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Earthquake in England

Found in John Thomas's Earthquake in England (Unbelievable but True) -published by Blackwood's in 1938, this press cutting from the late 1970s from an unnamed newspaper.

Quakes can be our worry, too. Peter J. Smith

At 9.18 on the mining of April 22, 1884, Dr Alexander Wallace and his family were in their garden looking across at the roofs and spires of the town near by. Suddenly, with a roll of sound like "passing wagons", the buildings began to sway and chimneys crashed to the ground in clouds of dust. Dr Wallace saw his house rise and fall and heard ornaments hitting the floor. He felt sick and shaken, but the fence he grasped for support was rocking too. Less than six seconds later it was all over.

What Dr Wallace and his family had experienced was an earthquake. But they were not visiting Japan, California, the Mediterranean or any other of the world's known belts of destructive earthquakes. This was Colchester, Essex, where such things were unheard of.

In the town itself more than 400 buildings were damaged... the brunt of the damage was taken by villages closer to the shock centre to the east and south-east of Colchester. At Peldon, for example, no house or cottage escaped and 70 percent of chimney stacks were thrown down. Nobody was killed, but within an area of about 150 square miles more than 1200 buildings required repair.

The Colchester earthquake of 1884 was the most destructive ever known in Britain and was felt as far away as Exeter in the west and beyond York in the north. But it was not the first British earthquake; nor, contrary to popular belief, are such events uncommon.

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The Red Priest and the Architect

It might perhaps be guessed that Conrad Noel (1869 - 1942), the 'Red Priest' of Thaxted, whose Socialist views once outraged the Tory faithful of his North Essex parish, would be sympathetic to the Art and Craft movement, whose guru was the Socialist poet and designer William Morris. But an inscription, dated April 1906, in a copy of The Country Cottage, presented to him from its co-author, George Llewellyn Morris, confirms it.

Amazingly, I found this inscribed copy of the little book, a hymn to the virtues of both the humble thatched labourer’s cottage and its much more sophisticated Arts and Crafts imitations in brick, plaster and tile, profusely depicted in photographs, in 2006 among the trashy novels in the ten pence box outside a well known bookshop in Saffron Walden. The book had been given to Noel four years before he became Vicar of Thaxted, and it had somehow found its way from here to that bookshop, just 12 miles away, in the intervening years.

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Paul Nash bookplate for art collector Samuel Courtauld

Found - a loose bookplate by Paul Nash  for the industrialist and art collector Samuel Courtauld. Produced around 1930, it measures a sizeable 13 by 9.5 cms, probably intended mainly for art books and livres d'artistes. The writer and broadcaster Lance Sieveking writes in his autobiography The Eye of the Beholder (Hulton Press, London, 1957) -'Sam Courtauld and Paul met at a dinner party I gave at Number 15 The Street, and Courtauld persuaded Paul to design a book plate for him. The result was one of the most charming he ever made.' The engraving is said to be the only one initialled by Paul Nash on the block. The bookplate is quite scarce as, presumably, it is mostly found in books held at the Courtauld Institute; few have entered the used book trade.

The woodcut is British Surrealist in style with an echo of Cubism and Vorticism - both movements had earlier attracted Nash. Samuel Courtauld's family fortune came from the textile industry (rayon), hence the bobbin and threads. The French flag refers to the origins of the name Courtauld, a French Huguenot family whose early descendant was the celebrated goldsmith Augustine Courtauld. The Courtauld textile industry was based in Braintree and Halstead in Essex. The view through the frame shows what appears to be a Martello Tower - these are closely associated with the  East Anglian Coast.