It’s 1949. Britain is about to begin building the new world after the war. But as we already know, not everyone wants to look forward or be modern.
This is Edward Bawden’s Life in An English Village, published in the format of King Penguin that year. As the very first line of the essay by Noel Carrington makes clear, this book is a record of a village almost as a historical fossil rather than a living entity.
Because most of us in England have for long dwelt in towns or suburbs of towns, it is inevitable that we should come to know the countryside dweller in secondhand fashion; that is to say, largely through books.
The drawings are of Bawden’s own adopted village of Great Bardfield, in Essex, showing traditional figures like the vicar, or old fashioned shops.
In many ways this little book is a response to Ravilious’s High Street, in which he is recording some of the more idiosyncratic shops which are already disappearing from towns before the war.
The sixteen colour lithographs are wonderful, but I almost prefer the line drawings which are scattered throughout the essay, each one celebrating some visual detail that he has observed.
None of which are, naturally, modern.
I’ve commented a few times before on how this period is a curious time in British design, and perhaps in the way that people are feeling overall. The country really is looking forward to a time of equality, plenty and modernism. But at the same time, some people are aware that when a new era begins, an old one must end.
The more I think about this, the more it reminds me of a new year: plenty of people are looking into the future, but some are still reminiscing about the year which has passed, and which can never be retrieved again. The Romans knew what they were doing when they made Janus two-faced.