Unseen demise of the Royal Victoria Hall

Almost exactly one year ago, the Royal Victoria Hall was mid demolition.

In December 2016, with plans to progress the Southborough Hub project further, councillors voted for Southborough Town Council to forward fund Kent County Council £100,000 to demolish the beloved RVH earlier than planned. What was the rush?

Anyone could have predicted that building works rarely run on time and the centre of Southborough would be reduced to a mini version of the Tunbridge Wells cinema site itself blighted with years of inaction. It seemed like a ploy to get rid of the one building that caused such a strong response in the town; there would be no more grief from the public when it was raised to the ground, no going back.

The demolition was eeked out over weeks. As the roof and ceiling were removed the Victorian plasterwork and velvet curtains were exposed to the elements.

As a condition of its status as a heritage asset the hall had previously been photographed. Though I doubt it was documented throughout the demolition process. I was fortunate enough to record the remains of the site before it finally bit the dust. On a bright April morning the grand interior looked dramatic against the blue sky with the sunlight pouring in. Its skeletal structure a testament to its robust Victorian construction.

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It’s all gone very quiet on Hub front since and the remains of the RVH now stand as a pile of brick rubble. Its replacement, the once promised ‘state of the art theatre’ now looks like it will be ‘value-engineered’ down to a small hall with whatever Southborough Town Council can scrape together to kit it out. So far it looks as if they have over promised and under delivered.

In November 2017 Southborough Town Council agreed to contribute further £500,000 to the project. No one seems willing to say when the project will be completed and no one will agree to publish a timeline. At the same time Southborough’s High Street has reached its nadir –  with 137 London Road the epicentre of graffiti tags and ply board hoardings.

Tomorrow night is the Annual Meeting of Southborough Town Council at Southborough School, starting at 7pm. Here is your chance to ask questions or share your comments. I look forward to hearing something about how the Hub site is progressing.

For the Project Board it will be an ideal opportunity to share with residents the updated plans for the site, talk us through the changes and present the architect’s latest visuals.

Back in 1900, on the 27th January and the opening night of the Royal Victoria Hall, The Courier commended Southborough on its brand new theatre,

“The whole of the work has been admirably carried out, and the building should be one of great public usefulness.”

I do hope for Southborough’s sake that our own Hub enjoys a similarly impressive legacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Nash at Dymchurch

Seven years ago, I visited Dymchurch to meet Nick’s parents for the first time. After lunch, we went for a walk along the imposing sea wall which dominates this stretch of the Kent coast. I can remember being pleasantly surprised to finally see a sandy beach like back home in Australia because at that point I had only experienced the pebble beaches of Brighton and Hastings had somehow assumed all of England’s beaches were the same (I know, what a sheltered life I had lived).

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A 1920-30’s postcard of  the private road where Nick’s parents live.

At that point in time the new sea defences had only just been completed: vast concrete paths intersected with regular intervals of Hepworth-esque voids inset the concrete stairwells.

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Nick has been a long time admirer of Paul Nash and has over the years travelled round the UK visiting galleries and museums to see his work. Both Tate Liverpool and Dulwich Picture Gallery have put together shows over the last few years.

Fast forward to the present day and we had planned another visit to Dymchurch and later on in the same week to see the current Nash exhibition at Tate Britain (which dedicates a whole room to the Romney Marsh years). Nash’s relationship with Dymchurch is widely documented; after the WW1 he spent time there recovering from a breakdown and explored the image of the sea in his work as both a menacing force and providing a sense of calm and enclosure.

From 1921 – 1925 Nash lived in a cottage along the high street, which now displays a plaque to commemorate his time in the village.

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Nash out front of the cottage in the early 1920’s.

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The cottage today

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In Nash’s time, the sea wall was much less overbearing; the current sea wall is flanked by a huge continuous concrete curve and two tiers of concrete paths.

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I thought I would to capture some views familiar to Nash prior to seeing the show at the Tate.

Paul Nash, 'Promenade II' 1920

Promenade II, 1920, wood engraving

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Nash took this image below in 1932 of the drainage trough or sluice and also painted the concrete structure behind it numerous times.

Paul Nash, 'Black and white negative, drainage trough, Dymchurch beach, Kent' 1932

Paul Nash, 1932

 

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Dymchurch Steps, 1924-44, oil on canvas

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If you haven’t managed to see the Nash show yet it runs to the end of March. And if you are a serious Nash fan, a visit to Dymchurch to take in the views of the sea and the marsh immediately give you an understanding of how the end-of-the world attraction that drew Nash here. The Martello Tower opposite Nash’s cottage and which features in many of his works opens sporadically and remains largely unchanged. And if desolate, post-apocalyptic, beauty if your thing, then Dungeness, one of the largest expanses of shingle beach in Europe and  home to Derek Jarman’s cottage and a nuclear power plant is a couple of miles down the road.

Great Dixter

Almost exactly a year ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a garden photography course at Great Dixter near Rye, East Sussex, with renown photographer, Jason Ingram. Even more lucky because it meant I had the day off school to go there-result! But more importantly I got to see Jason’s beautiful photographs, listen to his advice on photographing gardens and have a delicious lunch in the Great Hall made from the garden’s produce.

Jason’s work has been featured in many publications – Gardens Illustrated, The Observer, Telegraph, House and Garden just to name a few, also, he works with garden designer Dan Pearson who is a favourite of both Nick and I.

The first time we visited Dixter some years back we took public transport (having a car is a very new thing for us); a walk to the train station, a journey via Hastings, then a bus and then another walk to arrive there. It was in April so the famous long border was only starting to stir and for the first hour we had the whole garden to ourselves. Since then, we have visited at different times of the year and frequently leave the plant nursery with way more plants than we have space for.

Great Dixter, for those of you are uninitiated, was the home of the gardener and writer, Christopher Lloyd. The house is more on a human scale than your average National Trust stately home and the gardens have a greater sense of intimacy as a result, the different garden spaces enveloping the house. The trust who have maintained the house and garden since Lloyd’s death in 2006 have ensured that the planting continues the bold innovation and exuberance that has always characterised Dixter. Under Fergus Garrett, the current Head Gardner the garden has avoided the pitfalls of so may historic garden that become museum pieces endlessly recreating a set period in time.

[Only last month I found out one of my favourite garden designers, Luciano Giubbilei, started a residency at Dixter in 2012, collaborating with Fergus Garrett. Giubbbilei’s planting at Dixter has been documented over the seasons and features in his new book The Art of Making Gardens, which is high on my Christmas wish-list].

The first part of the morning was spent looking at Jason’s images as he pointed out tips for improving our own garden photography (like shooting into the sun through foliage, capturing the magic hour, remembering that the background is as important as what’s in the foreground, considering colour combinations to create contrast etc.)

The afternoon involved a short practical demonstration about using reflectors and light diffusers and a tour through the garden with Jason in tow to make sure we weren’t making too many rookie mistakes.

Later, everyone who participated were invited to submit their best photograph from the day to be judged by Jason Ingram and the editor of Gardens Illustrated magazine, Juliet Roberts; the winner to have their image published in the magazine and some gardening tools.

And guess what? I won! I was so excited when I got the email! I bought several copies of the magazine and sent it over to my family in Australia to show them have I have finally made it over here in the UK. Clearly not that much that I can give up my day job.

Here are my images from the day…saving that winning image till last.

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All images and text copyright Castles on the Ground, 2016.

 

 

Colin De’Ath-Traditional Bespoke Tailor

I had my first encounter with Mr Colin De’Ath a few years ago when I took along a much-loved vintage dress  which had developed a hole near the waistband, to see if it was worth mending. Slightly embarrassed, I said ‘I know it’s just a polyester dress…but I really love it’ to which he replied ‘No Madam, not at all. It is of the finest silk!’.

At that point, I thought, this man knows how to treat a lady! (and all of his customers so it seems!)

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Fast forward three years later and it’s the morning of my wedding. My sister, to be my maid of honour, tried on her dress for the first time as she had flown in from Australia for the wedding. When she went to take it off before her hair appointment, the zip broke. Straight away, I sent her to see Colin and in a huge stroke of luck, they had one long, white zip left. Colin and his colleague fixed the zip while my sister had her hair done, then returned to the tailors and she was stitched into the dress. Saved!

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I had heard Colin was soon to retire and wanted to know more about the man behind the immaculate shopfront of the Traditional Bespoke Tailors. Anyone who passes through Southborough would notice the eye catching window displays and flower baskets on the footpath setting the tone of the High Street.

Colin recounted about how he had got in to tailoring ‘I was one of these silly people never went to school, used to skip school quite a bit…I lived in Essex, we used to go over the fields and far away and have a nice day out rather than school. I had a five miles cycle ride so it was easier to skip school. Fortunately for me my mother had two brothers who were in tailoring, there was no question of careers advice or anything like that. It was ‘On Monday you have an interview at Saville Row’. I was 15 and I just went up there and signed up as an apprentice, I didn’t know any different, it seemed to have worked, I haven’t looked back at all’.

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Colin specialised as a coat maker, but after years of study at the London College of Fashion he broadened his skills to include cutting and fitting of trousers, waistcoats and jackets. When he got fed up with commuting from Essex to London, he moved to Kent and got a job working as a tailor and workshop manager in Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells.

Up until recently Tunbridge Wells was able to support eight separate tailors in the town, now Colin De’Ath is the only one left.

Before Colin’s arrival the shop was already an established tailoring business that had moved out from Tunbridge Wells when the rates and rent became unaffordable ‘I didn’t know the man but I knew of him, I came in and told him how wonderful I was and he couldn’t do without me, and I ended up buying the shop. That was in February, 1990′.

Prior to the existing tailoring business at the site it was sweet shop, A. Card Confectioners. Colin told me there had been a fire at the shop and when it was taken over by the tailor it needed a lot of work, so much so that only half of the original floor underneath exists. The woman in the photograph remains unidentified, but if you know anything about her, I’d love to know!

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Benefiting from the affluent surrounding areas like Sevenoaks, East Grinstead, Canterbury and Brighton, Colin has had his busiest year yet, confiding ‘you’d be amazed what people spend…Some customers have their whole wardrobe made here’.

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I was interested to hear if he had a fashion icon or a particular style he aligns his personal look to? ‘I’m West End. I’m traditional. End of story. It’s as simple as that. I see nothing wrong with it, I have built my business on it. You can say it’s old fashioned if you want to, but there is nothing wrong with it. You see even the white shirt and the black tie it looks really smart, you could go anywhere in that’.

He shares my disdain for the current fashion trend of jeans, trainers and a jacket. ‘You see the youngsters of today, a young man, he’s got trainers, jeans and a t-shirt and as far as he is concerned he is dressed. End of story. Don’t get me on my high horse. My biggest gripe is Saturday night television when they have a star or celeb on and he walks on stage in a nice jacket and a pair of jeans. I could scream!’

This leads me to probe him if he ever pops out to the corner shop on a weekend in comfortable tracksuit. Unsurprisingly – he doesn’t. Tracksuits have no place in the De’Ath wardrobe and has only recently softened his stance on wearing jeans. ‘I usually wear cotton trousers rather than jeans, I haven’t got a pair of trainers. I don’t wear trainers, I wear nice soft suede shoes…If I go out with friends, they know I invariably dress up, clean my shoes, I always put cufflinks in’.

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Colin proudly showed me a photograph of his son who has continued in the family line of business and is currently working in Saville Row for Dege and Skinner. To Colin’s disbelief, he tells me he has seen him ‘come out of work without a tie which I was horrified!…He dresses down, tight jeans, incredible…terrible…awful!’ Everything is said with his lovely, kind, dry sense of humour.

What is next for Colin De’Ath? Definitely a break. Holidays, possibly a cruise down the Panama Canal. Asked what attire would he chose for the holiday? “I will be definitely sporting some tailored shorts!”. I would expect nothing less. End of story.

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Colin De’ Ath Bespoke Tailors, Hardman & Hemming
116 London Road,
Southborough,
Royal Tunbridge Wells,
Kent
TN4 0PN Telephone: +44 (0)1892 526 051

http://www.bespoke-tailors.co.uk/

http://hardmanandhemming.co.uk/

All text and photographs are copyright by Castles on the Ground, 2016.

Postcards from Perth (Part 2)

I caught up with my friend Laura, set designer and illustrator (see her beautiful hand painted stationary here) during my stay in Perth. Laura’s illustrations recently feature botanical motifs so I invited her to come along with me to view some of the earliest illustrations of native flora in Kings Park held at the State Library.

I was searching for the earliest illustrations in the collection and came across three albums by Albert John Hall, an amateur botanical artist who first came to Western Australia from England in 1895. The illustrations were made over the period from 1918 to 1930 and are presented in Victorian postcard albums with accompanying notes detailing the specimen’s name, location and date.

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The Kangaroo Paw, a native species to the south-west, is featured in the West Australian coat of arms, flanking the royal crown.

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Looking through the volumes of illustrations, the style and level of detail fluctuated, it left me wondering if other artists had contributed to the albums.

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Kings Park, is located on Mt Eliza which overlooks the Swan River and the city centre which is less than a mile away. Not many cities have their botanical park in such close proximity to the CBD; it is one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots, home to high numbers of unique species of native flora over a 400 hectare site. That is 1.5 square miles for those who are imperially minded.

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A week after photographing the illustrations and maps at the library with Laura, my family and I went to Kings Park for our final get together before returning to the U.K. These are the views from the edge of the park towards the city and Swan River leading out towards Fremantle…

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For thousands of years Kings Park was known to the Indigenous people as Mooro Katta or Kaarta Gar-up and was, and is, an important ceremonial and cultural site. In 1831 it was set aside for ‘public purposes’, initially it had been called ‘Perth Park’ but in 1901 it became ‘Kings Park’ to mark the accession of King Edward VII to the British throne.

In my childhood, we would picnic as a family in the park on birthdays or other celebrations (our crammed limousine took us there on prom night). On the day I visited, despite being winter, the park was heaving with tourists, or perhaps avid Pokémon-Go fans. Perth’s characteristic sunshine and blue skies lit up the more ethereal elements of the landscape like these native paper daisies.

paperdaisy-dipbode8256img_9136-editYou can just make out the charred looking silhouette of a black Kangaroo’s Paw (Macropidia fuliginosa) angling out of the drift of paper daisies in the image above.

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Sadly I didn’t have enough time to fully explore the park, concentrating mainly on the periphery before heading back to my sister’s to pack and fly out that evening. Even within this small area there is a massive contrast between the representative landscapes of different West Australian regions that are planted out sympathetically at the park.

The Giant Boab tree below was gifted to the park in 2008 by the Gija people, the traditional land owners in the Kimberley region where the trees grow. It made an epic journey of almost 2000 miles to arrive at its new home.

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These vignettes of the plants of the Mulga region show the Australian landscape can be ethereal, romantic and delicate and at the same time equipped to withstand the harsh environment and poor conditions.

If you are lucky enough to visit the botanical park, allow yourself at least a couple of days to do it justice. The park shows the beauty of our native flora; slowly I think people are starting to use these plants in their gardens now they can experience them in all their splendour here at Kings Park.

 

Love Where We Live?

This week was the last week to support or object the proposed plans for our town centre in Southborough, the so-called ‘Hub’ (I just can’t bring myself to use the word).

The planning application involves the demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall and the erection of unsightly, unsympathetic building clad in polycarbonate. The campaign to save the hall was given an unexpected boost this week with support from renowned architect, Ptolemy Dean:

‘I think it is a shame that the replacement scheme is so poor when something more thoughtful and careful might have been created that incorporated the existing building, which would have still satisfied the council’s brief, but enabled something of the old character to survive.’

It was so pleasing that it made front page news locally, you can read the whole article here.

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After a few late nights this week writing our planning objections and then reading through over the other comments on the planning portal, we decided we needed to get out and get some fresh air.  Perfect weather for a walk into Tunbridge Wells, passing the beloved hall on the way.

My previous post here has more detail about the campaign to save the hall and Southborough News has excellent and up to date coverage of the development.

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This is the old Fire Station, parallel to the Council Offices, currently used as a groundsman store. Built with local High Brooms brick. This could be a beautiful building for a market, artist studio….

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St John’s church were having a ‘Party on the Green’. 

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We had been in Amadeus Antiques a few times but in the last year or two it seems to always be closed. The building’s exterior remains largely unaltered, it has beautiful ironwork, a generous balcony to the front and side and all original windows.

Sadly the side of one front bay window is slowly rotting away and the ledge is now detached from the window, leaving a wide gap. This is a property on my wish list! Oddly the  four Regency period shops are listed buildings. This one isn’t – I can’t think why.

Alastair Hendy are you looking for a project in Tunbridge Wells?

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Views from Mount Ephraim…

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The old Homeopathic Hospital.

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Pretty hand painted signage from the old Rose Hill school site on London Road – almost gone.

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Lovely little garden/homeware shop, Le Petit Jardin, near the Pantiles. It boasts the largest sash window in Tunbridge Wells.

 

Arriving back home after the walk, I looked again at an old postcard and a photograph of the Royal Victoria Hall taken almost one hundred years ago. What happens when we have destroyed everything that gives our sense of place? When a town becomes a commuter dormitory and a quick fix housing quota?  Ian Nairn, the melancholic Architectural Review writer, was eerily prophetic when in 1955 he railed against substandard town planners and anonymous buildings:

“The Outrage is that the whole land surface is becoming covered by the creeping mildew that already circumscribes all of our towns … Subtopia is the annihilation of the site, the steamrollering of all individuality of place to one uniform and mediocre pattern.”

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We are so fortunate to live in a town and borough with such a rich architectural heritage, writing in Country Life in 2010, Ptolemy Dean hits the nail on the head:

‘By placing no value on its civic buildings and what they represent, the authority is about to perpetrate an attack on the very civilization of the town, which these public buildings, for all their stuffiness, serve to uphold admirably. If there can be any doubt about the extent of local official ignorance of the true values of urban living, then this was proved six months ago, when road signs were introduced onto the main routes into the town that proclaim: ‘Love where you live.’ One is tempted to add: ‘…before your elected local authority entirely destroys it.’

 

Six years on – are the powers that be,  ready to listen?

Postcards from Perth (Part 1)

I have been back in my home town this month spending time with family and catching up with friends. Winter in Perth is usually much like summer in England, sunny and not too cold, although this year it has been hotter in the UK and Perth has had one of its wettest winters in thirty years.

Perth is one of the most isolated cities in the world and after living in the UK for seven years now it really feels like it! Although, the solitary feeling when wandering in the landscape is a good thing, I have missed the newspapers, the BBC and being able to walk to the cornershop when you run out of milk.

A place I love to visit is Bells Rapids, about a ten minute drive from my sister’s place. The wet winter it has meant the Avon river is much more rapid than usual.

Bells Rapids flows west from the Avon River in the Avon Valley and winds through National Parks to the east. Just before Bells (as the locals refer to it) the river becomes the Swan River, which continues all the way past Perth’s CBD and then flows in to the Indian Ocean at Fremantle. Every year it is used for a white water rafting race, the Avon Descent, which brings in hundreds of competitors in canoes and kayaks to complete the 124 kilometre race.

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The quality of the light is so changeable at this time of year, it can go from a brooding sky to the brightest blue within minutes. The photographs above and below were taken within less than half an hour of each other.

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The softness of the fountain grass, pennisetum setaceum, contrasts with the harsh landscape and they become illuminated when the sun hits them at the right angle.

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The stump of a native grass tree (xanthorrhoea pressii, or balga; its Indigenous name) and the bark of an old dead jarrah tree (eucalyptus marginata).

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My niece enthusiastically encouraged me to jump over the mud and rock pools to get closer the edge of the water, only slightly twisting my ankle several times.

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Pennisetum sataceum with a scrambling annual herb (fumaria capreolata) in flower.

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I used to think the west Australian landscape was not very attractive; harsh, dry and drained of colour but I recently have started to see it differently. Particularly at dusk, the soft light transforms the landscape and the colour palette changes completely, from burnt oranges, browns and deep azure blue skies to muted grey, brown, mauve and cream.

The landscape back home in Kent is so predominantly green, coming back to Perth has made me appreciate the colour differences and has heightened my awareness of smaller details. Looking more carefully you start to notice examples of the unique flora, like the burnt reddish black tips of native herb flowers and the masses of tiny, bright orange orchid like flowers amongst the grasses.

 

 

 

 

Rye in the sunshine…

Rye is one of my favourite places to visit on a day trip. Originally an important Cinque Port but left marooned on the Marsh when the sea suddenly disappeared sometime in the 13th century, never to return again. It’s picture postcard perfect; beloved of a BBC filming crew, winding cobbled streets, a good mix of Georgian, Victorian and Medieval architecture and panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

We went for a final catch up with my in-laws before I fly out to Australia on Sunday. I was keen to soak up the Englishness and get some gifts for my family.

There are a few shops I like to frequent – it’s always good for kitchenalia and cookery ephemera. The vintage and antique shops are well curated with a good understanding of what’s currently in demand – but priced accordingly for the tourists who flock down to Rye on the E F Benson trail. No bargains today!

Here are some pictures from the day.

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Admiring the flash of India Yellow in their sitting room.

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I have got my eye on this house!

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This is where I like to get my stationary from.

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Inside Rye Pottery studio.

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This shop has a bit of a A.G. Hendy’s Homestore in Hastings feel about it. It had a huge selection of antique french confit pots. Van Gogh painted his sunflowers in these pots.

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Sunflowers, 1888, National Gallery

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These are the two we took away.

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A detail of the Italian stationary we bought.

The next post will be from Perth, Western Australia. Nick is staying at home and getting on with the renovation so I will be excited to see what will have changed. He has been told go easy on the Netflix.