A skeleton in the heat

Sitting down one Saturday, recently passed, the searing heat of the hot summer’s day seemed appropriate considering that I had come to visit and capture the remains of St Peter’s church in Ropley Hampshire. So hot was the day that watercolour barely had time to hit paper before drying which, coupled with the view in front of me, made it easier to imagine the flames that brought about the demise of this 800-year-old church.Thumbnail of St Peter's Church sketch

Religious or not if you live in a small village community it’s hard to avoid the influence in people’s lives that such a church can have and as I sketched the outline of the charred timbers and twisted remains of stain glass windows memories from my childhood returned. Our primary school across the road was always involved in harvest festivals and Christmas festivities which brings up a good point. It’s not just the physical loss that is hard to take but also the records of people and their everyday activities. From comments in visitors books to official registers and objects created and donated, all dissolved into dust that day in June 2014. Continue reading


Supporting the Society

Urie S15 30506 at Feltham Sheds - thumbnailEven though Steam preservation is more popular than ever and also more widespread across the U.K. sometimes it’s just not possible to experience this world. Perhaps where you live sadly doesn’t have a society near by. Or maybe the chores of day to day life prevents you from experiencing the joys, for some at least, that comes from witnessing a steam engine retracing a part of transport history. Having felt I had been in that situation of late I wanted to do my bit in some way to help this world come alive.

Recently I was considering where would be a good place to further the exposure of my heritage paintings. During one of my regular visits to the Watercress Line Website I noticed a donation request by the Urie Society. As the name suggested the society are in the process of bringing back to life, and service, two Robert Urie designed S15 class engines. Though I couldn’t make a financial impact in their fundraising I certainly could offer a painting to help! It was the obvious choice as following my schooling days at Perin’s School in New Alresford, which resides by the Midhants Railway, I was left with plenty of memories of at least one of the engines awaiting it’s previous restoration.

The long and short of it is that I pleased to say that the society were more than happy to accept a painting of, it was decided, Southern Railway S15 506. Or as it became in BR days 30506.

So the task began to create a painting that fans of steam would want to buy!

As always it was research time. From recent photos taken on the Midhants to faded images from as far back as the 1920’s, I amassed what I could to help capture the character and detail of 506. It was I have to admit as much about my thirst for historical information as purely acquiring references for the painting. I also wanted a challenge, as I always do, so decided to set the scene in it’s BR days which meant black livery. With a view dominated with black, greys and browns it would take that bit more planning and creativity to keep the final piece of artwork interesting to the eye.

A view was chosen of 30506 as she resided outside Feltham Sheds. Partly due to the number of photographs taken but also because this was the last of her locations prior to scrapping. Technical details were again important when making the initial drawing, making sure every connecting rod was present and all essential piping went to the correct place. But not so much detail that it became more of a piece of draftsmanship that artistic representation.

During painting washes of purple, brown, blue and red flowed together in varying amounts to make the S15 come alive as it was shown sitting in the light billowing smoke from it’s chimney in preparation for a days work.

So with all things done the painting now sits in a its 16 by 12 inch dark sustainable wood frame depicting a snapshot in the life of Urie S15 30506. A life that I hope will continue for many years when she goes back in service. And when people look back at 506’s history, perhaps because they too yearn for information, this painting will from time to time appear to help capture the nostalgia of steam.

In time prints of this painting will be available for purchase and I hope many will enjoy having a copy as much as I have enjoyed painting it. I’ll post details of availability when I have it.

Breathing new life into old views

Wadebridge Station Office on the Bodmin & Wadebridge Railway

Wadebridge Station Office on the Bodmin & Wadebridge Railway

One of the pleasures I get from painting heritage scenes is the feeling that I’m contributing to the historical records of a particular place. For instance by taking a fuzzy 19th Century photograph and referencing later views or by comparing similar locations of later origins, to perhaps get a guide to colour, the hope is I can breath a little more life into a scene so long gone.

A case in point followed a recent visit to the Bodmin & Wenford Railway when taking the chance to enjoy a ride on the visiting Steam Rail Motor. The railway, in one direction terminates at Boscarne Junction but it’s well known that that wasn’t always the case. The line around Bodmin has seen a multitude of layouts thanks to the devices of the Great Western Railway, the Southern Railway and even earlier by the Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway. All this history was sauce for the goose from my point of view! So following my trip I hit the books shops and Internet sites with an eye to exploring this rich locomotive history more.

After many an hours reading pleasure and squinting at small photographs I came across one such photo depicting the remains of Wadebridge’s earliest station. Well I call it a station but these where undoubtably the days when rail traffic was biased towards freight rather than passengers but nevertheless a station it was. The photo showed the office building which even at that time was showing signs of neglect, it was exactly the kind of view that I’m attracted to.

The chance to paint a scene that has rarely been seen and certainly shouldn’t be lost in the swirls of history provides me with the kind of challenge that I soak up. So of course I put pen to paper and paint to brush to capture this view that was once part of people’s everyday life. A place where men and women went to work or passed by as the cautiously crossed the rails.

I guess in many ways I seen my art as archaeological visualisation, as I try to capture what once was with a little artist flair. Hopefully others will take note and most importantly will remember our rich past. They certainly stay fixed in my mind when a painting is complete.

Incidental people

I admit it, it’s been a while since my last blog entry and my art too has taken a bit of a back seat, though not so far back that I couldn’t see it. But 2013 is going to be the year of art for me so I’m getting right back into it!

Figure painting by Stephen Bedser

Just enough to show the human element in a painting

For many years I have to admit I avoided painting people. And I could justify that with the assumption that as I wasn’t a portrait artist in any form there was no need for my to dabble in the fine art of figure drawing. For several years it was an easy thought to maintain. After all, my scenes contained the falling remains of the mines of Cornwall, long devoid of any human presence bar the occasional explorer and they weren’t part of the story I was trying to tell.

But over time I moved onto painting other forms of steam nostalgia. As I continued to expand my portfolio I realised the inescapable truth that whether the scene depicts today’s preservation or past glories it’s all about man, or woman, and machine.

A painting of a Southern Railway West Country class engine resting outside it’s shed as it warms up for a days work is a lovely scene, in my eyes at least. But the same view with it’s driver carefully oiling each running joint would tell far more about the moment.

And so I started to dabble in figure painting. A shape here or a line there, just enough to add that human element. Not much more, or sometimes a little less, than Lowry would have done in his great paintings. It certainly takes practice to get a figure looking like, well like a person, and I tip my hat in appreciation to all who focus people, but despite my early reservations they have certainly made my paintings richer and in some cases more personal.

Now as for animals….

Steaming through the trees

Muffin at East Wheal Rose on the Lappa Valley Railway

It has to be said that most of my experiences with railway steamies has been of the full scale sort, 4ft 8 1/2 “ rail to the technically minded! But that’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed other forms of Steam Heritage, oh no!

This past weekend, having pondered over what family excursion to take on such a fine summers day, we took a trip down to the Lappa Valley Railway. It wasn’t that hard a decision really, after all the sun was shining, it had been years since our last visit and we had been kindly given a few free tickets.

For those not in the know, the Lappa Valley is a small 15″ scale miniature railway who’s short but beautifully scenic stretch follows along the old Chacewater to Newquay line near Newlyn East, Cornwall. The thought of enjoying a trip behind one of their lovingly tended steam engines, Zebedee which is a 0-6-4 Pannier Tank or Muffin which is a 0-6-0 Tender loco, was lure enough but this is only part of the experience. Like most parts of Cornwall the area is steeped in mining history and the Lappa Valley is no exception. East Wheal Rose engine house stands next to the silent boating lake that is the trains destination. I say silent but most of the time it contains a family or two rowing around to their hearts content! Before the GWR came along a mineral tramway supplied and served the mine from the 1840’s, possibly making this the oldest railway in Cornwall.

As a family man the day was certainly an enjoyable one, trains (Steam & Diesel) to thrill the kids (well the younger one anyway), more than a giggle or two thanks to the crazy golf and an inability to steer a canoe and a great park for kids big and small. As a heritage fan it was almost worth ditching the family, of course I wouldn’t do that, to explore the mining history and take in the atmosphere of this beautiful valley railway and it’s past. I also have to mention that it’s thanks to the great staff and owners that firstly this line exists and secondly that a visit can be so enjoyable!

It did bring one question to mind. Having achieved such a atmospheric scene from the ruins of railway history it makes you wonder whether so many other abandoned lines could have a similar bright future. Lets hope so!

Trainspotting the wrong way round

Battle of Britain Class 34067 Tangmere passes through Truro

The title to this blog isn’t intended to suggest that something is wrong with the world of trainspotting today but rather alludes to the fact that our perception towards the love of Steam Engines is, certainly for the younger generations, very different than it was in it’s hey day.

Boy that was a hefty introduction paragraph but the reason I say this goes a bit like this…

Last weekend was a bit of a Steam Celebration around the Redruth & Camborne area. This all centered around the now famous Trevithick Day, marking the wondrous achievements of the Cornish Inventor and Engineer Richard Trevithick. Lead by a fully working replica of his Puffing Devil there is much to enjoy during the event. With a grand parade of many a fine Traction Engine, the Bal Maidens and Miners Dance led by Camborne Town Band and of course a Male Choir or two you can easily be transported back in time.

Sadly I had ‘prior engagements’ that day so I was in Truro for the most part. That said one thing I did know was that a Steam Tour was passing through that afternoon, and I certainly wasn’t going to miss it.

So there I was, hovering tentatively next to Truro Station’s level crossing, waiting for the special whilst my youngest 18 month old daughter made Choo Choo noises. In a timely fashion the double headed train appeared over the viaduct. Most would marvel more at the great Austerity period built 70013 Oliver Cromwell but it was Battle of Britain Class 34067 Tangmere that made my day. You see last time I saw this beauty was way back in the eighties on the Watercress Line. It spent most of it’s time awaiting restoration. Now it simply blazed in all the glory of a Steam excursion.

It was then that it hit me. Way back in the 1960’s when Train Spotting began adults and children alike would wait on platform ends, hoping to see their favourite engines, one more number ticked off in the book or another photo for the album. But for them, over time, they watched as these engines fell from being in pristine condition to near on objects of abuse. Filthy, tired and destined for the scrapyard. Not having been there I can only say it must have been disheartening.

In these more modern days we have the luxury of witnessing the reverse, albeit in smaller numbers. Over the last couple of decades rusting hulks have appeared on lines once abandoned, looking sorry and seemingly beyond repair. With love, care and funding they are slowly restored to near on factory condition. In some cases never a condition that would have been witnessed by those early Trainspotters.

Whether this reversal has any effect on the experience of those who enjoy steam is a question for another day, or perhaps a one to be answered by your father or grandfather.

From time to time you have to go out and find a Steam Engine

The great steam publisher and enthusiast Ian Allan once said during an interview in the 60’s that despite having an interest in Girls and Horses he found that from time to time he simply had to go out and ‘find a Steam Engine’. And to any real lover of Steam Heritage that certainly must be true, though to what degree they love steam over Women will always be a subject of debate!

This very weekend gone I found myself in just such a situation, finding steam that is, whilst heading home after spending an enjoyable day with another love of mine, and the subject of my day job, at the Gadget Show Live . It just so happened that along the way via just a slight detour was the The Watercress Line. Now we live in Cornwall I don’t have the luxury of regularly visiting this wonderful railway, does the Southern Railway have a equivalent strap line to that of the GWR (Gods Wonderful Railway)? With this in mind I wasn’t going to miss ‘finding steam’ no matter how brief it may be.

Eventually we arrived, after a two hour drive, and it was getting late but once I stepped out of the car and began to get the familiar smell of sulphur and steam I knew the detour had been worth it.

The day’s proceedings on the line had been focused on it’s successful Thomas the Tank Engine weekend event. Many of the engines quietly simmering in front of the sheds took on human qualities as the sported familiar faces that beamed out at you through the smoke! Not a scene Mr Allan would have experienced in his youth perhaps but thankfully it did nothing to break the atmosphere.

In just a matter of minutes my desire to spend some time by these giants and the environment they create around them was enough to quench my needs. For now at least. No time to sketch on a pad, no time to look at every inch of the engine, just time to soak it all up. Ten minutes later I was back on my journey. It did leave me with one question though. In this world of fabulous technology is this desire for days past becoming stronger or has it always been that way?