Homelessness in Colchester is nothing new. At the turn of the 20th century two of our town’s most well-known residents were Emma and Grimes, an inseparable couple, devoted to each other though famous for their bickering, who slept in ditches and toured the streets scrounging for food.
This book describes itself as ‘an anthology of new poetry in aid of Colchester’s homeless’, but it is so much more. It contains a wide, varied and endlessly interesting collection of poems all on the theme of Colchester and its history by poets both well-known and unknown. But interleaved are many fine paintings and drawings by local artists as well as photographs that complement the poems. Added to that are fascinating articles on Colchester’s history and on homelessness and vagrancy over time, making this a book that really does have something for everyone. Author and historian, Alice Goss has done a splendid job in shaping poems, pictures and history into a coherent themed anthology to raise funds to help Colchester’s homeless people.
Anyone who has spent much time in Colchester has quite likely encountered an elderly chap with flowing white hair and moustache, sitting beside his easel with paintbrush in hand. Charles Debenham was born and raised in Colchester and has been painting the buildings and street scenes around the town for most of his life – as well as straying over the border to Sudbury.
He doesn’t seek out just the pretty buildings and he doesn’t wait for the sun to shine before he paints – always with his distinctive palette of muted colours. Here are pictures of corner shops, pubs, tattoo parlours and simple terraces with wheelie bins. For Charles Debenham, painting a building is like painting a portrait – each one has a story to tell, but it can take the fresh eyes of an artist to reveal that character. And some also record the life of people in the streets. Buskers and mothers pushing buggies; shoppers and friends talking at the roadside. Together these pictures form a portrait gallery of the people and buildings of Colchester and Sudbury.
Private view on Wednesday 12th September 6 – 8 pm all welcome.
We are really pleased to welcome back to Red Lion Books this talented group of local artists who have been working and exhibiting together now for over 20 years.
The current exhibition includes photography, paintings, ceramics sculpture and glasswork to give a snapshot of the range, style and quality of artistic expression that we have come to expect from the wonderful Backyard Artists.
The Backyard Artists have shown together for the last twenty five years.
The group began following a conversation round a kitchen table in Rowhedge back in the early 1990’s when a number of people living in the village became aware of each other’s work and arranged an exhibition in the garden of Quay House.
The group have exhibited in David’s garden almost every summer since then and this summer’s 25th exhibition was the final one in the garden. The group will continue to show work together in other venues across North Essex and Suffolk as we have done for a number of years.
The Backyard Artists have very different backgrounds. Some are self-taught, others have art school training or have worked professionally in graphic design, photography and printing.
In 1584 Elizabeth I issued a charter containing a ‘grant to the town of Colchester for the erection of a Free Grammar School’. In practice this formalised the status of an already existing school – in fact there are documents confirming the existence of a school in Colchester dating back to 1206 and possibly earlier. It is likely that this was the forerunner of CRGS giving our grammar school a history stretching back nearly 900 years!
The influence of Old Colcestrians is considerable. From William Gilbert, physician to Elizabeth 1 and the ‘father of electricity and magnetism, to Admiral Ramsey who masterminded the evacuation of Dunkirk and the Normandy landings.
This thoroughly researched book examines the long history of CRGS and its links to the changing fortunes of Colchester across the centuries. And at 600 pages it is indeed a mighty tome.
But how would today’s students fit in to the school in times gone by? Scholars in Tudor times, we find, had to be present in school by 7 am in winter and 6 am in summer – and the schoolmaster was authorised to use ‘reasonable correction’ to discipline latecomers!
Paragon paperback, £27.99
The River Stour Festival runs events and exhibitions throughout the year. Just published is a small anthology celebrating the river, its culture, people and surrounding landscape.
An essay by John Thorne examines how John Constable developed his gloriously accurate portrayal of clouds and skies by meticulous observation and recording of weather conditions as he sketched repeatedly the towering Suffolk skies.
Jules Pretty relates some of the dragon tales of the area: including how Richard the Second was given an egg in the Holy Land which hatched a dragon in the Tower of London. The dragon grew and escaped eventually swimming out of the Thames estuary and up the River Stour.
There is a piece on the infamous Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins of Manningtree and the Witch trials of 1645-7; observations by Ronald Blythe on new grass growing in Springtime and a wonderful description of ‘wild swimming’ in the river one chilly morning in early spring. Together with poems and photographs this is a fine little introduction to some of the writers associated with the beautiful River Stour.
River Stour Festival booklet, £5
The author might be a Professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex but this book is no dry academic text. In rich evocative prose Jules Pretty explores the landscape of Essex and Suffolk through the seasons. Mixing history, autobiographical sketches and personal reflections into his description of the natural history of our ever-changing landscape.
He describes the thrill of nightingales at dawn at Fingringhoe Wick and the glory of bluebells in springtime at Hillhead Wood but writes also of lay-bys along the A12 and what they show both of nature and mans impact upon the land. He ponders on why we tend to value the rarity over the commonplace – the single orchid for example, over cow parsley, without which spring would be so much poorer
Through 74 short sections the message emerges that spending time with nature is an important antidote to the stressful disconnect of twenty first century life and we are encouraged to ‘slow down, take time, live local, keep your mind deep.’
Imbued with a timelessness and a recognition that human civilisations come and go whilst the countryside remains, this is a personal study of our local landscape that resonates with deep attachment and understanding.
Cornell University Press, paperback £13.99