West London Gardens

‘Little Dorrit’ is one of Charles Dickens’s great novels. My Folio Society Edition of 1986 is, at 834 pages with 72 of Charles Keeping’s exquisite illustrations, so great that I intend to deviate from my normal approach to books in this blog.

The tale has been reproduced so often in books and films and there are so many Internet pages on it that I think I do not need to refrain from any story spoilers, and my observations may or may not be superfluous.

Just as the author published the work in serial form I will do the same with my presentation of Mr Keeping’s drawings. I will write something about each picture as I make my leisurely journey through the weighty tome.

The frontispiece represents Marshalsea Prison.

Wikipedia tells us ‘The Marshalsea (1373–1842) was a notorious prison in Southwark, just south of the River Thames. Although it housed a variety of prisoners, including men accused of crimes at sea and political figures charged with sedition, it became known, in particular, for its incarceration of the poorest of London’s debtors.[1] Over half the population of England’s prisoners in the 18th century were in jail because of debt.[2]

Run privately for profit, as were all English prisons until the 19th century, the Marshalsea looked like an Oxbridge college and functioned as an extortion racket.[3] Debtors in the 18th century who could afford the prison fees had access to a bar, shop and restaurant, and retained the crucial privilege of being allowed out during the day, which gave them a chance to earn money for their creditors. Everyone else was crammed into one of nine small rooms with dozens of others, possibly for years for the most modest of debts, which increased as unpaid prison fees accumulated.[4] The poorest faced starvation and, if they crossed the jailers, torture with skullcaps and thumbscrews. A parliamentary committee reported in 1729 that 300 inmates had starved to death within a three-month period, and that eight to ten were dying every 24 hours in the warmer weather.[a]

The prison became known around the world in the 19th century through the writing of the English novelist Charles Dickens, whose father was sent there in 1824, when Dickens was 12, for a debt to a baker. Forced as a result to leave school to work in a factory, Dickens based several of his characters on his experience, most notably Amy Dorrit, whose father is in the Marshalsea for debts so complex no one can fathom how to get him out.[6][b]

Much of the prison was demolished in the 1870s, although parts of it were used as shops and rooms into the 20th century. A local library now stands on the site. All that is left of the Marshalsea is the long brick wall that marked its southern boundary, the existence of what Dickens called “the crowding ghosts of many miserable years” recalled only by a plaque from the local council. “[I]t is gone now,” he wrote, “and the world is none the worse without it.”[8]

In his introduction to my copy, Christopher Hibbert, speaking of Dickens’s childhood experience, states that ‘throughout his life thereafter Dickens had been obsessed with prisons, prisoners and imprisonment. In England, in America, Italy and France he found his way to the prison in each new town he visited in the way that another man might seek out a museum or a church.’

The jailer of Marseilles Prison takes his little daughter on a tour of the cells.

During my brief spell of residence in Sutherland Place, W2 I served as a Committee member of the local Neighbourhood Association which enjoyed an annual gardens competition. In the summer of 2008 I toured the few streets around my flat making a series of photographic prints of likely contenders on which a small sub-group voted. A set of colour slides from the recently rediscovered cache dated July/August was my basic material. I scanned them this afternoon.

Although these West London properties are highly sought after and very expensive they mostly have negligible gardens. I was genuinely impressed by the ingenuity shown by the nurturing of colourful plants in all kinds of containers laid on paving and walls, on window sills, fixed to railings, and straggling down steps.

I wonder whether anyone will share my favourite. As a clue I will say it was not the stunning header picture.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s deliciously spicy pork paprika; roast potatoes, including the sweet variety, in their skins; firm broccoli; and tender runner beans, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I drank Languedoc Montpeyroux Recital 2018.

More Bastides

Having received no response from the estate agent, I decided to print off, sign, and post the document to the French solicitor complete with the errors. There are only so many times I am prepared to point out mistakes. This meant popping over to Shelly and Ron’s for my signature to be witnessed. Ron performed the task; I e-mailed scanned copies of each signed page to the agent; then posted the original to the solicitor.

the //about-france.com website claims that ‘the “Bastide” towns of southwest France are a growing tourist attraction, and comprise one of the largest collections of well-preserved mediaeval townscapes to be found anywhere in Europe.’ In yesterday’s post I featured

Beaumont 4 9.03

Beaumont-du-Perigord, being a fine example.

Unfortunately I cannot be certain which was the next such town I visited with Maggie and Mike in September 2003, but I think it was Monpazier, founded by the English to keep out the French in 1285. It was to change hands between these two nations several times in the following few decades.

The main feature of a bastide is the central square surrounded by colonnaded arches now housing shops, such as wine merchants and toy suppliers. I enjoyed seeing baskets of diabolos, such as those brought back from holiday by my maternal grandparents.

Colourful market stalls fill the square which is

surrounded by grids of streets linked by narrow alleys or ruelles.

Weathered walls, iron gates, and tended gardens invite attention.

Maggie and Mike 9.03

When we passed a church which had recently held a wedding, my friends thought it would be a good wheeze to pretend it was theirs.

I drank more of the Malbec with our evening meal consisting of Jackie’s chicken chow mein and Tesco’s won tons. Mrs Knight enjoyed her food , and did not imbibe.





Pruning Service


The landscape around Brockenhurst remained pretty waterlogged when we visited it this morning.

Even though the day was dull, trees were reflected in the pools.

Walking with ponies

A small group walked along a pitted track leading to a made-up road, enabling a couple of youngsters to ride ponies.

Most home owners in the New Forest, in order to stem equine invasion, keep their gates closed, and have cattle grids fitted. Not so one house for the sale at the end of this road.

A pair of donkeys had wandered in and set about an uninvited pruning service. Not, of course, until I had taken a few photographs, and after the animals stretched over the fence to set about next door’s shrubs, I knocked at both doors. Neither produced a response. I left the animals to it. The male, who appears in most of these images, wandered out and stood in the middle of the road. A woman from Hornchurch, who was down for the weekend was quite concerned for the creature’s safety. We had a very pleasant conversation in which I explained that the asses were not in danger as they had the right of way.

This afternoon I watched ITV’s coverage of the Six Nations rugby match between Italy and France in Rome; and of England’s game against Scotland at Twickenham.

This evening we dined on a rack of pork ribs with Jackie’s superb egg fried rice, green beans and sugar snaps with which I drank more of the bordeaux.

Our friend, Ginene Angel of https://foxandfinchantiques.com, has asked for the publication of our new fire at night.


Here it is Ginene.


Today we completed the weeding of the rose garden, and Jackie cleared out the potting shed, to which she adapted a set of shelves to fit.

This afternoon, I scanned a batch of colour slides from a French holiday in September and October 1981. We shared a house in Cabrieres, Languedoc with Jessica’s friend, Sue Sproston. The house belonged to a colleague of Sue’s who was in the process of renovating it, but hadn’t been too bothered about fixing potential leaks in the roof. Trust us to experience the worst thunderstorm locals could remember.

Here, Jessica and Sam see me off on a trip for the obligatory croissants from the boulangerie.

I found the local gardens fascinating. Some were carefully tended;

others seemed to be spaces to park trucks or trikes.

Cacti were in abundance. It seemed to me that, if the barbed wire had been designed to deter inquisitive fingers, it was probably somewhat superfluous.

Here Sue joins Jessica and Sam in investigating the local lake.

It was clearly the time of the vendanges, or the grape harvest.

We drove around the area and visited a number of villages, like the beautifully kept St Guilhem, and the almost abandoned Villeneuvette, where Sam sloshed in the fountain, a little less elaborate than the one in the grapes picture.

Wikipedia, currently has this to say about Colbert’s social and economic experiment:

‘Villeneuvette is a commune in the Hérault department in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France.

It lies close to the town of Clermont l’Hérault.

Villeneuvette is a small village made up of a group of buildings initially erected in the 17th century to create a royal clothmaking factory and provide accommodation for its workers. Apart from a hotel and restaurant, the buildings are now restricted to residential use, many for holiday purposes.

Creation of Villeneuvette was promoted in 1677 by Jean-Baptiste Colbert the noted finance minister of King Louis XIV. It was one of his many initiatives to develop France’s industrial base. Power for the factory was hydraulic with water supplied via different water courses from existing basins. The factory was privately owned and produced cloth for the king including uniforms for his armies. The factory was in existence until 1955.

Since 1995 the village has been classified as a “Zone de Protection du Patrimoine et du Paysage” recognising the originality and importance of its heritage.

The original inscription above the gateway was “MANUFACTURE ROYALE” but was later rather crudely changed by the Republic to “HONNEUR AU TRAVAIL” – Honour in work.’

When we stumbled across the commune most dwellings were unoccupied, except for a few people who, to us, appeared to be squatters. We were able to amble around and marvel at the higgledy-piggledy nature of the accommodation, often with one family’s upper rooms above those of the residents below.

In 1982, J.K.J. Thomson published ‘Clermont-de-Lodeve 1633-1789’. Since it contains an erudite history of Villeneuvette, I had to buy it. It was, in fact, far too academic for my taste, but I did struggle through it. Interestingly, the book jacket shows the changed inscription mentioned above.

I was, perhaps fifteen years later, rather pleased I had, when one of my consutatiion clients told me that a couple of her friends had bought one of the residences which were now being sold on the open market. I was able to describe what we had seen, and to hand over the book. I didn’t expect to see it again, but, it was eventually returned to me by the  wife, who happened to be  a committee member of another agency client. Even then, before we were all overtaken by the Web, it was a small world.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s delicious lamb jalfrezi, savoury rice stuffed with goodies, and vegetable samosas; followed by apple strudel. We both drank Kingfisher.

The Vouchers

Today’s weather was dull, and I can no longer ignore the acute pain I have been experiencing in my right knee and shin for a few days now (I know, I know, I should have rested it before now), so I stayed in and scanned a batch of colour slides from July and August 2008.

I only lived in Sutherland Place, W2, for three years, but during that time I served on the Westbourne Neighbourhood Association Committee, and for two years running was prevailed upon, in company with another member, to judge the annual Garden Competition. This residents association is keen, along with other environmental issues, to preserve the character of the gardens in this tiny area of West London. One threat comes from owners extending their basements under the gardens which then have to be paved over. We focussed on the very small front gardens and even smaller window boxes, given that most people were out during the day and we relied on photographic evidence to make our selections.

Here are a few of those photographs: Garden Competition 7.08 001Garden Competition 7.08 003Garden Competition 7.08 005Garden Competition 7.08008Garden Competition 7.08010Garden Competition 7.08013Garden Competition 8.08014Garden Competition 8.08015 2

Garden Competition 8.08016

The third and fifth pictures give some idea of the size of most of the front plots. The second shows what could be done with pots on paving.

The gardeners, by the way, did not enter themselves, and did not even know there was a competition, so were both surprised and delighted to receive their prizes. There were two categories to be considered, the window boxes, and the overall gardens. I printed up all the pictures, discussed them with my colleague, and presented the front runners to the committee where the final selection was made. Pictures six and seven are of the same, winning, garden. In the bottom left of the vertical image can be seen a set on steps leading down to the basement. Plants lined the steps and the concrete at the bottom, giving the whole display a great sense of depth. For this reason it was an unanimous first choice. The garden featured in the first photograph defied categorisation. All there was to this was the railings and steps down to the basement door. Pots stood on every downward level, and were fastened in tiers to each metal upright. There was hardly any room for feet on the way down to the flat.  Because this superb effort could not be pigeon-holed, three prizes were offered that year. This was the third, unique, winner.  I can’t actually remember which was considered the best window box, but, for its delicate palette merging with the lace curtain behind it, my choice was the last option above.

The penultimate photograph portrays a garden that was not considered eligible, because it was that of an hotel.

Now we come to the prizes, and the reason I chose to feature this batch today. Jackie and I keep a stock of cards for all occasions, some created by ourselves, and others from various sources. Searching through these recently, I came across three identical cards with envelopes. It had been my task to buy the tokens of our appreciation, to be reimbursed by the Association, and to deliver the surprises to the unwitting entrants.


Clifton vouchersI bought the prizes, but when it came to their delivery, I couldn’t find them, so had to purchase replacements with my own money. I wonder whether, seven years on, Clifton Nurseries of Little Venice would honour three £20 gift vouchers?

To return to 2015, this evening the herbal flavouring of Jackie’s excellent Bolognese sauce had greatly benefited from a further twenty four hours infusion. It was served with tricolour tagliatelle and tender green beans which, with the rich red tomato base reminded me of the Italian flag. Syrup sponge pudding and custard was to follow. Jackie drank Peroni, whilst I chose Llidl’s Bordeaux Superieur 2013.