Thursday, 29 August 2013

South Coast Road Trip


Tansy at Bexhill-on-Sea
Two invitations combined to inspire us to plan a road trip along the South Coast. One was from the picturesque Much Ado Books in Alfriston and the other from old friends just moved to Brighton. A desire to see Merchant & Mills new shop in Rye topped off the idea and enabled me to plan a quick squint at an icon of Modernist architecture in Bexhill-on-Sea that I have been trying to see for the last 35 years...

Our first stop was at Much Ado - and enchanting burrow of a place run by the most welcoming Cate and Nash Robbins.
Much Ado Books inAlfriston
On arrival they announced that they had not received the food for lunch they had planned so proposed to take us out for a countryside experience with pheasants and peacocks. We piled into the Volvo and arrived, after a bumpy drive along a dusty track, at the Beanstalk Tea Garden
Sun shade at the Beanstalk Tea Garden
Run by Caroline Fuller, it is right on the South Downs Way and more easily accessible by foot, bicycle or horse than car. The path runs along the Old Coach Road at Firle, not far from the Bloomsbury Group's country home at Charleston Farmhouse. The tea garden is idyllic. An Indian tea tent stands ready for inclement weather, but as we basked in gloriously warm sunshine, we sat amongst the heavily laden apples boughs with the strutting peacock proudly adding ornament to nature.
Jonathan and Tansy with Cate and Nash
The courgette and pea soup with big hunks of freshly baked bread was perfect and the delicious ham salad was generous and imaginative. We drank homemade lemonade and elderflower cordial.
The Barn at Much Ado
The Charleston inspired Members' Room at Much Ado
Back in Alfriston we looked around the bookshop, the area above the shop which hosts workshops and 'Artists Upstairs' and the cosy Members' Room. We also enjoyed tea and a large piece of Victoria sponge brought from the Beanstalk in the Barn before setting off to view the Long Man of Wilmington.
One man admires another
Here he is, a Ravilious landscape in the flesh. Although the elusive dummy for a Puffin Picture Book Ravilious proposed to Noel Carrington in 1941 was called 'White Horse' it was likely that it would have included other chalk figures including the Cerne Abbas Giant and this lovely Wilmington chap. There are plans afoot, I hope, for the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes, which bought the dummy at auction for almost £5,000 in January, to publish a version.
Brighton Dome with johnsonbanks identity
From Wilmington we headed by Berwick Church with its Bloomsbury murals, past the turn to Charleston, and on to Brighton. Our friends' house was ideally placed just off the Victoria Gardens and alongside the eternally hippy yet cool North Laines. Our foray in the morning included a stroll to the sea, past the magnificent Pavilion, through the Laines, and back through the North Laines, acquiring a pair of very fine orange poi at Oddballs before setting off on the next leg of our trip.
Barnett Freedman for Lyons Teashops
Heading East along the coast road proved rather tortuous but extremely geographically educational with names like Rottingdean, Saltdean and Peacehaven gliding by. We arrived at the Towner in Eastbourne ready for culture. The Lyons Teashops Lithographs: Art in a time of Austerity is a mesmerising exhibition. The lithographs vary in quality, beauty, interest, colour, charm - but all are intriguing and draw one in to wonder at the technique and skill. The whole is very evocative of the post war period, with some examples so surprisingly modern you're pulled up with a start to re-assess your pre-conceptions of art and context. Barnett Freedman is without doubt the master of the medium, but I do love the John Nash 'Landscape with Bathers.'

Continuing our easterly journey through the golden sunset of the suburban south coast we wiggle through Bexhill-on-Sea and arrive at the De La Warr Pavilion.
When I first learned about this beauty of the Modern Movement by Eric Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff in the late 1970s it was unloved and unlisted.
I was desperate to visit it then, but never quite got round to it. Its road to rehabilitation and restoration started in 1986 with its Grade I listing and the formation of the Pavilion Trust in 1989.

It is now gloriously renovated and gleaming, a thriving arts centre, high up on the Bexhill seafront.
The final leg of our trip was to Rye - the home of Merchant & Mills. We asked for Roderick at the counter to be informed he was crawling over a table out the back cutting oilskin.
The shop is a delight of notions and muted fabric, Merchant & Mills quietly distinctive identity gracing notebooks, oilskin bags and boxed sewing kits. We were taken behind the counter to see an industrious workshop with shelves of boxes and piles of samples - and a large cutting table with evidence of Roderick's handiwork.
Our visit to Rye was topped off with toasted teacakes, raspberry bonbons, wine gums and chewing nuts  from the traditional sweet shop, Britcher & Rivers, on the High Street and then a bag of excellently crispy chips each from Marino's for eating in the car as we set off back to London.