Sunday, 15 January 2023

Save Great Easterfields!

 

 

 
Great Easterfields, 1920/1930

In Fifty Forgotten Books I wrote about the paperbacks my parents kept in a jumbled heap at the bottom of their wardrobe, and how I devoured them, along with others that I bought from the local junk shop, Magpies. These were all read in my bedroom at the family home, Great Easterfields, an historic, tile-hung Wealden farmhouse on Chiddingly Road in Horam, East Sussex.

My two sisters and I had the three bedrooms at the front of the house, reached via a long, dark passage with an uneven floor and exposed timbers. It is a very old house, and my room had exposed posts and beams that hinted not just at its age but its original construction. My bedroom door was made of several old planks with a wrought-iron latch, but my sister Jen had a door that was of even older timber, with a wooden latch. She, too, had exposed beams in her room, wattle and daub walls (too delicate for her to be allowed to put up posters) and a secret passageway to the bedroom of my other sister, (Jo), which was behind another really old door. Was it any surprise that in these historic, atmospheric surroundings, exposed to all kinds of random literature, I became more and more drawn to strange and supernatural fiction?

To be honest, Great Easterfields was not at all spooky. It was a loving, friendly house that had formerly belonged to my grandparents, who added a large extension to its rear elevation (my grandfather was a builder). Perhaps I should have also noted in Fifty Forgotten Books that my grandparents left behind, in the sun lounge, a bookcase full of Companion Book Club thrillers, and I remember enjoying reprint editions by writers like Gavin Lyall.

  
Great Easterfields, 1972, with my grandparents

I never took Great Easterfields for granted—I loved the house. I lived there between 1974 and 1984, from the age of seven until seventeen—formative years in my life. I have always had family and friends in the area so whenever I return to Sussex (two or three times a year) I always go out of my way to drive past Great Easterfields.

My father died last year. He was a local man and just before Christmas his ashes were interred at Waldron church, in the next parish to Horam. When we left the church, the whole family stopped to take a look at Great Easterfields, which we all remember with such affection. It was then that we saw the planning notice…

Great Easterfields is now the subject of a proposal for nine new houses to be built on the site. The application does its best not to openly mention that this would entail the demolition of the original house. By some quirk of fate Great Easterfields has never been Listed as an Historic Building, which would have given it protection from developers. When I contacted the Head of Planning at Wealden District Council I was told that the owners were at liberty to demolish the house without anything more than a courtesy letter outlining their intentions. The Chief Planner said there was currently nothing they could do to protect the house.

We immediately contacted Historic England, who have agreed to assess Great Easterfields for Listing. However, in the meantime it is still in danger, and it appears that the local planners do not have it in their power to protect the building. After some correspondence, and our setting up of a petition to save the house, they have grudgingly agreed to assess it themselves to see if it can be considered an “Historic Asset”.

Does Great Easterfields deserve to be saved? I accept that I remember the house nostalgically, but I know for certain that it dates back to at least the 1600s, based on architectural features such as the inglenook fireplace and chimney. The layout of the house is identical to that of a medieval Wealden Hall House from the 1500s or earlier, and the timber framing visible inside adds weight to this possibility. Although the house has been much altered (as have most buildings of this age), there is, in our view, enough of the original house remaining to warrant protection.

 
My old bedroom, c. 1984 with exposed timber posts and beams (and teenage posters, books in the corner, copies of the NME and crash helmet)

Anyone who has an interest in the area around Horam will realise that the local planners seem to have a mania for granting permission for new building, even beyond previously established village and town boundaries, to the detriment of the countryside that gives the area its character. Given the damage already done by new development on Chiddingly Road it may not seem unreasonable to build new houses on the large garden of Great Easterfields, but to demolish the house would seem to us to be an act of historical and architectural vandalism.

If you agree, then would you kindly consider signing the petition that we have started, and which already has a large number of signatures from local residents. (Petition link) Every new signature increases the possibility that we can persuade the developers, and planners at Wealden District Council, not to tear down an historic building of great character.

Thursday, 10 November 2022

London Launch of Fifty Forgotten Books

Maggs Bros, Bedford Square, London, 6th October 2022


Ed Maggs and his staff very kindly hosted the third of our launches for Fifty Forgotten Books. Maggs Bros is one of the oldest and most prestigious bookshops in London, and also the most welcoming. (Rosalie and I both saw Ed Maggs last in Haworth for the handover of the tiny Charlotte Bronte Book of Ryhmes—a really magical occasion.) The Maggs stock is beautifully curated and eclectic, and wandering into their shop is like entering Ed’s front room or private office.

 

It was good to see a number of old friends, customers and family for the evening. As part of my talk I read the chapter from Fifty Forgotten Books on Roland Topor’s The Tenant, a book that has always been close to my heart. As with my intention in York to read a few pages relating to The Grimoire Bookshop, at the last minute fate stepped in to alter the story—this time in a positive manner.

My chapter on The Tenant ends:

I have never seen the first edition of the English translation of The Tenant in any bookshop. They only seem to exist online, where they are horribly expensive. When Millipede Press published a limited-edition hardback edition in 2006 I received a copy as a gift from the publisher, and have kept it, but I couldn’t part with my Bantam paperback with stills from the film reproduced on the cover. I have since written an Introduction to the Valancourt Press edition, which means I have three copies. If I ever find a first edition that I could afford, that would mean I’d have four. It remains an ambition!

Just before the evening event at Maggs Bros, Rosalie and I happened to be walking past Jarndyce Books in Museum Street and there, in the centre of their window display, was a copy of the first British edition of The Tenant. Of course I had to buy it, although it ruined the last line of the reading!

 
First edition of Roland Topor’s The Tenant

The Maggs evening went very well, even though I disparaged Frederick Rolfe’s prose, which provoked some heckling, not least from Ed Maggs himself.

A highlight of the evening for me was Ed sharing a letter from a small Machen archive that dates from the author’s Amersham years. In it, Machen explained to a correspondent how to get to Amersham, and explores the difference between "Saturdays only" and "Saturdays excepted":

“this is, probably, a metaphysical statement . . . the Tables, you observe, get what Coleridge called “the Idea” rather than the fact . . . So again, certain buses start from “the Crescent, Amersham”. There is no Crescent in Amersham, nor anything like a Crescent - that is in the phenomemal world. But I make no doubt that there is a super-sensible or noumenal Crescent. A solemn thought.” 

 

Fifty Forgotten Books can still be ordered here: https://www.andotherstories.org/fifty-forgotten-books/

 

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

York Launch of Fifty Forgotten Books

 Lucius Books, 144 Micklegate, York, 29th September 2022

The second event to promote Fifty Forgotten Books was at Lucius Books, generously hosted by James Hallgate and Monica Polisca. Lucius offers some of the most beautiful books (and artwork), and the launch was a well-attended and convivial occasion.

One of the subjects I discussed was the number of secondhand bookshops trading today compared to the past. In my teenage years (the 1980s) I frequented the many secondhand bookshops in Brighton, and it is very sad that there are none left today. However, on the whole, the number of bookshops in the country appears to have increased. I pointed out that one of the many losses for Brighton was the Grimoire Bookshop, run by Catherine Walton. I planned to read my account of her shop from Fifty Forgotten Books, pointing out that it specialised in esoteric, magical and occult books. I also planned to mention that, although the shop suddenly disappeared in the 1990s, it was fortuitous that it later reopened, very conveniently for us, in York. In both of its incarnations, Grimoire was one of those shops stuffed to the rafters with inexpensive paperbacks among which there was always something interesting to buy.

I invited Catherine Walton to Lucius for the launch, but she did not reply. Just before the event, I went round to the shop, only to discover that Grimoire Books was no longer there.

      

I asked what had happened in the (new) Little Apple Bookshop two doors along, and was told by the owner that she had arrived at work just a few days before to find that Grimoire had “done a midnight flit”. The big mystery was not that it had closed (York shop rents are very high and running a secondhand bookshop is incredibly marginal), but how Catherine had removed, unnoticed by anyone, in just one night, such a vast stock, and all the fixtures and fittings. Perhaps the clue is in the sign on the door stating that the shop had been “repossessed”. This implies that it was formerly “possessed” (by Catherine, of course). With her knowledge of the occult perhaps she used magic to spirit away her stock!

Midjourney impression of Catherine removing the stock from Grimoire Books

 

York lost Stone Trough Books a few years ago, and recently Ken Spelman’s closed. I also hear that Fossgate Books may be closing (and going online). All the more reason to visit Lucius Books when in York!

 

Fifty Forgotten Books can still be ordered here: https://www.andotherstories.org/fifty-forgotten-books/

 

Save Great Easterfields!

      Great Easterfields, 1920/1930 In Fifty Forgotten Books I wrote about the paperbacks my parents kept in a jumbled heap at the bo...