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?)