Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 27, 2018

Hidden Villages of Britain, by Clare Gogerty

I stumbled on this enchanting book at the library – and I’m very tempted to buy a copy of Hidden Village of Britain to keep.   It was the artwork that attracted me – a distinctive style that I’ve often seen as reproductions gracing the covers of books published in Britain.  But I was also hoping that the village of St Agnes in Cornwall would get a mention in the book, because although I was really a Londoner, St Agnes was where I lived for six months before we finally embarked for warmer climes.

(Well, it doesn’t get a mention, but here’s a picture anyway!)

St Agnes Cornwall (Wikipedia Commons)

Well, the text of this lovely book tells me that the artist was Brian Cook Batsford, who was the illustrator/designer of the covers of the highly collectible Batsford books. He was an artist who went to work for his uncle Harry Batsford’s firm, which produced a gorgeous series of books about rural life in Britain – with names like English Village Homes, The Beauty of Britain, The Legacy of England;  How to See the Country and How to Look at Old Buildings.They featured villages, churches, castles, gardens and country roads, and some of these artworks, I now know. also graced the covers of H.V. Morton’s books as well, including In Search of England.  (Some of my HVMs have their dustjackets, but alas, not this one!)

What made Brian Cook Batsford’s style instantly recognisable was his carefully drawn images and large areas of flat, bright colour and his bold use of clashing colours.  He had an innovative technique too:

Brian pioneered the use of the Jean Berté watercolour printing process, in which plates were cut in soft rubber and printed with water-based inks, rather than oil.  A separate plate was used for each colour, which accounts for the blocks of colour in Brian’s work.  Brian had little regard for the finished product and threw away the covers of ‘wrappers’ as he called them, placing books on his shelves in their cloth bindings.  Fortunately, the production manager at Batsford, Frances Lucarotti, kept every jacket safe in an album.  (p.11)

The books were

a snapshot of British country life, chronicling the world of work – haymaking and ploughing, fishermen at their nets – as well as the villages clustered around the church or village green, and the rolling and verdant landscape that surrounded them.

Though most of the images in Hidden Villages of Britain are contemporary photographs, the book is in part an homage to the artist and there are plenty of his artworks to fall in love with.  The book begins with an introduction about villages in general, and then there is a brief bio of the artist’s life, and then it launches into pictorials about eleven regions:

  • Argyll and Bute
  • Royal Deeside
  • North Yorkshire
  • Cumbria
  • Wales and the North West
  • Pembrokeshire
  • The Cotswolds
  • East Anglia
  • The South West
  • Sussex and Kent
  • Devon and Cornwall.

The text includes all kinds of miscellanea , from listing five British ferry journeys to various villages, to explaining some quaint village games (bog snorkelling, anyone? or would you prefer gravy wrestling?).  There is a nostalgic look at closed railway lines, and surprisingly, a suggestion that the village shop is making a comeback as people abandon the weekly shop at a supermarket for shopping locally. It sounds improbable until you read on and discover that they survive financially because many are community owned and manned by volunteers with profits going back into the community.  You can learn some odd bits and pieces of Yorkshire dialect, and read once again about the Grassington Calendar Girls who have now raised more than £4 million for medical research with their nude calendar.  There’s a section to guide you through English folk dances (and yes, I have danced around a maypole in my time) and the chapter about the Cotswolds is predictably gorgeous, and Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie gets a mention.

But the star of this show is definitely the artworks by Brian Cook Batsford.  They are just gorgeous. To get an idea, Google his name, and select images.

Highly recommended as a gift book.  I know my parents would have loved it.

*The image of St Agnes Cornwall is by Tony Atkin, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikipedia Commons

Author (text): Clare Gogerty
Title: Hidden Villages of Britain, Histories and Tradition Past and Present
Publisher: Batsford, 2017
ISBN: 9781849944489
Source: Kingston Library

Available from Fishpond: Hidden Villages of Britain: Histories and Tradition Past and Present


Responses

  1. I’m going to have to check this out – John grew up in Cirencester and I love the Cotswolds and I’d be interested in what’s included about the Scottish villages. There is so much thought and planning that goes into a book like this and the artwork looks amazing. I always love the quirky bits of info that are invariably included in the history too.

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    • Jump online and reserve it at the library and as soon as I take it back (today or tomorrow) you can have it:)

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  2. Thank you for reminding me of the delightful week my husband and I spent in St. Ives some years ago. We were part of walk group, exploring Cornwall — the coast, especially — on foot.

    Regarding closed railway lines, there is an active movement in the U.S. to convert such lines to walking trails: Rails to Trails. Many pass through unspoiled back country and because the route was graded for trains, there are no steep ups and downs.

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    • Former railway lines have in many places here in the UK become popular walking/cycling trails; here in Cornwall there’s a favourite of mine – the Bissoe trail – that runs for 12 miles or so on the track of an old mineral rail line that used to transport ores and other stuff from the mines to the ports on north and south coasts (Portreath and Devoran respectively). Cornwall is very narrow its whole length; you’re never more than a few miles from the sea.

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      • We’ve done that here and there in Melbourne too, though it’s mostly been on narrow strips of land set aside for a rail line that never got built. (There has been very little expansion of our metropolitan rail system since it was first built).

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  3. Thanks for the profile of this artist, whose distinctive work I’ve noticed before. Nice pic of St Agnes, just down the road from me. Such an attractive village, and great coastline around (as in all Cornwall, but this part is one of my favourites)

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    • I have an odd little memory of being on the beach. As you would know, beaches in Australia have lovely soft sand but the beach at St Agnes in my memory, had stones, hard for small feet to walk on, and not suitable for building sand castles. We revisited St Agnes on my 2001 trip to the UK but we didn’t go to the beach, and so I don’t really know if what I ‘remember’ is actually real, or something I have subconsciously generated from seeing images of other stony beaches in the UK.
      (We had a great ploughman’s lunch at the pub that day, but we couldn’t find the house in Wheal Kitty where we’d lived, nor the school – which I’ve since learned has been turned into a B&B.)

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      • How lovely to live at Wheal Kitty. The old engine house is now commercial premises, but beautifully restored. I guess the beach you mention is Trevaunance Cove – part sand, part pebble, if I remember rightly. Great walks above it on the coastal path

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        • It was a lovely cosy cottage, with the classic climbing rose on the walls!

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  4. One Christmas present solved and it’s only August! My husband unfortunately got into the practice of taking the sleeves of books also. It’s a running battle between us because I keep putting them back on

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    • Well, dustjackets are a pain when you are reading and there’s always the risk of damaging them, but I always put mine back on when I put the book down.

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  5. I spent a childhood holiday in st Agnes in a hotel that was stuck in the past a great time one my mums favourite stories was the time there

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    • Do you remember if you were warned about the tin mines? I have a memory of sitting up on the milkman’s horse and cart, and being told very solemnly never to go into the fields because there were old concealed mine shafts, and that if I ran onto one I would fall down and never be found again.
      He didn’t need to worry… there were cows in the fields down the lane and I was petrified of cows. Still am!

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  6. I remember seeing this book last Christmas and thinking it would make a lovely present for the right reader. The artworks are very distinctive, aren’t they? Just perfect for the covers of the British Library Crime Classics, especially their village-based mysteries.

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    • I’d love to have a calendar of these artworks, that would be a real treasure:)

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  7. Gorgeous images! Very reminiscent of a lot of the cover of the British Library Crime Classics series (which may even use some of the artist’s work for all I know!)

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    • I think that’s where I’ve seen them… on blog reviews of Crime Classics!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I first learned of this book through “Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages” on PBS. She uses her vintage Batsford books as her guide through three seasons and twelve episodes total. It is a delightful program.

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    • Ooh, I wonder if I could get a copy of that series… another little quest for me to undertake, thank you:)

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  9. Oh, pretty. Love this artwork too.

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  10. I bought this lovely book after Penelope Keith mentioned it on her Hidden Villages series (which is superb). I just love the artwork and the colors. I’m so glad you’re writing about this talented artist.

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    • Hello Grier, thanks for your comment. I don’t know much about British artists of recent times – would you know if it’s unusual for a commercial artist like him to have such a profile?

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  11. Lisa, I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about British commercial art. The more of Cook’s work I see, the more I want to collect some of his books. I see the colorful Art Deco posters of the teens and 20s as an influence in his work.

    This article: https://www.derbyshirelife.co.uk/out-about/the-colourful-world-of-graphic-artist-brian-cook-1910-1991-1-1639788 says that Cook lived in Rye! Home of E F Benson, Henry James, Rumor Godden and others.

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    • That is an interesting circle, isn’t it? Strange how some places just seem to collect artists of one sort or another!

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