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About Britain. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and a fresh start ?

June 1, 2012

I love second hand book shops and have done since the age of twelve, when I managed to secure myself a Saturday job in one. There is something fascinating about the fact that many of the books are no longer available and there is a buzz about not knowing what little gems you may come across whilst rummaging through the dusty shelves and maze of little back rooms and cellars. I get the same sense of excitement as Winston Smith in George Orwell’s classic novel ‘1984’, when he secretly disappears into the forbidden sector and wanders around the antique shop, finding things that no longer exist and that he’s never seen before. It’s a book related drug I’m sure.

I came across this faded copy of About Britain No 9, a bargain for 50p.

I did originally buy it solely for the beautiful illustration by E W Fenton on page 2.

Some more of his work I found on the internet.

But once I got the book home and started looking at it further, I discovered what the ‘About Britain’ series were really trying to convey.

They were a collection of thirteen books , published in 1951 and covering the whole of Britain. Designed to promote and inform, they had maps and guided walks. With flavoursome, beautiful, small drawings of the towns, villages and local industries from each area of the country.

Here’s some of the details in my book.

They also told a story about the new beginnings and developing industry around at that time. About the manufacturing of cotton in Lancashire, tin plate in South Wales, cars outside Oxford, woollens in Bradford and mustard and clothing from Norwich. They gave a taste of the people, of their strange occupations.

Before Alarm clocks people who needed to get up for early shift work in factories  would use the services of the Knocker-up. This would often be the job of an elderly figure, who used a truncheon or short, heavy stick to knock on the clients’ doors or a long and light stick, often made of bamboo, to reach windows on higher floors. In return, the knocker-up would be paid a few pence a week. The knocker-up would not leave a client’s window until they were assured the client had been awoken and his work was then done. Also the Ripon Wakeman who’s tradition of setting the night-watch over the villages safety, dates back to 886 and is still performed to this day !

More importantly the book talks about their sense of community and spirit.

So then I started to realise how much this country has changed and how we are living more isolated and individual lives. I’m not much of a royalist but I am old enough to recall the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and the street parties and celebrations that went on back in 1977, it created a sense of occasion and gathered people together, if only to celebrate a day off work together.

So with this in mind, I’m wishing this coming weekend and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee well. As much for the community spirit that I hope we can rebuild (even if it only happens as online communities) and the sense of pride in our beautiful country and pride in the work that we still produce today. We should celebrate this.

For anyone that maybe interested there’s a new book out by Harriet Atkinson called The Festival of Britain: A Land and Its People.

Taken from the publishers website I B Tauris, it gives this foreword.

The Festival of Britain in 1951 transformed the way people saw their war-ravaged nation. Giving Britons an intimate experience of contemporary design and modern building, it helped them accept a landscape under reconstruction, and brought hope of a better world to come. Drawing on previously unseen sketches and plans, photographs and interviews, The Festival of Britain: A Land and Its People travels beyond the Festival’s spectacular centrepiece at London’s South Bank, to show how the Festival made the whole country an exhibition ground with events to which hundreds of the country’s greatest architects, artists and designers contributed. It explores exhibitions in Poplar, Battersea and South Kensington in London; Belfast, Glasgow and Wales; a touring show carried on four lorries and another aboard an ex-aircraft carrier. It reveals how all these exhibitions and also plays, poetry, art and films commissioned for the Festival had a single focus: to unite ‘the land and people of Britain’

Thanks to the I B Tauris Blog, the Science Museum Group, Shelf Appeal and Maraid’s Flickr site for some images in this post.

So come on you Bouncy Blighty Bloggers, let’s not end up like the Festival of Britain emblem, i.e. on the scrapheap !

Keep that community spirit thriving and say hello or smile at someone new today.

Remnants of Festival displays found in a Lewisham junkyard in 1952. (© Clifford Hatts)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 1, 2012 9:44 pm

    Beautiful blog! Very much inspired. I love it (^-^)

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