Cotswold Life

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Our sales net­work now stretches from Nailsworth to Aus­tralia, says Here­ward Cor­bett of the Yel­low-lighted Book­shops

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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

James Re­banks

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

Hugh War­wick

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!

Monty Don

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 (

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

This fea­ture was orig­i­nally pub­lished in My Coun­try­side, the mag­a­zine from the Coun­try­side Al­liance. Visit coun­try­side-al­ to find out more or sub­scribe at sub­scrip­tion­­coun­try­side

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 ??  ?? Stroud, look­ing to­wards the town cen­tre. Ed­win Bud­ding was born and died in the town
Stroud, look­ing to­wards the town cen­tre. Ed­win Bud­ding was born and died in the town
 ??  ?? An 1884 pic­ture of a cricket team of Robin­sons, all re­lated to Elisha Robinson, who later took on a team of Graces (as in the fam­ily of W.G. Grace) in 1891. The team of Graces won by 37 runs
An 1884 pic­ture of a cricket team of Robin­sons, all re­lated to Elisha Robinson, who later took on a team of Graces (as in the fam­ily of W.G. Grace) in 1891. The team of Graces won by 37 runs
 ??  ?? ‘Friar Ba­con’s Study, Ox­ford’. Roger Ba­con’s study on Folly Bridge was sadly pulled down in the 18th cen­tury for road widen­ing pur­poses
‘Friar Ba­con’s Study, Ox­ford’. Roger Ba­con’s study on Folly Bridge was sadly pulled down in the 18th cen­tury for road widen­ing pur­poses
 ??  ?? Roger Ba­con stargaz­ing at Ox­ford
Roger Ba­con stargaz­ing at Ox­ford
 ??  ?? A mod­ern Ped­er­sen bi­cy­cle
A mod­ern Ped­er­sen bi­cy­cle
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 ??  ?? Hu­bert Booth’s house, Glouces­ter
Hu­bert Booth’s house, Glouces­ter
 ??  ?? Plaque on Hu­bert Booth’s house in Glouces­ter
Plaque on Hu­bert Booth’s house in Glouces­ter

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