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20th May 2024

To coincide with a few days in Hay-on-Wye, this week on the Post we have book towns. Later this week the famous Festival which was founded in 1987 will begin, and this small town (pop. 1,500) will be packed with readers and book-buyers. Richard Booth opened his first shop here in 1962 and established Hay as a centre for the secondhand book trade. There are now twenty bookshops (including Richard Booth's, above) and all year round Hay is a lively, creative little town with a lovely Thursday market and all the books you could wish for. 

17th May 2024

Peonies are just coming into flower now. They are slow-growing perennials with a short season, but are spectacular in the garden or as cut flowers. This is Peonies (c1939, Nottingham Castle), perhaps seen by Stanley Spencer in one of his neighbour's gardens. The Stanley Spencer Gallery is just down the road from Spencer's childhood home and a visit can be combined with a walk round Cookham to spot the locations he used and, depending on the season, many of his floral subjects.

16th May 2024

This is a particularly good year for buttercups, which are benefitting from 'No Mow May' initiatives. Stanley Spencer was deeply attached to the Thames at Cookham and this scene, Buttercups in a Meadow (date not known, private collection), is mostly likely by the river. The Chiltern Society has a leaflet for an excellent self-guided walking tour of Cookham ("heaven on earth", Spencer called it). 

15th May 2024

One of the joys of May walks in towns and villages is admiring what grows in other people's gardens. Stanley Spencer manages to capture the beauty of ordinary garden plants, such as the lovely Clematis montana and short-lived but glorious lilac, in scenes which could be in many of our novels such as 17, The Grove, home and garden of Celia and Thomas in They Knew Mr Knight. This is Lilac and Clematis at Englefield (1955, private collection).

14th May 2024

Aquilegia, more commonly known as columbine or granny's bonnet, is an old-fashioned favourite. It self-seeds prolifically and hybridises quickly so can appear in early summer in new and unexpected colour combinations - something that has happened here, in Stanley Spencer's Columbines (1938, private collection). One of the best known aquilegias is A. "Nora Barlow", named after the Cambridge botanist who was the granddaughter of Charles Darwin and cousin of Gwen Raverat who illustrated The Runaway.

13th May 2024

At last, there are signs of early summer here. So this week we have Stanley Spencer's "pot-boilers", as he called his paintings of gardens and local Cookham views. At this time of year, he would wheel out his pram full of art materials, and capture in exquisite detail his neighbours' plants. This is Wisteria (c1940, Harris Museum and Art Gallery).

10th May 2024

The fabrics Shirley Craven designed in the 1960s such as 'Kaplan' (1961) often have the quality of abstract art, pieces of which today might be framed, so rare have they become. Sadly, this is true of so many furnishing textiles, often designed by women, whose value was fully not appreciated at the time. More recently, there has been a greater effort to collect and archive these precious fabrics; accounts can be found in books by Lesley Jackson, including her book on Shirley Craven, and on the Haptic & Hue podcast.

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