World Wide Web
Our sales network now stretches from Nailsworth to Australia, says Hereward Corbett of the Yellow-lighted Bookshops
I’m writing this on a beach in Suffolk, looking out at the North Sea, and wondering what on earth a cormorant is doing here. There are swifts and swallows whizzing around, and plenty of sparrows and goldfinches where we are staying, but I’ve never before seen a cormorant.
Earlier today we went into Saxmundham to explore the shops in the nearest town, and got into conversation with a shopkeeper who, it turns out, is a customer of ours. He loves the Costwolds and tries to get over to us as often as he can. We talked about the importance (and difficulty) of trying to maintain a thriving local economy, and the parallels between our rural markets, influenced but not dominated, by tourism.
This got me thinking about how far we reach. I’ve often said of the customers we see regularly in the shops, that about 80% of them are local to within five
Rebanks is one of the most remarkable people writing today. He is a sheep farmer in the Lake District who left school at 16 with no qualifications and a serious attitude problem. He did A-levels at night school, got a first in History from Oxford, and then returned to the family farm where he has worked ever since. His new book is about how, perhaps, farming has lost its way – and how it can rediscover some of its older traditions and still provide for us in the future.
Allen Lane, £20 miles. We are part of a trip to the local town, or a regular shopping, chatting, ritual, living a rural or semi-rural life. They are our bread and butter.
But increasingly, and especially now that we sell online, we are aware that we have regular customers across the country, and, actually, across the world. Jim Knightly orders transport books from Australia (which amuses me for some reason). Laura Tau in Malta has a monthly order for books on nature and the environment. Gaston is French, but lives in Rome, and orders his thrillers from us. We especially delight in sending books to our friends in San Francisco (who came up with the name of the shop).
We now have customers across the UK, literally from Belfast to Whitstable and Devon to rural Aberdeenshire. One thing that we lack with them, though, is the personal relationship, a fuller
Graffeg are a small but brilliant independent publisher in Wales, and this is the latest in their series of compact hardback books on British animals. As well as chapters on hedgehog physiognomy and environment, Warwick also covers hedgehogs in art, literature and legend, and looks at exactly why they mean so much to us.
Graffeg, £9.99 understanding of what they’re interested in, and, of course, why they come to us. One or two we know have been in to our shops in the past, and want to keep supporting us when they can’t get here - but we don’t really know what makes most of them tick.
We think that they buy into what we think of as ‘our story’ – small independents, involved with our communities, not because that’s part of a mission statement, but because we are part of those communities ourselves, and we care deeply for them. We want to be the best at what we do, not to hit some company sales target, or because we’re in some sort of trade competition, but because we want to be the best. We all deserve it, customers, communities and all of us who work here. And we need all the supporters we can get, from Sydney to Suffolk via San Francisco and Sapperton!
As familiar as a cup of tea and similarly heartening, Monty Don is something of a gardening legend. My Garden World is not a gardening book, though. It’s a look at how wildlife, the plants and animals around us, adapt and change as their world changes around them through the year. Drawn largely from a lifetime of journals, notebooks and diaries, this is actually a very timely and relevant celebration of the world immediately around us – at a time when we really need it
Two Roads, £20
During my all-too-brief scientific nerd phase at school, I boasted that I was going to invent some rocket fuel. I didn’t of course. When quizzed about my apparent lack of progress with my pet project I tried to cover my tracks by claiming that the launch had stalled after I blew a hole in my Dad’s precious conservatory roof. No-one believed me, my credibility was shot, and I took up arts. As a result (perhaps) I have an intrinsic respect for inventors and discoverers who’ve not just talked the talk, but walked the walk, and ended up with a patent (maybe). Where is this leading? Well, I’ve been knocked out by just how much inventiveness has come out of the Cotswolds over the centuries. Let’s start with Oxford
Born in Ilchester (Somerset), Roger Bacon (c.1214-92) was the inventor of, well, just about everything. Dubbed the ‘doctor mirabilis’ (Dr Wonderful), Bacon was a Franciscan philosopher, who appears to have studied at both Oxford and Paris, returning to Oxford in 1250 to have a bash at ‘experimental science’. There was a ten-year hiatus back in Paris before, back in vogue, Bacon sent his ‘Opus Majus’ (Greater Work) to the Pope around 1268. The Franciscans launched into their errant monk in 1277, demanding his imprisonment for ‘suspected novelties’, which included: the elixir of eternal youth; the magnifying glass; a lighter-than-air machine; a definition of refraction & reflection; and a knowledge of gunpowder. Phew!
I probably wasn’t expecting to include a Danish inventor in this tome, but Mikael Pedersen (1855-1929) was associated with the market town of Dursley in Gloucestershire. He appears to have been here from 1897 to 1918, so over 20 years, but would end up back in Denmark for his last decade, sadly penniless, in what was a rags to riches and back to rags story, that might have rivalled ‘Mr Selfridge’ of TV fame. He became wealthy off the back of an invention that separated cream and butter from milk (patented 1878) but it was after his move to Dursley that he got into cantilevered bicycles. Having died, and been buried in Denmark, his remains were reburied in Dursley in 1995, the funds raised by fans of the Pedersen bicycle.
(Gloucester) Born in Gloucester, Hubert Cecil Booth (18711955) was an engineer, best-known for his invention of one of the first powered ‘vacuum cleaners’. There’s an impressive house in the city where he lived adorned with an equally impressive plaque, which tells us that his invention was patented in 1901 when he would have been 30-odd. He also designed engines for battleships plus fairground wheels, which seems an odd combination. I understand that his vacuum, industrial-sized, and conveyed by horse & cart, was quite a draw. Positioned out in the street and with a transparent tube disappearing into the house for the conveyance of dust, the lady of the house would oft invite her acquaintances round to see the newfangled vacuum at work. (Winchcombe)
I doubt I would have been that bothered about the elixir of life (or ‘means of warding off the infirmities of old age’) preferring to age gracefully, however, I doubt I would have been fussed over inventing ‘champers’ either, being tee-total. Chris Merret, or Merrett (c.1614/595) was a physician/scientist, born in Winchcombe, another who attended Oxford, and was the first to record the conscious addition of sugar to produce sparkling wine, or ‘fizz’ in
1662. He also compiled the first listings of British birds and butterflies and was also into metallurgy, glass-making and fossils; a right polymath. Merrett’s birthplace in Winchcombe has been honoured with a sparkling new blue plaque. If we’re right Merrett pipped Dom Pérignon to the fizz by about 35 years.
Chambers Biographical Dictionary (1974)
The Book of British Birthplaces (A.J. & M. Mullay, 2002) BBC Website (www.bbc.co.uk)
country, and later, agricultural machinery made wheat straw useless for the purpose.
The method for thatching consists of layers of thatch, known as coursing, which are held in place by fixings. Bundles of straw or reed are attached to the roof timbers, creating a single-layered roof. This is then often used as a base on which to fix the new bundles, which are held in place by pointed wooden pegs. Each course must, as with tiled roofs, protect the fixings of the course below it. A final ridgeline will hide the top fittings, and is often cut with a decorative pattern – the thatcher’s signature. The ridge is the part that also takes the most maintenance, and needs to be replaced the most frequently to ensure the longevity of the rest of the roof. The thatch must be steep to ensure that it can shed water, and each layer of thatch is usually around 30 centimetres thick. The life of a roof depends on the material, but the situation has a huge bearing on it, too – the drier the environment, the longer the roof will last.
In the UK, there are approximately 800 thatchers, many of whom are one-man bands. The National Society of Master Thatchers (NSMT) run an exchange programme through the ITS, for its members to learn and understand thatching and materials used worldwide. The training programmes run by NSMT, which can lead to an NVQ Qualification Level 3 in Heritage Crafts, are a vital part of keeping the craft alive, ensuring this heritage isn’t lost – and that we keep our chocolate-box cottages looking beautiful.
To find out more, visit nsmtltd.co.uk
This feature was originally published in My Countryside, the magazine from the Countryside Alliance. Visit countryside-alliance.org to find out more or subscribe at subscriptionsave.co.uk/mycountryside