (until the 8th of January), Chris Beetles has a major exhibition of works by Quentin Blake, "Frabjous Beasts and Frumious Birds". I've had a chance to look through the printed catalogue (available for £10 plus 3" p+p from the gallery) as well as the online gallery and I particularly like this portrait of Darwin (below); and who could fail to enjoy the title of the 'Fin-de-Siecle Secretarial Pseudo-Centaur' (above).

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Beautiful Captain Marryat

My experience of Victorian children's books in decorative bindings is that they tend to be fairly ragged affairs, usually with bindings that are 'shaken' (bookdealer speak for 'about to fall apart') and decoration on the covers which is both unimaginative and faded. Every now and then, however, an otherwise unremarkable book is made special by its condition. Japhet in Search of a Father by Captain Marryat and illustrated by H. M. Brock (Macmillan, London, 1895) is certainly an unremarkable book, in nearly any condition it is £5-10 all day long, and whether anyone actually buys it, even at that price, is debatable. However, this copy has just come out of an auction box: immaculate with a gorgeous gilt decorated blue cloth and gilt edges pages, binding tight and the interior clean and full of Brock's wonderful illustrations. Whether the cover decoration and endpapers are also designed by Brock it doesn't say. This is the kind of secondhand book that you think of when you wistfully wonder what it would be like to give a beautiful book as a Christmas present only to discover that your local secondhand bookshop only stock the dull and shaken type!

I had to mention it here, however, for the amazing peacock endpapers which, I know, will thrill at least one regular reader of this blog!

Heath Robinson Exhibition.

An anonymous correspondent writes in the comments on a much earlier post which might otherwise be missed:

"The Art of William Heath Robinson" exhibition opened at The Lightbox in Woking on Saturday 4th December and runs until 6th Feb. It includes three original b&w drawings for A Midsummer Night's Dream and three for The Water Babies and much else. "

Details of the exhibition can be found on the gallery's website.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

I-Spy Books

I have been at an auction for most of the day, and I wish I could show you everything, all the wonders that I've dragged up a flight of stairs to the study but, for the time being, I thought these fantastic 1950s (and earlier) covers would make a nice display. These are I-Spy Books, which, in a somewhat later incarnation, were something of a feature in my childhood. For those who have never come across these before, inside are illustrated pages showing a whole load of things that fit within the category of the book's title, each thing is given a point score, depending on how difficult it is to see, the I-Spy-er spends their time tracking down the things in the books and ticking them off to score points. The filled-in books could then be sent to "Big Chief I-Spy" and he would, in return, send you a certificate. These are quite early ones from a collection of over 100 that I bought today that includes early and rare titles from the series: in fact, you can see at least two incarnations of one of the titles 'On the Farm' just from the pictures here. Many of the titles in this acquisition I have never seen before and I'm really hopeful that they will sell well... but they should do just for the covers!

Vintage Swim: Brother and Sister

Just a random vintage swim picture from my collection, by was of saying sorry I haven't been posting for a few days. I'm told that these two are brother and sister.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Two Vintage Photos: Summer Days

As the snow falls thick outside my window...

How Huck Finn are these. I saw them for sale on the internet recently, got them for a really good price and am even more pleased with them now I have them in my hand than when they were on the screen. The moment I saw them I thought Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer: two lads, in their swimming gear/underwear, drinking from what aren't but could almost be early Coke bottles, fishing rods and shotguns to hand. I think maybe I have a penchant for pastoral scenes. These are mounted on card and dated quite clearly July 1895 and the Huck Finn thing is only strengthened by the fact they come from the US. When you click and englarge them you'll see that both guys actually look really somehow very modern.
Who links to my website?