Que savez vous de la Grande Bretagne?

I got some lovely photographs by email before Christmas (so thank you Adrian Jeffery) and to my shame, what with one thing and another, rather left them to one side.  But now I am here to make amends.

Because this is a fabulous thing.

British brochure Brussels Expo 1958 cover Barbara Jones Illustration

It’s the brochure for the British pavillion at the 1958 Brussels Expo (home of the Atomium).  Which would be fine enough as it is, but what’s even better is that it’s illustrated by Barbara Jones.  And it’s something which doesn’t come up very much at all, even in the Ruth Artmonsky book.  This is the French version.

Brussels expo 1958 British pavilion brochure page spread cow

Now I’d be  more than happy just to wallow in the pictures here.  But the brochure (catalogue? guide?  I’m not entirely sure) is also more interesting than that, because it epitomises the debate that I’ve been mulling over for a while, the conflicted relationship between modernism and Britishness.

Brussels Expo 1958 catalogue for British Pavilion Barbara Jones illustration

Now, design historians tend to love Expos and other sorts of National Exhibitions, because it is design, if you like, giving a speech.  It’s fine to read them as a guide to the state of the nation, and its self image, because that’s exactly what they are designed to express.  So here we have a Britain of friendly policemen, tea and Scottie dogs.

Brussels Expo 1958 British Pavilion Guide barbara jones

But we also have modern industries, housed in sparkling factories.

Brussels expo British pavilion catalogue Barbara Jones illustration factories

The tension between these runs all the way through the brochure (catalogue? guide?  I’m not really sure) right until the back cover.  Here are modern machines, but made safe by a more traditional frame.

Back cover Brussels Expo 58 British Pavilion catalogue

Now it could be argued that if you commission someone like Barbara Jones, connoisseur of folk art and disappearing traditions, to do your illustrations, then this is what you are going to get.  But the same conflict runs through the entire display.  Here is the shard-like exterior.

British Pavilion Brussels Expo 1958

But this is what happens when you get up close.

Brussels Expo British pavilion lion and unicorn

And if that looks just a bit familiar, almost the entire design team for the Brussels Expo had indeed worked together on the Festival of Britain.  Here’s Jonathan Woodham’s summary of the problems they faced.

[Britain’s] national ambitions were caught between the worlds of heritage, as represented in the Hall of Tradition, of scientific innovation, as displayed in the Hall of Technology, and of economics and industrial competitiveness, as represented architecturally by the more contemporary character of the glass-fronted British Industries Pavilion.

All of this is made manifest in the brochure, from royalty to machinery.

Royalty spread from British pavilion catalogue Brussels expo 58

Machinery spread from British pavilion catalogue Brussels expo 58

I tend to see this later part of the 1950s as the height of Britain’s optimism about the brave new post-war world of spindly legs and bright colours and good design for all.  But even in 1957-8, it was impossible to be simply modern.  Being British was always much more complicated than that.


I have a vast and overwhelming list of books that are owed a blog post, everything from copyright to Empire and GPO posters.  I know I ought to be tackling the backlog, but ought is such a dreary word, especially when I could tell you all about my Christmas presents instead.  Because I had the pleasure of receiving a stack of Barbara Jones-related books and I’m very happy about it.

There’s the 1950 King Penguin of the Isle of Wight, for starters.

Barbara Jones Isle of Wight King Penguin cover 1950

I could quite easily fall into collecting King Penguins, but I think the Shell Guides might get the hump.

As you might expect from Barbara Jones, it’s hardly a conventional tourist itnerary, more of a wander round the quirky and unseen.  My favourite illustration is this topiary boat.

Topiary boat illustration barbara jones king penguin isle of wight

That could stand its own against Ravilious or Bawden if you ask me.

A slightly more obscure acquisition is this.

Pi In the High Barbara Jones cover

Great cover, concealing a collection of humourous ecclesiastical poetry that the writer claims to have mostly made up while in the bath.

Don’t buy it for the words, that’s all I’m saying, but the Barbara Jones line drawings are delightful.

Barbara Jones Cats from Pi in the High

Our pair of cats look much like that.

But the real treasure doesn’t have a flash cover to show off at all.  It’s volume II of Recording Britain, and every home should own a copy.  I owe it all to Murgatroyd over at Serge and Tweed, who posted about the books late last year (I also got one of her birds for Christmas too, so I am very grateful to her altogether).  I have to confess I knew nothing about them until then, so I was both sorry and educated.

And I have no idea how I missed them, because they are wonderful.  The Recording Britain project began at the start of the Second World War, and was in many ways an close relative of the War Artists Scheme.  But instead of documenting the war effort, Kenneth Clark instructed his artists to go and record in watercolours the Britain that would be lost if the Nazis invaded.  They seem to have been given a pretty free brief, as each artist tends to gravitate to their favourite subjects.  It’s no surprise to find Barbara Jones painting popular art in Norfolk.

Barbara Jones recording britain illustration great yarmouth fair

This is Savage’s Yard in Kings Lynn, once the centre of the merry-go-round trade.

While elsewhere in the book, John Piper is recording St Denis’s Church, Faxton in Northamptonshire.

John Piper Faxton Church from Recording britain vol II

“…the building as a whole is remarkable as one of the very few unrestored churches in his part of the country – an example of Early English altered in the Decorated period and not again.”

Of course the Nazis never did invade.  But Britain still did need recording.  Savage’s Yard disappeared in 1973, while Faxton Church was demolished in 1950.

These images, and the project which commissioned them, are enormously compelling.  Dozens of artists recording places that felt eternal, but also under threat, recording a Britain which might disappear at any moment.

They weren’t the only ones either.  Just a few years later, James Lees Milne was wandering from great house to medieval manor, examining a whole aristocratic way of life which felt doomed to extinction. While the boy who would become the architectural critic John Harris was vaulting over gates and scrambling through barbed wire fences to see the Jacobean trophy houses and Palladian mansions which were already falling into ruins.

It’s a pivotal moment in British culture, but one which hasn’t really been recognised yet.  The country was on the cusp, about to turn, and a few people recognised this, even if they had no idea what it was to become.  We need these images and these writings, otherwise we would have no idea what we have lost.  They’re important.

A few footnotes and comments if you want to find out more.  The V&A have a very good factual page about Recording Britain, and all of the watercolours are available to see in the Prints and Drawings Room should the urge strike you.  It also gets a deserved mention in Romantic Moderns too (I love this book so much that  I am going to keep going on about it until you’ve all bought it and sent me a chit to say you have).  And if you really want to know a lot more, there is also a rather expensively out-of-print book about the project too: Recording Britain: A Pictorial Doomesday of Pre-war Britain. But it has Patrick Wright in, who I revere, so I have just invested in the paperback.  More news on that when it arrives (and another one to add to the list).

The books themselves go for less than I’d expect, given the calibre of the artists involved –  if you don’t mind not having a dust-jacket that is, and there are plenty on Abebooks for the picking.  But be warned, most of the images are printed in black and white, I have just cherry-picked the colour ones here.

As for the fellow-travellers, if you want to know more about James Lees-Milne’s travels, this is a good (and cheap) place to start.  And I owe considerable thanks to The Country Seat for recommending me John Harris’s book, No Voice from the Hall which is both enlightening and hilarious in its recollection of a more shambolic and eccentric, and perhaps more interesting, version of Britain.

And finally, I think this would make a great series for BBC4 or Radio 4 or something, so if there are any commissioning editors reading, drop me a line, and I’ll knock up a proposal as quick as you like.

As seen previously

Just  a quick note to point out two rather lovely things for sale, both of which have been mentioned here in the past.

One is the wonderful Design for Death by the equally wonderful Barbara Jones, which has appeared on eBay for a very reasonable £20.

Barbara Jones design for death from ebay

And on a Buy It Now, at that.  I would, if we didn’t already own it.

It’s even more of a bargain when you know that this rather battered edition of English Fairs and Markets went for £63 last week.

English Fairs and Markets Barbara Jones on eBay

So get in there quick.

Meanwhile in Surrey, this has appeared.

padden folio from surrey auction

Not apparently special until you read the description.

Percy and Daphne Padden, folio containing a collection of pencil sketches and watercolours, including an original poster design `Rolling Hills` and an illustration, `Carnival`.

The estimate is £100-200, which would make it a total bargain for any Padden fan out there.   It’s lot 1583 in a gigantic sale at Lawrences of Bletchingley, but you can bid online via the Saleroom if you want.

Over and out.

Owls, further

It’s seems to be book week here on Quad Royal.

I was leafing through the wonderful Barbara Jones book (as mentioned before, but I have now read it and it is worth every penny and some more) and found this.  It’s late Barbara Jones, from 1970, but she’d clearly lost none of her touch, especially where owls were concerned.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet book

There is more owlage on the other side.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet back cover

And, from the sound of it, even more within.

The Owls were a large family of uncles, aunts, cousins and Grandma, who lived in an oak-tree called The Pines. Howlet and Twit, the twins, were the youngest of them, and sometimes they were indulged and sometimes they were sat upon, like everyone else.

But I shall never know any more of it than that.

Because, having a thing for owls, and Barbara Jones owls most of all, I went out searching.

And it is there.  But it’s £650.  Ouch.

So no more pictures – unless of course someone out there has a copy?


Such is the confusing nature of the modern world that telegrams have been arriving in my inbox.  I’d rather they were delivered by a messenger with brass buttons on his jacket, but I guess that’s not really an option any more.  Nonetheless, all of them are still very much worth looking at.

Laura Figiel sent me these two.  The first, from 1957 is by Barbara Jones.

Barbara Jones GPO greetings telegram

Excellent owl-work there.  Just in case you were wondering as I did, the news is that  the twins are now both 52, and one of them is Laura’s mother.

This 1956 example, meanwhile, is by Fritz Wegner.

Fritz Wegner GPO greetings telegram

Now I can’t tell you very much about him, I’m afraid, except that he has quite possibly gone on to illustrate children’s books, including some by Allen Ahlberg.  Which might lead me on to a post tomorrow.  I shall say no more until then.

This isn’t strictly a telegram, but it is a greeting.  It’s by Patrick Tilley, and was designed to send postal orders in.

Postal Order artwork by Patrick Tilley

Now these do come up on eBay every so often and aren’t expensive at all – the Wegner sold a couple of months ago for just £6.  So if you want lovely graphics for not very much money at all, the telegram is your friend.  And no one will ever say that about an email.

Looking at Things

This arrived in the post the other day.

Looking At Things BBC Schools Brochure Barbara Jones back cover

How fantastic is that?  I can’t decide which of the three I like best.   Although that is in fact the rear view – this is the front.

Looking at things BBC Schools Brochure Barbara Jones

As it explains for itself, this is a leaflet for a BBC Schools programme called Looking at Things, and it’s by Barbara Jones.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of blogging is that we actually end up buying even more stuff than we would have done otherwise; I had no idea that these brochures even existed until I wrote about Barbara Jones last week.  But now I do, and from there it’s only a short step to Abebooks, ephemera and even more stuff around the place.

But this is a particular gem.  It’s worth far more than the £2 it cost for the cover alone, but inside is also Barbara Jones explaining how a book cover is designed and printed, using our friends above as the examples.

Looking at things Barbara Jones designing book cover BBC schools

And there is also a spread about lettering and signs, which could have come from one of her own, grown up, books.

Looking at things BBC booklet signs Barbara Jones

Barbara Jones looking at things BBC schools booklet inside signs

The aim of the programme – which had noted industrial designer Milner Gray as a consultant – was “to awaken the child’s interest in the shape and colour of things around him,” and “to look at the things around you with a ‘seeing’ eye.”

I don’t suppose anything as random and purposeless but yet important as this is taught in schools these days.  Although please feel free to tell me that I’m wrong.  And now I must go and look for some more booklets to educate my eye.