Change is afoot

This blog continued at its own domain, so I could have much greater flexibility in the form of it. I do hope you’ll join me there, and please do update your bookmarks and links to All the previous content has migrated across, and  there’s masses of new posts, including Gary Breeze, whose work is shown below and lots of other interesting people and places in East Anglia. So please do come and join me here.

Gary Breeze Shipping Forecast

Grand Design for sale

If you caught the recently aired episode of Grand Designs that showed a hexagonal, oak-framed eco house being built in the Cambridgeshire fens, you might be interested to know it is up for sale.

Eco house from Grand DesignsFor anyone not in the UK, Grand Designs is a TV programme that follows ambitious, elegaic, one-of-a-kind house building projects – from the burning eyed optimists clutching architects drawings at the beginning of a build to the broken husks they become at the end. They get worn down by endless problems like the custom-made windows from Germany being millimetres too large for the spaces, or (as always seems to happen) the wife gets pregnant halfway through the build and suddenly any delay to the schedule means she will have to give birth in the caravan they are living in while building their dream home.

Kelly Neville built most of this house literally by himself, coming day after day to a field with some oak beams and hand shaping them and fitting them together in order to make a home for his family. It was fascinating to watch, and the house came out gloriously. There are loads of photos on the estate agent’s website here, and some pics and a description of the build process here. £500,000 doesn’t seem too horribly expensive when you consider it comes with nearly 6 acres of land.

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Foraging in the hedgerows – spring

Today I went foraging in the woods with friends for the fresh green tops of stinging nettles which are just coming into growth to make nettle and ginger beer. I can’t yet vouch for the flavour – it takes about 7 days to be ready to drink, so watch this space.

Even if it turns out barely drinkable it was a good reason to get out into the spring sunshine, which angled through the new leaves and splashed on colonies of white wood anemones. Top tips are avoid anywhere dogs might have used as a toilet, and stick to the bright green top growth rather than the older, darker leaves.

There is a good recipe here – fingers crossed it turns out well, and is worth the odd sting. Go try it!

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Stinging nettle pic by foreby on flickr
Wood anemone pic by Vinje on flickr


Letterpress forme with hand set Garamond TypeThe other day I fetched up in the lovely market town of Coggeshall in Essex to meet Justin Knopp of Typoretum about doing some bespoke letterpress work.

Justin Knopp Typoretum

Walking into the studio is like stepping back eighty years or so, and everywhere your eye settles in the cramped space there is something interesting to look at. Four presses are lined up down the centre of the space and the walls are lined with drawer upon drawer of metal and wood type, ready to be set into greetings cards, posters, stationary projects or anything else at all. Somehow it’s no surprise to learn that this is only a fraction of Justin’s collection, and there is plenty more a few miles away, both typefaces and presses, including a giant 1888 Wharfedale Cylinder Press he is painstakingly restoring – read about it on the Typoretum blog.

poster formeI came away with a strong sense of painstaking exactness and the quiet attention to detail that characterises Justin’s work, to the point of presenting hand printed stationary in handmade boxes he does himself because he can’t find ones which are nice enough on the open market.

Typoretum letterpress card

These pictures are all from the Typoretum Flickr stream which has lots more beautiful photos of the printing process, from drawing out designs in pencil on layout paper to the finished pieces. I look forward to the time when some of the sweetly funny neo-Victorian posters I saw in the workshop will be available online too.

For now there’s a stock range of greetings cards and some lovely bespoke stationary options, all printed on beautifully soft, tactile mould made papers which are a joy to pick up and hold. I’m so happy this immensely time consuming form of printing isn’t dying out completely.
NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Old Town

If you stand and listen in the Old Town showroom in Holt, Norfolk, you hear the ticking of the clock and the sound of the sewing machine upstairs, making garments from traditional, hardwearing materials. There is no sleepy electronic beeping or the soft hum of computer fans that  we tend to take for granted.

The list of fabrics they use reads like a hymn to the forgotten glories of British mills – not just Harris Tweed but also corduroy, heavy tactile linens, cavalry drill, wool serge, moleskin and flannel. Shapes are simple, inspired by workwear from the last hundred or so years, and crucially don’t change seasonally. If you find something that suits you can continue having it made for you in summer and winter weight materials.

Old Town started 18 years ago in Norwich as a retro kitchenwear shop, but gradually the clothes started creeping in, and gained a fanatical following.

In their own words “Our single breasted rever collar jacket is an unfaithful copy of one found in a tool locker during the demolition of Stratford locomotive works; locker and contents seen on offer at Lea Bridge Road car boot sale.

Handed in as lost property in 1936, the originals for our style know as ‘High Rise’ were then mislaid behind a radiator in the London Transport Lost Property Office until redecoration in the early nineteen eighties.

Our popular ‘Overall Jacket’ is the mutant offspring of a pre-war lamplighter’s jacket glimpsed on the back of a chair in Coffee Republic at Canary Wharf.”

The Old Town look isn’t a painstaking reproduction of a particular period, but more an exuberant ramble through Britain’s idea of its heritage. Playful references to the Nanny state (the ties you can just see in the photo above), a range of Fair Isle tank tops straight out of an Enid Blyton book, and the dreaded Aertex which sadly reminds me of the smell of my old school changing rooms, all contribute to a jolly air of faded seaside holidays and 1950s milkmen.

Everything both downstairs and up contributes to this feeling – there is no jarring note of  the 21st century creeping in.

Upstairs is a low ceilinged work room reminiscent of those on Saville Row, where everything is cut out and much of it sewn, the rest being sent out to local seamstresses before coming back for finishing. It is the exact opposite of buying semi-disposable chainstore clothes made in the Far East.

So, if you prefer Gill Sans to Helvetica, and paper cones of winkles to plastic trays of sushi, do investigate further. Telephone former Woolworths saturday girl Miss Willey, visit the store in Holt or their fine website, where most of the male models sport estimable beards and the ladies sensible shoes suitable for bicycling through country lanes.

Old Town clothing

Also turn to The Evening Star, their cheerful publication which makes the final demise of pale blue Aertex headline news. Next edition coming soon.

Old Town, 49 Bull Street, Holt, Norfolk NR25 6HP. 01263 710001. (they do say it is advisable to telephone before travelling any great distance).

Opening times Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 5pm

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Hunting signs of spring

Today is the equinox and the official beginning of spring. Signs of it are catching hold all across East Anglia. Yesterday I popped into the gardens at Blickling Hall to see their lovely dell full of hellebores – if the weather holds this weekend will be the perfect time to visit them.

It’s a blowsy spring joy seeing so many together among other spring plants and set off by the elegant browns of last autumn’s fallen leaves. There are some more daring combinations to – hellebores with black grass – is that Ophiopogon Nigrescens?

Even more unexpected – hellebores with tree ferns, which I would never have thought of but looked beautiful, somehow anchoring the alien form of the tree ferns into this very english garden.

The rest of the garden is laid out on impeccable classical lines, with a great deal of attention paid to vistas opening up and focal points as you move through the garden. If, like me, you fetishise lichen-covered urns and centuries old  mellow brick walls, then this garden is heaven.

It wasn’t until I turned back to the house that I realised there is a whole lake there as well. The views are so controlled for when you approach the front of the house onwards that you just don’t see it until you turn back on yourself.It’s still a little early in the year, but the bones of the perennial garden are beautiful and everywhere there are green shoots thrusting through the mulch. Definitely one to visit in full summer as well.

The house is a delight too – unlike many National Trust properties it is built on a properly domestic scale so you can actually imagine living there, with bright, cosy rooms, low ceilinged enough to heat and not so large you would have to shout to people at the opposite side of the living room. Add in beautiful decorative ceilings and wallpapers, and a glorious Long Gallery it’s a place to spend a little time. Everything is open Wednesday to Sunday at the moment, more in the summer.

Blickling, Norwich, Norfolk NR11 6NF
Telephone: 01263 738030
NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

All the toys you can shake a stick at

Drum-playing BearThis Thursday there is a very special auction happening at Keys auction house in Aylesham, Norfolk. A stonking collection of automata, robots, toys. Browsing the catalogue it seems that everything that moves by itself is worthy of inclusion.

RobotsI’m a sucker for both auctions and toys with interesting or quizzical expressions on their faces – bringing them together might be too much for my discretion and self control.

Automated CowThere are also delights such as the lampophone (below), a combination lamp and gramophone, with the turntable hidden in the ‘cake’ base of the lamp and the speaker tube being the lamp’s column, the opening concealed by the shade. Although it also works as an ordinary lamp, so as not to give the game away.

The marvellous lampophone

Bids can be made by phone and over the web as well as in person, although with no estimates or guide prices on the website I suspect we might be in the ‘Collectors Only’ end of the price range.

Special Collectors Sale Thusday March 19th 2009.  To Feature the Arthur Windley Collection of 100+ Lots of Automaton 75+ Lots Japanese Robots, 300 + Vintage and other Toys, 75 Old Radios, Arcade Machines, Model Thursford Wurlitzer Organ, Juke boxes inc Wurlitzer, Rock Ola, Seeburg, Gramophones, Quantity of Lps & 45’s to include some rare Elvis Presley. Also to include 1970’s Taito Space Invaders Arcade Game, Sega Afterburner, Konami Track & Field Video Arcade Game.
Viewing Wed 18th March 9am to 7:30pm and from 9am the day of the sale.
Sale starts from 11am Thursday 19th March 09
Keys Aylsham Salerooms
Off Palmers Lane
NR11 6JA
+44 (0)1263 733195
Maps and directions here.
Catalogue here.
NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.