Category: River Thames

BACKWATER: A Poetry, Painting and Print Project

I have been inspired by a fairly innocuous Victorian postcard I found online which symbolises where I come from..literally..

I hope to create a set of three related but different media outcomes from same basic idea. Below some mock-ups of how it may come out…

The painting below is also a find. Accredited to one Evelyn Fothergill Abbot and painted in 1932..

It is a hither too unknown to me image actually painted in Long Wittenham allegedly but from angle of hill I would say more likely a view down from the Clumps…I will investigate..

(c) Reading Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Painted the year my father born….Traced the artist..Evelyn Fothergill Robinson..member of New English Art Club with Alexander Mann and Nevinson etc…

also connected to Arts and Crafts..exhibited at Baillie and Grafton Galleries pre marriage in 1917!

Here a black and white Italian painting. Also traced title of a Wittenham Clumps image yet.

As part of the new painting project I also hope to be taking photographs on the spot.

Trailer Star’s English Folk album….I hope….

Finally a new book of poems…



From Track to Backwater


In 2010 as my mother was in the final stages of Carcinoid cancer I took a walk down a disused railway line in my hometown that used to run from Didcot to Southampton.

I used it as the beginning of a NTU M.A. in Multimedia. A year later it collapsed and I retstarted it as a Fine Art Drawing M.A. instead after she passed away in 2012.

As my mother worsened I continued to visit her and that track and walk it and remember the times I walked and drew it in the early 1990s.

Here is an image from a small sketchbook drawn on the 1st August 1990….I dated everything in those days.


I completed the M.A. in Fine Art but felt out of sorts with Fine Art in general and indeed published a paper which called into question the basis of so-called Practice-led Art Research theory. This didn’t make me flavour of the month with NTU art research in general and especially in the fine art department. The fact that I went on to illustrate James Elkins as he proceeded to do pretty much the same demolition job (as Chicago professor of Art he carried more weight than a lowly NTU lecturer) only increased the antipathy.

I completed the M.A. with a distinction which hilarious as it was completely ignored and I never got to even show the work….. the support was overwhelming…

I however had not forgotten that Track project and always thought it would come back. NTU had failed to understand it let alone supervise it…..

I was told it too complicated I would have to supervise it myself..hilarious isn’t it.

As I wrote to NTU HR in my resignation note..Farewell and thanks for all the fish but in the end your waters were too shallow.

Now after resigning and resetting my compass I am finally ready to take it all forward.





North Berks Champions Long Wittenham F.C. 1960-61
Ivo C. Belcher top row second right

Second Wind

Under guttering stars
and moon lost in clouds
like the only working headlight
on the Co-op delivery van,
emerald bonnet and silver radiator
now passing them,
run five figures.
Left-back, goalie, centre-half,
inside-right, winger.
The ice fogs breath, crackles under studs,
shatters in the white blaze of puddles
as strides pound eastwards
down the tarmac road
known locally as the ‘straight mile’.
My father’s village team out training
February 1956
for a cup match at the weekend.
Hurtling down empty roads
between black fields.
Shouts like stray passes
bouncing off trees and clouds.

The same road ten years later.
A grey Morris Minor hitting sixty.
Door panels shudder and shake
as an unhealthy engine complains.
We’re testing the brakes
We’ve spent all morning repairing.
At least that’s what dad says as we
shoot down the straight mile grinning.
I lean my six-year old face
out the window until my eyes run.
I gulp and gulp in the cold air
Like a pike pulled out of water.
The dust and haze of harvest fields
spins away in the chrome side mirror.

Shouts ring in my ear.
Remember to pace yourself.
Keep a second wind.
If you’re one down
don’t argue
go back and score one against them.

I breathe deeply and thread the words together.
I pull one back.
The net bulges.


Rail and River: The Hitchman Archive explored.

As a teenager I remember looking through the extensive book collection my friend at school’s father had assembled. Mostly on a natural history and a river Thames theme I wasn’t sure how many of those books were still with my friend Stephe here in Nottingham. Yesterday I looked through the remnants of the ‘Hitchman Archive’ and found a treasure trove of cultural geography material.

Here what I managed to carry home to render into a bibliography for a proposal but there plenty still in the boxes.


Most significant were the accounts of the Victorian Thames and it already apparent that the railway opened up the River Thames as a tourist destination. I also delighted to discover a hither-too unknown to me artist George D. Leslie who was living in Wallingford at the same time Mann in Hagbourne. Indeed there was a group of  artists associated with two families there and George D. Leslie even wrote a book about art politics at the R.A!


This has put back my writing of the proposal for PhD as I sort through the new material and maybe revise my intended research question and title. The Rail/River juxtaposition seems to sum up the Victorian Golden age ( in Williams sense) problem. The artists used the railway to access the ‘unspoilt’ countryside/riverscapes but hardly (unlike the French Impressionists) painted the Railway…..this at root of my enquiry. Why did the British painters and artists comprehensively ignore the very means by which they were gaining access? This seems to be the essential contradiction at the heart of rural art and art movements here in the U.K.

Having found Leslie I did a quick trawl of other possible artists at work in a radius of just ten miles of Didcot Junction and came up with John Singer Sargent and John Lavery both connected to Lord Asquith estate at Sutton Courtenay. I also uncovered a small art commune known as the Broadway Group in the Cotswolds connected to Henry James and presumably linked to the arts and crafts further upstream. It looking increasingly likely that although the focus has been on Jewson and Morris above Oxford that the railway enabled a whole range of artistic activity all along the newly ‘discovered’ unspoilt Thames. Far from being the ‘Upper Thames’ poor cousin there may be more yet to uncover in ‘The Lower or Middle’ Thames Valley.

I also found this fascinating combination of travelogue, illustration and ‘staged’ photography by Charles George Harper and W.S.Campbell. I have never seen this illustration of the Clumps before and it several decades before Gibbings books were published.

I am very grateful to Mr Hitchman senior for this legacy:-)

TVVBothS TVVillages2vol Wittenham Clumps, by Charles G. Harper from Thames Valley Villages, 1910 (a)

They also published this book which has direct connection to Edwin Smith’s later photography from the look of the cover!

rural nooks

Sweet Thames Run Softly…



Going back to the source. I grew up near The Thames.

I have written about it for thirty years and now I researching it 🙂


Just discovered this so am now looking for a copy..

This also..


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