Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Badmin's England (2)

As a follow-up to my previous post about the book Village and Town, written and illustrated by S R Badmin, here is one more of his evocative illustrations. This is "A limestone village", Badmin's portrayal of the architecture of the limestone belt that sweeps up England from Somerset, through Gloucestershire, parts of Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Rutland, to the eastern part of Lincolnshire. From this broad band of stone country, Badmin has set his imaginary stone village in the Cotswolds – it is all rolling hills and golden walls.

The houses have the rows of parapetted gables typical of the region, together with the stone-mullioned windows and tall chimneys mostly placed at the gable ends. A church tower, reminiscent of the one at Chipping Campden, looks down on the scene, and the field in the foreground has a drystone wall. To the right is a large stone barn (based loosely on the barn at Bradford on Avon on the fringes of the Cotswolds in Wiltshire), on which the Cotswold stone "slates" are laid in the traditional way, large stones at the bottom of the slope near the eaves, smaller ones at the top, near the apex.

As with other illustrations in Village and Town, Badmin has brought together buildings and objects from different places to create his village scene. And not just the buildings. That cart in the foreground looks like something Badmin had spotted and drew and couldn't wait to incorporate into a bigger picture. (In the same way he incorporated a wonderful crane into a woodland logging scene in his Shell Guide to Trees and Shrubs.) But made-up as it is, this Limestone Village scene is convincing in terms of both architecture and landscape.

But does this scene represent an idealized view of England? It certainly looks very neat and tidy – neater and tidier than the Cotswolds I remember from my boyhood a couple of decades after the picture was made. Back then there was much poverty, houses were often badly maintained, and you were more likely to meet a heard of cows than a traffic jam. Now everything is tidier and in better repair, but there are cars everywhere.*

To be fair to Badmin, he does show us that this is a working place. The barn is in use; the cart stands ready; chickens are scratching around (it all becomes clearer if you click on the image to enlarge it). In the distance is the farmland that kept people alive in Badmin's time and brought prosperity to this area in the Middle Ages, making possible all this upmarket stone building. A mixture of cornfields and sheep pasture extends into the distance, over the hills, between the woods, and towards the far horizon.

*And it sometimes feels as if you have to have the income of a movie star to live here.


Luke Honey said...

Well, as you say,. it's very like Chipping Campden isn't it?

Interesting to be reminded how run-down the Cotswolds were. Almost hard to imagine now. But then, not that long ago, I can remember an old fashioned, decrepit country grocer's with Victorian shop sign and glass jars of sweets - almost like something out of Beatrix Potter- in Penn in South Buckinghamshire. This is now a chi-chi weekender's cottage with brown hardwood windows and a 4 by 4 parked outside. When did the great change happen? 1980's?

Philip Wilkinson said...

The extreme decrepitude that I linked to was a special case (though not unique). It got cleared up slowly, in, I think the late 1970s and early 1980s, as the estate got its act together. Another item in the Wilkinson grab-bag of half-memories is an article in a Sunday supplement (probably the Sunday Times) from I think the early 1970s, covering a number of shockingly neglected villages, including one other on the Cotswolds. It, too, was gradually cleared up. The more general increase in weekenders' cottages, and all that entails, happened in the 1980s.

Stephen Barker said...

The decline of the English Village has a long history. In his introduction to 'Life in the English Village' King Penguin 1949,Noel Carrington is even then bemoaning the disappearance of the traditional trades illustrated in the lithographs by Edward Bawden. A beautiful book if somewhat nostalgic for a lost world.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Stephen: Indeed. I am admirer of the Bawden lithographs and even thought about posting some of them. Maybe I still will. Of course as well as this gradual decline (if that's what it is) that came with the mechanization of agriculture, the depopulation of villages, the disappearance of rural crafts, and so on, there weree also many previous ups and downs linked to agriculture's various booms and busts (Robertson Scott's picture of his village in the 1920s in England's Green and Pleasant Land is very bleak, for example). So it's a complex picture.

Neil said...

Local squires got together to threaten legal action against Robertson Scott for his perfectly accurate depiction of their lazy assumption of superiority - an assumption that still continues nearly a hundred years later. It's interesting that cultural change happens at such a different rate in the city and the country - the feudal mindset still operates in the Cotswolds, only an hour and a half away from modern London.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Neil: Indeed. And it's no so long ago that similar assumptions of social and economic superiority were endemic in our older universities, where dons spent their mornings searching for a cure for breast cancer or rewriting the history of the Civil War before going to meetings to make sweeping decisions that would affect the lives of their college's rural tenants. I'm sure it's not like that now of course. Of course.