Monthly Archives: January 2017
Just found this photo of the time in 1989 that we had seven cats. Meet Malley, Kizzy, Liverpool, Clint, Sherpa, Everton (complete with shaved bum & tail after a leg operation) and Cleo. Readers of my books will know this magnificent seven well, as they all appear in my book Warren Peace. (sorry about the title)
The current Mrs. Wombat’s Great Great Great Grandfather, Edward Raby. was born in 1810 in Staffordshire. He joined the Poultney pottery in 1845, and became celebrated for his work modelling flowers in parian on earthenware.
My favourite piece of his is the small group consisting of a beehive beneath a may bush in full bloom. Bees scurry on the hive, a little flight of steps with hand rails leading towards it. On the left you can see a nest of young birds, almost on the ground, with just above the head of a snake about to devour them. The mother bird, in the foliage above the hive, ruffles her feathers in anger and despair. When you consider that each feather of this bird was made and adjusted individually; that the bodies and wings and legs of the bees were all separately made and placed together while the clay was still wet; that each little stem of may bloom was made by rolling the clay round a piece of fine cotton, the bloom then being attached to the end of the cotton leaf by leaf, and the stamens added afterwards, you will realise the immense patience and devotion to his art shown by Edward.
He was not always reliable after being paid, however. His wages were high at a pound a day, but often he went absent for a week or more on drinking binges. After one too many of these lapses in 1849 the owner, J.D. Pountney, sacked him. He was not seen for some time, until one day he appeared at Pountney’s house in Richmond Hill when the owner himself was away on business.
His wife, Charlotte, spoke to Edward, and he revealed the exquisite piece of work photographed above, telling her that he had done it during his “holiday”, and had got the men at the works to fire it for him without the master’s knowledge. He offered it to the “young missus” on condition she persuaded the “old master” to take him on again. Amused by both his impudence and his talent she soon induced the “old master” to comply.
Edward remained with Pountney’s for many years, working always to a supremely high quality. At one time Charlotte Pountney exhibited the beehive piece and was offered sixty pounds for it by William Gladstone, which she declined. She defended Edward, saying that his lapses were few and far between. In his book “Old Bristol Potteries” her son, W. J. Pountney, described Edward as “a very kindly old man, for he seemed old to me at the time, and he used to try to teach my youngest sister and me how to model those little leaves of his. The only thing that I was able to accomplish was rolling the clay round a bit of cotton, but my sister was more successful and she could manage to model small leaves”.
Specimens of Edward’s flower plaques were placed in recesses beneath the High Cross in College Green in 1847, and when the cross was removed over a hundred years later, one was found still intact. It came into the hands of artist Emma Clegg’s mother. Emma’s sculpture is inspired by Edward’s work, and on her website she describes the find:
“It’s a tiny wreath of peonies, which are no more than 1cm across. The accuracy and precision that he achieved in clay is just breath-taking. It was buried under a cross in Bristol for over one hundred years, and when the cross had to be removed, the piece was, miraculously, still perfectly intact. I’m in awe of the skill and patience that he must have had. Such skill…
He described himself in the 1861 census return (which is where I first met him) as a “Flower Maker”. He certainly was that, and so much more. Edward Raby left the pottery in 1864, he finally died in his home town of Hanley in 1867.
“Perhaps it is pronounced differently,” Johannah reasoned, “In some exotic fashion, as magical places oft are. Perhaps Beeyew-Rye.”
“Bee yew rye, my furry arse,” the cat replied. “Look, whatever the pisspool is called, and whether we go there or not, if nothing else we have to get out of the chuffing house.”
“Why?” Johannah fluffed her feathers to straighten them. “It looks cold and dismal outside.”
“Believe me, Jojo, I love the sun on my bollocks as much as anyone—”
“You do not have any. Natty G had them removed after you started being naughty with the cushions.”
“Shut the fuck up! Personal much?” Sebaster favoured her with a short hiss before continuing. “Look, bird-brain, even if we don’t go to Pisstropolis we’ve got to get outside because there’s no food left in the house. It doesn’t look like Natty G’s coming to give us more any time soon.”
“There is a putrefying rat corpse – well, half of one at least – behind the fridge. And I have found plenty of insects; earwigs and the like.”
“Bloody ew! I’m not eating any sodding insects, thank you very much. I need my tender, succulent chicken chunks cooked to perfection and served in firm, delicious jelly.” Sebaster stuck out his tongue, as if tasting the air. “Perhaps some tasty and nutritious liver yoghurt for pudding. No added sugar, no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. Mmmm.”
The cat’s eyes glazed over and his tongue quivered. He really was hungry, Johannah could see, and perhaps he was right. She was getting a little tired of her current diet. It would be good to find some fresh carrion.
“Sebaster?” she said, but the cat was gazing into nothing, lost in his imagination. She had to admit, he looked extremely handsome. His flame-coloured fur beautifully accentuated his lithe and muscular lines. His pink tongue still stuck ridiculously out of his mouth. She sighed and fluttered back up to the window.
She pecked ineffectually at the catch, then regarded it with her bright eye. It needed to turn. She grasped the small metal nub in her beak and twisted her neck, but the catch resisted all attempts to shift it. Perhaps they would never escape. She gazed out at the misty world through the drops on the window. Perhaps they would starve to de—
A terrifying dark shape suddenly crashed into the glass before her, all teeth and fire, clearly a demon from hell. She threw herself backwards, struggling to control her flight, and crashed into a roof-beam in her desperation to flee the hellbeast.