J.L Carr’s novel A Month in the Country won the Guardian Prize for Fiction in 1980. It is a short novel which tells the gentle and very moving story of two men re-establishing their lives after the horrors of serving in the First World War. It is a firm favourite of The Folly Flâneuse, and she was fascinated to discover recently that Carr was also an amateur artist, and his subjects were usually the buildings of his adopted county of Northamptonshire. His volumes of sketches and paintings include a number of architectural curiosities, accompanied by captions that reveal his warm sense of humour.
Joseph Lloyd Carr (but known as James, or Jim) was born in Yorkshire in 1912. His story has been told in some style by Byron Rogers but, in summary, he became a teacher and in 1951 settled in Kettering, Northamptonshire. Here, on Mill Dale Road, he established the Quince Tree Press, which published the distinctive little Pocket Books familiar from the most discerning bookshops. The subjects of these 16 page books include anthologies of poetry, a dictionary of extraordinary cricketers, and volumes of woodcuts; the best summary of the range is the QTP’s own: ‘there is a degree of unconventionality about all the productions’. The success of the press allowed Carr to retire from teaching and devote himself to publishing, writing and art (in which it should be noted he had no formal training).
In 1960 he began work on what he called A Northamptonshire Record. This series of paintings and sketches of houses, bridges, monuments, follies, and above all churches and church fittings would eventually be bound in 7 large volumes. Three garden ornaments illustrated by Carr are the Orangery at Barton Hall in Barton Seagrave, the Triangular Lodge at Rushton, and Bunkers Hill Farm on the Boughton Hall estate.
The works vary in quality from what Carr himself called a ‘quick and crude’ sketch, to much more finished works that are very good, and very much in the style of artists of the day such as John Piper and Kenneth Rowntree. Carr was a great admirer of Piper and one of his works is captioned ‘drawn while still inebriated by a visit to the Piper exhibition’ – strong words from a man who had been brought up in a Methodist household, where temperance was strictly upheld.
Carr was also a self-taught sculptor, and many of his pieces were on display in his garden. The relatively small town plot was laid out with paths winding between trees and shrubs, so that the visitor could never see far ahead, and statues suddenly appeared around corners. Sometimes the carvings (usually made from salvaged stone) had only a limited stay in the garden, and once they had developed a suitable patina Carr would place them in long grass in local churchyards for future church-crawlers to discover, saying ‘that’ll give ’em something to think about’.
J.L Carr died in 1994, and according to his wishes the seven volumes of A Northamptonshire Record were deposited in the Northamptonshire Archives. All of the works have been digitised, including his fine views of churches, and can be seen on the Visual Arts Data Service website. Make a coffee and have a good look https://vads.ac.uk/digital/collection/JLC/search
The Quince Tree Press continues under the direction of Carr’s family. Thanks to Bob Carr for permission to use these images from his father’s volumes of drawings http://www.quincetreepress.co.uk
For the background to this post The Folly Flâneuse is indebted to the biography of Carr by Byron Rogers The Last Englishman: The Life of J.L. Carr, Aurum Press (2003)
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