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Features

White Horse Bookshop’s Open Art Exhibition to become an annual event

The 2016 exhibition (Photo by Niels van Gijn)The 2016 exhibition (Photo by Niels van Gijn)Following last year’s successful Open Art Exhibition at the White Horse Bookshop, the Exhibition is set to become an annual fixture for the town.  This year’s Exhibition will be in May.

The inaugural Exhibition in 2016 celebrated the opening of the bookshop's art gallery. More than a thousand visitors enjoyed more than eighty entries in a variety of mediums. Exhibitors included tutors who run the White Horse art classes and their students.

The manager of the White Horse Bookshop, Angus MacLennan, told Marlborough.News: “I hope that everything that is submitted will be included in the Exhibition. It is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to see their work of art on the wall.”

[Click on image to enlarge it][Click on image to enlarge it]As a keen amateur artist himself, Angus believes “there is nothing better than thinking and drawing.” His drawing of a Roman sarcophagus [left] is featured on the flyer advertising this year’s Exhibition. “I saw this many years ago and wanted to draw it. It was a technical challenge but it was fun.”

All exhibits will be for sale with the price is to be fixed by the artist. Exhibits must be submitted between April 1 and 17. Only one piece per artist can be submitted and may not exceed 50cm x 50cm once framed.

This year the exhibition will be extended to include sculpture. But with obvious space limitations, artists should check with Angus to confirm size restrictions.

The White Horse Bookshop Gallery is hosting several exhibitions this year. In March a textiles exhibition entitled Delving Deep will feature work from students at New College, Swindon  which has been inspired by either Wiltshire history or nature.

April hosts the semi-abstract/architectural work of Will Wilford, who is completing an MA at Bath. Will has a family connection to the Chandler family who used to own the White Horse building in the early twentieth century.

In addition to the exhibitions, the White Horse continues to offer some twenty art courses each month. There are still places available on several of these popular courses ranging from Watercolours for the ‘positively terrified’ to - for the more assured - Going Wild in Watercolours.

For more detailed terms and conditions artists should check the White Horse Bookshop website.  Or contact 01672 704001 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Swindon press headline: "Housing developers to help fund social projects" - that's how Section 106 should work

Part of the Newland Homes development at Broad Blunsdon Heights near SwindonPart of the Newland Homes development at Broad Blunsdon Heights near SwindonIt's a news story for the Swindon press: "Housing developers to help fund social projects" - putting Section 106 payments into the headlines.  What is more this development will include affordable homes.

There was disbelief, condemnation and anger in Marlborough at the waiving altogether of the agreed £334,625:51 Section 106 charge towards affordable housing in the town to be paid by the developers of retirement apartments on the former garage site at the foot of Granham Hill.

The developers - McCarthy and Stone - escaped through a gap created by the government to speed up house building.  In the rush to try and hit their promised house building target, they once again forgot the needs for parallel improvements in infrastructure.

Wiltshire Council accepted McCarthy and Stone's figures showing that cleaning up the site had been more expensive than expected - making the development unviable.  But Section 106 charges can be negotiated properly - as this recent example from Swindon shows.

Broad Blunsdon Heights is a development of 57 homes - including seventeen affordable homes and community allotments - by Newland Homes in one of the expanding villages just north of Swindon.  The development is within walking distance of the centre of Blunsdon village.

Nine of the seventeen affordable homes will be part-buy-part-rent and the other eight will be for rent only.  These homes are being managed by Aster Housing.

The parish lies either side of the A419 and is just one of the sites targeted for Swindon's northern and eastward growth.  The company announced: "As part of our Section 106 development requirements, the funds are being passed to the local authority to deliver a range of services to benefit the wider community."

Newland Homes' Section 106 payment will provide over £364,000 to benefit the local community through schools, public amenities, public health contributions and public realm contributions.

Over £43,000 will be provided to support local schools' primary and secondary special educational needs, as well as learning for those aged 16 to 18 years.  Over £179,000 will go towards public landscaping, open space and improvements to Ermin Street.  

£75,000 will support Wiltshire Fire and Rescue, public library provision, public art, public games areas and other community requirements.  £48,000 has been earmarked as contributions towards the extra needs for health and social services.  The remaining money will be spent enabling these changes and improvements to happen.

Gail Remnant, associate sales director for Newland Homes, said: “Whilst Section 106 agreements are a standard part of planning agreements, we have worked closely with the relevant authorities to channel the contributions into areas that will bring the most benefits to all residents of Blunsdon."

The  development will have a mix of three, four and five bedroom homes.  Prices currently start at £375,000 for a four bedroom home.  Three bedroom properties will be available later in 2017.

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80s classic Fame comes to the stage at St John’s

Rosie Amos, who plays Carmen, in a dance scene from FameRosie Amos, who plays Carmen, in a dance scene from FamePull up your leg warmers and pop a tape in your Walkman – 1980s classic Fame is coming to the stage at St John’s in Marlborough.

The musical is set at New York City’s High School of Performing Arts, where sweat and hard work are the key factors to a successful life as a performer.

The plot follows a group of students across the acting, dancing and music faculties from 1980-1984 as they learn to master their craft and grow up alongside each other, rising to the various challenges that face them.

Performers include several Sixth Form students who gave stand-out performances in last year’s musical, We Will Rock You, as well as new talent taking lead roles for the first time.

Director of performance Max More said: “St John’s students from Years 8 to 13 have once again shown their considerable talents.

“The principal actors have been directed by our new experienced and dynamic head of drama, Kelly Matyla.

“Two Year 11 students, Jess Lamb and Rachel Naughton, have played a major role in devising and teaching the choreography, supported by drama teacher Tanya Bourton.

“I have continued to enjoy working with my wonderful chorus and band to provide the musical backdrop for the action on stage.”

The show runs over four nights: Tuesday January 31, and Thursday to Saturday February 2 to 4 from 7pm at Theatre on the Hill.

Tickets – priced £7.50, £5.50 for concessions, and £23.50 for families – are available from www.ticketsource.co.uk/stjohnstheatreonthehill

 

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Avebury Rocks to return as a two-day festival

Nick Harper on stage at Avebury Rocks in 2012Nick Harper on stage at Avebury Rocks in 2012Avebury Rocks is returning as a two-day music festival with associated sponsored walk at a new venue.

The festival will move from Avebury Cricket Ground to East Farm, Avebury, from Friday July 7 to Sunday, July 9.

It continues to be a fundraiser for Prospect Hospice, the charity it was set up to support in 2011.

The musical entertainment will kick off on Friday evening. Then, after the traditional morning walk across the neolithic landscape, the bands return throughout Saturday.

Local and national acts from the worlds of rock and folk will provide the entertainment.

Already confirmed are Bath-based hip-hop and soul act Benji and Hibbz, singer-songwriter Ed Mann, local troubador George Wilding, dub, reggae and ska-influenced Kioko, Marlborough Rock Choir, Swindon Samba, ukulele band Ukey D’ukes, rock band Ulysses, and festival founder Nick Harper, the renowned singer-songwriter, with more acts to be confirmed.

Ticket prices – which include overnight camping – are yet to be confirmed.

For details, log on to the festival’s new website – http://aveburyrocksfestival.net

 

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Marlborough’s hidden poverty problem to be discussed by Area Board

With its public school, posh shops and car parks dominated by high-end motors, it’s hard to imagine that Marlborough has a poverty problem.

But with families in rural isolation, few employment opportunities within walking distance and little public transport availability, hard-to-heat old houses, and the bottom rung of the property ladder well out of reach of many first-time buyers pockets of deprivation do exist in the town.

Poverty is the topic for discussion at Marlborough Area Board on Tuesday evening.

The meeting will be hearing from Marlborough Area Poverty Action Group about it’s work on tackling this situation and the projects it wishes to take forward.

Last summer, the group helped to fund children and young people to take part in leisure activities that they would otherwise not had the chance to enjoy, and this year they want to build on that.

The meeting will also hear about the extent of fuel poverty in the area with a presentation from the Centre for Sustainable Energy.

With a large number of older properties, often with poor insulation and off the gas-grid, it can be expensive and sometimes difficult to heat homes to the healthy minimum.

And Tesco’s FoodCloud programme – where surplus food is made available to different local charities and community groups on different nights to help feed people – will be introduced.

The meeting – which is open to the public – takes place on Tuesday, January 24 from 6.30pm at Marlborough Town Hall.

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PVADS Cinderella begins this week

It's behind you! – Steve Clements, Chris Pearse, Hallum Britten, Pete Bromwich, Diane Bromwich, Milo DavisonIt's behind you! – Steve Clements, Chris Pearse, Hallum Britten, Pete Bromwich, Diane Bromwich, Milo Davison

It's that panto time of year. Oh yes it is! 

The Marlborough and Pewsey area are lucky enough to have a panto staged every year by Pewsey Vale Amateur Dramatics Society (PVADS), who've been creating high quality musical shows and plays in Pewsey's Boverie Hall for over 80 years.

This year it's Cinderella. It's a story familiar to everyone, but here's the PVADS take on it:

Will you marry me? Poor Cinders. Her home is about to be repossessed and her two terrible stepsisters have ripped up her invite to Prince Charming's Ball.

Will help come from Buttons the Pageboy or will he rescue Bob the Bunny instead? Is that a funny old lady or the Fairy Godmother? And can anyone save us from Ugly Sisters Griselda and Gertrude's noxious gases?

Steve Clements, director and ugly sister Griselda, says it's an essential part of the annual event calendar. "A panto like Cinderella is a fun English tradition. All ages can enjoy it and it has local humour. We have songs people know and can join in with - and a few jokes like that too!"

Steve, from the Pewsey Vale area whose day job is with BBC Wiltshire, has been a PVADS member for 12 years. This is his fifth panto in the director's chair. “PVADS is like a big family, and we aim for a high standard," he said.

Cinderella runs this weekend 13 to 14 and next weekend 20 to 21 January, 7.30pm with 2.30pm Saturday matinees at Pewsey's Bouverie Hall. Tickets are available from www.pvads.co.uk or 01672 810 436, priced £9 (£6 children/concessions).

Anna Gent, Lucy Brown, Georgia Elson as Cinderella, Prince Charming and the Fairy GodmotherAnna Gent, Lucy Brown, Georgia Elson as Cinderella, Prince Charming and the Fairy Godmother

The chorusThe chorus

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Will Self to open Marlborough’s 2017 literature festival

Will Self image courtesy of Chris CloseWill Self image courtesy of Chris Close 

 

Novelist, journalist and television personality Will Self will open this year’s Marlborough LitFest, organisers have confirmed.

Self will be this year’s Golding Speaker, talking about his latest novel, Phone – due out later this year – on Friday, September 29 at Marlborough Town Hall.

 

The LitFest hosts an annual Golding Speaker to highlight Marlborough’s long connection with the Nobel Laureate and Booker Prize winner, William Golding, at an event sponsored by the William Golding estate.

 

Self is the author of ten novels, five collections of shorter fiction, three novellas, and five collections of non-fiction writing.

 

His 2002 novel, Dorian was longlisted for the Booker Prize, and his novel Umbrella was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

 

His fiction is predominantly set within his home city of London, and his subject matter often includes mental illness, illegal drugs, and psychiatry.

 

Self is a well known face, having regularly appeared on Have I Got News for You and as a team captain on Shooting Stars. He is also a frequent guest on Newsnight and Question Time, and appears on BBC Radio 4.

 

He is a columnist in publications as varied as The Guardian, the New Statesman, and Playboy.

 

Festival chairman Jan Williamson said: “We are very excited that Will Self has agreed to be the Golding speaker for 2017. He’s been described as ‘the most daring and delightful novelist of his generation’.

 

“It’s a thrill that he’ll be here to open this year’s Marlborough LitFest.”

 

Meanwhile, festival fans are in for an early treat with the introduction of a summer event outside of the main festival weekend.

 

A Nature Writing Day will be held on Saturday, June 3 to celebrate the wealth of nature writing in the UK.

 

Hosted at The White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough in association with Brewin Dolphin, speakers will include garden designer, Rosie Hardy, as well as the winner of the Richard Jefferies Society Writers’ Prize for outstanding nature writing.

 

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Rehearsals for the Marlborough Community Passion Play start as cast welcome their professional lead actor

The first rehearsal: Frazer Blaxland (standing - Jesus) with Ben Tanning, Edward Maurice, David Maurice, Alison Shelby & Pauline BerrymanThe first rehearsal: Frazer Blaxland (standing - Jesus) with Ben Tanning, Edward Maurice, David Maurice, Alison Shelby & Pauline BerrymanRehearsals are underway for the Marlborough Community Passion Play which will take place in the town on Easter Saturday, April 15 from 4 to 6 pm.  Spectators will not have to pay to watch the performance.

Frazer Blaxland, the professional actor who will play Jesus, and those members of the community who have been allocated speaking parts, met on Sunday for the first read through of the script written by Helen Stokes.

Helen, who is the play's artistic director, believes that “The retelling of the most famous story in Western culture will bring the community together and it will be a fruitful experience for all those involved.”

Volunteers are still required to assist in a variety of ways. Teams of stewards are needed on the day. 

They will receive basic Health and Safety training, be dressed as Roman soldiers and will be required to attend the rehearsals in the week prior to the performance.

If you would like to be involved, contact the Production manager David Wylie at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call/text  on 07434802554.

Planning the moves...Planning the moves...  The team behind the production:  Back row - l to r: David Wylie, Liz Woods, Martin Milner, Charles Joseph, James Seddon, Louise Seddon Front row: Hugh de Sarum, Andy Tatum, Nina Woolrych, Noel Woolrych, Helen Stokes, Vincent StokesThe team behind the production: Back row - l to r: David Wylie, Liz Woods, Martin Milner, Charles Joseph, James Seddon, Louise Seddon Front row: Hugh de Sarum, Andy Tatum, Nina Woolrych, Noel Woolrych, Helen Stokes, Vincent Stokes

The costume department are looking for donations of fabrics in neutral shades, fake fur and leather, old tie-backs, tea towels, sheets and anything else that would be appropriate for middle eastern costume of that period.

If you can help please contact Carole Walker at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 07539081449 to arrange a suitable pick up or drop off point. Alternatively suitable materials can be delivered to the Jubilee Centre in the High Street - by the clock - Monday-Friday, between 8am and 2pm.

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Brownies become official water quality testers on the River Kennet

Brownies from Marlborough will be monitoring water quality along a stretch of the River Kennet, on behalf of conservation group ARK.

Action for the River Kennet are working with 1st Marlborough Brownies to monitor the quality of the River Kennet at Stonebridge wild river reserve, using testing kits bought by the charitable fund of opticians Haine & Smith. ARK’s project officer Anna Forbes went along to meet the Brownies and present them with water quality testing kits, accompanied by Haine & Smith charitable trust clerk Janet Hartwell and Marlborough branch member of staff Rachel Mabutt.

The testing will give ARK valuable data on the quarterly nitrate and phosphate levels and turbidity at this designated Wildlife Site.

Meanwhile, the Brownies will gain experience towards the world and community parts of their programme. “We hope the Brownies have a great time using the kits and enjoy finding out more about their local river with ARK,” said Janet.

ARK have trained volunteer water quality testers at many sites along the Kennet.

“It will be really good to have the Brownies as our testers at Stonebridge Wild River Reserve,” said Anna.

“We are also looking forward to hosting a Tour & Explore for the Brownies later in the year at the reserve, to give them a hands on fun and educational session, where they’ll get to discover some of the site’s special wildlife, including those dependant on good water quality.”

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Mayor pays tribute to carers at launch of £25,000 appeal

Jules Stambriadge and Jon Berridge from Carer Support Wiltshire with Richard Deacon and mayor Noel Barrett MortonJules Stambriadge and Jon Berridge from Carer Support Wiltshire with Richard Deacon and mayor Noel Barrett MortonThe mayor of Marlborough has paid tribute to the “unsung heroes” who care for a relative or friend at the launch of a £25,000 charity appeal to give unpaid carers a break.

Councillor Noel Barrett-Morton was at the launch of Carer Support Wiltshire’s Time for Carers appeal, which aims to raise £25,000 to help some of the county’s 45,000 unpaid carers win some time back for themselves – whether that’s to take an exercise class, see friends, have a pamper session or just enjoy some quality time.

“It’s very important to recognise the unsung heroes who go about the business of giving loving care or support to family members, children or friends day in, day out; sometimes without a break for themselves,” said the mayor.

Carer Support Wiltshire launched their appeal at jewellers and clockmakers Deacons in Marlborough to reinforce the message that carers need time.

And they chose the launch to coincide with national Young Carers Awareness Day – next Thursday, January 26 – an annual event to promote awareness of the particular difficulties young and young adult carers face.

Catharine Hurford, chief executive of Carer Support Wiltshire, said: “Here at CSW we support adult carers, working closely with our partners to improve the identification and recognition of young carers.

“One thing all carers say – whatever their age – is that they need a little time for themselves. Yet our research shows one in three carers never have a weekend or evening break from their caring role, and one in three feel guilty if they do.

“Many don’t have time to enjoy some of the things we all take for granted, like a trip to the cinema, taking part in a sporting activity or spending time with friends. This can affect their physical and mental wellbeing and lead to feelings of isolation.

“All the money we raise through this appeal will go directly to enabling carers to have a bit of time to themselves.”

Richard Deacon, director of Deacons, said: “We are very pleased to be able to support the Time for Carers Appeal – helping people who are all too often overlooked in this busy world of ours.”

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Marlborough's loss of affordable housing money was just the edge of a multi-million pound hole in housing policy

S106 Management - website home page S106 Management - website home page Has the government been serious about supporting the construction of affordable homes using Section 106 money paid by developers building normal residential housing?  Marlborough's recent experience and the past record of the Exeter-based consultancy, which boasts the name of "S106 Management", would suggest that it has not been very serious at all.

There has been a great deal of discussion, recrimination and anger over Wiltshire Council's decision to back down on the £334,624 contribution towards affordable housing in Marlborough that developers McCarthy and Stone had been required to pay as part of their planning permission to develop the Granham Hill garage site.

Agreeing to cut this Section 106 contribution has been seen as a slap in the face for Marlborough people who cannot find affordable homes.  Coming next will be debates over the Section 106 money due from the developers of the very much larger Salisbury Road housing scheme - for 175 homes and including 70 affordable homes.  

Section 106 money has been fixed for this development at the stage of Outline Planning Permission.  It includes a £700,000 investment in St John’s Academy, £80,000 towards the local GP surgery, highway enhancements including pedestrian crossings, cycle paths and footpaths to the town.

The Crown Estate is in the process of agreeing the sale of this large green-field site to a developer - whose name is yet to be announced.  It will be interesting to see whether the buyers of this site and of its outline planning permission will try to get the Section 106 payments reduced or cut. Perhaps they will use the consultancy S106 Management to help them.

A whole industry grew up around developers' challenges to 106 payments. S106 Management was set-up by Robin Furby - a solicitor who became a developer.  Their website says they could - in past months - "establish the profitability of your project and thereby reveal unviable Section 106 obligations."

Barrow loads of savings - how S106 MANAGEMENT explained their schemeBarrow loads of savings - how S106 MANAGEMENT explained their scheme

S106 Management reckon they have helped a developer avoid charges like the affordable homes contributions "If the profit margin for your scheme is pushed to below 17.5 per cent by Section 106 payments..."

There is a 'Case Studies' section on their website that proves what their worth has been to developers.  Among their successes for developers due to pay towards affordable homes they have saved: in Hackney a £1.8m payment, £500,000 in Wallingford, £4m at Redruth in Cornwall, £730,000 in Virginia Water in Surrey, £1m on a brown field site development at Grays in Essex, - and so on.  

Their latest case history is dated December 2015 - and the changes in government rules that allowed McCarthy and Stone's Section 106 appeal through have now lapsed.

The Section 106 charges should be being replaced by the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), which became law under the Planning Act of 2008 and came into force in April 2010 but only came into effect in Wiltshire in May 2015.

It is a non-negotiable fee based on a percentage of the development budget paid by developers to the local authority to help pay for infrastructure improvements that are required to cope with the increase in an area's population.  Eventually part of it will be payable directly to town councils.

With regard to the Salisbury Road 106 charges mentioned above, it is worth noting Wiltshire Council's draft Infrastructure Delivery Plan (2011-2016) for the Marlborough area, which was published in February 2016.

Among its list of 'essential' schemes is a 99-place extension to St John's Academy (priced at £2,162,522.)  There is mention of improvements and extensions to GP practices in the villages. But there is no mention of the Marlborough Medical Practice, which will have to cope with extra patients from the Granham Hill flats, the Salisbury Road and - perhaps - the future development north of Barton Park.

Speaking of the latter, the delivery plan does list the 'essential' spend of £1,789,587 for the relocation of Preshute Primary School.  Can anyone really build a new school for that sum of money?  Or is Wiltshire Council relying on someone else footing that bill?

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Need a kitchen knife that's sharp and balanced just for you? Savernake Knives will make it for you

Laurie Timpson (left) and Philip Shaw with their high tech milLaurie Timpson (left) and Philip Shaw with their high tech milNext time you watch a television chef chopping away at a bunch of parsley or taking micron thin slices off a carrot, try not to think about the risk to their fingers - instead think about the knife he is using.

Chefs get very attached to their kitchen knives and have very firm views about them - and they will have very firm views about the kitchen knives being made by Savernake Knives in Chisbury.  This is a business 'start-up' in the real meaning of the phrase.

Laurie Timpson and Philip Shaw have taught themselves how to make beautiful and lasting kitchen knives that are aimed to fill a hole in the market.  

At one end of the market are the artisanal knife makers who produce knives by hand and to individual specifications.  They can take weeks if not months to complete one knife and they can charge up to £800 for the privilege.  At the mass market end are the kitchen knives most people buy (or get given as wedding presents) and which many chefs use and then throw away when these mass-produced knives run out of sharpness.  

Finding a market right in the middle are Savernake Knives who can complete a bespoke knife in a few days.  They style themselves as twenty-first century artisans and want to make your perfect kitchen knife - not just anybody's, but yours. They do not do hunting knives, only knives for the kitchen and they come in at £150 and upwards.

Both Laurie Timpson and Philip Shaw have spent many years working abroad - both felt the need to return to the UK and both moved back to live in Wiltshire.  Laurie's time in Africa included six years with the HALO Trust - the charity making war torn lands safe especially as regards clearing landmines.  It was famously supported by Princess Diana, then by Angelina Jolie and now by Prince Harry.

Philip spent most the last ten years working overseas for Adam Smith International supporting British Government projects. He was most recently leading projects in East Africa and Pakistan and now lives in Great Bedwyn.  Laurie lives off-grid in Savernake Forest with his wife and their baby.

After two years spent seeking advice, learning and assembling an amazing range of sophisticated machinery, Savernake Knives had a soft launch just before Christmas.  

The mill's control panelThe mill's control panel  Milling the steelMilling the steel  Blades waiting to be finished Blades waiting to be finished  

As their 2017 begins they are launching a period of hard work and marketing to the region's large community of professional chefs and also to keen and committed amateur chefs: "We're offering something unique for them - designing knives to a chef's or cook's own specification to millimetre accuracy, at a reasonable price and in a matter of days."

They both enjoy making knives: "We enjoy our work.  We just love making them - we're fascinated by them.  They've become a bit of an obsession."

"To do it as we do it", they tell Marlborough.News - almost in unison, "is remarkably complex."  Laurie is master of the blades: "Central to what we do is the quality of our steel."  And Philip is master of the handles: "We make ergonomic and long lasting handles - for what are very high quality tools."

The process starts with the design - using a top-end 3-D computer programme.  The design is then transferred to the computer controlled Haas milling machine, which can produce nine blades in a working day cutting three blades from each piece of steel as it is held on a magnetic chuck.   

The milling process can be adjusted down to micron level. (A micron is a millionth of a metre - so, no, you don't get much carrot in a micron thin slice - it was just a figure of speech!)

Each blade is then heated in their furnace to about 1,000 C and then tempered in liquid nitrogen taking it down to nearly 200 C below and giving the blade flexibility as well as strength.  There is then a further stage with the blades spending a couple of hours in a tempering oven at 175 C.

After that it is submitted to various forms of abrasive finishing, sharpening and polishing gear to produce the finished hollow ground blade.

Spalted beech with its unique markingsSpalted beech with its unique markings  Blocks before they are stabilisedBlocks before they are stabilised  Heat-treating the steel at 1050 CHeat-treating the steel at 1050 C

For the wooden handles they choose mainly spalted beech and olive.  Spalted beech is wood from a beech tree that has been attacked by fungi which leave unique markings and coloration right through the wood.  

This wood is stabilised with resin and then baked - giving the wood a heaviness and also a surface that is good for cleanliness and hygiene. This process does make shaping the handle quite hard labour.

The workshop signThe workshop signLaurie Timpson and Philip Shaw have plans for the future development of Savernake Knives.  They hope to be able to employ one or more young local workers and to give older people who are still anxious to work, the ability to undertake at home some of the labour intensive but somewhat repetitive finishing processes for the knives.

They have taken an immense amount of trouble to source not just the best materials to work with, but also the best machines to help them do the work.  Take a look at their website designed by Silverless the Marlborough design studio.  

It shows an admirable transparency in what they are doing and their gratitude to all those who have inspired them and supplied their workshops.  

And to think that at one time they had decided their future lay in producing axes.

The finished articleThe finished article

Most photos by Niels van Gijn of Silverless. Click on photos to enlarge them.

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Review: local author's vivid tale of a woman's unequal struggle for independence in Victorian Britain and its violent Empire

Do not go down to your local bookshop to buy The Planter's Daughter by Jo Carroll - known locally as a writer through her widely-read columns for Marlborough.News.  This is her first novel and it is only available to download from Amazon to a Kindle (a bargain at £3.50) - or you can download a sample of the opening chapter as text.

Previous books by Jo Carroll have been her travel series of Over the Hill titles - about her adventures in Nepal and Ecuador.  The Planter's Daughter was born from a story she heard on her travels in New Zealand in 2005.  

It is a novel full of absorbing characters that stretches across the world of Britain's Victorian-era Empire and is as serious as it is entertaining.  In each section of the book the story is told through a different person's eyes.

We first meet Irish-born Sara Weldon in Liverpool.  We see her through the eyes of her Aunt's maid, Kitty.  It is 1847 and she has come to England escaping the potato famine and eventually she leaves Liverpool having become tangentially involved in working class politics - she leaves as a criminal transported to Australia having fallen foul of her scheming Uncle.  But before she leaves she provides her Aunt with a purpose in life - we will not spoil that surprise.

In Australia we see Sara through the eyes of a religious zealot Grace, who saves her from the slave market and takes her in as maid to her troubled family.  Life near Melbourne on a barely viable small-holding - with a side-line in making tools for the country's many thousand gold prospectors - is vividly drawn and based on sound research.

Grace is not an easy character to read about and you can tell quite early on that her relationship with Sara is based more on Grace's pious views of what people should be like (with the Lord's help) than on any realistic view of Sara's character and how she might make her way in the world.

One of Grace's stepsons takes Sara with him when he leaves home to join life among the rough and tough prospectors. They are mostly men and almost all of them are deprived of female company.  Sara's escape and her attempts to support herself financially take her several rungs down the ladder of despair.

Jo Carroll first heard about the 'notorious character' Barbara Weldon when she was in Hokitika (on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island) in 2005 and the book, she says, has been 'simmering' ever since.

The novel turns Barbara into Sara Weldon and it is from Australia that she is sent to New Zealand for using 'obscene language in a public place' - she is transported again.  The British Empire's rough and ready legal system could not send its unwanted any further away than antipodean New Zealand.

In New Zealand a magistrate named Grenville, who has been shipped from Scotland to work for the Empire, falls for her undoubted charms and lures her - with promises we know he cannot keep - to Hokitika where he is the local magistrate and where he lives with his starched-pinny of a wife and their two sons, Rupert and Alistair.  

He sets Sara up as his mistress in a cabin by the sea - just far enough from the town to keep her from prying eyes.  But can she keep away from the men from whom she can make money by selling the only thing that is by now her own - her body?  Will she ever save enough to get home to Ireland or to Liverpool?  Can Grenville fulfil his promises?

Throughout this section of the novel the magistrate is only referred to by his surname - he is just 'Grenville'.  As his relationship with Sara unravels, she refers to him with increasing sarcasm as 'Mr Magistrate'.  He ends up abandoned by his wife: "And you - you can walk into the sea for all I care.  You might as well.  There's not much left for you here, Mr High-and-Mighty Magistrate."

Each historical and geographical part this book has been carefully researched, yet the research is not obtrusive.  That it is true of this section.  But of all the stages in Sara's story, it is this one that really comes to life both in terms of the characters and the descriptions - especially the descriptions Grenville's state of continual panic as he realises his duplicity will be discovered.

It also lives strongly with Jo Carroll's descriptions of the bleak scenery of the sea shore blasted with winds from the Antarctic, of the little town with its disreputable cast of seekers after gold and of Sara's prisoner-like existence.  Some of the scenes reminded me of those desperate beach scenes in the 1993 film The Piano - also set on New Zealand's west coast.

Sara's attempt (in Jo Carroll's words) to 'steer an independent path' in the male dominated nineteenth century, ends badly.  Barbara Weldon's life also ended badly - in the words of the real life New Zealand magistrate, it ended "casually and by misfortune".   

Jo Carroll could not leave us with Sara simply being "swept along by a tide of events".  So she gives us one last chapter that helps explain how Sara ended up on this one-way ladder.  

The author takes us back in time to the potato famine that led to Sara's initial move from Ireland to the unpleasant rule of her Aunt and Uncle and to the mayhem and inequalities of Liverpool's burgeoning capitalism.   

The descriptions of the Antrim countryside and its inhabitants destroyed by the potato blight are grim.  And overlaid onto the disaster of starvation is Ireland's all to blatant religious divide.  Sara was, after all, a planter's daughter - and the incoming, colonising Presbyterian planters held out strongly against the native Irish Catholics.  So the book ends by taking us into the divides that still blight that part of Ireland to this day.

One of the major accomplishments of this novel is that the story flows so clearly. There are no unlikely coincidences to perplex the reader and undermine the veracity of the tale.  This is as close to the real story of such women as Barbara Weldon as we are likely to get.

However, coincidences do happen.  No sooner had I finished The Planter's Daughter and put away the Kindle, than I spotted a report in my morning newspaper datelined Hokitika and headlined "Miners pile in for latest gold rush in New Zealand".  

In the 1860s gold rush, Hokitika, this report says, had 72 hotels and few women: "Just as today, the original miners were secretive about their claims, often laying false trails and misinformation to lure their competitors away from prosperous sites."

Magistrate Grenville's pot of gold was Sara herself - and his false trails and misinformation led to his downfall and to Sara's death.  His was 'fool's gold' and she paid the price for his folly.

We can look forward to Jo Carroll's next novel - whether it is available between hard or soft covers or online.

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