School Days in the 1950s : Part 3

It is about three years since I wrote Part 2 of School Days, and this edition is long overdue.My school was Churcher’s College in Petersfield, Hants, a school founded in the c18 by one Richard Churcher, an East India Company man. The original intent was to train 10 boys in mathematics and navigation before they entered the company. The original building is in the town, and is still there with the name over the door. The present building on Rams Hill dates from the c19, and is still there, although much changed as you might imagine. They have a sixth form college now for example, which of course takes girls. Just imagine

But to go back to the benighted times of the fifties, and 1958 in particular, by which time I was fifteen, one could choose to enlist in the school CCF, the combined cadet force. The three services were represented, and I chose to go into the army section. Just deviating slightly, I wondered if schools still had CCFs today and it appears they do, something like 500 around the country. Much more sophisticated now though with what is available such as specialised training for different regiments, such as REME for example. The Royal Marines are represented now too alongside the other three services.

Anyway, I went into the army, and we were issued with uniforms. One set of battle dress, WW2 style, and this we kept for special occasions when we were on parade, and one set of denims for everyday use which was most of the time. The shirt made from some coarse material which itched like the proverbial hair shirt, was common to both BD and denims. We had to provide our own boots. My parsimonious parents bought me a secondhand pair, of which I was bitterly ashamed. As some waggish NCO put it, they looked as though they had once belonged to a Malayan bandit. Embarrassment like that marks you for life, or maybe hardens you against all that was to come.

My weekends were spent cleaning my kit. We had webbing belts and gaiters, which had to be blancoed. Ours was a sort of khaki green colour and had to be applied with a small stiff brush. I should have said that the old stuff from the previous week had to be scrubbed off first, so an unenviable task. Complaints from my parents about the mess and smell were not helpful. Considering my father had been a regular for sixteen years, I would have expected more encouragement, but I noticed from his photographs that, in the Artillery, he had a polished brown leather belt which must have been a doddle to clean, compared with what I had to work with. That was not all. Brass buckles and other fittings had to be removed and polished with duraglit. Reassembly invariably meant getting some brass polish on to the webbing or vice versa. Something of a nightmare, and yet I stuck at it for two years, until I left school.

However there was an upside, in fact several. We were issued on the day with Lee Enfield 303 Rifles, real ones which fired real bullets, still standard WW2 issue. Naturally they were collected afterwards. My mother would have freaked if I kept one of those in the wardrobe. Drill sergeants came down from the nearby camp at Longmoor to inspect us and to drill us ad nauseam. By the time they had finished with us we were reasonably proficient in rifle drill, and could march quite smartly. i found drill quite satisfying for some strange reason. We also had that lovely gun,the Bren at our disposal. I never did fire it, although some of my colleagues did. We all had to strip it down and reassemble in seconds as I remember. You hoped it didn’t jam when firing as it then had to have the barrel removed whilst hot. You needed a nearby water supply for cooling and sometimes had to improvise.

The RAF section had their own glider. Watching them trying to get it airborne was always amusing. Attached to the glider were two elasticated tow ropes, and each one was pulled by a large number of air force cadets. The spectacle looked like something out of Biblical Egypt. When the ropes were stretched to their limit, the plane was released. Sadly it never even cleared the next hedge. It must have been a heartbreaking exercise, and when you see gliders today being launched by tow truck or even another plane, you can understand that these poor lads never had a prayer. Still, they kept at it, to their eternal credit.

The highlight of each term was to go on a field day. We went to nearby Longmoor Camp for a day of manoeuvres, which meant charging around the pine forests with our rifles together with a handful of blank cartridges each. Today Health and Safety would be horrified. We were, in fairness, given a demonstration of how much damage a blank cartridge can do, which is more than you think. Nevertheless, it was glorified warfare all day long. The army resisted the temptation of firing live rounds over our heads, but there was one officer, who I always felt was unhinged, who threw firecrackers at us for amusement. Firecrackers, if you don’t know, are the size of a stick of dynamite with a fuse which is lit. If they go off near your feet, they make your ears ring. They certainly got us going, but it was fun nonetheless

I omitted to mention that the Army had their own railway with saddle tank steam engines, which ran into a side line at Petersfield station. We all piled into that to be transported to Longmoor Camp. Petersfield is on the old A3, the London to Portsmouth road, and Longmoor is a few miles north of that. I sometimes pass the camp or what is left of it, in the car. There are still some buildings standing but largely inactive. Longmoor was the start of Army country, stretching up to Aldershot, the well known garrison town, with little or nothing going on any more. The infamous Deepcut Camp nearby was completely razed to the ground and a housing estate built over it

I had quite a feeling for the military at the time, but was persuaded to go into the family business when I was 16, which turned out to be a big mistake. After several more bad decisions, I returned to college to study international sales and marketing, which became my lifetime career. I missed conscription by a few years, or call-up as it was known. I remember being annoyed at the time, as it would have meant compulsory release from the family firm. The fact that it was dangerous, was lost on me. This wasn’t too long after the Korean War. Many years later, when I was older and wiser, I read about the Glorious Gloucesters and the Battle of Imjin River. They were national servicemen or conscripts, and heroically resisted superior Chinese forces until they were overrun. The survivors, I remember were very badly treated. Perhaps missing call-up hadn’t been such a bad thing

I think I will stop here

Lucca in Tuscany, looking at the Town Square

The town square in Lucca, Tuscany

I have just started looking at this picture with a view to producing a painting from it. We were here some years ago now. Lucca was one stop on a railway tour that we did of Tuscany. We were staying in Montecatini at the time which was lovely. All the towns we wanted to visit were on the same railway line which was very convenient

Florence, Pisa, Siena and Lucca were all very accessible. We combined a short visit to Lucca with a visit to Pisa. I would have liked more time in Lucca but as you can imagine Pisa with its cathedral and leaning tower was more demanding. This photograph of the old square reminded me that I wanted to paint it one day. Some years back I did paint another view of the square, and sold it last year to someone in Portugal, which sounds strange, but not really as so many buy my pictures as a souvenir of a happy visit.

I have started sketching in some of the larger features of the picture. The trees dominate. They are amazingly tall, dwarfing the buildings let alone the people. I am not sure what type of tree it is, maybe lime or plane. The bark colouring is distinctive, a sort of greenish gold which will be interesting to replicate. An empty restaurant doesn’t inspire, and cries out for a few diners and maybe a waiter.

It will be interesting to see what I can make of it

Abinger Hammer: the finished painting

The village of Abinger Hammer with its striking clock

As I said in a previous post, this is the village of Abinger Hammer, what used to be one of the iron villages in the Surrey Hills area. The blacksmith on the striking clock strikes the bell with a hammer, but the name refers to the giant hammer which was powered by the nearby river Tillingbourne up to the c18, which pounded the hot iron into shape.

Today Abinger is a tranquil place on the road from Guildford to Dorking. The buildings are attractive, in what is named the Surrey vernacular, using terracotta tiles and the local sandstone. They are very paintable, hence my choice, especially as I wanted the painting for a local exhibition starting on Freedom Day! The last start date over Christmas was cancelled so we hold our breath for this one.

The pallette was a simple one which is nice. raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna do most things. Cobalt blue for the shadows. i did experiment with the trees though. I have used quinacritone gold with violet for shadows and green gold for the hedge in the background, just for a change really.

We will see how we get on

Painting of Abinger Hammer part finished

Abinger Hammer part finished

This where we are at the moment from the reference photograph published last time. The centre of attraction is the jack or striking clock installed in the c19. The figure of a blacksmith strikes the hour with his hammer, from his perch over the main road between Guildford and Dorking

Abinger Hammer is an idyllic village in the Surrey Hills. It was not always so. The River Tillingbourne runs nearby and was an industrial power source. It drove mills and in the case of Abinger powered a hammer which pounded hot iron into pigs or ingots. The hammer ponds are still there although the iron is gone. Today they grow watercress or have become trout farms. The iron industry moved north and stayed there, when Abraham Darby discovered how to smelt iron using coke instead of charcoal.

So far I have concentrated on the background and underpainting. It looks very soft which is not unattractive although needs to be sharpened up, especially the houses in the foreground. They are tile hung. Terracotta tiles are very much part of the Surrey vernacular, mostly square edged but a good many in beaver tail design. The golden coloured building stone is local sandstone, which is used frequently with bricks on the corners for protection. Always attractive to paint,, good old raw sienna does nicely and burnt sienna works well for terracotta. For additional poke a dilute glaze of permanent rose over the burnt sienna does make it pop as the saying goes.

The background is in shade except for the gaps where the trees can be seen in the background. I used quinacridone gold with some violet on the trees, by way of a change and it gave a nice effect

Still some work but mostly detailing. Hoping to use the finished result in my next real exhibition later this month which will be at Denbies Winery near Dorking, but gotta finish this first

Villages of Surrey–Abinger Hammer

Abinger Hammer in Surrey

Next month unless emergency restrictions are reimposed, I expect to be exhibiting at a real exhibition locally. This is due to start on June 21st at Denbies Winery near Dorking. Denbies is the largest vineyard in England, and has been developing its reputation for some years now. Amongst the other buildings in the Denbies complex is a well-known art gallery which is open for group exhibitions. This will be the first time that i have shown here so will be interesting to see how I get on

Looking through the pictures that I have earmarked to show, I see I am short of local pictures, so I thought I would do something like the photograph shown, which is the village of Abinger Hammer on the River Tillingbourne. The Tillingbourne flows from east to west and runs into the River Wey near Guildford, which in turn flows north to join the mighty Thames with access to London. Today the Tillingbourne is idyllic and pastoral. A few hundred years ago, it was an industrial river, powering mills at frequent intervals, mills that ground corn, mills that ground gunpowder and mills that produced paper.

Abinger takes the word Hammer into its name, as it was at the centre of the iron industry until the late 17c. The Tillingbourne was enchannelled into “ponds”to drive the huge hammer which pounded the hot iron in the forge. Forges had been fuelled from charcoal produced from timber from the vast forests in the district known as the Weald, parts of Sussex and Surrey today. Finally the timber gave out, and the industry moved north to Coalbrookdale where Abraham Darby had discovered how to smelt iron from coke. The clock in the photograph was installed in the late 19c to commemorate the village’s connection with the iron industry.

Today the hammer ponds still exist, and are used for growing watercress. There are also trout farms using these old ponds as well, and once they have been relined, are very suitable

The gunpowder mill is at nearby Chilworth, ruined now and standing in woodland, with many tales of terrible accidents and loss of life and limb. There is a heritage trail around the mill buildings which is well worth doing. The strange thing about Chilworth Gunpowder Mill is that during World War I, it was owned by a German company ! If you have ever read any of William Cobbett’s rural rides, you will know that he undertook one along the Tillingbourne, and did a serious rant about the Chilworth Gunpowder mill as well as the paper mill nearby which produced the bank notes. Both he maintained did the devil’s work.

I am partway through the drawing of Abinger. I won’t be able to work on it for a while but will continue as soon as I can

Cefalu in Sicily

Cefalu in Sicily

I went here many years ago on a trip out from Palermo. Lovely stretch of beach which I have featured although I had to rely on someone else’s photograph for reference. Many thanks to Websi for the use of their photograph

Not only the beach but a lovely town square and a delightful Norman cathedral from the 12th century, which we remember visiting

The brightly coloured fishing boats are fun to paint. I have added a different red to my stock as I have been trying to get away from cadmium red, as I have used it so often. Someone suggested Sennelier Red, and this painting gave me a chance to use it. It really is a magnificent poppy red and I have used it on these boats. Sennelier say that they put honey in their pigment mix, and certainly their paints do go on very smoothly

I put this painting on my online site on Wednesday and it sold yesterday Thursday. Not quite wet from the easel but getting that way. Certainly a record for me, although friends of mine have done that more than once. I think it must be Sicily which is certainly very popular or are we just looking for sun after the winter lockdown

Maybe

Tower Bridge, London in early light

Tower Bridge in early light

The original is actually brighter than this photograph. Annoyingly I couldn’t get the reproduction any lighter which is a pity

Tower Bridge is always a good subject. It stands across the river as an entrance to the Pool of London. It doesn’t seem so long ago that cargo ships docked here and loaded or discharged their cargo. The bridge became an icon of its time, when London was a hub of international trade. In my lifetime, with the advent of containerisation, traffic moved downriver to Tilbury, and the London docklands wound down as far as shipping was concerned. It became a financial centre instead, important obviously but perhaps not quite so stirring as shipping

I am grateful to Fietz Fotos for their permission to use their reference photograph. It really was a study in orange and blue. I have painted Tower bridge several times over the years, but not in these colours, so it was still challenging enough and seemed to take me quite a long time

There still is a real exhibition planned which I have entered. This will be at Denbies Winery near Dorking and starts on June 21st. If it isn’t cancelled at last minute, as it was at Christmas, this will be my first real show since lockdown 1. Online sales have been good and one must be grateful, but there is something of a buzz about a real exhibition.

We will keep fingers crossed

Prince Philip : a personal recollection

High Wycombe College 1967

In 1967 I was studying at High Wycombe College of Technology, as it was then. It will have university status by now along with all the other ‘techs’ in the land. The course was a new one, and groundbreaking at the time. we were being trained in export marketing, and the course was a combination of business studies and languages, three to be precise. I say groundbreaking because this country was waking up to the need for a renewed effort in marketing our goods overseas. Other countries had rebuilt their industry since the war, notably Germany and Japan, whose economies were racing ahead of ours. We stayed in the past with outdated plant and methods. Our industrial relations record was lamentable, and held us back. Our balance of payments situation was dire in the extreme

Training was seen as part of the answer. This course was one of those that provided the means. It was an exciting start

Prince Philip, whom we all know was very interested in opportunities for the young, and in rebuilding this country. he paid us a flying visit, literally by helicopter, and spent some hours talking to us individually and informally so that he could learn about what we were doing. In the photograph, one of my colleagues is explaining the project we were involved in. Two students seated, and one is me, are waiting their turn.

I remember he spoke to us in German for a little while, which put us on our mettle. I am happy to say that we acquitted ourselves well. We were greatly impressed by his visit. It was a tremendous boost

Many of us went on to take up overseas sales post in industry. Today in our global economy and instantaneous communication worldwide, selling overseas is a natural function, but at that time it seemed intrepid and trailblazing

We know how much Prince Philip did in encouraging all our efforts and are grateful

RIP Prince Philip

Horses in the Mist Painting Amended

Horses out of the Mist

When I posted this painting previously I thought the horses were floating which was not an effect that I had been trying to get. It was suggested that I add spatter so that it would appear the horses were kicking up mud. So that is what I have done, and I prefer the result. They do now look as though they have feet on the ground

That really finishes this painting, and I can move on to other things

I came across a photograph of Tower Bridge in London, which looks like early morning with very deep orange in the sky and reflected in the water. It is the sort of colouring that I like doing in watercolour. The bridge itself is silhouetted against this bright sky, so not too much detail in the architecture. There are a couple of large boats but little more. It will be very much an exercise in tonal values, which should be enjoyable

I will post some images on my next post

Alhambra Palace, Spain

Alhambra Palace, Spain

We went here four years ago. We were staying in Seville at the time, so our visit to the Alhambra Palace and Granada meant we had to make a really early start, and tour the palace in the cool of the morning. This we did, and the tour went well. Some while ago I painted something called Wandering round the Alhambra Palace, which featured the Patio de Leones or Lion Square because of the magnificent fountain in the middle, with its superb carvings of lions.

Nearby Granada, with its magnificent cathedral, we visited later in the searing heat of the afternoon, which I did not enjoy. I don’t know what the final temperature was, but certainly passed 40c. I spent most of the time in the cathedral, to escape the sun, but also to visit the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella. This royal duo liberated Granada from the Moors in 1492, including the Alhambra Palace where they themselves held court. Christopher Columbus went there in 1492 to receive royal instructions before leaving on his voyage.

I had wanted to paint a long view of the palace but time did not permit me time to take any long view photographs. I was pleased to find a helpful reference shot on the Pixabay website, taken by Dennis Doukhar, which was available royalty free for commercial purposes. My thanks to the photographer for the use of this shot.

There is a red shade to much of the building which I have used. Quite a lot of trees around the outside of the palace, so that problem wit unremitting greens, yet again. I have done my best with the trees and will let others judge