An ash wooded hill

is how the town of Ashurst in the New Forest, Hampshire got its name.  A timber trade grew up around it and was first mentioned in 1317 in some court documents.   From Tudor times, timber was burnt for saltpetre, the raw material for gunpowder and tanning leather.  The railway arrived in 1847 and changed everything leading to expansion and growth of the small settlement of Ashurst. This is a photo taken about one hundred years ago of the approach to the station in Ashurst.

As well as the railway station Ashurst now boasts a campsite, shops, 3 pubs, 5 restaurants, a vet, an upholsterer, a Post Office, a newsagent, 2 hairdressers and a car dealer.  

It is also within the picturesque New Forest and close to Southampton.  Below is a typical scene in the New Forest.

I found my next watercolour in a local charity shop.  It is simply entitled ‘Near Ashurst’ and had been painted by David Shorter.  I can’t find out much about David except that he was a guest speaker at the Totton Art Society back in 2010.  Here is a rather blurry photo of him. 

And here is the watercolour: 

It’s very small, 10cm x 6cm, but rather a pretty little painting.


Cartoon cats: why are there so many?

The answer to that is I don’t know but here are just a few: 

Only in the 19th century did the term cartoon come to refer to humorous illustrations and it was in the 20th century that comic strips and animated films came into being.  Indeed it was a cat, Felix, who became the first, popular, animated cat and that was in the 1920s during the silent movie era.

Cartoon cats have come a long way since then with the You Tube hit Simon’s Cat being watched regularly by millions.  But did you know that in the town of East Looe in Cornwall you can find Clive’s cat?

Clive Gardner is the creator of Clive’s cat (Barry) and there is a shop in Looe where you can buy all manner of things Clive e.g. Clocks, calendars, prints, T-shirts, etc., which is where my next original, signed print must have come from.

Looe is a very nice town too.


Lost for words!

I am not often lost for words but on this occasion I am.  I found this next original, signed print in a local charity shop.  I really like it and it has been well mounted but apart from the signature there are no clues as to where it is.  The artist is N Frayling but, again, no clues.  So, here it is, just for the sake of it.


A night on the tiles

There seem to be numerous definitions of this saying but I think my favourite is the Australian which means a night on the bathroom floor after a heavy drinking session!  However, the most plausible, to my mind, is cats on the rooftops.  Whatever the origin of the phrase, however, the origin of a tile dates back at least 4,000 years and the word is a derivative of the French word ‘tuile’ which in turn is a derivative of the Latin word ‘tegula’.

Tiled surfaces can be found in the pyramids, the ruins of Babylon and Greek cities, Tunisia, Iran and many, many other ancient civilisations.

  A Babylonian tiled wall 575BC
   Persian wall panel 17th century
Tiles were made in Europe during the 12th century with Holland becoming an important centre for tiles in the 17th and 18th centuries.   Tiles were mass produced in Britain during the 19th century. Whilst the Victorians produced many very beautiful and decorative tiles a modern day tile might look like this:

I am not too sure about these next two charity shop finds.  I have trailed through hundreds of pictures of tiles and found nothing like them.  They are glued so firmly on to some hessian type of material that it would be impossible to remove them without breaking them.  There is no visible signature on either so they are a bit of a mystery.


Q. ¬†What links witchcraft, cricket bats and Aspirin?

A.  Willow.

Willows, also called sallows and osiers, are mostly found in the northern hemisphere and there are over 400 species.

It has been known for at least 2000 years that the sap from the bark provides temporary pain relief and the leaves and bark have been a remedy for aches and fever for centuries.  The medicinal properties of the bark of the willow were first observed scientifically in 1763 and the active extract of the bark, called salicin, was isolated and separated in 1897 by Felix Hoffmann who went on to create a new drug called Aspirin.

The bark has had many other uses as it is both hard and workable with the cricket bat being an obvious example.  It has been symbolic of many things too with the Victorian’s treating the weeping aspect of the tree as a symbol of grief.  Hence its use on gravestones and mourning cards.

I spent a lot of time trying to work out just what this next charity shop find was.  I thought it could have been a fountain at first but latterly decided it was a willow tree.  It is painted on to paper that could be tracing paper and is then backed with what appears to be tissue.  The gold had been added by using small pieces of gold paper.  It seems a bit lop-sided to me but quite attractive in its own right.  There is no signature.


Watercolours: a very brief history

Cave painters were the earliest users of watercolours followed by the Ancient Egyptians who had papyrus on which to paint.  They also painted the inside of tombs with a form of watercolour.  The Ancient Chinese and Japanese used watercolours  – the Chinese invented paper in around 100BC. Watercolours were used in Europe for manuscript illustrations during the Middle Ages.  One of the earliest and greatest painters to use watercolours was Albrecht Durer (1471-1528).  Below is the exquisite Portrait of a Young Hare (1502) by Durer. 

William Reeves invented the hard cakes of soluble watercolour in 1780 and with the production of cheaper and higher quality paper the Golden Age of Watercolour came about.  This is what a paint box looked like in the 1870s.

Essentially watercolours are water soluble pigments suspended in gum arabic.  They allow for a freshness and luminosity in a painting and were used to great effect by English artists such as J M W Turner (1775-1851).

They were also used to great effect by a J M Cooper.  Here is one of his/her watercolours of some rural scene.  There is no detail about the painting, just a signature but it is rather lovely.


Every church has its own history

There are around 16,000 Church of England churches half of which were built during the Middle Ages.  Christianity is thought to have arrived in England around 47AD and the oldest surviving church is St Martin’s in Canterbury built in about 590AD.  When the Normans arrived in the 11th Century they started to build lots and lots of churches believing that God had been on their side during the invasion.  The Tudor period saw the end of the church building era and far fewer have been built until this day.

Hard as I tried it has been impossible for me to identify the Norman church in the next watercolour.  I have looked at endless photos of churches but as there are 16,000 of them it has been rather a fruitless task.  There is a signature on the painting but I can’t find out anything about the artist so all I can say is that this is a rather lovely watercolour of somewhere by someone!