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Saturday 31 August 2013

Street art in Bristol by Rowdy, Cheo, Andy Council, Brave 1 and someone who is a bit confused

I haven't put up any images of things painted on walls for a while, but here's a couple of things seen today:

I'm pretty sure that this one is by Rowdy, who has been on the scene in Bristol for a long time. One of his 'trademark' motifs is a crocodile's head, which you can see on the gate. His pieces are often very colourful too. A while ago Rowdy's home burnt down in an accident, but he's a nice guy and a few well-known street artists in Bristol (including Banksy and Inkie) got together and donated artwork to be auctioned to help get him back on his feet again. 

Another piece, down the road, is evidence of someone living in a bit of a paradox it seems...

These four panels are near the harbourside and were done by Cheo, whose style is quite distinctive and usually has a bee somewhere:

Back in March, Andy Council created some work in the middle of the Cabot Circus shopping mall. If ever there was a sign of how street art in Bristol has moved into the mainstream, this has to be it. I don't mean to insult Andy in any way by that though, I like his work a lot.

A lot of street artists put work on shops here and are paid to do it. This face is by Brave 1 and is in Bedminster...

Friday 30 August 2013

A visit from Amigo, carver of signs in limewood

Amigo came round for a visit to my studio today and brought a couple of his house signs with him:

He has been carving since 1989 and is entirely self-taught. Amigo's wood of choice is lime (a species of Tilia, also known as linden). It was a bit of a surprise to me as the timber isn't thought of as being durable outdoors, even though it is a classic wood for carving. He explained that to stop the signs weathering, he first treats them with preservative and then, once it has dried, a mixture of yacht varnish and mineral turpentine. The final coat is of yacht varnish. They apparently seem to last well in all weathers after the treatment.

I like the contrast between the bark, the toolmarked background and the smooth numbers as well as Amigo's fun, informal style of number design.  The acorn is his maker's symbol.

If you would like to contact him and have a chat about his work, you can phone on 0117 904 0907

Thursday 22 August 2013

Brading, a historic town in the Isle of Wight. Carvings done with power tools. Punishment, torture and the secret of hewing timbers.

This town is on the eastern side of the island and is proud of its long history. It has a few surprising things still to be seen...

Much of the town was involved in smuggling at some point and with this background of illegal activities, it seems appropriate that the whipping post and stocks have been preserved in the Old Town Hall next to the twelfth- century church. The stocks are thought to date to the seventeenth or eighteenth century but there are records of stocks being used here in 1555 and the whipping post was last used in 1833. Why have the stocks got five holes? No one really knows, but one suggestion is that they were specially made to accommodate a regular offender who only had one leg!

At the other end of the street is a metal ring set into the ground. It is a bull ring, to which bulls were tied before being attacked by dogs and then slaughtered. This revolting 'sport' was justified by the belief that this made the meat better. It was thankfully stopped here in 1820.

Next to the ring is a sculpture of a bull which was made by Paul Sivell, a carver based on the island who specialises in using power tools:

He has also carved another sculpture to be seen by the car park next to the church.

Next to the old Town hall and the church is a very interesting building: the Rectory mansion, possibly the oldest building on the island. It lies on Roman foundations but was built in 1228 and some think that timbers from a previous Anglo-Saxon building on the spot were reused in its structure.

The building has a rather fine ship's figurehead on its corner, but I haven't been able to find out the story behind it.

Seeing some of the timbers that have been used in the Rectory house reminded me of chatting to my friend Nigel recently about timbers that he had found whilst renovating a seventeenth century building in Bristol.

Nigel said that when restoring an original doorway in the building, he noticed that only the sides that were facing outwards (and were therefore on show) were cut square. The other faces were left waney edged, as they had come from the tree but with the bark removed. They were hidden, facing into the wall.

Which makes a lot of sense. Hewing timber or sawing by hand to make it square are both long, hard and skilled processes, so why do it on the faces of timbers that don't need it? If there are no joints that require a flat surface to work, then don't bother cutting one. Some of the timbers in the Rectory mansion might also show evidence of this way of thinking.

As does this timber from Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire:

Not lazy, just smart thinking!

Bowl turning on a pole lathe, jousting, birds of prey and an unlucky king at Carisbrooke Castle.

Carisbrooke Castle is a very interesting place. It lies just outside Newport, the Isle of Wight's biggest town. There are signs of settlement there going back to pre-Roman times, but most of the fortifications date to later than the Norman keep that sits on the motte (or mound) overlooking the site.

The castle has been remodelled several times, which can be seen even at the entrance gatehouse.

The lower part was built in 1335 and has cross-shaped firing points, for bows and crossbows. The gatehouse was extended above the horizontal lines around it in 1378, when the French threatened to attack it during the Hundred Years War. The extended part has circular holes with slits and would be used by defenders firing handguns.

There was extensive remodelling of the castle during the sixteenth century under the guidance of Sir George Carey, due to the threat from the Spanish Armada. However, some of the buildings from this time are now in ruins.

The chapel of St Nicholas in Castro was renovated in 1904, after falling into disrepair through lack of use because the church in the village was more accessible to most people. It is now a memorial to Charles I as well as being the war memorial chapel for the Isle of Wight. There are some nice Edwardian woodcarvings on the pews, showing the symbols for the writers of the gospels.

The castle houses a very interesting museum with many of the exhibits concerned with King Charles I, who was imprisoned at Carisbrooke for fourteen months before being taken to his execution. His daughters were also imprisoned there and one, Princess Elizabeth, died there.

Quite a few of the exhibits are of interest to a carver. One is an ivory gaming piece, dating to Norman times, from a game called 'tables', which was similar to backgammon.

This chamber organ was built in 1602 and is still in working order. It shows the arms of the Earl of Montrose and has Flemish inscriptions taken from the bible carved onto it. I don't think that the electrical flex is connected to the instrument!

There are also other carved pieces on show:

As well as this fragment of a medieval saw blade:

While we were visiting Carisbrooke, there was a 'medieval' joust and displays of medieval skills such as falconry and bowmaking. The joust took place on the bowling green, where Charles I played bowls whilst he was imprisoned. It was previously the drill ground for soldiers stationed at the castle and may well have seen jousting in medieval times.

One of the exhibitors was 'James the Bowl', who was making wooden bowls turned on a pole lathe. I had an interesting chat with him about what he was doing.

James told me that a lot of the designs for the equipment that he was using came from an image of a turner making equipment for the Mary Rose, although the image doesn't show a toolrest, which would have been vital. Many early images don't, perhaps because it would obscure the view and confuse the viewer.

Apparently, many kinds of timber were used to make the turned bowls found on the Mary Rose. Bowls have even been found made from oak, which tends to split and can taint food so is not normally used for this purpose. One timber that was not found is willow.

The shapes of the gouges used to cut the bowls have been worked out from the cut marks on found ones. Robin Wood, a well-known pole lathe bowl turner, has done a lot of work on this subject.

The mandrel, which holds the wooden blank to be turned into the bowl, is also not shown on old pictures. James' one has three flattened points, which he explained helps to keep the blank on. He said that other methods were known to have been adopted, Viking finds have had many points stuck into the blank and sometimes a simple round mortice and tenon was used, with a sliver of green wood in the mortice to wedge it in. The mandrel needs to be pretty tough and could be carried between places, so having iron bands on each end of it to prevent splitting would make sense.

It was very interesting to see what bowl turning in medieval and Tudor times was like and how people have filled in the gaps in historical knowledge by practical experience. The jousting was a lot of fun to watch too!

If you would like to see James' blog, it is at:

Robin Wood is a very well-known and respected pole lathe bowl turner and his website is at:

This is an interesting overview of historical pole lathe turning:

Carisbrooke Castle museum has a website here:

What's that on the hill? Bembridge fort, a 'Palmerston folly' on the Isle of Wight

From our campsite near St Helens on the Isle of Wight, we could see a strange mound on the brow of a nearby hill. It looked a bit like an Iron Age hill fort, but small mounds could be seen rising from it. We decided to go up there and have a look, although we didn't expect to find what we did.

This is Bembridge fort, which was built between 1862 and 1867 to defend the island from French invasion by the forces of Napoleon III. It was meant to be the main stronghold for the Isle of Wight's southern coast and cost £48,925 - a huge sum of money at the time. 

The fort is one of a system of defences that were ordered by Lord Palmerston, In the end, the French didn't try to invade and so the forts came to be called Palmerston's Follies. It was used by the War Department until 1948, with coastal artillery defences stationed here during the First World War and air defences and Home Guard during the Second world War. The site is now owned by the National Trust but is semi-derelict and has a private tenant, so is not open to the public except for guided tours by appointment only.

If you'd like to see inside, tours are run every Tuesday from April to October and groups of ten or more may be able to book a tour during the week. Ring 01983 741020 or email the National Trust for details.

Three interesting church buildings on the Isle of Wight: an old church, a newer church and a church that isn't a church

Being a woodcarver with an interest in old buildings, I naturally like to pop my head through the door of churches when passing by to see if there are any interesting carvings or architectural features to be seen.

The Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England, has many old churches but these three were particularly interesting, as I hope you'll agree.

St Mary the Virgin in Brading

This church is the oldest of the three, and the site is thought to be an ancient place of worship going back to at least 680 AD. The nave of the present church dates to 1180 AD.

The tower is interesting, as it is built on four supports (piers) in front of the entrance doorway and is one of only four churches in Britain to have that arrangement. The access to the tower is via wooden steps next to the entrance door.

The most interesting things inside, for me, were the carved wood and stone memorials on the tombs. One of the chapels is called the Oglander chapel and houses the tombs of members of the Oglander family, who were  the local gentry for 800 years from 1160 and lived at nearby Nunwell. Here are some of their memorials:

This tomb commemorates Sir Oliver Oglander and dates to 1536.  It shows his family (with him on the right kneeling) and would originally have been painted to look more realistic. It still shows remnants of the original paintwork in nooks and crannies of the carving.

These two carved and painted oak figures commemorate Sir John Oglander, who died in 1655 aged 70, and his son George who has the small effigy in the alcove above. The armour represents that of the 14th Century so was well out of date by the seventeenth century. The crossed legs were thought, in that time, to indicate a knight who had been a crusader. Sir John was obviously quite a romantic and saw himself as a crusading knight.

Image from

He was a staunch supporter of Charles I and tried to help him when the king was imprisoned at Carisbrooke castle on the island, even to the point where friends had to warn him off before he got into serious trouble. He was also a keen diarist and would, at times of high emotion, write entries in his own blood. It seems appropriate that would have his memorial looking the way that it does.

This oak effigy represents Wlliam Oglander, the father of John. He died in about 1609 and his son had this memorial put on his stone tomb.

This very grand tomb houses the remains of Henry Oglander, who died in 1874. It was designed in 1897 in the Arts and Crafts Jacobean style by J C Powell. Henry Pegson carved the two small angels at the front.

In another part of the church is the memorial to Elizabeth Rollo, who died in 1875. It is very Victorian and very melancholy (which suits something as sad as the death of a child I suppose), and is beautifully carved in white marble.

St Agnes in Freshwater Bay

This is the only thatched church on the island and was built is 1908 to designs by Isaac Jones. The land was donated by Hallam who was the son of Alfred, Lord Tennyson the famous poet.

There is a date stone on the vestry wall saying 1622, but this came from a derelict farmhouse nearby on Hooke Hill. Stone from the ruin was used to build this church.

I couldn't stay long here unfortunately, as some people were rehearsing for a wedding that day. A shame, as there were some very nice-looking Edwardian carvings on the rood screen. The whole building had a 'cosy' feel to it, in pleasant contrast to some churches that can feel very cold and austere, with stone tombs of the wealthy dead lining their walls.

St Helens near St Helens Duver

The church was built in the early 12th century and this tower dates to about 1220. In 1703, the church ceased to be used and the tower was bricked up. It is now a seamark, with a white-painted brick wall the height of the old tower facing seawards to give a marker for ships.

The sea off the village of St Helens is important for shipping, with the large commercial and naval port of Portsmouth almost within sight of this old tower. Lord Nelson stepped onto the deck of HMS Victory offshore from here, on the St Helens Roads, to sail to the Battle of Trafalgar. So where did the rest of the church go?

All over the world. Sailors would take pieces of the ruin (called 'Holy Stones') to rub down the wooden decks of their vessels to clean them. Maybe they also thought that these stones would bring them luck on their voyages.