Friday, 30 October 2009

Caravans and the countryside

The twentieth century countryside, and particularly its main roads in holiday time, would not be complete without the caravan. As far back as 1907, the Caravan Club was founded in London to bring together those with a common interest in caravanning - primarily the horse drawn version at that date - as a pastime. By the 1930s, when these 'Minic' clockwork toys were first introduced by Triang, the motor car and caravan was on its way to becoming part of the scenery. In our version, the caravan itself is still tinplate and the same as the original but the car has been upgraded to plastic, indicating a date of about 1950.

Caravan Club membership numbers of 1,300 in 1937 had risen to over 4,000 ten years later and in 1952 the Duke of Edinburgh became Patron. Nowadays, membership stands at over 350,000.

As numbers of caravanners grew, so did tensions between the freedom to enjoy the countryside and efforts to protect areas of scenic beauty. The aerial images below are of Leysdown in Kent in 1960 and Thornwick Bay in Yorkshire in 1966.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Youth Hostels

The Youth Hostel Association is one of those important stakeholder groups of the twentieth century operating at the interface between town and country. So we have been picking up some YHA ephemera. Youth hostelling was a German idea. The first hostel was opened in 1909 by a Westphalian schoolteacher, Richard Schirrmann, who was convinced of the spiritual need for young people to enjoy healthy exercise in the open air away from the drabness of city life. He planned a chain of hostels, or 'Jugendherbergen', each a day's walk through the countryside from the next.

The Youth Hostel Association of Great Britain was formed in 1930 along very similar lines. This membership card from 1947 and 48 lists the objects of the Association as 'To help all, but especially young people, to a greater knowledge, care and love of the countryside, particularly by providing hostels or other simple accommodation for them in their travels.'

It shows that the holder, Grace Pett a young south London schoolteacher, stayed at hostels in Derbyshire, Cornwall and Scotland.

The Association grew rapidly. Twelve hostels were opened in the first year and there were 297 by 1939. In 1950 membership topped 250,000.

The eighteenth century Houghton Mill near Huntingdon was converted into Youth Hostel accommodation in 1934 and was one of the first hostels in the Cambridge Regional Group. Access to the men's dormitory was up two flights of ladders and water for washing had to be gathered in buckets from the River Ouse below. During the Second War, when there was a scarcity of resident wardens, Vera Watson kept the hostel open at weekends by cycling the fifteen miles out from Cambridge each Friday and returning on Monday mornings. The mill ceased to be a hostel in 1983.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Two Land Rover models

The story of the Land Rover has come up before - how it was introduced in 1948 as a general purpose agricultural vehicle and subseqently morphed into a urban style icon - because of what it says about the wider cultural tentacles of the countryside in the second half of the century.

These two model sets illustrate that process of transformation. Both are by Corgi Toys, a brand launched by the Mettoy Company in 1956, and both comprise Land Rover and horse trailer combinations with Pony Club transfers. The Pony Club, an umbrella organisation for young riders, dates back to 1929 but its membership really took off during the 1950s and had reached over 31,000, spread through 255 UK branches, by 1962.

The first set is one that was introduced in 1968 with a short wheel base Land Rover, canvas top, normal livery and sandard wheels. This is still identifiably a farm vehicle.

The other one dates from 1979 and incorporates some significant differences. Now it is a long wheelbase Land Rover with flashy metallic colouring, big chunky wheels and a definitely non-agricultural roof accessory.

The journey towards the Chelsea tractor had begun.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Oak sideboard/dresser c.1905

This fine piece, made by the firm of Shapland & Petter of Barnstaple, was acquired a few months back and has now gone on display. It represents the point at the beginning of the twentieth century when the Arts and Crafts style, with its focus on craftsmanship and rural romanticism, chimed with the fashionable tastes of a burgeoning urban middle class. Through a re-working of the farmhouse dresser of old came a piece of urban chic for the Edwardian villa.

Shapland & Petter were in a leading group of makers that maintained their commitment to quality and craftsmanship whilst organising their production on industrial lines. The oak for this piece was probably imported from America and full use was made of machinery for production of some of the component parts. In this way they were able to produce a very large range of furniture in many different customised versions at a reasonable price.

The distinctive wardrobes, overmantles, chairs, bookcases and hallstands etc produced by Shapland & Petter were sold through agents and retailers around the country and Europe. The firm also had its own shop in Berners St, just off Oxford St in London and not far from Regent St where Liberty & Co were competitors.

The business was started by Henry Shapland, a cabinet maker from Barnstaple, in the middle of the nineteenth century. He had travelled to America and brought back ideas on mechanised manufacture of quality furniture. He took Henry Petter into partnership in 1865 and within a few years over a hundred men were being employed. In 1888, after a fire, the firm relocated to a new factory – the Raleigh Cabinet Works - in Barnstaple. The town had a tradition of crafts skills from lacemaking times, a thriving School of Art at the end of the nineteenth century and the Barnstaple Guild of Metalworkers.

One of the renowned designers associated with Shapland & Petter was William Cowie (see some of his designs above), a product of the Barnstaple School of Art, who was responsible for this piece. It bears a number of the Shapland & Petter hallmarks for their Arts and Crafts years: squared spindles, cut-out hearts, geometric arch, long strap hinges and decorative metalwork.

Friday, 2 October 2009

It's Quicker By Rail, 1930s

The famous It's Quicker by Rail slogan was widely used by the London and North Eastern Railway in the 1920s and 30s. It followed the reorganisation of the railway network in 1922, which resulted in the emergence of the LNER, and the appointment of William Teasdale as its advertising manager the following year. Teasdale was a great believer in the power of poster advertising and commissioned a number of well known artists at the time to design them.

This one is by Guy Seymour Malet (1900-73) who combined the talents of painter, engraver and writer, and who had studied at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in the 1920s.

Posters such as this were intended to catch the eye of passengers as they idled away their time on a draughty and perhaps depressing platform. They use attractive and relaxing images of the countryside, with their attendant associations based on traditional English virtues of trust and reliability, to represent rail travel in a pure and positive light.