Art and Lanscape Shaped by Farming

Frank Wootton’s oil on canvas ‘Chanctonbury Ring, Sussex, MkII’

The South Downs have for centuries been shaped by farming. Today the ancient chalk grasslands are once again returning to the steep downland slopes. In the valleys and open fields mixed farming ensures that the fertility of the soil is improved and maintained by the under planting of cereal crops with rich clovers and grass grazed by sheep and cattle. Some of the most balanced and sustainable farming practice in the country is to be found between the South Downs and Horsham.

The oil painting titled ‘Chanctonbury Ring, Sussex’ by the Sussex artist Frank Wooton. OBE (1911-1998) depicts a rural idyll with farmstead and grazing cattle beneath the Sussex Downs. It remains one of my favourite paintings to be sold at Toovey’s in recent years and realised £2400. The tone and palette lend this familiar scene a wonderful luminance. It is this quality of landscape which speaks into the very identity of our nation.

Frank Wootton studied at The Eastbourne College of Art under Eric Ravilious and Arthur Reeves-Fowkes. Whilst his landscapes and equestrian scenes are celebrated Wootton is perhaps most famous for his aeronautical paintings. Wootton would serve as a war artist to the RAF and even before this appointment he was painting the Battle of Britain at Biggin Hill.

In the late 19th and 20th centuries many of Britain’s leading artists were inspired to leave London, our towns and cities for the country. For some it was to escape the effects of the industrial revolution and for others the wars.

And here’s the thing, that sense of the rural idyll remains alive in popular culture and the public’s imagination. In contrast those living in our increasingly urbanised society have become more and more removed from the reality of country life and farming which is why the work of the West Grinstead & District Ploughing Match & Agricultural Society has never been more important. It brings the farming community together, promoting best practice and educating the public. The overwhelming majority of the farmers here in Sussex work constantly to achieve a balance between maintaining the fertility of the land, producing food in a sustainable way for the nation with close attention to the preservation of nature.

Our farmer’s continue to steward the landscapes which have inspired artists and musicians over the centuries and never more so than in Sussex in the 20th century. In our hearts and minds the countryside with its generous communities connected with the seasons and the abundance of the land have provided hope against the back drop and grind of urbanisation and industrialization.
I think this is why landscape paintings continue to speak to us so strongly and remain in such demand.

Toovey’s Director and specialist, Nicholas Toovey, is preparing his next curated auction of fine art which will be held on 4th December 2019 and entries are still being invited. Nicholas is always delighted to share his passion for paintings with others and offer advice. He can be contacted on 01903 891955.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Postcards from Sussex

 

A Sussex postcard titled ‘Steam Roller in Difficulties, Littlehampton, Jan 8, 1914’
A Sussex postcard titled ‘Steam Roller in Difficulties, Littlehampton, Jan 8, 1914’

As you know I love to send and receive postcards at this time of year and this week I am in the company of Toovey’s Director, Nicholas Toovey, who is celebrating another sell out Postcard and Paper Collectables auction. Nicholas says “The stamps, cigarette cards, letters and autographs were all buoyant but it was the postcards that stood out. It’s these collectors’ specialisms which are today’s boom markets.”

He continues “This amazing photographic postcard titled ‘Steam Roller in Difficulties, Littlehampton, Jan 8, 1914’ could have easily been titled ‘And you thought you were having a bad day!’ The scene was described contemporaneously in the Worthing Gazette as ‘a rather startling incident at the junction of Howard-road and Howard-place…the task of lifting the roller out of the hole and placing it on a firm surface again was by no means an easy one, and the operations were the centre of much interest for the greater part of the morning. It was half past two o’clock in the afternoon when the work was completed.’ The postcard sold for £260. It once again highlights that the market for Sussex postcards at Toovey’s salerooms is really buoyant!”

A Sussex postcard titled ‘Accident to Motor Mail Van, Brighton, Aug 25, 1909’
A Sussex postcard titled ‘Accident to Motor Mail Van, Brighton, Aug 25, 1909’

Nicholas draws my attention to another calamity depicted on a postcard, titled ‘Accident to Motor Mail Van, Brighton, Aug 25, 1909’ which realised £95. He says “It shows the mishap that befell the ‘A 8757’ in Preston Road.”
I comment how I loved the early motor racing scene and the people promenading in an album of some 120 Brighton and Hove photographic postcards. Nicholas explains that the album fetched one of the highest prices of the sale when his gavel fell at £1300. He says “The postcards showed many less typical scenes of the seaside town, including scenes of social history and unusual street views.”

Vintage Advertising Postcard for Harris's Sausages
Vintage Advertising Postcard for Harris’s Sausages

I cannot believe that a postcard with the slogan ‘Chief of the Clan MacSausage’ could possibly be connected with Sussex. Nicholas smiles and explains “It’s a colour postcard advertising Harris’s Sausages but on the reverse it has an overprint for Harris’s Sausage Restaurant in West Street, Brighton. He was the self-styled ‘Sausage King’. A colourful character – he was often seen wearing a top hat and evening dress around the London markets. His sons were named ‘Number One’, ‘Number Two’ and ‘Number Three’ which gives a measure of the man.” The postcard sold for £40.

These postcards provide a remarkable visual insight into our social history and it is easy to see why they attract such a strong following.

Nicholas is still inviting entries for Toovey’s next sale of Paper Collectables, featuring postcards, stamps, cigarette cards, autographs, photographs and ephemera which will be held on Tuesday 8th October.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Working Life of Horsham Folk

William Hogarth’s engraving ‘The Tailor Apprentice’ from ‘Industry and Idleness’, circa 1747
William Hogarth’s engraving ‘The Tailor Apprentice’ from ‘Industry and Idleness’, circa 1747

With the current debate and concerns about the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence on jobs Horsham Museum’s latest exhibition on work could not be more relevant.

The exhibition, ‘All work and no play – the working life of Horsham folk’, charts the evolution of business and work in the Horsham District over the last two hundred years against the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries to the present day.

This exhibition provides a hopeful message from the past and illustrates how work has changed and evolved over the centuries.

Both science and theology acknowledge that we live in a perfecting Universe and we affect and can have a positive part to play in that perfecting through our stewardship and work. Work is fundamentally important to our wellbeing on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. It informs our human experience of the world and our identities.

Horsham Saddler, William Albery © Horsham Museum & Art Gallery
Horsham Saddler, William Albery © Horsham Museum & Art Gallery

Amongst my favourite images in the exhibition is a photograph of William Albery working on a saddle in his workshop. Hand crafted objects are still highly valued today. He apprenticed to his father’s Saddlers firm in 1878 and was running the business by the time he was twenty-one. William Albery was a man with a keen social conscience and a member of the Labour Party. In 1929 he successfully campaigned to become a Horsham District Councillor. He was known for his care for those down on their luck including the shoe maker and folk singer, Henry Burstow.

William Albery was also a keen historian and the horse related Lorinery items which he collected are on permanent display at the museum.

The staff at Coolhurst
The staff at Coolhurst

The lives and work of the English country house have been characterised in Downton Abbey. The photograph of the staff at Coolhurst depicts the working community of an English country house at its height.

The plate ‘The Tailor Apprentice’ from William Hogarth’s 1747 series of engravings ‘Industry and Idleness’ speaks of the virtues of industriousness over idleness. Two apprentices strike out from the same place upon very different paths. Francis Goodchild through hardwork and discipline becomes the Lord Mayor of London whilst Thomas Idle’s more chaotic approach to life tragically leads him to Tyburn and execution.

The stories told by these images from different centuries speak into our own time. Work and the jobs that we do have always changed and there is no doubt that they will continue to do so. The different models of work described in this exhibition establish that we flourish in work where the relationship between employer and staff is informed by mutual respect, care, fairness, industry and duty – then our lives are not ‘all work and no play’.

This insightful exhibition ‘All work and no play – the working life of Horsham folk’ runs at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, The Causeway, Horsham, RH12 1HE until 13th April 2018. For more information go visit www.horshammuseum.org.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Saxon Steyning

Late-medieval buildings in Church Street, Steyning following the earlier Saxon tradition
Late-medieval buildings in Church Street, Steyning following the earlier Saxon tradition

Sussex, her towns, ports and villages, were at the heart of the Saxon Kingdom of Wessex.

In my imagination I can picture wooden Saxon houses flanking the old Roman streets of Chichester, the earlier pavements covered by grass. By the late 6th and early 7th centuries Steyning, Lewes, Hastings and Pevensey had developed from their farming origins into towns of craftsmen and traders. By the 10th century all these towns had mints producing coinage which is evidence of an established urban economy. A mint was recorded at Steyning at the end of King Canute’s (1016-1035) reign, and was perhaps the successor to the mints of Burpham and Cissbury.

A Saxon penny from the Steyning mint, struck in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066)
A Saxon penny from the Steyning mint, struck in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066)

The penny illustrated dates from the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042 – 1066) and is an example of Saxon coins from the Steyning mint. Coins are remarkable in their ability to provide a tangible connection with our past. Edward the Confessor, also known as Saint Edward the Confessor, was amongst the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England, and was the last king of the House of Wessex.

Saxon Cottage which actually dates from c.1550
Saxon Cottage which actually dates from c.1550

Many antiquarians argue that where buildings of a varied type, arranged in close proximity to one another along the main street of a town or village are found they are often following a tradition dating back to Saxon times. This would certainly appear to be the case at Steyning. Saxon Cottage in Church Street actually dates from c.1550 but its name perhaps hints at an earlier structure on the site now lost. The town was located on the River Adur and is generally believed by historians to have been one of the most important ports in Saxon times.

The Parish Church of St Andrew and St Cuthman, Steyning
The Parish Church of St Andrew and St Cuthman, Steyning

The current parish church of St Andrew and St Cuthman has Saxon origins and replaced a timber structure built by St Cuthman. Inside, in the south aisle, alongside the fine Norman arcading, is an arch exquisitely carved with fabulous beasts. Contemporary historians are increasingly of the view that this arch dates from the late Saxon renaissance which took place during the reign of King Canute. The Saxon St Cuthman and Aethelwulf (839-858 are both said to have been buried there). Aethelwulf was father of King Alfred.

Today Steyning with her fine church, architecture and Museum connects us with our past. The Sussex Produce Company and the wonderful Steyning Bookshop along with a rich array of other independent retailers, restaurants and tea rooms maintain the vibrant tradition of this ancient and important town. The perfect place to visit as spring returns to Sussex!

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Little Thakeham, The Finest of Sussex Homes

Ashleigh Wigley seated in the oriel window at Little Thakeham

This week I am with Ashleigh Wigley the current owner and custodian of Little Thakeham which was designed Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1902. The house and gardens come to the market this week providing a once in a generation opportunity to buy one of the most architecturally important homes in Sussex.

Sir Edwin Lutyens designed a number of buildings and memorials of great importance to our nation. These included the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the Viceroy’s House in New Delhi.

Little Thakeham ©Anthony Bianco 2016
Little Thakeham ©Anthony Bianco 2016

In addition to these public commissions Lutyens designed private houses for a cohort of wealthy, progressive clients at the turn of the 19th century. Amongst these houses was Little Thakeham. Lutyens described it as the ‘best of the bunch’. It combines the architectural vocabulary and attention to detail which makes his work so important and distinctive.

I have known and been involved in Little Thakeham’s story for more than twenty-five years. The front entrance never fails to excite me. The house clearly fits into the procession of English vernacular architecture. For Lutyens tradition was a vital and living thing. And yet his dramatic, architectural, spatial sequences were admired by the modernist architects, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. These qualities are apparent as you process from the gate into the garden court and through the arch into the house itself.

Little Thakeham from the Gardens ©Anthony Bianco 2016
Little Thakeham from the Gardens ©Anthony Bianco 2016

Like those in the Arts and Crafts movement Lutyens was as concerned about the aesthetics of the interiors of his buildings as he was with their exteriors. His remarkable attention to detail is apparent everywhere you look.

Ashleigh Wigley is Little Thakeham’s current custodian. Her delight and care for the building and its place is immediately apparent. As we sit drinking tea and chatting in the Great Hall she remarks “It has been beyond my wildest dreams to live somewhere so beautiful – it’s a place never to take for granted.” Ashleigh acknowledges the keen eye and unwavering support of her partner, Nigel Roberts, and says “English Heritage are delighted with what we’ve done at Little Thakeham.”

There is a restrained grandeur to the house and yet it is a place designed to be a home. Ashleigh talks of the fun her two children have had growing up at Little Thakeham. A smile crosses her face as she exclaims “It’s the best place ever for hide and seek!”

The Great Hall ©Anthony Bianco 2016
The Great Hall, Little Thakeham ©Anthony Bianco 2016

Ashleigh admits how moved she was when the stone oriel window in the Great Hall was revealed after its restoration. The south-facing oriel window fills the hall with a warm light. Light was very important to Lutyens’ architectural compositions and this is apparent throughout this generous home.

An archway into the garden at Little Thakeham © Anthony Capo-Bianco 2016
An archway into the garden at Little Thakeham © Anthony Capo-Bianco 2016

An intimate inner hall has the type of plain oak doors and beautiful latches that you find in most of the rooms. They were designed to provide a simple daily pleasure. From here an arched doorway leads into the south-facing gardens. As you look back at the house you see a fine example of the asymmetrical designs for which Lutyens is famed. The vocabulary of different facades used to form complimentary compositions delights the eye and works in concert with the lie of the land. The tiles and sandstone are typical of this part of Sussex and again speak into the vernacular tradition.

As we stand in the spring sun light I comment that my experience of Little Thakeham is that it quietly works its way into your very personhood and reveals its qualities with increasing richness over time. Ashleigh responds “I agree. It gets under your skin. It’s a generous place, a house for celebrations. It allows people to grow.” She pauses to reflect and continues “Being here has been a great privilege.”

Little Thakeham has a stillness out of time. This is a once in a generation opportunity to own one of the finest and most architecturally important homes in Sussex. Little Thakeham is being marketed by Strutt & Parker London with a guide price of £5.95 million. For more information telephone 0207 629 7282, email london@struttandparker.com, or visit www.littlethakeham.com and www.struttandparker.com.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.