Buttercup and Clover

buttercup and clover

Barbara has taken charge of the veg beds, giving me the chance to reach those parts of the garden that don’t normally get any attention.

I’ve trimmed right down around our little meadow as far as the bench in the corner, letting more light and air in. I need to get to the hedge, not only to trim it but also to keep the bindweed in check, which given the chance would spread into the garden too.

Being on such damp rich soil, the meadow is too lush, the grasses swamping out the wildflowers that I’d like to see thriving, such as birdsfoot trefoil and yellow rattle. There’s no sign of either yet this year.

Wheatgerm Levain

wheatgerm levainWe can make a wholemeal loaf in a few hours, so why would you want to take several days over it?

Here’s the answer; this wheatgerm levain sourdough has been made by the artisan bakers of the Flour Station, Borough Market, London, the slow way using a culture of wild yeasts, giving it an extra depth of flavour. It’s got an individual character – old fashioned and rather malty – compared to with loaves made with sachets of dried yeast that we use.

Many thanks to Amy Appleby of the Flour Station for giving us the chance to sample this robustly rustic loaf.

wheatgerm levain

wheatgerm levainIt arrived just in time for lunch so I couldn’t wait to draw it before we cut into it. Later I brought it up to my studio to draw and it now smells of homemade bread in here.

It makes toast with attitude; a robust compliment to the honey I spread on it. Goes well with piedmont peppers, for dipping and mopping up the juices. It made crunchy croutons to sprinkle on a salad and we’re just about to use it as base for a bruschetta . . . or will we try a roast veg toastie . . .

Link: the Flour Station; ‘The Flour Station story started in 2002 in the kitchen of Jamie Oliver’s award-winning Fifteen restaurant in London . . .’

One Small Sketch

coffee machine and cushion

I’ve been reading three inspiring books on urban sketching but I haven’t quite lurched into action again with my sketchbook habit. I sketched these cushions on a bank holiday visit to family this morning and you can see just how long it’s been since I last used this little Moleskine.


a4 sheet booklet
When I folded and trimmed this version, I realised that my 9 should be a 6!

Here’s an idea for a pocket-sized booklet that you can make from a single sheet of A4 paper. It’s included in Christian Deakin’s Designing a Newsletter, subtitled ‘The really, really, really easy step-by-step guide for absolute beginners of all ages’.

Correct pagination, sketched from the diagram in Designing a Newsletter.

He gives it as an example of pagination but it appealed to me as a format that I could find a use for. Perhaps simply popping a series of related sketches into a sequence.

Or, if you couldn’t quite get started on your first novel, you could pop in some linked text boxes and write a really, really, really short story.

In Design

a7 bookletI’m gradually getting myself back into booklet producing mode so I’ve taken this as an opportunity to become more familiar with Adobe InDesign, adjusting margins and guides and adding a non-printing guide layer.

I noticed that when printing in duplex mode on my HP Laserjet that in the printer options I need to set ‘Layout’ to ‘Two-Sided; Short-Edge Binding’, otherwise one side of the sheet doesn’t tally with the other.

Laser printers aren’t designed for millimetre perfect registration and, although I could probably tweak my guide boxes to allow for the thickness of the folded paper, I think the best thing to do will be to allow a generous margin of error around the content of each page.

Link; christiandarkin.blogspot.co.uk

Wakefield Street Life, 1876

The butter cross, Cross Square, WakefieldCross Square

Richard Knowles of the Rickaro Bookshop in Horbury recently came across these photographs of Victorian Wakefield. They were probably used as business cards by George & John Hall, photographers, who had premises at 26 Westgate.

Someone, presumably George, has dated three of the photographs Saturday, 15 July 1876.
Reverse side of the Chantry Chapel photograph.

The Butter Cross was built in 1707 and, according to some sources, demolished in 1866/67, but that was ten years before the date on the photograph. Wakefield council still have one of those pillars but I’m not sure where it is kept since the old art gallery, where it was displayed in the garden, closed.

The medieval Chantry Chapel now has a mid-twentieth century facade so these photographs are a valuable record of these buildings but it’s the incidental detail that I particularly like.

The shops by the Butter Cross would be a useful reference if I was illustrating Dickens or painting the Paddington Green backdrop for Oliver!

G & J Hall, photographers, were awarded a medal in the highly successful Wakefield Industrial and Fine Art Exhibition, 1865.
G & J Hall, photographers, were awarded a medal in the highly successful Wakefield Industrial and Fine Art Exhibition, 1865.

 Six Chimneys

The Six Chimneys

The 6 chimnies, Kirkgate, Wakefield

The Six Chimneys, an Elizabethan house, stood on Kirkgate, on the site of the present roundabout and pedestrian underpass. It collapsed following structural alterations at 7.45 p.m. on 16 May 1941.

To judge by the shadows, this was taken on the Saturday afternoon. Holden’s (the butchers?) has more or less sold out apart from a flitch of bacon and a single sausage (if that’s what it is!). There doesn’t appear to be any glass in the window, unless Mr Holden had gone to the expense of fitting plate glass.

Bell’s the coopers are displaying an impressive array of baskets and barrels, no doubt all made of locally sourced materials, most of them biodegradable.

Parish Church

Cathedral 1876

 The parish church wouldn’t become a cathedral until 1888.

Considering that this is the centre of town at half past eleven on a Saturday morning Wakefield seems uncannily quiet. Where is everybody?

handcartThree boys eyeing the camera and this porter or street-sweeper has stopped to chat to a woman who appears to be carrying a bag.

Street Urchins

Wakefield’s street urchins gathering at the Butter Cross. Was that ladder used by the town’s lamp-lighter?

handcartHandcarts seem to be a common feature around town. It probably wasn’t worth the trouble of loading barrels, baskets and boxes onto a horse drawn cart for delivery around town, so the porter and the delivery boy would have been a familiar sight.

I remember local author Stan Barstow telling me that one of his first jobs was to take a handcart as far as Lupset on the Saturday morning delivery round for one of the Horbury butchers. From a later period, I remember a big black butcher’s bicycle with a large rectangular basket between the handlebars, parked outside one of the High Street butchers in Horbury.

Wakefield Words

on the Chantry bridge

Finally, here are a couple of Saturday morning strollers, stopping for a chat on the Chantry Bridge.

As we’re looking down on them, this must have been taken from the Kings Mill.

What were they chatting about? Wakefield is lucky in that one of my predecessors William Banks who, like me, wrote a book of walks around Wakefield, took the trouble to make a note of the town’s dialect and phrases.

Wakefield Words page 77

So they could well have been saying;

Hah goes it? Owt fresh?’

‘Naah, nowt; what’s t’best news wi’ thee?’

Wakefield WordsSo, if you’d like to know a little about the words these street folk of old Wakefield used for weather, food, childhood and schooldays, the countryside, proverbs and a few supernatural tales, you can order a copy of my book Wakefield Words.

Price £3.99, post free (and as it’s a small paperback, for once I can make that post free outside the UK too).

If they ever invent a time machine and you get whisked back to Victorian Wakefield, it might make a useful phrase book! I was fascinated by William Banks collection of words and phrases and, as you’ll see from the book, I had fun adding cartoon illustrations to bring them to life. I’d always wanted to do a real little paperback book and I’m really pleased with this one. It’s quite jolly and I love the smell of a fresh paperback. Mmm! – you don’t get that with a digital version, do you?

More of my publications can be found at Willow Island Editions or, if you happen to be in Horbury, you can find the full range of titles at the Rickaro Bookshop.

My thanks to Richard Knowles of Rickaro for the loan of these evocative photographs.

Link; Rickaro Bookshop, Horbury

Kings Cross 1860s

Kings Cross, c. 1860Kings Cross 2005I’ve often sketched at Kings Cross as I waited for the train back to Yorkshire (left), so this engraving caught my attention as I leafed through a copy of Cassell’s Popular Educator, which I believe was published in the 1860s. I like to imagine A Williams, the artist sitting there a century and a half before me, drawing the same supporting struts.
As a slice of life he can’t compete with William Powell Frith’s Railway Station of 1862, which showed Paddington, but I like his group of passengers and porters on the left.
My grandfather worked briefly as a railway porter at Sheffield station at the end of the Victorian era. Kings Cross‘In some instances,’ Cassell’s informs us, ‘as in the termini of the Great Northern and Midland Railways at King’s Cross, these [arched] roofs are of great span and proportions. One of the two which form the terminus of the Great Northern Railway is depicted in our first illustration. This roof is supported by large semi-circular girders, formed of battens of wood jointed by iron bolts, and crossed transversely by horizontal iron rods, which complete the framework for the covering. As an example of the use of wood in this form, this station is very remarkable ; but in later constructions of the same kind, iron has quite superseded the other material and the roof is currently in progress of reconstruction in wrought iron.’ SidingsKings Cross had been built in 1851-52 and, as shown here, originally had only one platform, the rest of the space was used for sidings.



This belemnite-like cephalopod was actually more closely related to the present-day Nautilus. This fossil from Morocco has been polished to show the compartments that the cone-shells were divided into. Each compartment or camera is divided from the next by a wall or septa but connected by a central tube called a siphuncle.
After the death of the occupant the compartments filled with gases as the soft parts decayed and, in some cases, kept the shells afloat. Fossils show that they would drift along broad end first, sometimes trailing the pointed end along the sea bed.
Just as cockle shells tend to get concentrated in a particular part of a sandy beach, orthoceras shells are sometimes found sifted into such concentrations that the fossils are called ‘Othoceras’ limestones.
Orthoceras was a predator and scavenger of the Ordovician and Silurian, 400 to 500 million years ago. It swam with it shell horizontal in the water.


Simba SimbaSimba is a restless dog to draw but she did eventually settle. The trick is to draw her without letting her notice that you’re looking at her, otherwise she’ll start getting excited again and coming over to find out what is going on. Benji

In contrast little Benji is a Shitzu who likes to stay in the background.

While his owner browsed in the bookshop he kept her eyes on him and I had to move around to see him face-on. However as he’s such a small dog that, even kneeling on the floor, all I could see most of the time was her top-knot. Drawn in pen and watercolour crayon.


buttercup   corollaThis creeping buttercup is growing at the edge of our little meadow but leaves of meadow buttercup are starting to show in the middle.

As you can see from the notes, I’m making attempts to learn a bit more about botany and I’ve just finished reading a book that has been sitting unread on my shelves since the 1970s, Plants in Action, which accompanied a BBC television series.

Dicots and Monocots

Dandelion flower-bud
Dandelion flower-bud

It’s makes a good introduction but inevitably some of the botany is now out of date. Looking at a more recent publication, Dorling Kindersley’s The Natural History Book, points out that three-quarters of the world’s plants, including buttercups and dandelions, are now classified as Eudicotyledons, not Dicotyledons as they were previously.

The old division was between the ‘dicots’, which had two seed-leaves and the ‘monocots’, which had just the one. Some of the earliest flowering plants to appear in the fossil record are now classified as Basal Angiosperms and Magnoliids.

There are some familiar present-day species in these ancient groups including water lilies, bay, star anise and magnolia.


apple blossomI’m keen to get drawing again but it proved to be a busy day so this drawing of apple blossom on our Howgate Wonder double cordon was drawn through the patio windows at 8.30 this evening.

Also spotted in the garden today; a jay – unusually – at the front in our neighbour’s sumac a breakfast-time, a hedgehog on the back lawn after dark and, far less welcome than either of those, a large brown rat. We stopped feeding the birds for a month or more and we thought the rats had gone but they soon homed in on the sunflower seed when we started again this weekend.

Rats are supposed to be intelligent and I can’t deny that this one was showing a great deal of ingenuity in its attempts to get to the feeders, climbing out on the edge of the wheelbarrow that I keep upended by the compost heap (I’ve moved the bird-feeders right down the garden away from the house).

When it succeeded in shinning up one of the poles, I decided that it was time to remove the feeders and I’ll try hanging them in the rowan at the front in the hope that it doesn’t find them there.

I took the chance to step out of the back door to hear the dawn chorus when I got up to make a cup of tea at quarter past five this morning. It was overcast and misty, a little before sunrise. Sound travels faster through cool, therefore denser air, so the combined songs of what seemed like a hundred birds in neighbouring gardens and the nearby wood was quite impressive. The only song that I could pick out was the blackbird, one close to the house;  a mellow, melodious, unhurried song.