Friday, January 3, 2014
What, has this thing appeared again tonight? (2)
My second popular post from 2013 is about a pub. Pubs – their architecture, decoration, and even, occasionally, their beer – have been a concern of this blog on and off since its beginning. But this pub also exemplified another of my preoccupations – that buildings often have a significance beyond their architecture, and that they can attract meanings which, while sometimes arbitrary, can be every bit as powerful as the aesthetic hit we get from a palace or a cathedral. Here's what I wrote in September concerning what I think about when I think about the Woolpack in Slad:
There are buildings that are more important for their associations than for their architecture. The Woolpack, the village pub in the hillside Cotswold village of Slad near Stroud, is such a building for me. It means several things to me and, sadly since it's a pub, none of these have anything to do with me drinking there – it's a building I've been past, often, and that brings to mind various kinds of memories and associations when I see it.
Apart from the fact that it's a roadside landmark that tells me I'll soon be in Stroud, it makes me think of Laurie Lee, the author of various books of poetry and of memoir, most famously Cider With Rosie, which nearly everyone of my generation in Britain read at school. Slad was Lee's village, the home of his childhood, the setting of that celebrated book, and his home again when he returned later in life. So the Woolpack was his local, and I think I remember friends, long gone, who lived not far away telling of encounters with him, well oiled and charming, within. It's a very long time since I read Cider With Rosie, and in truth I can't remember that much about the book, except that it was able to create a warm glow of reminiscence without denying some of the deprivation of the times or the penetrating winter cold which, on the Cotswolds, can be very cold and penetrating indeed.
It may be rather fanciful of me, but I also associate this building with the Festival of Britain, that curious all-embracing celebration of British culture and achievement that was organised as a tonic to the still austerity-troubled nation in 1951. In part, I make this link because Laurie Lee had an important part to play in the Festival exhibitions in London – he was chief caption writer, and also did other jobs, such as helping to organise the Eccentrics Corner in the Lion and Unicorn Pavilion.
The lettering on the end wall of the Woolpack makes me think of 1951 too. Those rather chunky italic capitals seem to me to be very much in the graphic style fostered by the Festival of Britain, although in fact the principal Festival sign lettering was slightly different. The Festival used Egyptian lettering, with plain slab serifs (there are some examples of the italic form of these letters in the picture below).
Festival of Britain display letters, italic form
On the Woolpack letters, on the other hand, the serif is linked to the main stroke by a curve (known as a bracket, in the trade). But still, the chunky proportions of these letters do give them a 1950s feel and I suspect they've been here for some 60 years. They're big, and clear, and stand out from the wall so that they cast a welcoming shadow too. When the travelling local arrived from Stroud, or Spain, or Chelsea and saw them, he knew he was home.