Thursday 31 May 2012

York Minster - Work In Progress

Work continues on The Monster  Minster. Here is an update, it's on the drawing board so it was hard to photograph. I left a pencil to let you feel the size: its circa 16" x 16 " (40 cms x 40 cms).

I guess it's half finished, and presenting quite a challenge - thank goodness.

When it was being built, they realised the roof was too big to be spanned by stone and they would have to use oak. They had to delay until they had gathered the timber ...but then... the Master Builder developed a fear of heights and the delay went on for years. I have a certain amount of sympathy with him :0)

                                                           Click on Images to Enlarge

Friday 25 May 2012

Monk Bar - York

There are for main gates (bars) into York, this is Monk Bar. Odd to draw because the turrets are not symmetrical: there's a bulge on the right hand turret and not on the left; the shadows don't fall as you would imagine. I've drawn it honestly rather than adjusting the building to compensate for the oddness. Notice the young girl, bottom left, Pat has christened her, 'Priscilla'. She wants her in all the York scenes!

Usual thing, the picture is about 30% lighter than the original and therefore very two-dimensional - if you click on it, the picture is enlarged and marginally darker.

I'm just starting the Minster now (gulp)   

Monk Bar, York, England 1895     10" x 8"        John Simlett 2012
Pen & Ink  on 300 gsm Snowdon Cartridge Paper

Monk Bar is at 63 feet, the tallest of York's bars and is the north eastern gateway to York's city walls. It lies at the northern end of Goodramgate, a street which becomes Monkgate on the other side of the gateway. Its is not known who the monks were who gave Monkgate and Monk Bar their name. Monk Bar has four storeys - the first three floors being 14th century and the upper floor being fifteenth century. Each floor could be defended like an independent fort, even when other floors had been captured. In the sixteenth century the bar was used as a freeman's prison.
Monk Bar's barbican was removed from the gateway in 1825.

Sunday 20 May 2012

The Shambles

Although I am pleased with the original,  the picture here seems almost to have lost a top veneer and so exposes some of its 'bones.'  The important thing is that the Sales Department (Pat) is happy ... getting passed her Quality Control system isn't easy :0) 

The Shambles, York  (1910)         John Simlett 2012
10" x 12"     Pen & Ink   on 300gsm Cartridge
As is my want, I feel the need to share the background to the unusual name "Shambles" ... If you find it boring then just skip out of ....where'd you all go? :0)
The Shambles was mentioned in the Doomsday Book of William the Conqueror in 1086. Many of the buildings on the street today date back to the late fourteenth and fifteenth century (around 1350-1475).

The Shambles was a street of butchers’ shops and houses, many complete with a slaughterhouse at the back of the premises, ensuring a ready supply of fresh meat. The meat was hung up outside the shops and laid out for sale on what are now the shop window-bottoms. It is still possible to see some of the original butcher’s meat-hooks attached to the shop fronts.

Lacking modern-day sanitation facilities, there was a constant problem of how to dispose of the waste produced by the slaughter of animals in the city. The pavements are raised either side of the cobbled street to form a channel where the butchers would wash away their offal and blood twice a week.

In some sections of the Shambles it is possible to touch both sides of the street with your arms outstretched. The architecture which now appears so quaint had a very practical purpose. The overhanging timber-framed fronts of the buildings are deliberately close-set so as to give shelter to the ‘wattle and daub’ walls below. This would also have protected the meat from any direct sunshine.
Why ‘Shambles’? The name is thought to derive from ‘Shammel’, an anglo-saxon word for the shelves which were a prominent feature of the open shop-fronts.

We tend to forget that Karl Marx was first and foremost a historian. In about 1850 (ish) he and his sidekick Engels visited Manchester, and they describe it in great detail ... particularly the 'stink'.

Finally we come to my favourite poet, Jonathan Swift  - who wrote Gulliver's Travels.
Here he writes about the panic brought to the city, when it rained. The last stanza is really pertinent to the Shambles.

*Tories and Whigs are politicians. They used chalk to whiten their wigs, the 'dust' he speaks of is chalk dust, rain matted the chalk and ruined the wig, also it ruined their fine clothes.  The 'chair' is a sedan chair carried between two men ... a taxi?.

As usual, he writes in rhyming couplets, which makes it easy to follow. 

A Description of a City in a Shower Jonathan Swift

Careful observers may foretell the hour
(By sure prognostics) when to dread a shower:
While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o’er
Her frolics, and pursues her tail no more.
Returning home at night, you’ll find the sink
Strike your offended sense with double stink.
If you be wise, then go not far to dine;
You’ll spend in coach hire more than save in wine.
A coming shower your shooting corns presage,
Old achès throb, your hollow tooth will rage.
Sauntering in coffeehouse is Dulman seen;
He damns the climate and complains of spleen.
         Meanwhile the South, rising with dabbled wings,
A sable cloud athwart the welkin flings,
That swilled more liquor than it could contain,
And, like a drunkard, gives it up again.
Brisk Susan whips her linen from the rope,
While the first drizzling shower is born aslope:
Such is that sprinkling which some careless quean
Flirts on you from her mop, but not so clean:
You fly, invoke the gods; then turning, stop
To rail; she singing, still whirls on her mop.
Not yet the dust had shunned the unequal strife,
But, aided by the wind, fought still for life,
And wafted with its foe by violent gust,
’Twas doubtful which was rain and which was dust.
Ah! where must needy poet seek for aid,
When dust and rain at once his coat invade?
Sole coat, where dust cemented by the rain
Erects the nap, and leaves a mingled stain.
         Now in contiguous drops the flood comes down,
Threatening with deluge this devoted town.
To shops in crowds the daggled females fly,
Pretend to cheapen goods, but nothing buy.
The Templar spruce, while every spout’s abroach,
Stays till ’tis fair, yet seems to call a coach.
The tucked-up sempstress walks with hasty strides,
While seams run down her oiled umbrella’s sides.
Here various kinds, by various fortunes led,
Commence acquaintance underneath a shed.
Triumphant Tories and desponding Whigs
Forget their feuds, and join to save their wigs.
Boxed in a chair the beau impatient sits,
While spouts run clattering o’er the roof by fits,
And ever and anon with frightful din
The leather sounds; he trembles from within.
So when Troy chairmen bore the wooden steed,
Pregnant with Greeks impatient to be freed
(Those bully Greeks, who, as the moderns do,
Instead of paying chairmen, run them through),
Laocoön struck the outside with his spear,
And each imprisoned hero quaked for fear.
         Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all hues and odors seem to tell
What street they sailed from, by their sight and smell.
They, as each torrent drives with rapid force,
From Smithfield or St. Pulchre’s shape their course,
And in huge confluence joined at Snow Hill ridge,
Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn Bridge.
Sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts, and blood,
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

New Project Time - The City of York ... and accents ...and ...

My wife, Pat, isn't one for letting the grass grow under her feet.

During this current reincarnation of me, as 'artist', we'd talked casually not only about launching the pictures on the internet, but also into the terrestrial world - and we haven't done the latter for years. Further more, we had never sold pictures up here in the north either.

Whereas I was simply trying to make up my mind if it were all worthwhile ... she went off and did her thing!

"OK", she said, "I've got you booked into a 'function' or two each month for all of the summer."
"You've ... booked - ....?" 
"Yes, so we are going to need scenes that are local to Yorkshire. York is popular with everyone - so you can put them on the net as well."

Now York was built by the Romans in about 200AD, about 2000 years ago, so it's got a bit of history. The Vikings rampaged and many settled there - and they had an influence on the Yorkshire accent. Even now they pronounce 'flour' as 'floooaa', which is straight Vikingspeak... according to the course my granddaughter and I are studying.

As you may know, Britain is made up of many accents. The Romans played a part here, they pushed us native Celts out into Wales to become the Welsh - the Welsh language is an ancient tongue. They built Offa's Dyke to keep the Welsh in Wales, and Hadrian's Wall to keep the Scots in Scotland.

To complete this accent thing: the Romans didn't do all the fighting themselves, they hired mercenaries. They hired the North Germany tribes of Angles and Saxons ... who decided to stay (Anglo-Saxon ring a bell?). Now the Mercian Saxon accent, and the Normans from France, were perhaps the biggest influence of all. When the 'posh' English accent is detected - it's the direct result of the Mercian Saxons.

So, York it is! I shall start with a drawing of York Minster.

York Minster

The 'present' Minster was built in the 14th Century, it's predecessor was built on the foundations of the original Saxon church,  it was wooden and burnt down.

The city was surrounded by a wall, with entrance through four bars. Not pubs, but gates, bar being the Yorkshire word for gate. So my next move will be to draw the four bars: Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar, and Micklegate Bar. I suppose having people barred from an entering, plays a part here, don't you?

I also want some street scenes, like, 'the Shambles.' Although this street is medieval, it has, as you can see

The Shambles, York

been modernised to the point of identity destruction. Fortunately I have a 1909 photograph, which shows the street as it was, warts and all - needing a coat of paint and repairs. It could be a lot of fun.

Having written all that, I've started with the Shambles!

Friday 11 May 2012

Bend down turn around, Pick a bale of cotton Bend down turn around, Pick a bale a day Oh lordy, pick a bale of cotton Oh lordy, pick a bale a day

My Picture uses as reference, a 1900 photograph of bales of cotton and other cargoes being loaded onto the Mississippi Steamboats. During that era, the US Southern States were producing  eight million bales of cotton each year - all of which were transported up river by the Paddle Steamers.

 Loading Cotton      9" x 13.5"     Pen & Ink  
                                                                                    John Simlett, Shipwright (2012)

Although the flat bottomed Mississippi Paddle Steamers had a shallow draught (draft) ... they still needed 2 fathoms (12 feet) of water for as a safe working depth. They used a leads-man - a crew member - to test the depth of the water ahead of the steamer. He had a rope that was marked with coloured ribbons, one for every fathom. The rope had a lead weight on one end. Swinging-the-lead was considered an easy job compared to other on-board tasks. 

The leadsman would throw the lead ahead of the boat and then call out the depth according to the ribbon mark at the surface, "By the mark, one!" or, "By the mark, three". The number being the depth in fathoms. Of course they didn't say the number in clean cut English, for each mark had it's own unique name. 

In 1857 when the 21 year old Samuel Langhorne Clemens became a "cub" pilot on a Mississippi Steamboat, he was intrigued by the leads-man's chant as he called the depths, "HALF TWAIN!"; "QUARTER TWAIN"; "M-A-R-K  TWAIN!" The latter being two fathoms, the safe working depth.

In February 1863, Clemens became a journalist in Nevada - here, for the first time he signed his name, Mark Twain. He was born during a visit of Halley's Comet, and he predicted that he would "go out with it" as well. He died the day following the comet's subsequent return. He was lauded as the "greatest American humorist of his age".

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Oh, Steamboat Bill, Steamin' Down The Mississippi

I wanted to do a series of unusual pictures of late 19th. early 20th. century working boats, rather than fancy passenger liners. In my research I came across photographs of  'Mississippi Paddle Steamers."

Steamboat Bill was the pilot of the Whipporwill. He was under orders from the vessel's owners to try to beat the record of the Robert E. Lee.

Now I had images in mind of the Paddle Steamers as floating Casinos ...the film, 'Showboat,' comes to mind But that's all Hollywood. It seems that those types of craft were simply barges with flat roofed houses on them - pulled by a 'tow-boat.'

Oh, Steamboat Bill, steamin' down the Mississippi
Steamboat Bill, a mighty man was he 
Oh, Steamboat Bill, steamin' down the Mississippi
Gonna beat the record of the Robert E. Lee.

The REAL paddle steamers were, what we in the aviation world called, PCF: Passenger Cum Freighter. Whilst the passengers occupied the upper deck(s) the freight travelled below. Also, directly below the passengers, were the massive steam boilers that drove the paddles.

Up then stepped a gambling man from Louisville 
Who tried to get a bet against the Whippoorwill
 Billy clasped the roll and surely was some bear 
The boiler it exploded, blew them up in the air. 
 The gambler said to Billy as they left the wreck 
"I don't know where we're going but we're neck and neck."
 Said Billy to the gambler, "Tell you what I'll do; 
I'll bet another thousand I'll go higher than you!" 

Exploding boilers killed many thousands on the rivers. In the first 40 years over 4000 people died and 500 vessel sunk. The worst was the Sultana, which in 1865 was ferrying  home Union Troops, recently freed from Confederate prisons. The boilers blew! 1700 died - still the largest loss of life on the rivers.

There were/are two kinds of Paddle Steamer: Side Paddle and Stern Paddle.

Here's my impression of the Side Paddle Steamer, Arabia, probably about 1885.

Paddle Steamer, Arabia (c1885),                  John Simlett, Shipwright  (2012)
Pen & Ink   15" x 12"

Friday 4 May 2012

"S for Sugar"

A dear friend of mine, Ann Bihan, and I flew for many years on 10 Squadron. Ann has recently been deeply involved with a 10 Squadron Halifax bomber and it's crew who were shot down during World War Two. She asked about my involvement with S for Sugar: the last surviving Halifax.

I drew S for Sugar quite recently:

'S for Sugar', The World's Last Halifax                                                 John Simlett

Pen & Ink on Cartridge Paper
Picture Size: 12 inches x 16 inches
(300 mm x 410 mm)

However, I first drew the aircraft over thirty years ago, and here, and particularly for Ann, I republish the story, first posted here a few years ago:

Click on Picture for best result

Pen & Ink, Etched Onto Copper Plate and Mounted on Brown
Hessian in a Gold Banded Mahogany frame.
14" x 10" John Simlett 1983

In 1983, just before I left the RAF to become a professional 'Artist', I read of the discovery of the last known Halifax Bomber of World War 2.

The aircraft, 'S for Sugar' of 35 Squadron, took off from RAF Kinloss on the 27th April 1942 as part of an operation to bomb the German battleship Tirpitz; which was anchored in Trondheim Fjord in Norway. Having completed its task the aircraft turned for home, but was hit by anti-aircraft fire which shot away her starboard outer engine and set fire to her wing. The young Canadian pilot, Pilot Officer Don MacIntyre, managed to land the aircraft on the ice of Lake Hoklingen, where the aircraft slid for well over a mile through three feet of freshly fallen snow, before coming to rest. The crew all evacuated the aircraft before it broke through the ice and sank into the lake. The Flight Engineer, Sergeant Vic Stevens RAF, had to be left behind, as he had broken his leg, whilst the rest of the mainly Canadian crew escaped into neutral Sweden from where they were later repatriated to England. Vic became a kreigie: Air Force slang for Kriegesgefangenen, the German word for prisoner of war.

The aircraft lay in ninety feet of water for thirty years, until it was discovered by a RAF Sub-Aqua club. As a consequence of this discovery, a whole collection of enthusiasts, including Vic Stevens, gathered in the hope that the aircraft could be raised and restored. They succeeded in raising and beaching her in Norway.

That's when the problem started. The government of the day (spits) would not give financial backing to the shipping of the aircraft to the UK or for its restoration. Which really annoyed me, I threw the newspaper down in disgust and reached for the phone. Although there was a lot of successful fund raising under-way, I volunteered to help, and started by doing the drawing - the easy bit.

Next, I asked Vic Stevens to get his crew to send their signatures from Canada in order that they could be superimposed on an etched plate that my drawing would be reproduced on.

Secondly, I took my drawing and the signatures to the company that produced this type of etched metal picture for me.  They printed 100s of the pamphlets I had designed - which included an order form - also I got them to advertise with an order form in all the International Aviation magazines.

I sent the pamphlets to all the Air Force establishments and Veteran organisations.

Each picture sold had a unique number on the back, and, at the end of the project, one of the picture numbers would be randomly selected and the winner would get the original. All proceeds would go to the Sugar fund.

And then ... the orders started rolling in. Obviously the biggest market was the UK, but they were closely followed by, Canada, Australia and ... California! Britain went into World War 2 in 1939 and by 1940 there was only Britain (and her Commonwealth) left fighting. People flocked to join the RAF including a lot of Americans who joined the RAF's Bomber Command. From the sale of the etchings it seemed that most of the surviving Americans ended up retiring to California.

In Conclusion....

...S for Sugar can be seen in the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London. 

Although I hadn't helped for personal gain, a year later I ended up with a years contract with that Museum, designing Philatelic First Day Covers.

More importantly ....

... Vic Stevens, the wartime Flight Engineer of Sugar, now frail and almost blind, got to take his seat in Sugar once again, and wept.

I knew it had all been worthwhile.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Harry Potter in the Hobbit Shires

Although my career in the Royal Air Force took me all over the world for 20+ years, my home base was usually in Wiltshire. In fact my kids still think of Wiltshire as their home county. When I left the Air Force to become an artist, we moved back to Wiltshire for six years

Wiltshire folk are mostly good solid farming stock. After all, this is the Hobbit shire!!

They tend to push the image of themselves as, "Wiltshire born and Wiltshire bred
strong in arm, and thick in 'ead".

They often talk in letters rather than words. For example,  for,"I have just arrived with the hay..." they might say,  "I B 'ere we the A, I B"

They love to think of themselves as Moonrakers, that is too say they hide their shrewd sharp intelligence behind a slow, straw-in-the-mouth, rambling accent. It seems that one moonlit night they were out smuggling brandy when they were ambushed by customs officers. They threw the barrels into the village pond, and to hide the ripples and bubbles they kept stirring the pond with hay rakes. When they were challenged by the customs officers, they explained that they were trying to rake the moon's reflection off the pond to stop it harming the water.... Moon rakers!

A lot of people know Wiltshire for the tragic scenes which flashed around the world, of events in the village of Wootton Bassett. Here the streets are lined  for every single Service Person who's body is repatriated from Afghanistan. The bereaved  families are taken into the bosom of the village and supported as the funeral passes through, en route from my old home base to Oxford. Despite the weather, not one serviceman who died in Afghanistan or Iraq has not been greeted by streets packed with people dressed up in their Sunday Best. My kids went to school here. I nice place to go to school!

But most of you will have seen the village of Lacock, although you might not know that you have. They have a scarecrow contest every year, but that's not what they are famous for! Lacock have been used as a Film and TV set since the 1950s. Early Robin Hood films were made here: Emma,  Pride and Prejudice and The Woman in Black, not to mention WarhorseLacock was also used for the TV series Cranford. ...  and.... Lacock was used for Harry Potter films.

 Click on Pictures for best results
The High Street, Lacock, Wiltshire, England
Pen & Ink  12" x 9"   John Simlett

The village of Lacock was five miles from where we lived, and next to the Bowood Estate of Lord Shelbourne. It was in the Estate shop that I sold prints of my Lacock pictures. Once again I had used my secret weapon, Pat, to get my prints into the shop. No good being married to an ex-actress if you don't let her chat-up the aristocracy - and she did!

"The Sign of the Angel," the Village Pub.
 Lacock, Wiltshire, England
Pen & Ink  12" x 9" John Simlett
I did a few others, but I haven't got the pictures on this machine. But this gives you the flavour of the place.