Sunday, August 1, 2010

Winchcombe, Gloucestershire


Line and light

One sunny afternoon in 1904 the artist F L Griggs came to the small town of Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, paused in the main street, and began to draw. Griggs, who had settled in Chipping Camden the previous year, was getting to know the Cotswolds well because he was doing the illustrations for the book Highways and Byways in Oxford and the Cotswolds, one of a series on British counties and regions. The book was to be published by Macmillan in time for Christmas 1905. With his newly acquired local knowledge, Griggs no doubt came prepared for the strong shadow cast across this street, which runs basically east-west, although with such a concatenation of curves that its limestone houses, bonded together in a continuous terrace running towards the 15th-century church, are all higgledy-piggledy.

At this stage in his career as an illustrator, Griggs used ink, and he employed thousands of fine lines to depict the play of shadow on cobbles and limestone, and a much more sparing, almost hesitant line for the houses and church tower bathed in sunshine, so that they seem to shimmer in the light. Using this painstaking way of working, Griggs could sometimes delineate buildings with startling precision – in some of his other drawings, virtually every stone is outlined, every warp in the timbers of a weatherboarded barn. This illustration is slightly looser but still meticulous and wonderfully conveys a sense of place – and as it virtually depicts the view from my front door, I can say this with confidence. This remarkable collection of houses – of various dates between the 16th and 20th centuries, and many containing within them fragments of still older buildings – not to mention the play of sun and shadow, have been caught well.

But Griggs’s way of working also caused him problems. He drew very slowly, and his publishers got frustrated, eventually bringing out the book with fewer illustrations than planned, and reducing the artist’s fee by ten per cent. So for future books in the Highways and Byways series, Griggs used pencil, in which he could work faster in a slightly looser, though still detailed, style. He was a good draftsman with the pencil, but something was lost, and I’m pleased that when he came to this street in Winchcombe – a street that has changed little since 1904 apart from the replacement of cobbles with asphalt and the arrival of a large number of cars – he was still using his painstaking pen.

17 comments:

Neil said...

Fred Griggs was essentially an etcher, so the pen was always going to express his innate self more clearly than the pencil. A very interesting artist, whose Arts & Crafts involvement isn't always clear in the commissioned work for which he was best known. This is a lovely drawing.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, Griggs is fascinating, whether depicting actual places or making them up. His pencil drawings were not always very well reproduced in those Highways and Byways books.

susieharries said...

Intrigued to see this - when Nikolaus Pevsner's sons were evacuated to Chipping Campden in 1939, they lived with Griggs' widow Nina at Dovers Court, a house that Griggs had designed himself as a 20th century contribution to the Arts and Crafts movement. (He didn't finish it - perhaps he was a slow worker all round?)

Philip Wilkinson said...

Susie: Interesting. I think Griggs may have run out of money – the Dovers Court project was quite ambitious, I think. I'll check this out and then post another comment soon.

Anonymous said...

If this is the view from your front door, you must live within a stone's throw of the Corner Cupboard. Do you know Graham and June Tolmie at Little Pitch? Thank you for sharing this wonderful drawing. DDU

Philip Wilkinson said...

Anon: Yes, that's where I live. I don't know the people you mention - well, I probably know them by sight.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Susie: According to Jerrold Northrop Moore in his book The Green Fuse about the pastoral tradition in English art, the burden of debt caused by the work on the house caused a deterioration of Griggs's health in the 1930s that eventually led to the artist's death. So it was probably the combination of money problems and health problems that meant the project was not completed.

Cat said...

It's not often that one gets suitable opportunity to drop a casual 'concatenation' into a post.

I take my hat off to you, sir!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you, Cat. It takes a Cat to appreciate a conCATenation!

The Vintage Knitter said...

Its always interesting to see either an old photograph or drawing of a street that you're familiar with. Thank you, Mr. W.

Philip Wilkinson said...

VK: Thank you. I'm thinking of maybe doing some more posts with old prints or photographs soon.

Hels said...

I love the idea of a book called Highways and Byways in Oxford and the Cotswolds (1905), one of a series on British counties and regions. Those Edwardians had a fascination for travel and history that I still find admirable today.

Who commissioned Griggs' beautiful illustrations, by the way?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: The publisher was Macmillan. Griggs got the job on the series because he was introduced to another artist, Joseph Pennell, who had worked on the series but wanted to move on. Pennell recommended Griggs and Griggs did several of the 'Highways and Byways' books.

Peter Ashley said...

Griggs was half way through doing Highways & Byways in Essex when he died, and S.R.Badmin finished it. Virtually the last in the series I think, so very fitting. I know he went about on a motorbike, does anyone know what sort?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: The illustrations in the Essex book are lovely.

I don't know what manner of machine Griggs rode, but it should have been a Matchless.

Katie B Morgan said...

Hello, I'm in the process of producing an A4 folded leaflet showing areas of architectual interest and History around Winchcombe...I thought that THe museum could perhaps sell them to raise money for their restoration of the columns. If you could help me at all with some interesting bits and bobs I would really appreciate them. I live in Winchcombe too. Thankyou, All the very best, Katie
www.kbmorgan.co.uk
www.thedecorativepainter.co.uk

Philip Wilkinson said...

Katie: That sounds like a lovely idea. I'll be in touch.