Bible of British Taste
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  • October26th

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    A family of aesthetes live here, in Thames-side Isleworth to the west of London.

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    These are some clues to their identity. The hanging mugs feature monochrome woodblock  vignettes of the Dorset countryside by the artist, engraver  and typographer Reynolds Stone (1909-1979), and the three coffee cans below have motifs taken from his graphic designs  ( winter is coming in now, so we switched on the electric lights).

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    On the top row are Eric Ravilious’s Garden Implement mugs, designed for Wedgwood in its glory days.

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    Which brings me to my subject, another artist, author and designer, Ian Archie Beck, who is married to Stone’s youngest daughter Emma. Here is the 40th Anniversary special edition of the album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which he designed for Elton John in 1973 when he was twenty-six years old, over the course of a long weekend. Rocket, Elton’s record company asked him to include a piano and teddy bear. You can read more about it here.

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    And here is their rescued greyhound, a fine ex-racer who ran at Hove dog track, named Gracie.

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    On the shelves behind her, what looks like a full set of mid twentieth century books with jackets designed by Barnett Freedman are lined up.

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    And above the book case a small leather suitcase is plastered with enigmatic luggage labels including one which reads, ‘Les Freres Perverts…’


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    Les Freres Perverts is the performance or cabaret group invented by Ian and his friend and fellow artist the late  Glynn Boyd Harte, of whom there is much more to say later.

    Glynn B H Celia Stothard Ian Beck May 1st 1975

    Glynn Boyd Harte,  Celia Stothard and Ian Beck, ‘Les Freres Perverts’ on May 1st, 1975.

    GBH

    GBH (as he was known) went for the total immersion experience. Here is the record of his enthusiasm, his ?crayon drawing of the sheet music which provided their songs and inspiration, much of it sourced for them by their friend and fan, Patrick O’Connor, critic and music hall enthusiast.

    Carte Postale

    For me, the climax of their performances was the moment when they became seedy sellers of dirty postcards in an unspecified Egyptian location, dressed in white cotton gloves and solar topees, Ian displaying his wares to the audience with throaty cries of, ‘Carte Postale, Carte Postale,’ Glynn seated at the piano and craning over his shoulder at us.  This is what Ian was holding, very kindly ‘dug out’ from his archives.

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    This is the window sill in the dacha at the bottom of the garden which is Ian’s studio.

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    And on the drawing board below, copies of his latest work, a limited edition illustrated volume of poems, that was three years in the making. It is seen here with a vintage unredeemed, book token designed by Barnett Freedman and a copy of that small, extremely rare publication, Murderer’s Cottages, by Glynn Boyd Harte (1976), a chap book-style publication that gave him the opportunity to draw Staffordshire china souvenirs of notorious murderers’ cottages on every double page. Ian has been writing these poems ever since Glynn died, in 2003. The first one came to him when he spotted Jude Law in Camden, and thought, ‘he looked so handsome, he looked like a god!’

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    Each plate in each volume is currently being hand coloured by Ian. Each book takes around four hours to complete and they are all subtly different. The page describing its publisher and editions is below.

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    A wedding present, John Piper’s screen print from his 1972 designs for Benjamen Britten’s opera,  Death in Venice, hangs on the back wall. Below are works by David Jones and a sketch by Denton Welch, one that Ian inherited from Patrick O’Conner ( ‘rather touchingly, he had written my name on them,’ says Ian),

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    next to a poster by Barnett Freedman from 1956  for the London Underground, reprinted in 1965

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    and a framed sample of Eric Ravilious’s Garden Implements design, printed by Edinburgh Weavers in the 1950s.

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    Here is the dacha in which they hang, where Ian works each day,

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    and here is the naif still life painted by Ian’s mother in her old age with a paint box which he had discarded, hanging in the kitchen. She was annoyed by it, unable to make the perspective correct as she would have liked, and so slightly ashamed of it and cross with her son, for taking it away and liking it.

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    Ian Beck’s limited edition and hand-coloured book is published and sold by Neil Jennings Fine Art , contact him at : neil@jenningsfine art.co.uk. All images copyright Ian Beck and  bibleofbritishtaste.

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  • September14th

    Richard and Patricia Hewlings live in the Fens, the district known as the Holy land of England. Their house is a flat-fronted, red brick farmhouse with a pretty Georgian doorcase, and an older wing jettying out into what was once the farmyard at the rear. It’s known locally as ‘Big Old House.’  There’s a dairy and some barns at one corner, and a Quaker meeting house terraced onto the other, with its burial yard behind; the bones of some more honest Quakers lie under its floor. Richard (who is a former Inspector of Ancient Monuments, and works for English Heritage), discovered and then reburied them there, in the course of repairing these dilapidated and derelict buildings. Tricia has planted a rare and imaginative series of garden compartments and painstakingly restored old floorboards and interior paintwork. Richard has hauled back joinery and furniture, the by-product of a lifetime’s curiosity for old things and buildings. Here, in the 1980s and 90s, their six children grew up.

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    The hall.

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    When Richard and Tricia bought the Old House it was empty and derelict, divided into flats for the workers who ran a tractor-tyre retreading factory from its yards. The house had been empty for six years and most of its chimney pieces and joinery had been stripped out. Now it is the portrait of a marriage, and a family. Here is the hall, with Easter palm crosses.

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    The staircase hall, hung with prints, edge to edge.

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    Richard designed this handsome, immodest fireplace, the largest in the house, around the two end pilasters that he found in a Bury St. Edmunds antique shop for £25.

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    This cushion stitched with badges from military uniforms was made by their daughter.

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    The Wedgwood teapot with a crocodile finial celebrates the Egyptomania that marked  Nelson’s victory in Egypt at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 . ‘When I met Trish, she was the only person I knew who liked porcelain, and I was the only person she knew who liked porcelain,’ Richard says.’ She had a collection of little cups.’

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    The dining chairs belonged to Oxford aesthete Dadie Rylands, a fellow of Kings College, Cambridge : Richard found them in a local country auction. His college rooms were decorated by the Bloomsbury artist Dora Carrington, and immortalised by Virginia Wolf in A Room of One’s Own.

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    Propped on an easel is the finest portrait in the house of the powerfully built John Davenport, Tricia’s first father-in-law, writer, fund-raiser for Dylan Thomas, boxer, pianist and poet.

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    The wallpaper was deigned by Edward Bawden in 1935, and supplied by Coles of London. The floors were exactingly hand sanded by Tricia and bleached with lye.  The chimneypiece was created from salvage, bought at a local country house sale. When I last visited in the late 1980s, the room was decommissioned, with a gaping hole in the ceiling;  I could not have imagined how beautiful this room would look when it was finished.

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    The art pottery and glass is Tricia’s, and the big pottery jug was fished out of the River Ouse when a lock was being drained there.

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    Tricia found the hand painted hound place-card holders  that run along the chimmneypiece moulding, and she is waiting for her daughter Maud to paint some huntsmen and horses to run with them. You can see them a bit more clearly in the picture below.

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    The small, enigmatic oil painting was a student work by their son, Arthur Hewlings.

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    The bedroom, with poltergeist curtain activity.

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    A sweet disorder. Shoes and shells lie distributed over the carpet, and wind-blown billets-doux flutter to the floor.

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    Still life with upright vacuum cleaner.

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    The children’s toys and books make a museum in the bedroom corridor

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    Bedroom picture, an early C20th fairground scene by Clodagh Sparrow.

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    The much-admired kitchen, hand built, partly by Richard, with a new (in 2014) lead splash-back designed by Tricia. Better than Plain English.

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    Saturday lunch in preparation. Not a museum, everything is for use, and in use.

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    Probably the nicest kitchen in East Anglia.

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    ‘This is our ‘dirt’ room, its the scullery, it has a sink.’

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    The third of their kitchen dressers

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    The lower garden, where food is grown. The land was reclaimed from beneath rafts of concrete which covered the farmyards here for fifty years.

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    More food in bountiful profusion

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    Arcadia. Compost heap and nature rampant.

    All images : copyright bibleofbritishtaste

     

     

  • August17th

    I stayed at lovely Smedmore House in Dorset, settled in its green declivity between ridge-backed Purbeck hills, in May. The first day was grey, with scudding wind and rain, but then the sun came out. This is a room in the old kitchen range, not much used now except for the occasional shooting lunch, a place where the guns can eat with their boots on. The wooden boards mounted on the wall are stall dividers from the eighteenth century stable block ( where a local carpenter now plies his trade), on which  generations of grooms and stable boys who worked and slept there have carved their autographs in copperplate.

    Smedmore

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    The cooking apple-green entrance hall, part of a new front added to the house in the 1760s.

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    This ebonised chair was made by the celebrated George Bullock for the Emperor Napoleon during his lonely exile on St. Helena, an inherited souvenir or perquisite, brought back to Smedmore by the Colonel John Mansel, gallant peninsula officer,  who was garrisoned there.

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    This is the side wall of the same room  – same chairs – rather more austere – as it was last photographed by Country Life, in 1935

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    The principal front. Behind it, the older parts of the house date from the seventeenth century, but the de Smedemores were living in a house on these lands in the 1300s. The estate has passed down by inheritance through seven centuries.

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    My host and Smedmore’s owner, Dr. Philip Mansel, distinguished author and historian, founder of the Court Studies Society, Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, seen here with a small, ancient cannon.

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    The old kitchen is lit by a tall,tripartite Vitruvian window,

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    but from the outside you can see that this window has probably been inserted into an even older building range.

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    The garden front, early 1700s, in the manner of Christopher Wren.

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    Where you would expect to find dogs’ graves there is the tombstone of a long-dead tiger in the  grass under the trees.

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    Lunch, grilled sea trout, white wine, at the table in the dining room window bay.

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    The long table behind seats twenty comfortably. The plasterwork is by the Bastard brothers of Blandford.

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    This Tinteretto-pink on the walls was mixed  by Philip’s friend, the late, great Gervase Jackson-Stops, taste maker and scholar. The colour becomes lighter as it rises up the walls to the ceiling.

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    China cupboard.

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    A guest here in 1878, J.B.B., left this little album of sketches entitled,’ Reminiscences of my visit to Smedmore.’

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    Farmyard animals, small mishaps and funny anecdotes  feature on almost every page.

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    Philip is the creator and curator of this family museum in a corridor leading to the Butler’s Pantry. The head of a long, long-dead rhino is a grisly thing, sans horn.

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    The drawing room.

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    Yellow water iris in the blue and white vases were picked from the margins of the pond outside. Philip has brought colour back to the house with oriental ceramics and Ottoman carpets from Istanbul.

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    The Turkish Room, Philip’s work-in-progress.

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    The Cedar Room with some of the cargo of furniture and paintings inherited from Lady Elizabeth Villiers, who left everything to her Mansel niece..

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    Souvenirs of the past, pince-nez, spectacles, reticules, reels of embroidery silk, notebooks and diaries crammed into every drawer.

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    Shagreen reticule cases, miniatures, pill-boxes, eye-glasses …

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    one evening I went out for a pint of beer and found Corfe Castle, looking like a poster for the Dorset tourist board.

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    that night the moon was full and close

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    Working breakfast in the kitchen, before,

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    where School Prints by Julian Trevelyan and  John Nash hang next to the fire extinguisher

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    and after, ship-shape from the ministrations of the housekeeper.

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    Off-limits, a pantry in the old kitchen range

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    painted a hygienic light arsenic green

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    The bedroom corridor, miscellaneous  furniture washed up, waiting its turn. Note the crossed sabres, last seen in the entrance hall in Country Life’s photograph of 1935

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    a pink bedroom

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    My pink bedroom, with the most exquisite rococo fireplace

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    the paneled bathroom corridor, in the older, rear of the house

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    a blue bedroom with traditional English backup heating, although the central heating at Smedmore is fiercely powerful

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    Behind the stable block, a small craft beached amongst nettles

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    the stable arch and nature rampant

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    work yard off the back drive

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    A long allée or ride leads away from the house, cut through woods to give a view of the sweep of Kimmeridge bay (part of  the Smedmore estate along with the village of that name), and beyond, towards France.

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    On the left is the Clavell Tower, a folly pr perhaps an outpost for smuggling, built by an ancestor, the Rev. John Richard Clavell. Thomas Hardy took his first love Eliza Nicholl there, and the building inspired P. D; James’s thriller, The Black Tower (1975). Twenty years ago it was derelict and poised to topple as the soft, shaley cliffs beneath were eroded by the sea. Philip’s friends advised him,’Let it go,’ but instead he worked to have it transplanted 25 metres inland.Now you can stay there, courtesy of the Landmark Trust.

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    Verdure, cow parsley and cuckoo flowers (Red Campion) grow in wild abundance. Smedmore House can be rented for holidays, weekends, house parties or weddings when Philip is not in residence. The house and gardens are open to the public on certain days, which you can find on the website. Read more about Smedmore in the September issue of World of Interiors.  All images copyright bibleofbritishtaste.com