Thursday, January 24, 2019

Radstock, Somerset

Set in stone

The last of my trio of stone details from Radstock is this sign for the Bell Inn. I’ve posted quite a few inn signs in the past – a search of there blog will yield all kinds of three-dimensional animal ones, some lovely wrought iron, a couple of unique pub names, and one that overhangs an entire street. This is more modest, but I like the way it is integrated into the building, asserting its intention to remain a permanent fixture. And the inn is only part of the story. When it was rebuilt in the late-19th century, it adjoined a bewery, one of several hereabouts owned by the Coombs family and part of the Coombs’ Clandown and Radstock Breweries and Hotels company. Their Clandown bitter was well known in the West Country in its heyday, but now only part of the brewery building survives – but this sign, with the initials G.C. for George Coombs on the bell, still stands proud.

Just before I sat down to write this post a fortunate coincidence occurred. I was looking for another reason entirely at Ian Nairn: Words in Place, Gillian Darley and David McKie’s excellent book on Ian Nairn, one of the heroes of this blog. As I glanced at a page, the word ‘Radstock’ jumped out and I was reminded that this Somerset town was one of a number listed by Nairn in The Observer in January 1965 in a list of ‘threatened towns’. When I’m not snowed under with other work, I’ll have to look up the back issue of The Observer and find out what Nairn said about it – no doubt he appreciated the chunky industrial buildings and evidence of the mine working, and no doubt he liked the way the buildings had got grimy, the very grime giving character to the place and acting as a record of years of history and work. He could enthuse such qualities, in a way few could back in 1965.

At least one of Nairn’s readers, Graham Fisher (an admirer of Nairn), demurred. Nairn wrote back to him, thanking him for his comments and adding, ‘If you don’t see what I saw in Radstock, that’s marvellous: you’ve gone there and looked and assessed.’ That, above all was what Nairn asked of his readers: go, look, respond. He went his own way, and encouraged others to do so too. Nairn’s way inevitably was via a pub, and I like to imagine him drinking in here – before the drink got to him and ruined his health. His responses to places were often provocative, but always honest – they were what he felt, and made all his readers look, and respond, anew.

1 comment:

Jack Kirby said...

The internet makes it easy to find what Nairn wrote about Radstock:
'A real odd-ball all round, and a wonderfully eccentric place that has never had the slightest encouragement (Pevsner: desperately ugly). It lives by coal-mining only 10 miles away from Bath: at the bottom of a steep valley, with two ex-G.W.R. stations side by side (Radstock East and Radstock North). Public buildings like the glass-fronted market are scattered up and down the slopes in an arrangement that charms by its utter oddness: real Somerset countryside seeps in along the narrow slit between the two railways and burst out immediately on either side. Complete incomprehension is the danger here: the recent Co-op is one of the nastiest new buildings I have seen.'