Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Taking me back to a familiar place

It's been over a week since my last blog post, so I thought tonight I'd tell you about some lovely vintage books and the adventure into my memories that they took me on . . .

Do you remember my walk with the Chalkhill Blue butterflies in July? Among the many comments was one from acornmoon, she told me "... of a little book I have here on my bookshelf called "Wild Flowers of the Chalk" by John Gilmour date 1947. It has the prettiest cover, you would love it." Well, do you know what? I spotted the very book on ebay and successfully bid £3.50 for it!

Here's that cover – and yes, acornmoon was correct, I do love it.

There's a charming little vignette on the back cover too, the illustrator is William Grimmond.

The colour illustrations at the back of the book are by Irene Hawkins, they are beautifully observed little botanical portraits.

I also love this map that shows the areas of chalk outcrop in England, this map is initialed WG so it's also by William Grimmond.

"Wild Flowers of the Chalk" is number 37 in the King Penguin series, I found a list of all 76 titles – wouldn't it be fun to find some more! And I knew just the place to go hunting . . .

This is Plurabelle Books in Cambridge, I'd heard about it but I'd never actually been there. Then, when I was talking to Robert Good at his open studio, he told me about his forthcoming art installation 'Shelved' at Plurabelle books and what an amazing place the warehouse is – so along I went, and sure enough there were lots of King Penguins!

As none were in 'collector' condition, the price was 50p each! I selected three . . .

"Poisonous Fungi" and "Edible Fungi" both by John Ramsbottom published in 1945 and 1943, aren't the covers wonderful! They are by Joy Jarvis and Rose Ellenby.

Rose Ellenby illustrated the mushrooms and toadstools in both books, you can see she has a wonderful sense of shape, pattern and texture . . .

. . . especially here in her illustration of the sponge-like fungi sparassis crispa.

The third book I selected is "Garden Birds" by Phyllis Barclay-Smith published in 1945, the colour illustrations are reproduced from John Gould's "The Birds of Britain" which he worked on from 1862 to 1873 – they are superb examples of Victorian watercolours of birds.

The book is very battered and well-used but I had to buy it for the illustration on the cover – it's by Sylvia Varley . . .

She also drew this charming vignette for the title page . . .

While I was at Plurabelle Books I strolled over to a small garden behind the car park – there was an iron archway that was very familiar to me.

And on the other side of the garden a large brick workshop with faded lettering painted on the bricks . . . my Dad worked for Rattee & Kett for 25 years, he worked in that very building.

Look closely at the brickwork below the word 'KETT' . . .

. . . here's my Dad sitting on a carpenter's stool leaning against that brickwork in the early 1960s.

And here he is on the right, with his work-mates and their apprentices inside the joinery shop where they made staircases, doors, cathedral choir stalls and roof beams, screens, thrones and archways for great buildings all over England . . . all made with skill and pride and like medieval craftsmen – they didn't sign their work, it's left to speak for itself.

My Dad died 10 years ago tonight, I think he'd like the little garden that's now outside his old workshop.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

I've been looking for more information about the illustrators of the King Penguins:
Rose Ellenby 19?? - 2007 - while she was an art student she won a prize for her depiction of the blitz; she went on to become a successful illustrator.
William Grimmond - one of Penguin Books regular illustrators, creator of the Start-rite twins.
Irene Hawkins - illustrated many children's books by Walter de la Mare.
Joy Jarvis - (more info please?)
Sylvia Varley - (more info please?)


  1. Wow, I'm wildly jealous of your finds. Can't find books like that in the US!

  2. A 'magic' post. Well loved old books living a second life with you!

  3. I see a striking similarity between Varley and Hart drawings.:-)
    My father was a carpenter, too.
    Thanks for the wanderings, Celia.

  4. Thank you for showing those lovely books. They took me back a bit to my childhood when the school books had lovely patterns on the covers.
    I know how you feel about the spot where your dad was. I have 'spots' where mine was but they make me ache.

  5. Love all of them, but the toadstools cover looks so cheery. Like beach umbrellas!

  6. What a wonderful post. Oh to find books like that.

  7. I looove your book booty Celia, what wonderful finds. Particularly like the Garden Birds book. Picked up a lovely childrens book of birds for 10 cents last week, the smell of the paper, takes me back to my childhood.
    Totally different paper used these days.

  8. Garden Birds has long been my favourite book cover - my original one was left out in the rain but I found another on Oxfam online - so many wonderful books on there, I have even seen the very same fungi books!

  9. Celia, this post of yours has touched my heart in several ways.

    I love books and what you have found are such treasures. It is also pretty wonderful to have a friend like Acorn Moon put you onto a trail.

    And then, to see the archway, and seeing the door way, and then seeing the photographs of your dad. Well, again, let me say that all these connections really touched my heart.


  10. Oh Celia,
    Finding King Penguins is a special treat. I have quite a few, bought primarily for their covers. I have Garden Birds and one of the moth books with a lovely cover by Enid Marx. I live in hope of finding Edward Bawden's Scenes of English Village Life - some hope! Wonderful photographs of your father at work. How lucky you are to have them. Lesley.

  11. Such a lovely post Celia. Beautiful books and illustrations and beautiful memories too.

  12. what a lovely collection of books with such magical illustrations. The pictures of your Dad are very poignant and hark back to the time of the craftsman. You have inherited his talent I see


  13. What a fabulous post! I am SO jealous of those gorgeous books and love that bit about your Dad. Penny x

  14. That post was such a good read Celia-thank you.

  15. Well, a familiar place for me in a way.... my brother in law, a very talented stonemason (he created the large piece on the clifftop at Dover to celebrate WWII) did his apprenticeship in the early 70s at Rattee and Kett! And although I used to travel regularly to Addenbrookes, which is near Plurabelle books, I no longer go there... but may have to visit all the same. It looks like somewhere I would spend hours.... so thanks, I think!!

  16. What an interesting post. I really love the fungi book covers - what fabulous fabrics they would make (patchworker speaking!)

  17. what lovely books! thank you for sharing your father's photo. penguin books is one of my favorite publishers.

  18. I thought it would be just up your street and now you have a new addiction, "King Penguins".

    I think you must have inherited your dad's skill at craftsmanship, how thrilled he would be to see your lino prints, I bet he would have loved your use of tools also.

  19. Lovely post, Celia ... first the books, then the carpentry workshop (LOVED that rock 'n' roll apprentice lounging outside the door!), and then the memories of your father.


  20. Ooo Plurabelle books looks like fun!

    Other King Penguin fanciers (us included!) can be found here -

  21. That brings back memories for me. In a previous life, I was the Penguin books archivist. I looked after the complete collection. King Penguins were beautifully produced and are much collected. There is still a penguin collectors society who publish a newsletter of swaps and spares to sell.

  22. Reading this post was like "dying & going to heaven" for me! I love gardening, although I'm not great at it and I'm studying for a Masters degree in Library! Very sweet thoughts about your dad. I enjoyed my visit today, thank you.


  23. glorious finds - makes you want to be a botanical artist. I'd love to come across a few of those books.

    So nice to have some history to where you live too - us wandering colonials don't tend to get that :)

  24. I collect King Penguin books, they are cute. The book on spiders has a nice cover and I've got one that is pink with little ballerinas all over it which has to be my favourite.


I love reading all the comments (except for spam and advertising which I will delete) and I'll reply here in the comments under each blog post, it may take a few days if I'm busy.
You don't need to have a blog to leave a comment, you can select the name/URL option and fill in just your name instead of a blog link.