Karl’s Chronicles Article 40 Add To Cart
A sunken garden leads off sharply from a steep road, winding its way past a series of houses pushed into the hillside. Double sets of white spectacle windows all staring north across the green Weald to the church-spire in Mayfield, four miles away.
The sunken garden, a graffiti-mural of colour, from violet hydrangeas and towering agapanthuses, arced around a pair of stone vases. The palette of summer enriching the flower beds with warm splendour, befitting of a Monet or Renoir. Art and creativity, pedantic to detail, composed of lots of tiny, meticulous elements to bring forth a result to please the eye and impress on the mind.
Such interest had been replicated in a different, but ultimately similar way. Found beyond the path, through the hallway, at the far end of a quiet breakfast room. Set forth on cabinet shelves with framed portraits and porcelain horses as companions, stood the accurate, charming display of 19th-century farming wagons. Basking in the late morning light that would of have quickly brought a beam to Constables face. A retreat to the yesteryear of halcyon times before technology made everything chrome and streamlined.
A multitude of components, cut, lathed, smoothed and painstakingly assembled from the gifted and patient temperament of the late Norman Weller. Formed to precise scale, utilizing the same woods and metals employed in the original vehicles. The wheels made in identical processes as those used by a wheelwright. Creating from spoke to galling plates, fellows to the forehead, an identical, scaled model of the original.
Perhaps the catalyst for Norman’s devotion to cart making stemmed from his youth. Farm labouring as a tractor driver until the early seventies when he switched to water engineering. The old methods and vehicles of farming holding a celebratory landscape in his mind, transporting them into a hobbyists perspective.
Wood played a particular fascination. Norman could name the varieties from smell alone. Gravitating towards a life-times devotion to carpentry, spilling into DIY with the construction of the kitchen and hoisting up the garden shed. Stamp collecting had preceded all things wood, expanding a compilation of first editions, temporarily making a return when ill health made carpentry too challenging.
By fifty, propelled by the enthusiasm and a tenacity for scaled-down constructions, Norman embarked on a long, pleasurable commitment to model-making.
The acute skills and knowledge of such a specialized hobby influenced Norman to briefly join the Wheelwrites, a union of twenty like-minded contributors from where he initially saw an advertisement for purchasing the building-plans for various models. The club could also patent other, generally unavailable blueprints. Sadly, lacking a legacy of a younger generation, the club disbanded in October 2018 after 23 years and 70 editions.
For a while, ideas developed beyond the scope of a hobbyist, leaning closer to the domain of business. But the concrete reality of each model absorbing vast amounts of time in their building made it unviable. Of course, the amount of care and detail, diligently applied, quickly conceived a sentimental value. An attachment that will keep his crafted legacy a private affair, immune to the exposure of exhibitions and museums.
The craft shows of Penshurst and Laughton aroused a keen interest into the works of like-minded artisans. Exhibiting hand-made curios from elaborate stands and uniformed rows of tables, fermenting an opportunity to promote and sell to a conveyor-belt of passing spectators. The only drawback from Norman’s point of view was the depressing thought of having to stay put all day long. Obliged more, to ‘get on’ than the mundane motion of waiting. Patience it appeared, had numerous interpretations.
Through a large glass cabinet, the eye of the voyeur drifted into a Georgian lounge, fitted with floor to ceiling mahogany units, only interrupted by a white lintel fireplace. Tiny Lilliput furniture filled the room, replete with polished ornaments, a coffee tray and candelabra. A dolls house without the dolls and a further showcase of the varied talent that Norman could cleverly put his hands too. Above the gentrified room, front wheels bearing right stands a Forest Dean Wagon. Commanding a majestic stance befitting a royal coach. Lower down stretched across the second shelf of a high dresser is a Farm Tip cart, whose central body could tip backwards -a design adopted in today’s pickup truck. Norman had gone further, fitting the cart with fashioned cylinders of wood, mimicking a full cargo of logs.
The lounge continued the theme. High-ended frames of a Sussex Hop wagon, loaded with hop bags crafted by Norman’s wife. Such marrying talents continued into a neighbouring green convex Open Lot caravan. Complete with a furnished kitchen and a curtain partitioned bedroom equipped with a miniature quilt.
One of the most magnetic creations is a perfectly scaled Carlsberg Pilsner Wagon. Displaying a concertina canvas screen the brewery initially incorporated to hide its highly precious and vulnerable cargo. A double rowed, two-story line of beer barrels, and in this replicated version, each barrel is made from a different wood.
A black zip case leaning against a nearby chair comprises metre squared plans of carts, wagons and caravans. Artistic treasures in their own right illustrated with a partnered horse or two, harnessed and strapped for proper authentication. Its how Norman worked, an integral but natural representation, full of truth and perfection in homage to an age, that to many was golden. Producing, by means of talent and patience (the latter a required skill in its own right), craftwork that combined the brilliance of past and present, inaccessible by technology for it must be effected with love, rather like the splendour of the sunken garden in a human tribute to nature.
The Weald & Downland Living Museum in Singleton maintains a display of life-sized farming carts. They recently re-opened but with new restrictions to safeguard against corona-virus now in place. Visits can only be accepted by timed pre-booked slots and once there, the museum prefers all payments to be made by card. The large open-air museum is on Town Lane, Singleton, seven miles north of Chichester. For further information check out their website at www.wealddown.co.uk
Tel: 01243 811363
A gallery of scaled-down models specializing in carts, wagons and stagecoaches can be viewed at www.scalemodelhorsedrawnvehicle.co.uk If you make your own horse-drawn models, they can be displayed on the site’s gallery, but they do not accept kit-built models or those of poor quality.
Though the Guild of Model Wheel-Wrights and their accompanying Wheel Writes magazine came to an end in 2018, their website is still up there to view. Displaying pictures of scaled-down carts and caravans and packed with news. Bear in mind that purchases from the site are no longer applicable. www.guildofmodelwheelwrights.org