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Reading’s Influential Women – an inspiring read!

Reading’s Influential Women features more than 60 individual Women who have a connection with Reading and have made a notable difference in the world. Some are well known international names, others deserve to be. They are pioneers, familiar faces, recognisable voices, unsung heroes, campaigners, world changers, socialists, celebrities, Olympic and sporting champions, writers, artists, and scientists. It’s an inspiring read!

Authors Terry Dixon and Linda Saul write:

‘There are innumerable men and women from Reading who have achieved significant things or contributed to the life of the town and/or the wider world. Some, unfortunately, have gone unrecognised or are forgotten. Also, we know that in the past, the contribution of women was often dismissed, overlooked or attributed to somebody else.

In this book we can’t hope to document all those women connected to Reading who deserve to be mentioned but we can raise the profile of some, especially those whose connection to Reading is relatively unknown. To be included, women need to have been born, bred, educated in the greater Reading area, or to have lived there, or else have made an indelible mark on the town. We have included a couple of ‘unsung heroines’, but we know there are many more.

Many of the women in this book will have had their lives affected by misogyny. Several have played their part in challenging such attitudes. Edith Morley was a Suffragist (although Lady Wantage was antisuffragism), Ethelwyn Trewavas campaigned for married women to be able to keep their jobs. Some, such as Lettice Curtis, just got on and proved how good they were in a field dominated by men. Modern campaigns, such as Me Too, and the under-representation of women in many fields and the top tiers of organisations remind us there is still more progress to be made.

One area which has seen massive improvement in recent years is sport. Elite sportswomen are clearly influential in encouraging wider participation in sport, at all levels, and we have several examples in this book. But who knows how many more there might have been if women’s sport had not been discouraged in the not-too-distant past.

In writing this book some interesting threads emerged, and there are always questions. It is fun to try to find any connections between the individuals – were Jane Austen and Mary Mitford friends? Is it coincidence that one of the first female professional photographers set up a business in the same town where William Fox Talbot had made major advances in photography just a decade earlier?’

The authors’ royalties from the book are to be donated to Berkshire Women’s Aid.

About the Authors:

Terry Dixon was born in Tilehurst, Reading, and held the post of National Publicity and Development Officer on the National Federation of 18 Plus Groups NEC for 6 years. In his day job he was an electronics engineer and project manager. Taking early retirement in 2016, he started ‘Terry’s Reading Walkabouts’ to get fitter, and to introduce visitors and residents to the hidden culture and history of Reading. In 2017 he decided to celebrate Vote 100 by creating a new guided walk called ‘Famous/not-so-famous women of Reading’ which was launched in February 2018 to coincide with the date the Act of Parliament received royal assent. His research for that walk is the basis for this book. His walkabouts have raised over £7500 (including £1000 for Berkshire Women’s Aid) for local charities and he is a member of Reading Civic Society’s committee.

Linda Saul was born and raised on the Isle of Wight but has lived in Reading for about 35 years. After studying at Cambridge, she embarked on a successful career in IT. In her younger, wilder, days she developed a habit of falling out of aircraft before finally learning to fly one. She is now a full-time artist, her work focusing on the built environment. She exhibits regularly in London and is an active member of the Reading Guild of Artists. A perpetual student, she has completed a physics degree with the Open University and is now studying for a Masters in mathematics. In 2019 Linda cocurated an exhibition of art inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Galvanised by the campaign to save Reading Gaol for the town, she conceived and organised the Reading Gaol Hug with the help of many others, including Terry.

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WHY I PAINT LICHENS. And mosses. And butterflies and bees, and bunches of primroses, and skeleton leaves… by Christina Hart-Davies

Photograph of Christina Hart-Davies by Hattie Miles
Photograph of Christina Hart-Davies by Hattie Miles

When Two Rivers Press suggested that I should write a book in their Botanical Portfolios series, following on from Julia Trickey’s beautiful Botanical Artistry, I was excited and flattered but rather nervous. My two previous books were about the history and folklore of plants and involved a great deal of very enjoyable research. But this book was more personal, more exposing, with no research to hide behind. But it was an opportunity to explain what inspires me, and to show some of my working practice.

I wondered how best to describe my work. Looking back over my long career, it became obvious that one driving principle was my passion for ALL things natural, how they work and how they relate to one another. Although my main interest is in plants, I am very aware that they do not exist in isolation, but are part of a bigger story.

At school in the 1950s there was always a class Nature Table. It inspired our interest in nature in a way that glossy TV natural history programmes just can’t do, and laid down foundations for a lifelong interest in the natural world. That wiggly mark on a leaf was caused by a tiny caterpillar eating a tunnel between the layers of the leaf. That sculptural, hard, brown pupa case contained a formless goo that used to be a caterpillar and would soon become a butterfly. Those attractive lines on the petals of a wild Geranium were there to guide insects to find nectar and at the same time pollinate the flower. Marvellous!

Living in a small country town, I and my friends spent our time, as children did in those days, playing in the fields or walking unaccompanied to school. We became familiar with wild plants, even using them in our games. I was a major contributor to the class Nature Table and my painting still draws on that fascination with all things natural and the connections between them.

Forced at school to choose between arts and sciences, I opted for the arts route but never lost my interest in the science of nature too. I ended up as both a professional botanical artist and illustrator – there is a big difference between the two, but that is a subject for another time! Isolated plants can make a striking portrait and, of course, are essential in illustrations intended to assist identification. But in reality plants are not perfect; they have dead leaves and caterpillar holes. They grow in habitats with other species around them. They start off as fragile seedlings and may end up as skeletons. Insects come to drink their nectar or lay eggs on them. I enjoy showing all this in my ‘art’ work, telling more of their story.

Butterflies, beetles and moths sometimes appear in my exhibition paintings too, and not always to cover an accidental paint spot! Even if animals themselves do not appear, I like to include evidence of their activity, such as galls, insect damage, empty egg-shells or fallen feathers. Many of these have the advantage that, on the whole, they don’t change colour, or wilt.

Like many botanical painters, I had included little tufts of moss or lichen when I found them growing on the twigs I was painting. Once I started studying them I became totally hooked, and have been painting them as subjects in their own right ever since. Although by no means an expert, I cannot resist pointing out these normally unregarded organisms to everyone. I just love that moment when, having handed someone a lichen-encrusted twig and shown them how to use a hand-lens, I hear them gasp in astonished admiration!

We are surrounded by plants and have always depended on them. The history of our interaction with them is endlessly absorbing to me and ranks alongside the aesthetic and scientific aspects of my work. I like to remind people of bluebell woods, picking blackberries, harvesting from the garden. As a society we are losing touch with nature and the seasons, and that alarms me. Our long traditions, the folklore we have woven around plants, which ones we have used as simple remedies – all this too is part of the story.

As I near the end of my painting career, writing this book has been a useful review, reminding me of what I have done and what more I would still like to do. I hope The Whole Story will transform people’s perspective and inspire them to look beyond the flowers to the wider story.

Christina Hart-Davies

Christina Hart Davies is well known for her precise and accurate botanical watercolours, which feature in prestigious collections worldwide and have won many awards including several RHS Gold medals. She has illustrated many books and field guides, most notably The Collins Wild Flower Guide. In 2016 Two Rivers Press published Christina’s own book A Wild Plant Year on the history, folklore and uses of Britain’s wild plants. The Whole Story: Painting more than just the flowers is her latest book and is available to order now. Christina graduated in Typography from Reading University. Her design background is invaluable in her illustration work and influences the composition of her exhibition paintings. She is an experienced and popular tutor and enjoys encouraging people to find their own style in which to celebrate plants of all kinds.

www.christinahartdavies.co.uk

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The Art and History of Whiteknights – A roundup

Over the summer we have posted a series of articles and videos, which you can link to below, celebrating the art and history of Whiteknights. The series accompanied the publication of The Art and History of Whiteknights book, which we published together with the Whiteknights Studio Trail, with support from The Friends of the University of Reading.

2020 is the trail’s 20th year and in the unfortunate absence of the trail itself in 2020 (it will be back in 2021!) we hope that the book, together with these fascinating posts and videos, will remind you of the wealth of creative talent in our locality, as well as inspiring you to reflect more deeply on the history and roots of this special part of town.

‘There’s something about the Whiteknights area that makes people stay here.’ – From the Foreword by Fiona Talkington, BBC Radio 3 Presenter and long-term resident

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 1 – A visit to the studio of local artist Sally Castle

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 2 – Jenny Halstead writes about the Whiteknights Studio Trail and Christchurch Green

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 3 – Martin Andrews on the Old Dairy, and a tour of his studio

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 4 – Chris Mercier

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 5 – Carole Stephens

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 6 – Andrew Boddington

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 7 – Salvo Toscano

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 8 – Kennet Quilters

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 9 – Hilary James

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 10 – A tour around the Whiteknights campus with John Grainger and Ian Burn

The Art and History of Whiteknights: 11 – A tour around Southern Hill and the area around Whiteknights with Evelyn Williams and Dennis Wood

 

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The Art and History of Whiteknights: 11 – A tour around Southern Hill and the area around Whiteknights with Evelyn Williams and Dennis Wood

Filmed to mark the publication of the book The Art and History of Whiteknights this video, produced by Ian Burn, features a fascinating historical tour around the Whiteknights and Southern Hill areas of Reading with commentary by Evelyn Williams and Dennis Wood. The video complements their written contribution in the book and points out the locations of some of the artworks featured in it.

Evelyn Williams is one of the founders of the Whitley Pump, a community-based website covering Katesgrove and parts of South Reading. She is actively involved in championing Reading’s heritage and is Chair of the Reading Conservation Area Advisory Committee.

Dennis Wood is an author and speaker on the history of Whitley, Southern Hill and surrounding areas. He is Vice Chairman and a Trustee of the Friends of Reading University and a tour leader for organised groups visiting the University campuses.

~~

In a normal year, we always look forward to the annual Whiteknights Studio Trail, where our local artists and craftspeople open their houses. This is the trail’s 20th year, and in a joint venture with the Whiteknights Studio Trail, and with support from The Friends of the University of Reading, Two Rivers Press is delighted to publish a beautiful celebratory book, The Art and History of Whiteknights, which features 28 artworks all inspired by the Whiteknights area of Reading. The featured artists have all exhibited on the trail over the years, and in the unfortunate absence of the trail itself in 2020 (it will be back in 2021!) we hope that this book will remind you of the wealth of creative talent in our locality, as well as inspiring you to reflect more deeply on the history and roots of this special part of town.

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Poet of the Week – 20: William Bedford

TWO RIVERS PRESS POET OF THE WEEK—20: WILLIAM BEDFORD

William Bedford has published novels, children’s novels, short stories and several volumes of poetry. He lived in Kensington during the nineteen sixties, working in the City of London before becoming an academic. His novel Happiland was shortlisted for the 1990 Guardian Fiction Prize. His selected poems, Collecting Bottle Tops, and selected short stories, None of the Cadillacs Was Pink, were both published in 2009.

William Bedford writes:

The most important experience in my writing life happened in 1959, when we moved from the east coast of Lincolnshire to USAF Hemswell in north Lincolnshire. My father was the civilian police officer, responsible for seven isolated villages. The Americans were there with their intermediate nuclear missile programme. A group of scientists from the Douglas Company who were working on the fuelling programme were also on the camp. Among their families, I made friendships which have lasted through the decades.

The first serious literature I read – virtually the first books I read – were the great American poets, novelists and dramatists of that generation. By the time I was sixteen, I was reading Lowell, Berryman, Ginsberg, Carlos Williams, Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin, Hemingway, Faulkner, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill. I also read Shakespeare and the English classics, but more importantly for my own writing Chekhov’s short stories and plays, and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I was obsessed with Ted Hughes, the one contemporary English writer who attracted Alvarez.

The Americans brought their own way of life with them – cars and fridges and televisions we had never seen – an all-night ten pin bowling alley in one of the empty hangars, cheeseburgers and hi-fi systems. Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue was the background music to these experiences, Jackson Pollock the scenery, New York and California the imagery colouring my ambitions.

Though I have written extensively about the farming background of my father’s family, and the east end slums background of my mother’s Sheffield family, the rhythms of American poetry and prose are the deepest influence in what I have tried to write. I never struggled to escape the influence of the iambic pentameter – Eliot and Pound’s ambition – because I came too late to traditional English versification – or at least the dominant tradition until Ted Hughes pointed out the deeper roots of English versification. And in prose, when Saul Bellow begins The Adventures of Augie March with ‘I am an American, Chicago Born’, I immediately fell in love with the declarative tone.

~

WHEN THE AMERICANS CAME

USAF Hemswell: North Lincolnshire 1962

When the Americans came,
they didn’t take to our gardens:
the apple orchard smelling of wild garlic,
foxgloves growing among the runner beans.

‘Do you have vampires around here?’
a visitor from Carolina asked me.
It was a shambles, Wilfred knew that,
nodding wisely as though apologising

for the ill manners of King George,
the clematis purple in the thatched roofing.
But come the softe sonne,
there are oxlips in Fry’s woods,

forget-me-nots in the shallow stream,
lettuce and spring onions for a salad.
It’s certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat*

I tried to tell them. But they weren’t women,
and didn’t care to listen to a boy.
They preferred the red rosehips
we used for making wine.

Danced outside the village church
round the maypole Jack Parnham made.
Now they’re gone,
the wild garlic has returned.

*W.B.Yeats, ‘A Prayer for my Daughter.’

CAMP PERIMETER

for Trisha: October 1962

I bring you Ezra Pound’s poems,
sliding foxily the fox lanes,
cruising

the six o’clock dawn bristle.
But your father opens the door,
stiffening for duty,

ready for war.
The camp is no place for poets.
Military mowers cut the grass.

The air is nuclear.
‘Traitor!’ flares from his mouth. ‘Mad!’
I run for shelter.

‘Love,’ I want to shout. ‘Love.’
The dawn’s red lunatic.

[from The Dancers of Colbek]