Category Archives: Creative Exmoor

Ken Hildrew Launches ‘An Artist on Exmoor’

Dunkery Beacon by Ken Hildrew

Internationally renowned artist Ken Hildrew will be launching an exhibition of his latest work on Friday 2 December, at Photoscene, The Square, South Molton, as part of the town’s annual late night shopping Winter Wonderland event. From 6-9pm, as well as enjoying a welcoming glass of wine on arrival, the public will be able to appreciate Ken Hildrew’s latest Exmoor-inspired collection.

Ken is a major artist who has won accolades and prizes internationally, in Europe, America and Japan, so it is quite an honour to have him exhibiting his work in South Molton.

The timeless popularity of his canvases is easy to appreciate. Ken’s almost impressionistic style allows him to imbue landscapes with an ethereal quality, while his special passion for barn owls led to a collection which feature these haunting birds exclusively.

For those who would like to own a Ken Hildrew, both original works and signed, limited edition prints – framed and unframed – will be available. Ken will also be raising money for his chosen charity Devon Air Ambulance Appeal, by offering nine different Art Cards, illustrating views of Exmoor. These will be free to anyone making a donation to the charity on the evening.

North Molton resident Ken says:

“I never tire of the beauty of the Exmoor, where the wildlife and colours of countryside continue to inspire me. I moved here in 1984 and since have been fortunate to have developed a reputation as one of the artists best able to portray the Moor in its variety of moods, seasonal colours and subtle light.

“This has obviously caught the imagination of others, as over my lengthy career as an artist my work has been commissioned by such diverse people as Noel Edmonds, The Bishop of Bath and Wells and Nigel Mansell, while corporate clients have included The Hilton, Sheraton and Intercontinental Hotel groups, The Orient Express, and Nat West Bank amongst many others.

“With the new exhibition – which runs until Saturday 17 December – I will be presenting my latest works to the public whilst also raising money for a very worthy local charity.”

To contact Ken, please ring 01769 57982.

Dramatic revival in Dulverton

All organisations pass through peaks and troughs of activity. Over the last 40 years the Dulverton Players produced a veritable flood of high quality plays during the Seventies and Eighties. They were described by a regional critic as ‘The Best in the West’. This was followed by generally quieter times. Recent efforts to open up access and increase engagement are really paying off and the programme is full for the next 14 months.

Peter Shaffer’s famously clever farce Black Comedy – so called because it apparently takes place in the dark (although the audience are able to see everything) – appears at Dulverton Town Hall from 2 to the 5 November. A professional director will add his tricks at an afternoon workshop on 25 September, 2.30-5.30, Dulverton Town Hall. Introducing four new actors in the cast of eight, with rehearsals interrupted to allow for storms of laughter, this is a show not to be missed.

Immediately following Black Comedy, there will be another ‘Xmoor Factor’ talent show, this time involving adults as well as children, which will also help recruitment for the traditional ‘Cinderella’ timed to take place during the Easter holidays – to allow young performers to have a lie-in! Dulverton Middle School is very keen. The Players are developing work with children and young people, thereby helping to safe-guard the future of amateur theatre. ‘Cinderella’ will be cast with a blatant disregard for gender and age (Cinders herself might be a wise exception to this..).

At some point in the New Year there will be another Murder Mystery – a wedding in the church that goes horribly wrong – with a delicious meal whilst chewing over the clues and all profits going to a local good cause.

The Autumn show next year is the hilarious and heartbreaking ‘Calendar Girls’. The enthusiasm for this play saw 28 Players travel by coach to Torquay to watch the professionals do it – and then spent half an hour afterwards, picking their brains for useful tips. Meanwhile there is a growing list of women ‘willing’ to perform – acting abilities yet to be established!

For further information contact Chris Dubery on 01398 323 474 or Marion Silverlock on 01398 341 850.

New season under way at Crediton Photographic Club

Crediton Photographic Club starts the new 2011-12 season at the Masonic Hall, Union Road, Crediton on Friday 16 September. The club meets weekly on Friday evenings here at 7.30pm and this years offers an exciting mixture of presentations from expert photographers, internal club and external competitions, chances to show and discuss your work, coaching sessions, workshops, and excursions for some practical, hands-on photography.

The first meeting, in addition to being a welcome night, will review the photographs taken by members for the club’s parishes & pubs summer treasure hunt and quiz activity and feature an audio visual presentation of the club’s outing to Topsham in April.

Club Chairman, Keith Worters,says: “The lively programme aims to provide something for everyone, from the most to the least experienced”. The outline programme for the coming season can be viewed online

Crediton Photography Club is a friendly local Camera Club and offers those interested in photography an opportunity to meet, compete, teach and learn – and new members are always very welcome. Why not go along and see what they do?

Potential members are invited to attend up to three Friday meetings free of charge in order to meet and talk to members before deciding whether to take up membership. Annual subscriptions are £40, with reduced rates for full time students under 25 of £5 and children under 16 of £1.

If you have any enquiries you can make them through the club website or by contacting the Club Chairman, Keith Worters at 01363 83489.

Awakening the magic of Exmoor in young people

Judges at this year’s Exmoor Society Literary Competition praised the exceptionally high standard and from a huge entry of poems received, at the Society’s recent Spring Conference, Sir Antony Acland presented the prize winners with their awards. First prize in the senior category went to Edward Taylor, 13 years, from Stoke Rivers and a pupil at West Buckland School, and first prize in the junior category went to Hattie Harley, 10 years, from Yeo Mill, West Anstey and a pupil at North Molton Primary School for her poem entitled “Life on Exmoor”.

The Exmoor Society is delighted to announce that this Award, held each year for children writing about Exmoor, has a new sponsor. The award will now be known as the “Lucy Perry Literary Award” in memory of Lucy Perry who died last year. Her family felt it most appropriate that the bequest to the Society is in the form of a legacy to fund the award, so that the Society can continue with this way of awakening the magic of Exmoor in young people.

This annual competition is open to young people between the ages of 8 and 14 years and the Society offers literary awards for a piece of poetry or prose inspired by Exmoor – its landscape, its wildlife and cultural heritage and people’s enjoyment of it. Closing date for this year’s competition is 31 December 2011 and entries to be sent to: The Exmoor Society, Parish Rooms, Dulverton, Som TA22 9DP.

The Society continues to financially support the Exmoor Curriculum at Dulverton Middle School which gives local children the opportunity to learn about Exmoor and allows them to participate in a wide variety of activities.

The Society now wishes to extend the curriculum to other schools in the area and has set up an Education Fund for this purpose. It is the Society’s intention to help young people to know more about Exmoor and to understand how it copes with the many pressures from modern living. For more detail and to find out how to help please contact the Society – info@exmoorsociety.com.

Lucy Perry Literary Award 2010 Senior Group – 1st place

The water gargles and giggles
As it makes its way down the
delicate shallows of the Barle spring
The light shines off it like a halo.
A river is born.

It grows and learns, becomes wiser
and wider, picking up pieces of the sad modern world. It
Deepens and darkens gets murkier
and mysterious with the sad truth of the world;

It harbours secrets and lies but lets no one
know for it would be too sad. On the top it
is a shining and beautiful it has to be it is a phenomenon of
nature.

It is a single blue thread woven into the green
quilt of Exmoor It reaches barriers and
troubles but finds the solution and carries on
It reaches a dead end but won’t stop, it carries
on down with a roar and a crash.

Now it’s in its prime racing faster and faster the wonder of
Exmoor. Then it meets its goal. The sea, perhaps the end of
the beginning or maybe the beginning of the end. We shall
never know

Edward Taylor
Aged 13 years
West Buckland School

Lucy Perry Literary Award 2010 Junior Group – 1st place

Life on Exmoor

Smooth little streams made from last night’s rain
Thin winding paths, puddle here and there
Small tummy button toadstools, grouped in patches
Curving hills sloping in the distance making silhouettes against the cloudy sky

Thick long hedges with tangled twigs
Golden, orange, brown leaves scattered all over the ground
Dark chestnut ponies with deep brown manes
Galloping on the muddy ground

Finger pricking gorse bushes protecting the dainty yellow flowers
Big groups of rusty brown bracken, crunching under people’s feet
A soft breeze brushing the hay coloured grass
In the distance, you see clumps of towering beech trees with bright orange leaves, slowly becoming bare

Hattie Harley
Aged 10 years
North Molton Primary School

Movie Magic on Exmoor

Lynton Cinema photo by Andy Hobbs

by Sandy Francis, main image by Andy Hobbs

The UK Film Council’s most recent figures show that we, as a nation, have fallen back in love with cinema. Last year 173.5 million people bought tickets, the second biggest box-office turnout since 1971 – beginning of the home entertainment era that saw our romance with cinema cool as we all bought TVs and video players. Ten years later, leaving the house to see a movie was a little bit passé. Many cinemas were turned into bingo halls in the 1980s.

Fortunately, the gloomy demise that saw thousands of screens close in last century’s latter decades is now as much a part of cinema history as toffee sticks, intermissions, B-movies and usherettes scanning red-lit torches through swirls of cigarette smoke looking for the last spare seat. Ah the nostalgia. Of course it was more likely in those days that the dodgy sound system would pack up or the film reel would snap but most of us have happy memories of huddling in the dark, cradling our paper bag of sherbet and being transported…

Happily, it’s not over. In 2009 over a million of us went to the cinema at least once a month. For the theatres in, and on the fringes of, Exmoor – Wellington, Ilfracombe, Lynton and Barnstaple – this roughly translates into 4,000 visitors per week – a fairly healthy number. But why the turnaround? Why have we all gone back? Home cinema set-ups are better and cheaper than they have ever been. We can watch crystal images on massive screens playing perfect surround sound with our chosen friends and pause everything to put the kettle on. It sounds good. Apparently though – it’s a bit dull.

The cinema, by contrast, is exciting, and more exciting now than ever before. The films are good, often visually spectacular, and theatres are making a huge effort to improve facilities and choice. Even the food and drink is… well, it’s unique and we like it now and then. Most importantly though, going to the cinema/movies/flicks/pictures is sociable. It’s easier to cry in a cinema where it’s dark and everyone’s doing the same. It’s somehow more satisfying to laugh too when the people around are also laughing. The appeal is in the collective experience – whatever that might be.

One of my favourite cinema moments happened during the newest ‘Star Trek’ film when the entire audience held onto their chairs, rocked from side to side and threw their popcorn around in the “I canna push her any harder cap’n” turbulence scenes. One of the warmest was the final scene of ‘Marley & Me’ when boxes of tissues were passed up and down the aisles. The beauty of seeing hundreds of outstretched hands trying to touch the floating parasol seeds in ‘Avatar 3D’ and the thrilled expressions of a few hundred children who are literally on the edge of their seats urging Harry Potter to get up again and fight on are magical times. It’s just not the same in your living room. And then there’s the pleasure of digital re-mastering which has given us the chance to see all those old movies as they were intended to be seen – huge, loud and in public.

It is still a treat – an affordable, special night (or day) out and one that the people of Exmoor and its surrounds can enjoy in many different ways – even the more conventional set-ups have some delightful quirks that only add to the experience.

First, the full-time cinemas…
Quirky certainly describes the stylish Art Deco Wellesley on Mantle Street in Wellington. It is unusual for a modern cinema, retaining the traditional theatre style of one auditorium divided into stalls and a circle. The façade is a monument to 1930s architecture and the striking interior has everything gracefully ageing film lovers hold dear, minus a person appearing out of the floorboards playing an organ during the interval. Offering a full programme of blockbusters and classics, the Wellesley is making an admirable effort to cater to all tastes with tickets almost half the price of a standard multiplex.

At the opposite end of the Exmoor catchment is another treasure from a bygone age, brought bang up to date with a two-million-pound refurbishment by owners Scott Cinemas. The Central Cinema in Barnstaple first opened its doors in 1931 as the Gaumont Palace and seated well over 1,000 people in a plush single auditorium with an East-meet-West blend of art deco and oriental soft furnishings. There followed a chequered journey through the century which included the Central being split in half with the stalls becoming… a bingo hall – and the circle remaining a cinema.  Today, the Central is a modern, stylish environment with four screens (soon to be six), a restyled foyer, contemporary café/bar and everything necessary for the optimum cinematic experience – new seats, new screens, perfect sound, etc. It is also the only one of our featured cinemas that currently shows films in 3D, although others are rapidly working their way towards providing this facility.

Along the coast, Ilfracombe is home to another remodelled period piece – the Embassy, prominently placed in the High Street and sporting an unmissable sky-blue façade. This small but perfectly-formed cinema boasts three screens and six films on show every week. It also has some wonderful little extras – a bar, a staff of film buffs who are not afraid to call a turkey a turkey and the sumptuous Screen 7, a lot of luxury in a little auditorium. Expect to find leather armchairs and sofas, a table for your cocktails and the opportunity to hire the whole thing and choose your own film. Possibly the perfect hybrid of home comforts and full-on cinema experience.

Lynton Cinema photo by Andy Hobbs
Lynton Cinema photo by Andy Hobbs

Last but certainly not least of our full-timers is the tiniest full-time cinema in the country and the smallest cinema in Devon. Continuing a tradition of film that began with silent movies in the Picturedome in 1916, Lynton is now home of the Lynton Cinema. Opened in 2001 on completion of a project to convert the former Methodist Chapel, this unique picture house has top-quality sound, full air conditioning and comfortable seats for 68 people and is especially noteworthy for allowing plenty of legroom. Films are up to the minute and change frequently, accommodating both children and adults during the summer months and providing a special Monday afternoon matinée in the winter along with nightly performances at 8pm. There is even parking right outside. Like most of the cinemas featured, the ticket prices are well below average.

Then there are the part-time cinemas or film societies.
Minehead’s meets monthly at the Regal in the Avenue, home of cinema in the town since 1934 with an exceptionally large screen and roomy traditional auditorium. It is the largest film society in the South West and the second largest in the UK. Co-organiser Victoria Thomas said its purposes include “giving exposure to films that might not get the coverage they deserve” and to “provide local people with more opportunities to view high-quality films”.

The society does not discriminate against box-office failures or successes. Commercial and non-commercial films in English and other languages are selected from both the British Federation of Film Societies and the Independent Cinema Office’s special screenings. The Regal Film Society goes from strength to strength, with over 300 in the audience to see Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer in ‘The Last Station’ at the end of the 2009/10 season. This year Victoria and her associates have spearheaded the formation of the Dulverton Film Society that launched its first season in the Town Hall (bring a cushion) in September with a healthy membership of over 100 people from the town and around. There is now dual membership available for both societies.

Smaller, but by no means less estimable, is Film South Molton where eight performances per year are screened on Sunday evenings in the sumptuous surroundings of The George in Broad Street, accompanied by drinks from the bar, hot chocolate and homemade cake. Alongside the usual itinerary there are also special events – a live pianist improvising the soundtracks to silent movies and films of particular local interest that help garner community support.

Such enthusiasm for film is evident across Exmoor and it is not restricted to places that have a sizeable population. The tiniest film society in the region meets year round on the second Thursday of the month in Brompton Regis where a good proportion of the population of around 450 head to the Village Hall (cushions again) for an interesting programme of diverse films complete with interval ice creams. If you think your community would enjoy something similar, there are options. One is to start your own film society. Another is to get in touch with Moviola, a South West organisation run by a bunch of terribly enthusiastic people who describe themselves as ‘evangelists for community cinema’. In a nutshell, Moviola will bring all things cinema to your village hall, school, church, etc; a large adjustable screen, a high-quality sound and vision system and the films you choose from their long and diverse lists. Most importantly, they bring a hassle-free community experience, their passion, expertise and friendliness. Established in 2001, attendances at their film shows have leapt from 2,528 in the first year to a staggering 46,486 last year.

vintage mobile cinema
vintage mobile cinema

Finally, to underline cinema’s newfound popularity, it is pertinent to mention the re-emergence of a cinematic sensation first experienced in the late sixties and restored today for our viewing pleasure. The Vintage Mobile Cinema is the beautifully eccentric and last surviving purpose-built Bedford mini cinema seating 22 in a sound-proofed, climate-controlled environment with both HD and surround sound. Based in North Devon, its history and the labour of love that saw its restoration reach a nail-biting but ultimately satisfying climax is itself a worthy subject for a movie. It is available for private hire, for public events and charity fundraisers. Capable of turning any reasonably accessible Exmoor location into a cinema venue, it is surely the ultimate gift for anyone who adores film.

Information (correct at January 2011)
The Central Cinema, Barnstaple, Tel: 0871 230 3200
Embasssy Cinema, Ilfracombe, Tel: 01271 862323
Film South Molton, The George Hotel, Tel: 01769 572514,
or email: info@georgehotelsouthmolton.co.uk
Lynton Cinema, Tel: 01598 753397
Moviola, Yetminster, Dorset, Tel: 01935 872607
The Regal Film Society, Minehead and Dulverton Film Society
Ring Robert or Victoria on Tel: 01643 831343
The Tivoli, Tiverton, Tel: 01884 255554
Vintage Mobile Cinema
Wellesley, Wellington, Tel: 01823 666668

This article is taken from Issue 53, winter 2010

Musical Methodists of Exmoor

 Carolsingers on 18 December 1976 outside Roadwater Village Hall.

by Glyn Court

Methodism was born in song, and right from the start the followers of John Wesley took pleasure in singing to the praise of God. Even so, they made no hurry to come to Exmoor. In 1744, only six years after the movement was founded, John Wesley rode through on his way from Cornwall to South Wales via Minehead, but little of his teaching took root on Exmoor for another 60 years.

By the 1860s, however, there were chapels and congregations in most villages, from Lynton to Wheddon Cross, while the Bible Christian circuit, Methodist except in name, included Kingsbrompton (now Brompton Regis), Cutcombe, Luckwell Bridge, Timberscombe, Dulverton, Skilgate, Bury, Upton, Gupworthy, Brendon Hill, Luxborough, Roadwater, Withycombe (and later Rodhuish).

Wesley had been an Anglican clergyman, and Methodists venerated him, but they had no time for the ritual and hierarchy of the Established Church or for priests and bishops, and regarded them as contrary to the New Testament. They followed rather the ways of the Dissenting Free churches, the Baptist and Congregational. Their leaders were ministers and local preachers; they used no prayerbook (all prayers were extemporary); Bible readings were chosen by the preacher, the sermon, based on personal experience, was the high point of every service, with a short talk for the children, and as a framework and opportunity for everyone to lift up their voices and hearts they sang four, five or more hymns. And that was really new, for they did not sing the versified psalms as performed by the musicians in the west gallery of the parish church, but the inspiring hymns of Isaac Watts, Philip Doddridge and, most of all, as time went on, a choice of the 6,000 hymns of John’s brother Charles, set to magnificent Georgian tunes such as Thomas Phillips’ ‘Lydia’.

They had no orchestra to lead the singing, unless one of them or the preacher brought a flute or flageolet, and hymnbooks were only for the literate minority; but the preacher would ‘line out’ the verses – that is, he spoke or sang them a line or two at a time and the people would repeat them, so that no one was left out. The method served, it was better for the congregation than being stricken dumb. But the inadequacy stimulated the desire to read, and the chapels responded by teaching the three Rs in the Sunday schools, which were for adults as well as children. Later Methodists took in hymns from all of the main Christian churches, and after 1877 added the gospel songs of the American evangelists Moody and Sankey, such as ‘Shall we gather at the river?’ and (popular on Brendon Hill) ‘Beulah Land’ (‘I look away across the sea, Where mansions are prepared for me’). These were melodious and harmonically simple (sometimes too simple), but they gave Christians cheer and brought into their toil-worn lives the vision of their heavenly home beyond the ‘crystal river that flows by the throne of God’.

Methodists of course celebrated Easter and Christmas, the latter with particular verve, maintaining in some places the old west gallery tunes, but for saints’ days they substituted ‘rallies’, especially on Good Friday or, in later years, August Bank Holiday, when all the congregations would crowd into or round one chapel, say Luckwell Bridge or Kingsbrompton, for an afternoon service, a lavish cream tea provided by the farming families and an evening service chaired by a local dignitary, with an outstanding guest preacher. The tea was introduced by the unique custom of the Sung Grace, when all joined in the beautiful tune ‘Rimington’.

Hymns for harvest were the traditional ones, ‘We plough the fields’, ‘Come, ye thankful people’ and others, but the 1930s introduced the Manx Fishermen’s Hymn ‘Hear us, O Lord, from heaven, thy dwelling-place’. It immediately became a great favourite with its alternate verses for men and women singers and until recent times no harvest was complete without it. Hardly less important were the ‘anniversaries’ of the chapel and the Sunday school, but lack of space precludes them here.

Vale House, Roadwater: the inside of the chapel before modernisation, 1907

But even with the ten hymns of the two services on Sundays they wanted more. For 20 minutes before the evening service they would join in singing favourites chosen individually on the spur of the moment, thus ‘giving everyone a chance’, and this custom is still in vigour in the roadside chapel on Brendon Hill.

Many Methodists took hymns and their singing into their daily lives. One afternoon, when taking a walk near East Hawkwell, I heard music coming from the farm and recognised it as the favourite hymn, ‘And can it be’, to the tune ‘Sagina’, played as a duet; and the players turned out to be Mr Wilfred Norman and his wife. The old gentleman so loved his music that he had bought a pair of key bugles – like small trumpets – on which they played tunefully and with growing enjoyment. He was also the curator of some of the old Cutcombe Christmas music, including the wassail song ‘We singers make bold’, and a unique setting of ‘There were shepherds abiding in the fields’. Another such enthusiast, William Court, cordwainer of Roadwater and local preacher, would cheer himself and his white pony on the long journeys home by singing hymns and songs stored in his retentive memory years before.

But if one man typified this devotion to music it must surely be Thomas Slade, not least for the delight he took in Christmas and the pleasure he gave by keeping alive the tuneful carols of earlier days. Born in 1831 and one of ten children, Tom started with nothing but an inborn love of music; but his father saved enough to apprentice him to a blacksmith, and in due course Tom set up as a smith himself. But all the time music sang in his head, and one morning, with a few sovereigns in his pocket, he walked the 20 up-and-down miles to Taunton, bought a bass viol (‘the queen of instruments,’ he said), strapped it on his back, walked the 20 miles home again and then, to show that he was not an idler, put in a couple of hours in the smithy before retiring to bed.

This must have been in the mid-1850s when the iron ore mining was beginning to bring a little prosperity to the neighbourhood, and with prosperity a little leisure for enjoyment. With Tom to lead, the old Christmas tradition of the ‘waits’ was maintained long after it had ceased elsewhere; and as a spur for Tom and his men, some of the Cornish miners on Brendon Hill had brought carol tunes unknown in Somerset, notably a splendid tune for ‘While shepherds watched’.

This carolling came at a price, however, as Tom had a vein of sternness derived from the hard times of his boyhood and he kept a firm hand on his musicians. As Christmas approached he rehearsed them, and on Christmas Eve, just before midnight, they would come with their instruments to Tom’s door and into his ‘parlour’ for cordials and cakes to build them up for the long, cold round. (In folk memory there were no rainy or misty or thoroughly wretched Christmas Eves!)

Then they would set out up the street. Friendly talk and a chuckle made pleasant harmony in the night, but as they neared the first stop, Tom would caution them with such words as, “Quiet now, friends. Number Six: ‘Mortals awake!’ Take your places , but not a sound till I give the cue.” For he knew how precious a part of music is a well-prepared silence, and the sleepers should not be awakened by idle chatter but by a noble harmony, ‘a concourse of sweet sounds”’ As William Dewy phrased it, “Keep from making a great scuffle, but go gently, so as to strike up all of a sudden, like spirits.” And so, with the choir forming a semi-circle, Tom would beat four, the players would sound the major chord, and in a stentorian voice he would announce: “Mortals, awake! Rejoice and sing/The gloaries of your Heavenly King”.

The band would strike up, and then, if fortune favoured them, the lady of the house would invite them in for cider and cake and perhaps a half-sovereign to be shared round. Now on to the next farm, and on again through the starry silence until at three in the morning they returned to the village to play in Christmas Day with another carol, such as ‘Angels from the realms of glory’ or ‘Behold! once more the day is come’; and “what more entrancing,” wrote Lewis Court, who heard it every year as a boy, “than to be awakened by the strains of Christmas music stealing in upon one through the silence of the night, or on the clean air of a frosty morning! – the deep, full tones of the bass viol, the celestial notes of the clarinet, the suave, appealing plaint of the flute, and the blend of good human voices.”

In the morning the musicians played again in the gallery of the chapel (the village had no Anglican church), but after Old Christmas Day, 6 January, carolling ceased until Christmas came round again, for Tom, and many like him, held that everything had its due season, and a carol out of its proper time was an overturning of the universal order that he could not abide.

He died on Boxing Day 1907 and the tradition of the ‘waits’ faded away. His village and others of Exmoor still had their musicians, but the old rustic instruments had fallen out of favour, and as for the singers, rural depopulation carried them off. But in a few places – Cutcombe, Exford, Winsford, Roadwater and Odcombe in South Somerset – the manuscripts survived with some memories of the tradition, and the spread of the West Gallery movement in many counties since its inception in 1991 has given the old carols a resurgence that no one a hundred years ago could ever have foreseen.

For the fully illustrated version of this article see Issue 53, winter 2010.

A Walk in Clay

Ceramicist Jacqueline Leighton Boyce

by Naomi Cudmore

Jacqueline Leighton Boyce

The farmhouse kitchen table is surely the heart of many a good story. Consuming gallons of tea in the timewarp kitchen at Gulland Farm and asking Jacki about her life and work, it soon became apparent that I was in the most appropriate spot possible for the unfolding tale. With her inseparable whippet Banksy listening in, Jacki explained how it was that at this table she had received a great deal of her later schooling after the development of a form of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis left her, at 14, in too much pain to attend school in Minehead.

Up until this point Jacki had envisaged a life centred very much around horses, but it became immediately apparent that this simply was not going to happen. “I used to compete in cross-country and so on on my pony Robbie, who had been bought for me by Miss Helen Dashwood at the next farm. She had also built me a cross-country course and I was completely obsessed. But once I was diagnosed Robbie was sold and school lessons started at home with Mr Stapleton.” This turn of events, which sounds rather more picturesque than was surely the case, yielded little in the way of academic progress – although Mr Stapleton did, apparently, teach Jacki lots of useful things like ‘how to bet on a horse or judge a stag’s age by its antlers’!

After a year at said table, with the pain more or less under control for the time being, Jacki began to take long walks in many of the places where Robbie had carried her before. “My three siblings had left home and I obviously didn’t see much of my school friends, which was the worst part, so I basically became a bit reclusive. It wasn’t much fun really but I did start to draw a lot and to some extent this is probably where it all started.”

In her late teens, after developing arthritis in both hips, Jacki decided to put the gloomy medical outlook to one side as much as possible and even took herself off to the USA where she worked as an au pair ‘living on pain killers’ and generally getting on with it.
“Then, at 21, my sister, who had done fine art, suggested I go to art college – an idea which had never entered my head before. I did an O Level evening class, having come away from my schooling with very few qualifications, and then a foundation course at SCAT, where ceramics was the final module of the course. Up until that point I had thought I would go on to do printmaking but my love of ceramics was immediate. One major inspiration later in my education, at Central St Martins, was tutor Richard Slee, who has been the grand master of sculptural ceramics in Britain since the seventies and of whom I was frankly terrified! But I think I knew even before my first piece was out of the kiln that this was for me. Using my hands to mould the artwork felt wonderful.”

After SCAT Jacki went to Falmouth where she did an HND in ceramics. ”I had always been very good at sport and athletics at school and ceramics turned out to be a great way to express that need to release energy through art. I really went for it, helped along by the fact that, while at Falmouth, I had my hips replaced for the first time.” Having found her calling, Jacki added more qualifications – a first-class ceramics degree and then an MA in ceramic illustration, both at Central St Martins in London.

The physicality of ceramics has stuck as Jacki’s overriding reason for choosing this medium, and it has also helped dictate her style of working, both in terms of form and decoration. All of her pieces are hand built rather than thrown, keeping the working style as physical as possible and lending itself to completely unique, irregular pieces. And her decoration has been inspired by her physical surroundings, most recently by the Exmoor landscape which she explores most days on foot.

“I think that clay has just about everything – colour, texture and three dimensions. You can incorporate any kind of art form into it. You can use graphics on ceramics, as I did for a while when studying in London, or you can use the surfaces of textiles. You can approach ceramics in the manner of someone like Grayson Perry – as a fine artist – or you can approach it as an illustrator, or even a jeweller. And there is even product design, with ceramics being used for industrial purposes.”

Jacki puts her love of touching clay down to her rural childhood, throughout which mud and ‘scrabbling around in it’ were very much par for the course! “I have always been strongly influenced by my physical environment and whereas when I lived in Cornwall my work had a kind of organic, Mediterranean feel to it, with lots of rocklike surfaces and turquoise, now it is more inspired by having come home to Exmoor once again, where for the first time I am working as a full-time ceramicist.”

Until this point, Jacki has been balancing her ceramics with regular office-based jobs, which provided a more reliable income, but found that she really needed to be outside walking or building her pots in order to stay well. “After some years in London, I brought my kiln home to Gulland where I installed it in one of the barns and decided to really look after my health. And I feel so much better.” It is important for Jacki to keep herself straight and exercise as much as possible so that her joints don’t stiffen, so she walks endlessly with Banksy and when she is not walking she is busy using the natural world in her work.

“I really feel now that I do not want to live anywhere else but Exmoor. Much as I love to travel and there are places that I want to see, like Japan, I love it here, particularly because of the deer which first inspired my grandparents to buy the farm. My grandmother hunted with the D&S and they wanted to be somewhere near the hunt and with lots of deer on the land, which we do have plenty of in the woodland here.”

One thing that struck me when I first went into the chilly studio at Gulland was how huge some of Jacki’s pots are – and their drama somehow makes it easier to grasp the physicality of building them. Jacki does not use any processes such as slip or plaster moulds, although she does press-mould a few of her plates. Even her tiles are all hand-built – hence ‘Rough Diamond Tiles’. Hand-painted with bespoke flora and fauna designs, they are all original, with no design being replicated. They measure 11cms x 11cms and are priced at £14.50 each. These tiles are generally bought for table-top use, but Jacki is also in the process of designing lower priced textured tiles with a simple and colourful contemporary design. “They are meant for creative, warm and colourful kitchens where, as an antidote to a more clinical, minimalist space, people want to create a more inspiring place to cook, live and eat.”(Jacki’s tiles have their own separate website: www.jacquelineleightonboycetiles.co.uk)

The decoration on Jacki’s ceramics is delicate, sometimes jewel-like. Another of her passions is gardening and she has a garden-design qualification from Bicton under her belt, which was motivated by her fascination for flora and fauna, ‘the madness of hedgerows and the density of how much wildlife you can find in one tiny patch of grass’.

Her botanical interests stimulated experimentation with a style of decoration called scrafitto, whereby the surface of the clay is scratched before being painted with a white slip. This is then left to dry, scratched once again so that the terracotta comes through and then painted with underglaze oxides to give a light, subtle and delicate decoration which is very detailed and fine. “Butterflies and beetles lend themselves to working in this way because of their legs and wings. I fire my work three times, building up layers before finally applying metal lustres on top of the already fired glaze, sometimes adding a bit of gold as it’s great to add a touch of glamour too!”

Most importantly, these are works designed to be looked at as clay, with the material retaining its tactile raw presence which in Jacki’s words ‘people tend to love or hate’. Personally I fall into the former camp, am the proud owner of a beautiful butterfly tile and do recommend visiting a stockist or the studio to decide for yourself. Jacki can be contacted via email: claygirl62@hotmail.com or call 01398 323364. Visit Floribunda (Dulverton), Griffin’s Yard (South Molton), Nails Art Gallery (Bristol) or www.jacquelineleightonboyce.co.uk, which includes a list of exhibitions.Broomhill Art Hotel, Sculpture Gardens, Art Gallery and Restaurant (Muddiford, Barnstaple) exhibited Jacki’s work in March/April 2010.

Children’s Exmoor Tales

children's exmoor talesTales for children inspired by the moor

by Mark Young

The wonderful contrasting scenery of Exmoor with its changing moods throughout the year has long been a source of inspiration to painters and writers alike. Children’s books have been and continue to be written with Exmoor’s scenery and especially Exmoor’s ponies as the main backdrop to the story. Anyone visiting Exmoor will soon become aware of the Lorna Doone story by R D Blackmore. This fine old saga, originally published in 1869, is perhaps a bit daunting for a young person to read (the current edition weighs in at 700 pages) but visiting Oare and following the legend of John Ridd and Lorna Doone on the moor is a rewarding way to spend a day.

Inevitably many of the books mentioned below are out of print, only obtainable through secondhand bookshops or via the internet, some at steep prices. Happily a few are being reprinted: Katherine Hull and Pamela Whitlock wrote The Far-Distant Oxus when still in their teens (15 and 16 respectively). They sent the handwritten manuscript to Arthur Ransome with a letter suggesting that he might pass it on to his publisher, Jonathan Cape.  The letter is a masterpiece of juvenile optimism and bravado:

Dear Mr Ransome

We enclose a manuscript of a book we have been writing together. We don’t want to bother you with it if you are busy with other things, but we are not quite sure what to do with it and we thought you might help us. If you
cannot be bothered to read it, perhaps you could ask Titty or Roger, as they might like it. We think the Amazons might be rather disdainful. We should like to send it to Jonathan Cape, but if you do not think it is good enough we will think of something else to do with it.
We enclose stamps for return postage, and remain

Yours hopefully
Katherine Hull and Pam Whitlock

Ransome, after reading the whole exciting story of the children who spend their summer holiday on Exmoor, their cover of the far distant oxusadventures by land and water, highly recommended it and the book was published in 1937. Cape reissued The Far-Distant Oxus in 1978 in its original format along with Ransome’s introduction and it has now been reissued in paperback. It is understood that the further two books of Exmoor adventures, Escape to Persia andOxus in Summer, will be reissued over the next couple of years.

Margot Pardoe wrote children’s books from 1936 until the 1960s and one of her heroes, Bunkle, visited Devon and Exmoor in Bunkle Began It and Bunkle Scents a Clue. These fine mystery stories have just been reissued in the same format as the Oxus stories.

The Exmoor Pony has and continues to be a lasting source of inspiration. A W Seaby published Exmoor Lass in 1928. Beautifully illustrated with his own line drawings, the book was reprinted six times before 1946. Now out of print, copies seem to be around at reasonable prices.

Both Lionel Edwards and Cecil Aldin hunted on Exmoor and both illustrated a number of children’s books, most notably some by local author, Eleanor Helme. Helme and Nance Paul introduced Jerry in Jerry, the Story of an Exmoor Pony in 1930. All of her books are out of print but can be found. Her books all had a background of real events and White Winter is a fine portrayal of the winter of 1947 when Exmoor was completely cut off by snow for six weeks or more.

Edwards illustrated another pony book, Exmoor Ben by Pamela Macgregor-Morris, which was first published in 1950. The illustration of Exmoor Ben and his mother beautifully captures the filthy weather of the summer of 2008!

Many people who visit Exmoor yearn to live there but, for sound family reasons, are not able to realise their dream. Tiverton-born Mary de la Mahotière compensated for living in Hampstead with her husband who was a journalist by writing about children’s adventures on Exmoor. Thus the author of The Newspaper Children penned Round-Up on Exmoorpublished in 1961.

Happily there are some Exmoor Pony stories readily available. If you haven’t discovered them yet, look out for Victoria Eveleigh’s trio of stories about Katy, and Trifle, her Exmoor pony. The author lives and farms in North Devon and has published Katy’s Exmoor (2002), Katy’s Exmoor Adventures (2003) and Katy’s Exmoor Friends (2005). A further book set on Lundy is rumoured to be on its way!

A final entry in the Pony Stakes must be Moorland Mousie and Older Mousie, written by Muriel Wace under the pseudonym Golden Gorse. They were illustrated by Lionel Edwards and published in 1929 and 1932 respectively. Both of these lovely books are constantly sought after, have become progressively more expensive and it is hoped that they will, one day, be reprinted.

While the Exmoor Pony has dominated this survey there are also some fine stories about the deer and the dogs who live on the moor. John Fortescue’s classic, The Story of a Red-Deer was first published in 1897 and is quite easy to find. A re-issue by Halsgrove in 2003 is still in print.

G R Acton published Exmoor Rover in 1938 with some good illustrations by C Gifford Ambler. This is an exciting story of a wild dog found on Exmoor and his moorland adventures. Ambler also illustrated a book by Joseph Chipperfield, Storm of Dancerwood(1948).

And, for those who enjoy something a little spooky, a touch of the supernatural, here are two suggestions. Josephine Poole published Billy Buck in 1972, while renowned author Penelope Lively brought out The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy the previous year.

The books listed in this article represent a good cross section of children’s books written with an Exmoor background. It is by no means a complete listing: Eleanor Helme in particular wrote several more books than those highlighted.

As mentioned before, many of these books are out of print but most can be obtained with a little effort. If you live away from the moor, you will need to access through your local bookseller or do your own internet search but mind the prices! If you live on the moor, nag your Mum or your Granny to check the barn, the loft, under the bed: they are there somewhere!

Round-up on exmoor coverExmoor Lass CoverJerry The Story of an Exmoor Pony