The Art of the Garden at Parham House

Cascading summer flowers in the Great Hall at Parham
Cascading summer flowers in the Great Hall at Parham

The park and gardens at Parham reflect a timeless English love of landscape and horticulture. They contain many rare specimens, ranging from lichens to ancient oaks, which work in concert with the surrounding downland landscape. In the walled garden, the swathes of summer flowers, box-hedged ornamental vegetables and espalier fruit trees are complemented by an array of medieval and Tudor culinary and medicinal herbs.

Lady Emma and James Barnard
Lady Emma and her husband, James Barnard, delighting in the cutting beds in Parham’s walled gardens

Regular readers of this column will know that Clive and Alicia Pearson bought Parham in 1922 and set about restoring the house and gardens after years of neglect. Mrs Pearson loved to fill the house with fresh-cut summer flowers, arranged in what she called the “Parham way”. Lady Emma Barnard, the current custodian of Parham House and gardens, acknowledges her great-grandmother’s influence on the walled garden today. “Alicia’s love of blocks of colour and fluid forms is reflected in the naturalistic effect of the planting in the garden,” she says. “My great-grandmother wrote instructions on the flower arrangements for the house, especially in relation to colours, so that they would complement the collections of the rooms in which they were placed. We still follow her notes today!”

Mrs Pearson’s tastes reflected those of her generation. She embraced the modern whilst keeping a firm eye on the past. The famous florist and designer Constance Spry also drew from nature. She inspired a generation with her naturalistic taste before and after the Second World War – perhaps she was inspired by the special “Parham way”. As you journey around Lady Emma’s delightful home, you notice that each room has a flower arrangement which draws your eye to the treasures before you and the play of light upon them. My eye is caught by the cascading array of summer flowers shown here against the cool hue of the limed oak panelling in the Great Hall. The flowers bring the colours of the flanking tapestries to life in an unexpected, beautiful way.

Parham’s gardens are particularly fine this year. The swathes of summer flowers seem to dance in the gentle breeze. They frame the paths as you approach the orchard and the vegetable and herb beds with their clipped box hedge borders.

Oil on canvas by Harold Clayton
Oil on canvas by Harold Clayton, discovered in Sussex by Rupert

Lady Emma and her husband, James, are keen to show me the cutting beds where all the flowers for the house are grown. In amongst the brightly coloured blocks of flowers Emma declares, “We are always keen to take the naturalistic into the house – cow-parsley and even bolted rocket can be very good in arrangements.”

The work of British artist Harold Clayton (1896-1979) was shaped by his love of the garden and his attention to detail. Like the taste expressed in the special “Parham way”, Clayton took the Dutch still life of the 17th century and made it modern. This taste is much sought after today. I discovered the oil painting by him shown here some years ago. Today it would realise £6000-8000 at auction, testament to the enduring popularity of the English country house and garden aesthetic expressed so beautifully and timelessly at Parham.

Parham’s 20th Annual Garden Weekend is this coming weekend, Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th July 2013, between 10.30am and 5.00pm each day. It is a must for all of us who love gardens but don’t forget to check out the beautiful flower arrangements in the house! For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 10th July 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

A Life with Traction Engines

Neil Gough’s former Marshall and Burrell steam traction engines
Neil Gough’s former Marshall and Burrell steam traction engines

As soon as you start to talk about traction engines, Neil Gough’s eyes light up and his face breaks into a smile. His quiet enthusiasm is contagious. Neil discovered his passion for traction engines as a ten-year-old boy at the Parham Steam Rally, held at the foot of the Sussex Downs. I remember going and in those days there were rows of engines parading on the fields. It was at this event that a family friend, Peter Fagg, invited him onto his engine and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, Neil is a highly respected engineer specialising in traction engine mechanics. His gifts are in demand among the select band of custodians who keep these extraordinary engines running across the British Isles and even as far afield as New Zealand.

From about ten years old, whenever he could, he travelled with Peter to steam rallies across the country, living in the van and helping to polish and maintain the engine. Neil bought his first engine in 1997 when he was 19 years old. “It was a Marshall, made in about 1925,” says Neil. “They were made in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. I paid £6,000 but it was in bits. After three years I had her running and it took another three years to paint her by hand.” Neil enjoyed the Marshall for many years and eventually sold her for £70,000, a testament to the quality of his work and the demand for these steam leviathans.

His latest engine and project is a McLaren road locomotive, circa 1912. The engineering works were located in Hunslet, Leeds, and run by the McLaren brothers, John and Henry. “This is the biggest road locomotive ever built,” Neil enthuses. “She’s top-notch but in poor condition. She’s had a chequered history and might have been a war department cancelled order – I’m still researching the engine’s history. She was exported to Australia and eventually blown up by scrap men. I’m planning to bring her back to her original state.” The engine was saved for preservation in 1978 and brought back to this country by Neil’s friend, Brian Hardy.

Neil Gough at work
Neil Gough at work in his busy engineering workshop

As we walk through the works, there are a number of clients’ engines being repaired. I am excited to discover the exacting tolerances Neil works to on engines of such enormous scale. “We work to a thousandth of an inch,” he says with quiet pride. The array of lathes and tools speak loudly of the calibre of this talented, modest engineer-enthusiast. To find gear-cutting, valve-facing, horizontal and vertical boring and so many other engineering skills under one roof is rare today. Everything is unique and handmade.

I ask Neil what is the thing he most likes about these traction engines and without hesitation he replies, “Driving them! It’s difficult and a skill. The challenge is that each engine has its own personality and quirks.”

A hand-built steam model pump engine by the late Ron Wheele
A hand-built steam model pump engine

If a traction engine is beyond your reach, perhaps you could consider a model steam pump engine, like the one illustrated. It will be offered for sale in Toovey’s specialist auction of collectors’ toys and models, together with a number of other model steam stationary engines, on Tuesday 9th July 2013. It was hand built by the late Ron Wheele, who carried out restoration work at Brighton Toy Museum and the Brighton Engineerium. This beautifully crafted model is estimated at £800-1,200.

Neil Gough is always delighted to share his passion for engines and engineering with enthusiasts. To find out more about Neil’s engineering services, contact him on 01903 891454 or go to his website www.steamrestorations.co.uk.

“The major steam rally for traction engines in Sussex is now held at Wiston,” says Neil. With more than thirty steam engines, vintage and classic vehicles and many exhibitors, this year’s Wiston Steam Rally will be held this coming weekend, on Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th July. Who knows, you may discover that you share a passion for steam with Neil Gough! For more information go to www.sussexsteamrally.co.uk.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 3rd July 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

V&A Cloisonne at Horsham Museum

Jeremy Knight and Philip Circus
Jeremy Knight and Philip Circus at the opening of Japanese Treasures

One of the jewels in the crown of Sussex heritage is Horsham Museum & Art Gallery under the passionate leadership of its curator Jeremy Knight. It has been my pleasure to work with Jeremy over many years, supporting both him and the museum. Over recent years Jeremy and his team have delivered a number of exhibitions worthy of national attention and this latest show ‘Japanese Treasures: Cloisonné Enamels from the V&A’ is very much of that calibre.

Japan was a society closed to the outside world for almost all of its Edo period (1600-1868) but American gunboat diplomacy by Commodore Perry in 1854 opened Japan to trade with the outside world. The Japanese were determined not to be a subjugated nation and during the Meiji period (1868-1912) they embarked upon a commercial and manufacturing revolution. Alongside this, Japan promoted herself through her cultural heritage at the international trade expositions which proliferated after the British Great Exhibition of 1851. Japan first exhibited at the Paris Exposition in 1867. On display was the brilliance of Japanese craftsmanship, including cloisonné wares.

Alan & Rupert Toovey
Rupert and Alan Toovey, directors of exhibition sponsors Toovey’s, at the opening

The majority of the cloisonné on display at Horsham has been generously given to the V&A by Edwin Davies, CBE, together with funding to enable the collection to travel and be exhibited. Such acts of patronage in our contemporary age deserve to be celebrated. The exhibition features examples of the very finest quality by leading makers like Namikawa Yasuyuki (1845-1927).

Enamel is a vitreous substance like glass, which is bonded to a metal surface under heat. Cloisonné describes a particular decorative process where enamel is poured into compartments, known as cloisons, formed of a network of metal bands. The tops of the bands remain exposed, dividing one area of colour from another. It is thought that cloisonné arrived in China from Byzantium in the 14th century. The renaissance of the technique in Japan came in the early 1800s and developed quickly. By the 1870s the Japanese were able to produce wide areas of colour and intricate decorative motifs.

Many western travellers visited the studios of the cloisonné manufacturers. Among them was Sussex author Rudyard Kipling, who in his book From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches wrote of his visit to Namikawa Yasuyuki’s studio in the late 1880s: “It is one thing to read of cloisonné making, but quite another to watch it being made. I began to understand the cost of the ware when I saw a man working out a pattern of sprigs and butterflies on a plate about ten inches in diameter. With the finest silver ribbon wire, set on edge, less than a sixteenth of an inch high, he followed the lines of the drawing at his side, pinching the wires into tendrils and the serrated outlines of leaves with infinite patience… With a tiny pair of chopsticks they filled from bowls at their sides each compartment of the pattern with its proper hue of paste… I saw a man who had only been a month over the polishing of one little vase five inches high. When I am in America he will be polishing still, and the ruby-coloured dragon that romped on a field of lazuli, each tiny scale and whisker a separate compartment of enamel, will be growing more lovely.”

Japanese cloisonné by Namikawa Yasuyuki
Japanese cloisonné vase and cover by Namikawa Yasuyuki
Japanese cloisonné vase by Namikawa Yasuyuki
Japanese cloisonné vase by Namikawa Yasuyuki

To find out why Namikawa Yasuyuki’s work is so revered, I turn to Toovey’s Oriental works of art specialist Tom Rowsell, who comments, “His technical ability and artistic sense for decoration, proportion and the form of the object is extraordinary. Take the signed vase and cover shown, finely decorated with flowers, trailing stems and floral mon on vari-coloured vertical cartouche panels. The decoration is perfect for the size and shape of the vase, which is only 10cm high.” Turning his attention to a later piece by Namikawa Yasuyuki, the 9cm-high vase also shown, Tom enthuses, “By the 1890s he was producing dark grounds, which required a much higher level of technical skill than the yellow and green grounds. I think the way the butterfly hovers above the purple and yellow flowers on that midnight blue ground is brilliant and the drama of the dark ground is heightened by the silver mounts.” Both pieces went under the hammer in specialist Oriental sales at Toovey’s, realising £4000 and £1700 respectively.

Toovey’s and I are really delighted to be supporters of this exhibition – the cloisonné on display is exceptional. It is a testament to Jeremy Knight’s skills and Horsham District Council’s support for the museum that we have this national exhibition here in West Sussex. ‘Japanese Treasures: Cloisonné Enamels from the V&A’ at Horsham Museum and Art Gallery runs until 22nd September 2013 and entry is free. I hope it will excite you as much as it has me. For more information visit www.horshammuseum.org

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 26th June 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Eric Ravilious, Sussex Artist and Designer

Eric Ravilious Wedgwood Mugs
A collection of Wedgwood mugs, designed by Eric Ravilious. From left to right: a George VI coronation cup, circa 1937, an alphabet mug, circa 1937, and an Elizabeth II coronation cup, circa 1953

The artist Eric Ravilious lived and worked in Sussex. Known primarily for his watercolour landscapes and wartime studies, Ravilious was also a talented illustrator and designer. His paintings now regularly realise tens of thousands of pounds but examples of his ceramics designs for Wedgwood remain relatively accessible to collectors.

Eric Ravilious was born in 1903. As a very young boy he moved with his parents from Acton to Eastbourne in Sussex. There his father ran an antique shop. Ravilious was educated at Eastbourne Grammar School. In 1919 he won a scholarship to Eastbourne School of Art and in 1922 to the Royal College of Art in London, where he met his lifelong friend and fellow artist Edward Bawden. Both men studied under the artist Paul Nash, who was generous in encouraging and promoting their work. Ravilious subsequently taught part-time at both art schools.

In the early part of the 20th century there were attempts to address the separation between craftsmen and artists. Among the leading voices in this movement were William Rothenstein, principal of The Royal College of Art, artists like Paul Nash, Eric Gill, John Piper and Graham Sutherland, and Roland Penrose’s Omega Workshop, which involved the Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. All these artists engaged with ceramics. In 1935 Eric Ravilious was invited by the Wedgwood factory to design a commemorative mug for the coronation of Edward VIII. After the King’s abdication in 1936, the design was reworked for the coronation of his brother, George VI, and subsequently for that of our own Queen Elizabeth II – both mugs are illustrated here. The designs give a reserved English voice to the joy and excitement that these coronations brought to our nation in the most wonderful way. Each monarch’s royal cipher and coronation date are set in bands of blue and pink, beneath cascading fireworks against a clouded night sky. The designs are modern and yet they capture the ancient in the subject, something that is often reflected in Ravilious’ work. There is a sense of continuity; this modern artist’s work sits comfortably in the evolving procession of English romantic painters from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, artists like John Sell Cotman and Samuel Palmer. These influences and qualities gift Ravilious’ work with a very English corrective to modernism’s extremes, expressed in his emotionally cool, structural paintings and designs. Today, George VI and Queen Elizabeth II coronation mugs like these could be bought at auction for around £600 and £120 respectively.

The delightful alphabet mug illustrated was commissioned by Wedgwood in 1937. Banded in apple green, each letter of the alphabet is accompanied by a printed vignette; ‘A’ is for aeroplane, ‘E’ is for eggs, ‘O’ is for Octopus and so on. This mug would sell for about £350 at auction today.

Ravilious Travel Pattern
A Wedgwood 'Travel' pattern part dinner, tea and coffee set, designed by Eric Ravilious, circa 1953

In 1938 Wedgwood commissioned Ravilious to design the ‘Travel’ pattern dinner service. It captures modes of transport in an enchanting way. The trains on the meat platter and plates leave a trail of smoke as they hurry towards us, contrasting the sailing boats, which seem almost becalmed in the gentle breeze. This small selection of Travel pattern dinnerware would sell in one of our specialist auctions for around £800.

Eric Ravilious’ work continues to be reassessed and celebrated by art historians. Tragically in 1942, while he was working as a war artist, the rescue plane in which Ravilious was travelling off the coast of Iceland was lost. He died with the airmen for whom he had such respect. The body of work that he produced during his short lifetime is made exceptional by both its quality and Ravilious’ own very particular voice, expressed in paint, design and print. For the moment, the pieces he designed for Wedgwood represent an affordable way to collect examples of his work, but prices are set to rise.

It seems to me that our current, somewhat fragmented, postmodern age is suffering from a cult of celebrity. Artists have not been immune from this and many have once again lost their connection with craft and design. Eric Ravilious and his fellow modern British artists enriched our lives in the interwar years of the 20th century, as they allowed their artistic voices to inform the manufacture and design of ceramics. Perhaps it is once again time to give voice to the artist as craftsman.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 19th June 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Postcards: A Glimpse of the Past

 ‘Soldiers leaving Horsham during the European War September 10th 1914, No.1’
‘Soldiers leaving Horsham during the European War September 10th 1914, No.1’, a photographic postcard published by Bon Marche of Horsham, circa 1918

The belle époque of postcard sending was between 1899 and 1914. At the height of this craze, a reported average of more than 723,000 postcards were sent every day. Each card was delivered the following day and all for a halfpenny a time. As people posted cards they also started to collect them. With an estimated 264 million postcards delivered in a year, it is no surprise that photographers and publishers popped up in towns and villages across the British Isles to cash in on this boom.

Postcards were printed lithographically, photographically and in letterpress, some were even hand-coloured or tinted. With such a rich diversity of photographers and printers, there is a rich variety of postcards to delight the collector. If your passion is social history, saucy seaside humour, vintage cars, topography, railways, churches or almost any other subject you can think of, there will be postcards for you.

Due to Post Office regulations, postcards started out smaller than the familiar size most of us would recognise today. These ‘court-size’ postcards were only allowed to have the address on one side, so any message would have to be shared with the publisher’s image. In 1902 the Post Office changed their rules, allowing for the more traditional postcard size. At the same time a dividing line was introduced on the reverse, allowing space for the address and, for the first time, a message too, freeing up the entire front for a pictorial design. Postcard collecting was the hobby of many Edwardian ladies in particular but it waned with the outbreak and experience of the 1914-18 Great War. The light-hearted days, of which postcards had been an expression, were passing.

Toovey’s postcards, books and paper collectables specialist is my brother, Nicholas. Thanks to Nick’s personal interest in postcards, his specialist expertise and continuing promotion of sales of paper collectables and postcards, Toovey’s are one of only a very few auctioneers to have been accepted for membership of the Postcard Traders Association (PTA) in the country. So it is to Nick that I turn to find out what makes a postcard valuable. “Condition is very important,” says Nick. “Prices are considerably higher for mint examples than for worn cards. Be careful though, – a very rare card can still be valuable even if not perfect. Most cards will have the odd bump after almost 100 years, which is often acceptable to collectors who tend to favour these older cards. Perhaps more important is the subject and rarity of the image.”

Photographic postcards are the ones which most delight Nick. “They provide an accurate and unedited view of our country’s past – familiar scenes, now changed, and social history a century ago.”

‘The Mystery Towers’
‘The Mystery Towers’ at Southwick, a photographic postcard by Joseph Gurney Ripley, circa 1918

There are plenty of interesting postcards relating to Sussex. Take, for example, the two postcards illustrated; both date from the time of the Great War. The first was part of a collection of postcards relating to Southwick in Sussex. The image was taken by the photographer Joseph Gurney Ripley. It depicts two huge structures, which were constructed at Shoreham and Southwick in Sussex. These forts were built as part of a proposed chain of twelve, which would have been sunk between Dungeness and Cap Gris Nez, to deter U-boat attacks along our shores. Building began in June 1918 under a cloud of secrecy and Sussex locals nicknamed them ‘The Mystery Towers’. The Armistice came in November 1918 and they were never deployed for their original intention, although they were still being constructed as late as 1920. One of the towers did become the Nab Tower off the Isle of Wight. The collection of 267 postcards sold at Toovey’s for £2,900.

The second is titled ‘Soldiers leaving Horsham during the European War September 10th 1914, No.1’ and was published by Bon Marche, a company established by Frank C. Lewis, who in the years preceding the First World War became Horsham’s leading postcard maker. Many of these postcards are notable because of the quality of the photographs. Their images included towns and villages across the west of Sussex. A copy of this card could be bought today for about £15 at a postcard fair.

Where should Sussex collectors begin if they would like to explore collecting postcards? “I’m always pleased to advise,” Nick explains. “The important thing is to see as many postcards as you can and compare one with another, so that you begin to be able to see differences in quality between images, publishers, subjects and condition and to see how these differences affect their value. When you are starting off, though, always ask advice. Those involved with postcards are usually delighted to share their experience.” Aside from Nicholas’s specialist auctions, the three main postcard fairs locally are held at Haywards Heath on the first Saturday of every month, Shoreham every other month and Horsham once a year. A valuable resource for postcards of Sussex interest is the website www.sussexpostcards.info.

Nick is presented with endless albums of postcards in his work; does he ever tire of them? “No,” he replies without hesitation. “I never know what I will find and it’s always exciting to discover images which I haven’t seen before. People bring in albums for sale in my specialist auctions all the time and they are often surprised and delighted by how much they are worth. It’s a pleasure to share one’s knowledge and passion for postcards with others.”

Whatever your interests, postcards provide an opportunity to acquire wonderful images and a glimpse back into the past.

Toovey’s next specialist auction of postcards and paper collectables is to be held on 6th August 2013 and Nicholas is accepting entries until 3rd July 2013.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 12th June 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.