Cul­tural history

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

Lon­don in Frag­ments

Ted San­dling (Frances Lincoln, £16.99)

I FOUND a dis­tinct fris­son run­ning through me as I read this book. Its sub­ject is mud­lark­ing by the Thames (see page 94). A mud­lark is some­one who searches the shores of the river for the un­con­sid­ered tri­fles that wash up there, edges worn smooth by the wash­ing of many tides; ev­ery day yields a dif­fer­ent haul, as the trea­sures dis­played to view at one low wa­ter are snatched away, re­turned to the ooze and re­placed by an­other sample.

The ac­tiv­ity is free to any­one, al­though many read­ers, I sus­pect, will be happy that Ted San­dling has done it for them, record­ing the finds made since he be­gan 10 years agoñ­call­ing cards left in the 21st cen­tury by the long dead.

Th­ese aren’t pre­cious items, but that’s the point. Often bro­ken, they be­longed to or­di­nary Lon­don­ers and were sim­ply part of their ev­ery­day lives. But what an in­sight into the var­i­ous­ness of those lives they pro­vide.

Some item­sña scrap of 16th­cen­tury Ital­ian maiolica, the top of a bro­ken Tu­dor money box (Tu­dor money boxes were meant to be bro­ken, when they’d served their need)ñare quite old. Oth­ers are of more re­cent date, but pe­cu­liar to the un­in­formed eyeñ the Ôsag­gars’ that pot­ters used to sup­port the pieces in the kiln, for ex­am­ple, or the eerie, un­jointed bisque doll known as a Frozen Char­lotte (fun for a lit­tle girl to play with, pos­si­bly, but look­ing, now, more like a vo­tive fig­ure).

The ma­jor­ity, per­haps, may be ob­vi­ous enough, but how evoca­tive they are: clay pipes, but­tons, per­fume-bot­tle stop­pers and pickle jars that got lost or dis­carded over time, their own­ers never ex­pect­ing them to be found again or to have a new life in print.

Each has been in­de­fati­ga­bly re­searched, to re­veal, for in­stance, that a piece of NYK Line table­ware (made in Burslem, Stafford­shire, in about 1900) be­longed to the first Asian com­pany to ship from Lon­don to the East; both Mit­subishi and Tata & Son­sñstill fa­mil­iar names Ñwere in­volved.

The sur­viv­ing words on a tiny, 19th-cen­tury type block found at Vaux­hall read like po­etry: ÔGOLD Hand­someé graved, andé Pearls and fineé lus­trous Gems.’ They could stand as a motto to the book. To the mud­lark, ev­ery Wal­dorf Ho­tel teacup or lead-glazed pip­kin han­dle is a jewel. Clive Aslet

English Houses is di­vided into three sec­tionsñ Lon­don flats and houses, houses in the coun­try and larger coun­try hous­esñand in­cludes the au­thor’s Lon­don flat and his old par­son­age in West Dorset. All pack a pow­er­ful visual punch, al­though not all will ap­peal to ev­ery reader.

Mr Pen­treath de­scribes them as demon­strat­ing Ôan ap­proach to dec­o­ra­tion that is un­hur­ried and per­sonal, which is a true defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of the finest English in­te­ri­ors’, al­though sev­eral schemes are re­cent and some, in­clud­ing his own in­te­ri­ors, are con­tin­u­ally evolv­ing works in progress.

What th­ese rooms largely avoid is pre­dictabil­ity. Here is a kitchen floor painted milk­shake pink, a Syr­ian in­laid side table, framed pressed ferns and old maps, fur­ni­ture loose-cov­ered in a med­ley of un­ex­pected pat­terns, even a corgi in his bas­ket in a draw­ing room. This is a lovely, colour­ful, in­spir­ing book to be savoured. Matthew Den­ni­son

One man’s trash: the au­thor’s finds in­clude this piece of green trans­fer­ware, which is prob­a­bly 19th cen­tury

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