Friday, 24 June 2011


35. "Mendip Marriage." 
Bas-relief carving, in meadow oak, 6'3" long, 2'5" at its widest point.

When we moved to the West Country we bought a detached house in a village. Peter was able to resume carving without having to worry about disturbing any neighbours whilst working late into the night. We had escaped city life. I had a garden for growing flowers and vegetables and we were able to walk into open country from our own front door. We explored the surrounding countryside in our car, an old split-screen Morris Minor. It was a pleasure to discover misericords and small carvings in the Somerset churches and to sit in the open air to draw the nature all around us.
Peter made a drawing of a quarry on the Mendips, perching on the hillside for a bird's eye view of the activity below him. When he brought the drawing home we studied it. The empty area of paper in the foreground looked to us like the hip of a reclining woman and this was the starting point for the resulting carving, "Mendip Marriage."

Two brothers owned an old wood yard in the village. They had an intimate knowledge of their stock and Peter would often call in to talk to them on Saturday mornings. They were a mine of information. He bought some beautiful oak panels from a tree that, by a happy coincidence, had been growing in the area where he had made his drawing. By counting the rings we were able to estimate that the tree would have been growing on that hillside in the early sixteen hundreds, before the Civil War and the Great Fire of London.

This carving transports me back to our early married life; it was the first of many that chart our life together.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Rocking chair

32. Rocking chair

My parents often called me, 'Last Minute Liz' and I'll willing admit that time keeping has never been a strong point. I wake each morning confident that the list in my head will be completed by the day's end. It never is. Why do I have such a poor grasp of time? I am eternally optimistic that it will stretch to meet my expectations.

Glennis, my college friend, was one of my bridemaids. I confidently stated that I would make her dress. The pattern was labour intensive with rows of small frills all down the front of the bodice. I was still stitching the night before the wedding and only too happy to hand the task over to my Aunt Nancy the following morning when she arrived from Scotland. Luckily the marriage ceremony wasn't held until late afternoon.

When it was my turn to be matron-of-honour for Glennis we took the precaution of choosing a very simple pattern for my dress and I finished it in good time. The wedding was to be held near Manchester and we drove there in our first car, a second-hand Morris Minor. We set off early and traveled along streets of Victorian buildings, relics of the Industrial Revolution.
As we drove past a junk shop I spotted this lovely wooden rocking chair on the pavement. Four pounds, ten shillings and it was ours! We didn't have a roof rack and it was too large to fit inside the car. It took a long time to tie the rocker safely to the roof . We continued our journey at a much slower pace.
When we duly arrived at the bride's home we found her mother in an absolute panic, she had thought that I was not going to appear.
Glennis said, "I told her not to worry. You always turn up, but not until the very last minute!"

The rocker was the perfect place to sing to our small babies and lull them to sleep.

33. Victorian infants' dresses.

In the early seventies England was still awash with Victoriana and it was of no interest to the majority of people. They had discovered Scandinavian design, drip-dry and non-iron shirts, crimplene dresses and Bri-nylon sheets and there was no going back. Good news for me, I could search out the furniture and clothing in natural fibres that I most appreciated and purchase them for very little. These cotton infant dresses are one example.

They were not practical for my small children to wear, but I bought them because they were so beautifully made, in fine, soft cotton with dainty hand stitching and decorative details that were a nightmare to iron. They spoke of servants and an altogether more leisured lifestyle. My healthy infants quickly became too large to fit into them and the dresses and bonnets were handed down to be worn by dolls, before being packed away for another generation.

34. Ladies rocking chair.

At Bolton Hall in Wensley there was a catalogue sale of unwanted household items. It was held over several days and the bric-a-brac was set  out on the lawns at the front of the hall. I did not study the goods inside as I knew that the only things I could afford were on the grass! I bid for this chair, and bought it for five pounds. It was upholstered in peacock blue silk, the fabric shredded with age and use. The wood was wormed but I hoped that it was not too far gone to be treatable.
Our other purchase was a Victorian playpen with a built-in abacus of porcelain beads. When we got home we stripped the chair to treat it and had it reupholstered in mustard velvet.
We erected the playpen in our sitting room. It was enormous! It took up virtually the whole space and we were able to sit all together inside it's solid structure to play. It was really suitable only for a vast house such as Bolton Hall and not for a small home such as ours.

We had very little furniture when we bought these items and now we have far too much. The playpen is long gone and the little rocking chair languishes in a spare bedroom.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Washing set

31.  Washing set by Ridgway,
royal semi porcelain, 'Fantaisia' design.

I walked past an antique shop every day on my way to work, and this handsome set formed the centrepiece of the window display. For all that it was the 'swinging sixties' most of us were still living a fairly frugal post war lifestyle. We were renting a small, unheated flat, and, even if we had had a cat there would have been no space in which to swing it and certainly nowhere to place this porcelain set.  But Peter obtained a lectureship in the South West and on the strength of it we went house hunting. I remained in the Midlands to work my three months notice at the college where I was teaching, still walking every day past the antique shop window. 
One weekend, just before I was due to leave, we went inside and came out with the coveted washing set.

Bowl, 40cm wide.

Love spoon and plate

29. Wooden love spoon

Before my marriage, when I was living and working in the Midlands, I bought my wedding dress in London and the fashion department where I worked gave me a present of pale blue French underwear. I was going to borrow my sister-in-law's veil and felt myself quite well prepared.
I traveled home to Yorkshire one weekend to finalize the wedding details. The reception and evening dance was booked for Bolton Castle, which at that time was a tumbledown, half ruin of a place, but very romantic. The castle is situated on a rise of hill with wonderful views over Wensleydale. Fred Peacock ran the castle restaurant; he was a man renowned for his delicious desserts. I gave Fred a clear description of how I would like my wedding cake, it was to be round, simple and elegant, with a centerpiece of dainty white roses on the top-most layer.
Music was organised and the invitations sent. I was ready.

I was married on St Swithin's Day and the rain poured down until just before four o'clock, the time of the wedding ceremony. We emerged from the church to sunshine and the sound of ringing bells. The vicar took fright when he heard the bells pealing, concerned  for the safety of his old church tower.
By the time we arrived at Bolton Castle my long white dress had acquired a rather muddy hem. Friends took photographs of me in front of ancient, glassless windows and on crumbling battlements.
We sat at the top table for our meal in the Great Chamber. Before me was the cake. It was not round, nor was it simple; there were slippers and horseshoes. Each tier was held up in ascending glory by means of shiny silver columns. There were no roses. Oh, Fred! The cork from a champagne bottle ricocheted off a roof beam and shattered my glass. No splinters hit me, only a light sprinkling of champagne. It must have been a lucky omen - we are still together!

At some point in the evening supper was announced. When the dancing resumed the newly married couple were no longer there. We had made our escape, and so successfully that not even one tin can trailed from the rear of the getaway car. Great frustration for those members of the party who were eager for revenge, having, on their wedding day, suffered pennies in hubcaps and kippers up exhausts by my sleight of hand.

A few years ago, at my mother-in-law's funeral, relatives were recalling our wedding. "It was because of you that we had a top hat wedding," a distant cousin announced. "My mother came home and said that the bride had thrown off her shoes and danced in her bare feet!"
I have no memory of having done so but am pleased to have this image of my wedding day. And I suppose that since I had been made a gypsy style wedding cake then it was the least that I could do to throw off my shoes and dance in the same spirit!  

30. German plate.

This wooden plate, now cracked from years of use, was a wedding present from our college friend, Rolf. It came with rye bread and a cotton bag of salt, traditional German gifts to confer prosperity throughout our married life. We were under strict instructions not to throw away these offerings, and we have them still!