April 2013. A memorial on Dartmoor to a Royal Air Force bomber which crashed here in 1941.
There are a few of these posts scattered over the same area: I’m told they were put here during the war to prevent enemy planes from landing.
Jay’s Grave: an eighteenth century suicide, a girl ruined by a local squire. Fresh flowers appear here every few days, something of a local legend. Whoever places them there is brushing up their act with picturesque daffodils in a glass jar. I always remember it usually being an old margarine tub with a few wilted polyanthus chucked in. Not the most uplifting captions are they? But the sun’s shining like I promised. At least I didn’t get in the bit about the friendly community burying the poor girl at a crossroads so that her doomed soul wouldn’t be able to find its way home.
Countryside Commission voiceovers can audition here…
The lightning tree.
Blah blah golden host blah wandering etc., etc.
Here’s another scene which carries a theme from the Billy Liar post – ‘escape/something more’ in mid-century Britain (or anytime, come to that). Waters of the Moon ran between 1951 and 1952 at the Haymarket Theatre, London, at the same time as the Festival of Britain. At first glance it’s everything the angry young men and women came to dismantle in the coming years: a drawing room drama about the lives of the ‘bourgeois’ classes…
The playwright, Norman Charles Hunter, spent some time convalescing in a Devon military hospital during the war and throughout his recovery would go walking around Dartmoor. On one occasion he stopped for tea at a mothballed hotel, of the type with long-standing residents. He recalled it later when coming across a quote from William Hazlitt: “To what a point of insignificance may not human life dwindle! To what fine, agonising threads will it not cling!”
It is a drawing room drama, with all the familiar devices. And yet there’s some genuine empathy for the characters whose lives are disturbed for a few days at New Year by the rich and dynamic Helen Lancaster, whose car and family have become snowbound.
It’s a fascinating study of how Britain is perceived at this time: the hotel residents are mostly stereotypes, but either wrestling with aspects of the ‘leash’ that Shelagh Delaney is talking about here, helpless in the face of change, or simply ‘used to it’.
Evelyn Daly is the daughter of the hotel’s family, her mother is widowed, her brother may or may not have TB, and her life consists of tending fires and the needs of the guests. Aided by the crate of champagne bountifully shared by Helen, who has instigated an unheard of ‘party’ for New Year’s Eve, she steps out of line.
This clip is from a version filmed in 1980, with stalwart actors of the time reliably producing an era: Joan Sims, Virginia McKenna, Ronald Pickup, and Penelope Keith flawlessly recreating her stock role. So many things echo back and forth over these decades, from the fifties to the eighties. Evelyn (played by Lesley Dunlop) is politely consoled as unbalanced and bundled to bed with an aspirin, while Helen Lancaster/Penelope Keith says it all with her verdict at the close.
I found this tucked away in a bookshop not long ago, looking a bit crumpled and water-stained. I loved the cover for its striking black and red, the bold question mark and the barest cut-out houses. It’s not the sort of visually-clever trick that would get used for this kind of thing today, and even then, in 1955, it was more like design for a movie poster. But it’s a tiny work of art. It makes you stop, and think, and put the pieces together – ancient landscape, super-imposed houses, traditional fonts that conjure vintage auction posters. Course I’m reading too much into it, I just want to know why I like it.
Dartmoor folk have in the past built honest, comely houses, in keeping with the unique and characteristic quality, the rugged integrity, of the Moor itself… [we] see no reason why this tradition should not be preserved.
– from the introduction
In the back is a paint chart, great in the way it encourages buildings to be part of the landscape, to grow with it, not against it.
It gently asks planners and architects to absorb and feel the history of the landscape and interpret it afresh, so that buildings belong to the landscape.
Here’s an ancient heart still beating. This is a photo from inside, of Drewsteignton village, circa 1955…
…and here’s the same scene, more or less, today.