View from dressing roomHeligan path

As the morning sunlight gradually scaled the beech tree to the left, it exposed the changing nature of the weeping birch, the leaves of which are beginning to blend with the gravel of the Heligan Path.


Aaron and Robin completed work on the decking, which included Aaron’s own idea of the steps, made from offcuts of the planks. The intention is to train plants around the trellis.

Cold frame

It was a day for recycling. Jackie and I built a temporary cold frame for the winter, from offcuts of Elizabeth’s conservatory roofing, concrete slabs, and old bricks.

Automata are mechanical figures designed to move in certain ways when set off at the turn of a handle. As an art form these date from very early times, and are, at least in The First Gallery at Bitterne, near Southampton, enjoying a resurgence of interest. Our friends Margery and Paul Clarke, the proprietors, have long featured such works in their exhibitions, and have just finished one devoted entirely to these intriguing and entertaining constructions. At the close of this event they gave a party to celebrate this and their 40th year of exhibiting. Naturally we attended.

The gallery in their home was filled with fascinating pieces, all hand-made with marvellous moving parts. Examples are:

Automaton 1

Horse Box with Bird,

Automaton 2

A Friendly Gesture,

Automaton 3

Love Boat,

Automaton 4

these three as labelled,

Automaton 5

A Cheap Automata Shop,

Automaton 6

A Wave Machine,

Automaton 7

this group of four,

Automaton 8

Three Fishes and Bird,

Automaton 9

this one the name of which escapes me,

Automaton 10

another being tried out,

Automaton 11

these tiny miniatures in their glass case,


and Helluva Guy,

Wooden puppet

whose creator also made the hanging wooden puppet.

Margery had made a few figures of her own, notably:



Aggie witch

and Aggie, the very very wicked witch.

Other works included:

Cat and dog

Cat and Dog,

Cat in Moonlight

Cat by Moonlight,

Seal box and fish

and Seal Box with Fish.

Group in garden

It was a warm enough day for a number of guests to sit outside,

Margery speech

until all were called in to drink a toast, listen to Margery’s short welcome speech,

Margery Lighting candle

and see her cake candle lit.

She then cut the cake which was distributed to follow the excellent soup, numerous canapés and other treats, and various desserts.

After this we visited Mum shortly before her temporary carer arrived to help her cook her dinner. Mum is having a difficult time with her arthritis at the moment and, for the time being, has a carer visiting at mealtimes.

We then went on to Elizabeth’s and spent some time with her before returning home where the contents of the doggie bag given to us last night by the waitress at The Royal China were just the job for our evening meal. I had consumed a glass or two of wine earlier, so was in no need of accompaniment. Jackie drank a Hoegaarden.


  1. There used to be the most fascinating exhibition and shop in the central market Jan Covent Garden full of automata. We’ve bought a couple over time. Sadly it moved due to the increasingly exorbitant rents. I love this beauties.

    1. That was called “Cabaret”. In 2000 it moved to Southend, but couldn’t survive there, either. It now occupies an industrial unit in Victoria, and trades online, selling automata and education packs, and promotes two touring exhibitions worldwide of parts of its collection. A third tour is in preparation.

  2. I find them either beautiful and fascinating or ugly and pointless. Each to his own, I guess. I remember playing with many versions of such toys.

    I like the birch tree dropping leaves onto the path. I love leftovers 🙂

  3. The leaves of the weeping birch remind me that we are about to experience such a falling of leaves here in New England as will be needing days and days…a month or two…. to rake… 🙂

    1. However, they’re so spectacular they promote tours from the UK specifically to visit the fall colours in New England. So, aren’t the colours worth the raking?

  4. What a day you had! The automatons are fascinating and whimsical. I was grinning as I looked at them. I hope you turned a few handles! BTW, my cold frame made its way back into the garden today.

  5. Your photos do these creations justice. I am so impressed with the creativity and I especially like when I can see the working parts that make the movement. The seal box is so neat! Like a kid, I am wishing I could be there to turn the cranks.

    I am sorry that your mother is suffering with arthritis now, and hope it improves some. What a frustrating malady that is. So glad she has a carer to take care of painful tasks.

  6. What a fabulous craft. I wouldn’t want a single one of them, but am in awe of the skill. Regarding falling leaves… they convey a certain sadness – but look on the bright side: we don’t have native deciduous trees here in New Zealand, and so they shed their leaves 12 months of the bloody year.

  7. Such a great collection! Your garden certainly is announcing the change of season…it looks like it will be full autumn colour in a matter of weeks now…

  8. The piece whose name you can’t recall was Palette Port (the palette being the multi-coloured houses in the background) and is by Ian McKay. He’s the husband of Fleur Hitchcock, who ran “Hitchcock’s of Bath” the automata specialist gallery second only to Cabaret in its heyday. It was partly a craft shop and had a branch in Alresford, near Winchester, with a section devoted ro automata. Both closed down nowt

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