Thursday, 29 September 2011

...and the finished article

So, I finally got the bathroom floor finished. Spending the week on my knees might just have been worth it.

Pictures bought in Oban, 'By the seaside' sign from Inveraray, bought at the Highland Games, and the little boat from a shop in Tobermory.

Just need some minor adjustments to the curtain drop and all will be well.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Autumn projects

One of the new elms at the entrance to the village
Autumn, and there’s lots to do. In the village, the ‘new’ elms are just beginning to change colour and the field set aside for new allotments is almost ready. A team of men rotavated it and then stone-picked right across the site.

The new allotment field

At home, I’ve been laying a new oak floor in the bathroom. It’s very awkward because of the narrowness of the room and the need to cut around the pedestal and washbasin.

The planks fix to each other with blind metal clips on the backs but, if there’s anything to restrict the angle of tilt when a new plank is inserted, it’s almost impossible. Pipes around the edge of the floor are a real nuisance. I seem to have spent most of the week on my knees, rather like when I was a window-dresser in the ‘60s. Still, it will look good when it’s finished.

Earlier in the Summer, we visited the Salvo Fair at Knebworth and was rather taken with some flashed blue glass starbursts on the Cox’s Reclamation Yard stall.

Unfortunately, they wants about £17.50 each for them. Not a bad price but more that I wanted to afford. In discussion with the staff, I found out that they were having an auction at their yard in Moreton in Marsh early this month so I went down with Marea and had a look around. The stained glass had been divided into 3 lots and I decided to bid for at least one of them. Also, there was some new limestone, cut into slabs, 1” thick that I thought would do nicely for me to practice letter carving.

Lots of lovely limestone

It turned out that there was rather more stone than I thought (about 10 m2) but I bid and got it for about £120 (plus commission – 10%). The glass wasn’t due to come up until the late afternoon (there were over 1000 lots) so we decided to take the stone home and bid online for the glass. We loaded the stone into Marea’s car and limped home, though without incident. I sat through quite a lot of the auction live online and eventually won the third lot of glass for £45 (+10%). When I picked up the glass and saw how much there was, I valued it (using Cox’s retail prices) at £488, so quite a bargain.

Bristol pattern glazed doors

The glass is designed to fit a Bristol pattern door but I won’t be using it for that – just happy to have it in my studio at the moment.

Because there was so much limestone, I’m going to use it to replace the dilapidated steps up to the back of the garden. I’ll probably carve some letters on the steps as well. Maybe more about that in future blogs.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Heritage Open Days at Cotesbach

Last weekend was the Heritage Open Days weekend. Marea and I did a short stint on Sunday at Cotesbach Educational Trust.

Entrance to the Cotesbach Estate

The project involves the restoration and adaptation of three outbuildings on the Cotesbach Estate. The buildings will provide the setting for activities of the Cotesbach Educational Trust. The Cotesbach Estate is the nucleus of a larger estate, which has been in the ownership of the Marriott family for over 250 years and as a consequence has survived as a remarkable example of architectural and social history. The Trust has a 50 year lease on the buildings which stand in the centre of the Estate.

The 18th century Schoolhouse - the windows are original

The Schoolhouse, separately listed Grade II, is reputedly one of the first of its kind in the country. It was purpose built in the late 18th century, by Rev. Robert Marriott, for the education of the children of Cotesbach and the surrounding villages;

The Stick House, an old milking parlour of a similar date; and the mid Victorian Coach House

The Coach House

All three buildings are located in the curtilage of Cotesbach Hall, which is listed Grade II, Queen Anne, Georgian and Victorian. Together these buildings provide a significant heritage focus for Cotesbach; and an example of very local history, unique to the village but which contributes to a larger national social change.

The project seeks to retain the historic fabric of these ancient buildings; introduce new elements which protect the historic setting and sustain the site and its long term viability

The restored Schoolhouse will accommodate 30 children at a time, whether visiting for a study day or for field studies to support a set of work they might be engaged in at school. The Coach House will include an archive repository viewing space and artefact display case. The Coach House will be extended to provide additional teaching space and to accommodate a café area, selling seasonal produce sourced mainly on the Estate, with opening doors to extend the space into an external seating area. It will include kitchen facilities and be used for cookery demonstrations for up to 15 people. There will be a cloakroom and toilets as well as flexible mixed use space for an arrival point, reception/office, space to form an exhibition and a second teaching area with a kitchen store.

The trust is working towards raising £750,000 to restore the buidings and for funding for the delivery of community based programmes. To date a grant of £570,000 has been secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund along with grants from The Architectural Heritage Fund, The Ernest Cook Trust, Harborough Estate.

The Hall

The Trust has become the guardian of the Marriott family archive, much of which has survived intact at the Hall, a happy consequence of the long term ownership of one family.

Sophy Newton, family member and tour guide

Part of the archive

1874 map of the Cotebach and Shawell Estate drawn on linen.

The earliest document, recording a land transaction in Cotesbach, dates from the time of Henry VI, a Plantagenet (1422-1461) and as such is a gem of local history. The collection covers the 15th to the 20th century and includes deeds and papers relating to the Estate, substantial family correspondence and papers, and important groups of sermons and religious papers (of particular value for the study of Anglican sensibilities and practice in the late 18th and early 19th century.

Our 'reverend' John Denny delivers a 200 year old sermon

The archive will be on permanent loan to the CET and is to be housed in the Coach House which is to be specially converted for archive storage to national standards, with public viewing space.

In addition there are small collections of artefacts, such as a toy collection (late 18th century to the present) which will be made accessible for the CET to use as educational resource material.

Pressing apples for juice - hard work!

Marea and I spent our time greeting and orienting visitors; this was a steep learning curve for us as I've only just joined the Trustees and am still feeling my way.

Merlin Spitfire engine, fired during the open day; very noisy!

We had a good turnout and some visitors came from as far away as Cheshire. What was gratifying, however, was that many visitors were more local and this will halp to spread the word about the project and the Trust throughout Leicestershire.

Cotesbach was also the scene in 1607 of riots against the enclosures - the greatest single crime purpetrated by the 'landowners' against the common people of England.

Reputedly, 5000 people took part - the largest gathering there had ever been. At any rate the situation in Cotesbach prompted a huge gathering which represented the peak of non-violent protest by the peasant community, marking the final episode in a struggle over land which stretched back to medieval times: a week later, the gallows in Leicester having been erected by the so-called Earl of Huntingdon, torn down again by the mob, and re-erected on 10th June, when the threat of social and political unrest became too great, the final uprising that took place in Newton near Geddington in Northamptonshire was dealt with by force, and things changed for ever. (

See also

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Marie Curie Cancer Care Walk 10 at Boughton

Over the weekend I agreed to act as official photographer for the Walk 10 event in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care. This took place in the grounds of Boughton House, Northamptonshire home of the Dukes of Buccleuch and Queensberry .

Walk 10 is a sponsored evening walk, 10 kilometres usually around the grounds/estate of a stately home. It culminates in an evening of entertainment/picnic and a firework display at 10pm to coincide with the start of the night shift for Marie Curie nurses who care for terminally ill people in their own homes free of charge.

Warming up

We were very lucky in that, although the day started cloudy, by the time we had the tents set out for registration, and selling Marie Curie Cancer Care merchandise as well as Ice creams, coffee and tea, and a hog roast, the sky had cleared and the day was warm.

All ages participated

Over 360 people registered for the walk, all ages and after collecting their T shirts and goody bags with drinks, snacks, torch and poncho (in case of rain), they warmed up and set off at 7.30pm.

Watching the great phalanx of people in matching T shirts mounting the first hill and making their way across the estate and down the great rides was inspirational but seeing the triumph in their faces as they finished the 10km was great.

As everyone settled down with their picnics in what turned out to be a balmy evening to listen to the band, they became a community united by their remembrance of their loved ones and the great feeling of having helped Marie Curie Cancer Care provide essential nursing for yet more people.
Memorial lanterns
Well worth celebrating with fireworks.

If you think Walk 10 is a good idea and you would like to take part, go to and find one in your area.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Learning Stone Carving (lettering)

Marea’s Christmas present: a stone carving course.

I was thrilled to receive this but didn't want to go over to Lincoln in midwinter so I arranged to attend during July...

The night before, I was rather nervous that I wouldn’t be able to do this; that I’d simply be useless. I set off for Lincoln, a city I love, where the course was to take place in the workshop of Eilidh Fridlington.

The drive was OK in spite of the roadworks where the A46 is being dualled (seems like the A46 has been being dualled since I was an adolescent.)  I stayed at Orchard House, a small B+B on Yarborough Road – very friendly welcome and a neat and clean room. The owner put a lot of effort into the design and decor. (I think I’ll enjoy staying here.)

The workshop is on the left under the scaffolding; El Portico (for lunch) straight ahead
and, up the hill on the right, The Collection, lincoln's new Museum

Eilidh (pron. Elly) Fridlington, our expert tutor

I walked into the centre and found the workshop. A bit early so I had a good coffee in ‘Cafe Portico’ next door. I met Eilidh at 10 with her daughter who’s on school holidays. Very surprised to find that there’s only one other member of the class; Denise who came down from Hull. We spent the day doing straight lines, starting and finishing, then curves. I had some good results but was losing my concentration by the end of the day.

Denise starting straight lines - my station in the background

I walked back to the B+B. It seemed a very long way this time (uphill all the way). After a rest, I walked in again and had fish and chips, then back to Orchard House feeling rather tired, to settle down with University Challenge and Antiques Master.

My practice straights, curves and crescents

Eilidh polishing a lump of stone to prepare it for carving

And some of her work

There’s not a lot to write about the second day; spent the whole day practicing 'V' endings, curves and entrances and exits where small curves rise to join verticals or horizontals. It’s sometimes difficult to get curves right – not too deep, centre line in the actual centre; that means both slopes are at the same angle; cutting a nice sharp V where the curve joins the vertical. My real problem is starting confidently, getting the centre line in the right place and cutting a fishtail at the end to form the chiselled 'V' ending.

My 'end of day' results - carved lots of joins and endings and, eventually, a couple of letters

My practice letters - the 'e' took an hour to carve - need to improve.

Having finally cut my letters, I then gave some thought to what word I wanted to cut on the third day. Before coming over, I had thought of ‘Paradise enow...’ from the Rubaiat of Omar Khayyam.
A cup of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou; beside me, singing in the wilderness; and wilderness were paradise enow”.
However, I now realise that since it took me an hour to cut my practice ‘e’ even my shorter idea of ‘Amor vincit omnia’ is out of the question.
I spent the evening looking at fonts on the computer and finally decided that it will have to be a hand drawn font. Eilidh thinks I ought to make the baseline a bit wavy and I think this will go much better with an informal font.

When we got to the class, I settled down to draw and carve my word ‘dream!’; trite, I know, but in the time available, having something to complete and take home had become important.

So, I turned my stone over and set about grinding it smooth and polishing it ready to carve.

Eilidh suggested cutting the verticals first and this certainly speeded me up
and gave structure when it came to the curves

Rather like the Glass Leading day I went to in Liverpool, I am pleased with what I achieved, though I can see all the mistakes. For a first attempt, it’s quite satisfying.

I now feel that I could carve anything with a bit more practice so I’ll have to buy myself a lettering chisel and dummy, some bits of stone and just get on with it.