Fortunes, fruit and fevers … biography of an orchard, part 1

 Pill Village

The village of Pill, my home in North Somerset, clusters (once attractively I hear) around a deep, muddy, tidal creek formed by the Martcombe Brook rising just a couple of miles south of the village. A ‘pill’ is the West Country and Welsh name for a tidal creek – there are several pills along this stretch of the river, each identified with its own prefix, our old, ‘proper’ name is Crockerne Pill, see below for explanation. The Martcombe Brook spills into the River Avon, two miles or so south-west from where it joins the Severn. Shirehampton is only the river’s width across from us (but a different world Continue reading

Fruit, Friends and Festivities … biography of an orchard, part 2.

Orchard reclaimed (a continuation from the previous post)

Five years or so after the Pill orchard was handed over to the local community in about 2004, a group of committed volunteer enthusiasts (which later became the Friends of Watchhouse Hill) began to organise improvements to the hill area and a reclamation process began on the orchard. Workparties (that are still regular events) vigorously tackled the brambles and the neglected trees were pruned Continue reading

The Brights of Ham Green House – wealth and health, science and slavery

The Bright Family at Ham Green

This post accompanies  “Fortunes, Fruit and Fevers – a biography of an orchard. part 1”

The Bright family of Bristol was a tremendously important and wealthy one, having made its fortune in the slave trade, [West] India dealings and ultimately banking.” Quote from ‘Tempestuous teacups and enigmatic leaves’ Larry Schaff.

From Worcestershire farming to Apprentice Merchant, and success in Bristol

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Old Twelfth Night, Wassailing and the ‘Christmas place’

It’s Old Twelfth Night, ‘Twelvey’, 17th January, the date of Twelfth Night in the old Julian calendar before they played catch-up in 1752 to reclaim those accumulated days that we’d lost through miscalculation, or was it just carelessness? This is the traditional day, down ‘ere in the West Coun’ry anyway, when we do our Wassailing – treating the orchard trees to a hullabaloo of singing and saucepan bashing to drive away the evil spirits, Continue reading

Englishness / England – Keep’n it shabby.

Is this a uniquely English pursuit? Nature tamed and tormented at the local flower show.

Is this a uniquely English pursuit? Nature tamed and tormented at the local flower show.

Over the last few months I’ve encountered a range of ‘stuff’ – exhibitions, books and articles – that has English written through it like seaside rock; some are featured here, more may follow in future. It seems there’s been increasing debate about this elusive quality of Englishness going on for a while now (centuries really), and clearly there’s been some specific focus on the topic lately – the forthcoming Scotland vote on independence is churning up an awareness of the UK nations; the wild aspirations of our national football team had some people’s blood up for a while in the summer and much was made in the media of the Commonwealth Games a few weeks back – I was intrigued to discover that the English ‘national anthem’ played at the Commonwealth Games was ‘Jerusalem’ – but it’s only now that I seem to have become attuned to the recent output on Englishness.

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Oporto photo shuffling

Porto montage 1Ten years ago, I was commissioned to create a poster to help mark the 20th anniversary of Bristol’s twinning with Oporto/Porto in Portugal – one of the nicest commissions I’ve ever been asked to do! I had proposed the idea to the Twinning Association way back in the 1980s and it lay dormant for a long time, but the anniversary provided an opportunity that I jumped at. Continue reading

‘Umbra Sumus – We are but shadows’ (or, Down Brick Lane)

I started writing this last summer, not long after a visit to Spitalfields in the East End of London but since it was no more than a record of a day out it seemed a bit pointless. However, it was a very intense and stimulating day that’s stuck in the back of my mind, and since the visit last year some intriguing information about my own and my partner’s family histories has emerged that is closely, and unexpectedly in my case, tied to the locations we visited.

sundialClearly ours are not the only families to have relatives whose circumstances have sucked them in to London in search of work in difficult times; ours followed the Rivers Lee and various tributaries of the Colne in the late 19th Century from the city’s rural fringes 20 miles away during an agricultural depression, but others came to this London village from 17th century France, 18th century Ireland, 19th century Russia, and 20th century Bangladesh.

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Sticks, signs, leaves – the book, again, but smaller

SSLmini-6up

Playing with the idea of place portraits – I’ve returned (thanks to stimulus from friends) to an almost abandoned book project in the new year, now (with great sense of satisfaction) completed. It’s a miniature version of the book/artwork you can see here. I like the idea of having something you can carry around in your pocket that could be reminder of Continue reading

School photo-surveys 1950s Bristol housing estate

Another Local Journeys project (see previous posts on World of Small and Kite making at Brean), this one was commissioned through the English Heritage Schools initiative to work with Year 3 and 4 children at Frome Vale Academy in March 2013 as part of their Community History project to investigate their Continue reading

Pop-up studio in Weston-super-Mare

Brue-Close-montageThere’s a small oval green space amongst some houses on an estate in Weston-super-Mare that needs some additional love and refurbishments so local residents can get the most out of it. Knightstone Housing Association along with other partners have commissioned an artist to devise some ideas for decorative railings that will add a sense of playfulness to the area, help to re-define its use and Continue reading