From the Singer

Although the first sewing machine was in 1755 it took some years for people to understand the potential of it. It was a chain-stitching machine, though we are used to lockstitch machines. It was Barthélemy Thimonnier, who invented something what we would consider to be a sewing machine in 1829 but it was large and cumbersome and only really practical for stitching ships sails.

It was in 1851 that Isaac Merritt Singer invented the Singer Sewing machine, a more compact and ergonomic design with table top surface and a crank handle. In the 1870s the treadle base was introduced allowing the operator self power the stitching and have two hands free to guide the fabric. In the 1930s the sewing machine locked into the table top to make a flat table, this was the marketplace revolution that meant the sewing machine could be in the home as a piece of furniture as well as something useful. When electricity came to the home motors were designed for Singer machines but it is surprising how long singer were selling the tredal bases for.

The invention of the sewing machine had several very significant impacts. Firstly, it changed the domestic life of many women. As more households began to own sewing machines, women, the ones who traditionally stayed home to do chores including making and repairing clothing, found themselves with more free time. When previously several days a week would be dedicated to sewing clothing for herself and her family, a housewife could now complete her sewing in a mere several hours, allowing for more free time to pursue hobbies and attain new skills.

When Isaac Merritt Singer was born to immigrant parents in America, though his parents divorced and as the youngest of eight children and feeling abandoned he ran away from home to join a travelling group of actors called the Rochester Players. He found work as a machinist and worked in machine workshops working lathes. He patented a machine to drill hard rocks in 1839 and sold it to the Illinois and Michigan Canal Canal building company for $2000. With some money behind him, bizarrely he returned to acting. In 1849 he patented a carving machine. While working on this project he looked at sewing machines and realised they could be manufactured and operated much more successfully.

By the time he died in 1875, he had fathered 24 children. He was worth $13 Million ($310 in today’s inflation). Though he was born in New York and extremely wealthy he was buried in Torquay. In 1871 he had built an extraordinary house called Oldway Mansion in Paignton, Devon and with a grand vision in 1904 his son Paris, remodelled the house on the Palace of Versailles.

Isaac Merritt Singer’s funeral was an elaborate affair with eighty horse-drawn carriages, and around 2,000 mourners, and at his request in three layers of coffin (cedar lined with satin, lead, English oak with silver decoration) and a marble tomb. The SS Isaac M Singer was named after him in 1943.

After Isaac’s death his wife Isabelle remarried to an abusive belgian violinist called Victor-Nicolas Reubsaet. It is rumored he sexually and domestically abused his new daughters, including Winnaretta Singer. She was one of Isaac’s many daughters and in 1887 Winnaretta married Prince Louis de Scey-Montbéliard really to gain control of her inheritance, escape the abusive household and to live among Parisian artists and musicians. She studied painting under Félix Barrias and for a time was in Manet’s studio.

Winnaretta Singer – Self Portrait, c1885

She was a lesbian. On her wedding night she climbed on top of a wardrobe, brandishing an umbrella and said “I am going to kill you if you come near me!” After two years the marriage was annulled on the grounds it was unconsummated.

In 1893 Winnaretta later married the 59 year old Prince Edmond de Polignac, a rather cash-strapped man and homosexual, having little sexual interest in each other suited them well. He mixed in the artistic circles she had hoped to be in and befriended Gabriel Fauré, Chausson, Debussy, Wagner, Proust and Delafosse to name a few. Prince Edmond was a composer. Together they moved from Paris to Venice, buying the Palazzo Contarini Polignac on the Grand Canal. With some restorations they entertained people from Monet to Stravinsky there.

Claude Monet – Palazzo Contarini, 1908.

Edmond died in 1901 and Winnaretta became a patron for composers, arranging performances and festivals of their but, but also sponsoring them to write pieces. Ravel dedicated Pavane pour une infante défunte to her. She commissioned many works including Satie’s La mort de Socrate and Poulenc’s Concerto pour 2 pianos. She owned many works of art including Les Dindons by Monet.

Claude Monet – Les Dindons, 1877.

Polignac had a relationship with painter Romaine Brooks, which had begun in 1905, and which effectively ended her affair with Olga de Meyer, who was married at the time and whose godfather (and purported biological father) was Edward VII. Composer and conductor Ethel Smyth fell deeply in love with her during their affair. In the early 1920s, Polignac became involved with pianist Renata Borgatti. From 1923 to 1933, her lover was the British socialite and novelist Violet Trefusis,[5] with whom she had a loving but often turbulent relationship. Alvilde Chaplin, the future wife of the author James Lees-Milne, was involved with Singer from 1938 to 1943; the two women were living together in London at the time of Winnaretta’s death.


This is the illustration for ‘April’ in the Good Food cookery book by Ambrose Heath in 1932. Rather like Ravilious, Bawden used the local area around Great Bardfield for illustrations. The farm scene is from Bluegate Hall Farm, Great Bardfield.

Edward Bawden – April, 1932

The barns and tree still stand today but there are a multitude of modern barns around the yard.

Edward Bawden – Bluegate Hall Farm

A few decades later John Aldridge painted the farmyard.

John Aldridge – Bluegate Hall, Great Bardfield, 1952

Below is the view from the other side of the tree, notice the gate behind the tree in Bawden’s illustration, is now in front.

John Aldridge – Bluegate Hall, Great Bardfield

Brighton Aquatints

I remember when I first saw some of John Piper’s etchings on the wall of a friends dining room at a party. From across the room I thought them to be French mid-century prints that one finds Montmartre. Etchings in colour, to me always make me think of French influence and the 50s. In fact in Britain coloured etchings were the sacrilege of a pure artform that had mostly survived unadulterated in Britain until the Second World War.

Produced in a bound book called Brighton Aquatints in 1939, Pipers etchings were produced in both colour (in an edition of 50) and black and white (in an edition of 200).

John Piper – Chapel of St George, Kemp Town, 1939

In trying to form his own original ideas Piper took to collage and quick abstracted drawings of the landscape around him. Maybe to fit in with the artists based in St Ives he turned to the sea. In the drawing below you can see Piper has used ripped paper to give the colour and then a simple line drawing on top, making the paper the dramatic element from being ripped to when it is harshly cut. The brickwork in the etching above is made from type collage.

John Piper – Littlestone on Sea, 1936

John Piper – Near Dungeness, 1933

I believe it was in these ripped lines of paper that Piper learnt how to apply colour, as painted solid slabs with texture added. As in the two paintings below. It would also be the way he approached printmaking and lithography.

John Piper – Interior of Coventry Cathedral, 15 November 1940

John Piper – Entrance to Fonthill, 1940

Though originally designed the Brighton etchings as monochrome illustrations these etchings by Piper still demanded he thought about the drama of the buildings and their shadows. It’s a much freer hand than traditional etching giving them a more modern feel. Here he has used those blocks of colour aquatint over the etching.

John Piper – Kemp Town, 1939

I found the Piper prints work contemplating, looking at the railings, the balconies and the architecture of Brighton. The original book by Piper now makes around two thousand pounds.

John Piper – Brighton from the Station Yard, 1939

John Piper’s Brighton: The Story of Brighton Aquatints with a foreword by Alan Powers is out now, available from the Mainstone Press. £35

Lost London

Here are two watercolours by the Great Bardfield artist Sheila Robinson. I bought them because I love both the architectural details in them, but also the typographic elements. Both of them are in St Pancras.

Sheila Robinson – 3 Leigh Street, London. High Class Shoe Repairs

In March, 1809, the Skinners’ Company built the streets around Sandwich and Leigh Street, the latter joining on to Judd Street.

Below is a painting of Sandwich Street. The building in the painting is now demolished for a set of flats. The horse drinking out of the metal bath makes me wonder if that is the home of the man who owns the cart.

Sandwich Street’s first house was built in 1812. Eighteen followed in 1813; by 1814 there were thirty and, by 1824, forty-seven.

Sheila Robinson – Sandwich Street, London.


Little is known of Antinoös’s life, although it is known that he was born in Claudiopolis (present day Bolu, Turkey), in the Roman province of Bithynia et Pontus. He was probably introduced to Hadrian in 123, before being taken to Italy for a higher education. He had become the favourite of Hadrian by 128, when he was taken on a tour of the Roman Empire as part of Hadrian’s personal retinue. Antinoös accompanied Hadrian during his attendance of the annual Eleusinian Mysteries in Athens, and was with him when he killed the Marousian lion in Libya. In October 130, as they were part of a flotilla going along the Nile, Antinoös died amid mysterious circumstances. Various suggestions have been put forward for how he died, ranging from an accidental drowning to suicide.

Hadrian was devastated by the death of Antinoös, and possibly also experiencing remorse. In Egypt, the local priesthood immediately deified Antinoös by identifying him with Osiris due to the manner of his death. In keeping with Egyptian custom, Antinoös’s body was probably embalmed and mummified by priests, a lengthy process which might explain why Hadrian remained in Egypt until spring 131. While there, in October 130 Hadrian proclaimed Antinoös to be a deity and announced that a city should be built on the site of his death in commemoration of him, to be called Antinoöpolis. Hadrian’s decision to declare Antinoös a god and create a formal cult devoted to him was highly unusual, and he did so without the permission of the Senate. Hadrian also identified a star in the sky between the Eagle and the Zodiac to be Antinoös, and came to associate the rosy lotus that grew on the banks of the Nile as being the flower of Antinoös.

Following his death, Hadrian deified Antinoös and founded an organised cult devoted to his worship that spread throughout the Empire. Hadrian founded the city of Antinoöpolis close to Antinoös’s place of death, which became a cultic centre for the worship of Osiris-Antinoös. Hadrian also founded games in commemoration of Antinoös to take place in both Antinoöpolis and Athens, with Antinoös becoming a symbol of Hadrian’s dreams of pan-Hellenism. The worship of Antinoös proved to be one of the most enduring and popular of cults of deified humans in the Roman empire, and events continued to be founded in his honor long after Hadrian’s death.

During the Roman Empire, the city of Antinoöpolis was erected in AD 130 by the emperor Hadrian on the site of Hir-we as the cult centre of the deified Antinoüs. All previous buildings, including a necropolis, were razed and replaced, with the exception of the Temple of Ramses II.

Hadrian also had political motives for the creation of Antinoöpolis, which was to be the first Hellenic city in the Middle Nile region, thus serving as a bastion of Greek culture within the Egyptian area. To encourage Egyptians to integrate with this imported Greek culture, he permitted Greeks and Egyptians in the city to marry and allowed the main deity of Hir-we, Bes, to continue to be worshipped in Antinoöpolis alongside the new primary deity, Osiris-Antinoüs.

The London Electricity Board

In what must have been one of the last poster schemes to use fine artists, the London Electricity Board commissioned a series of paintings. Many of the artists rather than looking at the technical production of power, chose to show subjects of how London is illuminated. Sam Rabinovitch using his poster to show a boxing match. But it is a curious collection

Robin Darwin
Ruskin Spear
Donald Hamilton Fraser
Geoffrey Clarke
Sam Rabin

The Scientist

Here is more Great Bardfield paper paraphernalia, this time the New Scientist magazine covers by Chloë Cheese. There maybe more but so far I have only noticed three, but I think it’s a good example of a bold editor making the magazine look more colourful. I am guessing because they don’t have headlines all over the magazine cover, that it was also because most of their stock was sold from mail subscription – rather than newsagents, this would mean they can be bolder with their covers.

Chloë is the daughter of Bardfield artists Bernard Cheese and Sheila Robinson. She trained at Cambridge School of Art and the Royal College of Art 1973-76 under Walter Hoyle and Warwick Hutton. She works mainly as an illustrator and printmaker and it is amazing the places her work pops up in. In 1985 the British Council organised a Touring Exhibition entitled “British Illustrators from Caxton to Chlöe”.

The Christmas edition below has a full cover on the front and rear.

Peter Henry Emerson

Peter Henry Emerson – In the Barley Harvest, 1888

When photography became commercially available, it was almost as if painting was redundant. Why should artists try to paint real life if there was a machine that could depict it? As a reaction, this was when Impressionism came along, followed by fauvism, surrealism and vorticism, all movements about subverting reality. However there were some photographers who used the camera and the subject as if they were painting, and one is Peter Henry Emerson. He set up pastoral ideals and posed people in the same way a painter would. The photographs were printed as photogravure, a photograph etched on to a metal plate. With this technique Emerson’s pictures could have a flatter look to them when printed with grain.

Peter Henry Emerson – Cattle on the Marshes, 1886

Emerson was born on La Palma Estate, a sugar plantation near Encrucijada, Cuba belonging to his American father, Henry Ezekiel Emerson and British mother, Jane, née Harris Billing. He spent his early years in Cuba on his father’s estate. During the American Civil War he spent some time at Wilmington, Delaware, but moved to England in 1869, after the death of his father. He was schooled at Cranleigh School where he was a noted scholar and athlete. He subsequently attended King’s College London, before switching to Clare College, Cambridge in 1879 where he earned his medical degree in 1885.

Peter Henry Emerson – Poling the Marsh Hay, 1885

Peter Henry Emerson – Crusoe’s Island, 1887

Peter Henry Emerson – Coming Home From The Marshes, 1885

Peter Henry Emerson – Towing the Reed, 1885

Peter Henry Emerson – Ricking the Reed, 1885

Peter Henry Emerson – Haymaker with Rake, 1888

Peter Henry Emerson – Setting the Bow Net, 1885

Peter Henry Emerson – Confessions, 1887

Peter Henry Emerson – A Fisherman at Home, 1887

Peter Henry Emerson – At the Grindstone-A Suffolk Farmyard, 1888


Chapbooks were produced cheaply on just one sheet of paper, sold for a ha’penny each by travelling salesmen (‘Chapmen’) and would often be the only books a child would own. Back in the 1800s, these books would be filled with poems, fairy tales and puzzles, and were a child’s first indoctrination into the world of literature.

I find printed ephemera fascinating and chapbooks are fine examples of beautifully printed items. As the quote above suggests, originally the Chapbooks where printed on a large sheet and folded up and more like pamphlets. Starting with crude arrangements of woodcuts and children’s songs or poems, they changed to stories of the day and moral tales of heroism or devotion. As the movement of social pamphlets took off, they became booklets of political theories and reports on social conditions.

The publisher of the book I have is William Davison (1781–1858). Born in Alnwick, he was an pharmacist, then spotting a change in new technology, he became a printer, engraver/etcher, and a bookseller of his works as he became a publisher who also sold the typefaces he used.

I really like this example of colour printing

A Holiday in Happisburgh