Friday, 17 June 2011

'Ravilious in Essex': Location Location Location

Eric Ravilious, Village Street (1936)

I'm looking forward to visiting Saffron Walden on 13 July for my 'Ravilious in Essex' talk. I was there for the opening of the show a couple of months ago and took the opportunity to do a little detective work around Castle Hedingham and Great Bardfield.

One can get a bit obsessed with finding the locations of paintings, but I love exploring an area with an artist as a sort of invisible companion. I find I look at everything that much more closely and remember what I've seen, heard, smelt and otherwise noticed that much more clearly. In September 2008 I spent a crazy day racing around London looking for shops, pubs, etc that Rav depicted in 'High Street' and that journey is etched into my memory along with incidents that happened along the way.
Falcon Square, Castle Hedingham, today

Similarly, I can close my eyes and picture the walk up from Glynde station to Bedingham Hill, scene of so many of the pictures in 'Ravilious in Pictures: Sussex and the Downs'. As the popularity of Radio 4's literary walks show 'Ramblings' demonstrates, there's something tremendously appealing about walking with a cultural goal, or with a writer or artist as a ghostly guide. So often I seem to walk without noticing my surroundings - mind elsewhere, daydreaming or worrying. On a Rav walk I'm focused, alert, looking for clues.

The Hovis Mill
The weekend of the Fry launch I camped near Castle Hedingham and walked (child-free!) for miles, into the village, on to Sible Hedingham and along the river to Hull's Mill. One of the things I love about Ravilious is his fascination for both the conventionally beautiful - fine Georgian architecture, for example - and for places, objects and scenes that other people might dismiss as ugly or inappropriate as a subject for picture-making.

Hull's Mill, 1935
Junkyards were a favourite haunt, and brickworks, and coalyards. He plucked abandoned vehicles from a jumble of rubbish and made them into things of beauty, and preserved for prosperity humdrum industrial scenes that few others thought worthy of notice.

On my rambles I found places that had scarcely changed in the seventy-plus years since Ravilious lived and worked in Essex. Other scenes had disappeared under housing developments or become overgrown, and it was interesting to see just how change had occurred and to compare Rav's vision with reality. I'll be showing some of the pictures I took at the Fry talk - and at future events.

The highlight of the Castle Hedingham walk was reaching Hull's Mill - which you can get to via a circular walk from Sible Hedingham that runs along the river and then back up over the hill and through a glorious old wood. The old Hovis Mill has been a private house for years, but it still looks much the same as it did in 1935. What really struck me, though, was the noise. You can't tell this from Rav's painting, but the stream in the foreground goes over a weir just after it crosses the road and the sound of falling water is almost deafening.

Hull's Mill today
To sit at the water's edge is to be lost in the white noise of falling water, and I wonder if that was why Rav kept going back there in the weeks before and after the birth of his first child...


  1. "To sit at the water's edge is to be lost in the white noise of falling water..." Love the way you've linked the visual and audible worlds into your text. Now I can imagine that sensation, and by extension, the 1935 sensation too. Really enjoying your blog, thanks for the richness :)

  2. Hi James, my Mum lived in Hull's mill in the 60's and I'm looking to get hold of a copy of the Hovis truck in the ford. Can you point me in the direction of the source of that image?