architecture, eyecatcher, Folly, landscape, Northamptonshire, Orangery, sham castle, Tower

A Novel Discovery: J.L. Carr and Northamptonshire landscape ornaments

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 orangery in the grounds of Barton Hall Hotel. As in Carr’s day it is used as a venue for weddings and celebrations: ‘social éclat at moderate charges’. Little is known of its history. Carr quotes Pevsner’s description of it as an ‘exquisitely beautiful little building’. Image courtesy of the Carr family and Northamptonshire Archives Service © Mr R.Carr.
Humphry Repton gave advice to owner Charles Tibbits in the 1790s, and mentions a ‘greenhouse’, but it is not clear if this was an existing building, or a proposed replacement. It is grade I listed and was restored in the early part of this century. It was completely new to The Folly Flâneuse and is a delightful discovery.

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 first saw the lodge from a train in around 1952 (the Midland main line passes close by) and remembered it as neglected, with a ‘gaunt lost look about it’. He wrote that it was ‘sometimes listed as a folly’, but that it should not be classified as such as it was a religious building. Built in the 1590s it prominently displayed Sir Thomas Tresham’s catholic faith. Image courtesy of the Carr family and Northamptonshire Archives Service © Mr R. Carr.
At the time Carr sketched it in 1960 the lodge had just been placed in the care of the Ministry of Works, the forerunner of English Heritage, which continues to care for it today (although at the time of writing it is still closed to the public). It is grade I listed.

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’.

Bunkers Hill Farm, built by the Earl of Strafford in 1776 to commemorate the American Revolutionary War battle of Bunker Hill (the ‘s’ is a later addition) of the previous year. When Carr drew Bunkers Hill he thought a ‘kick from a horse’ would be enough to knock it down. Luckily there were no bucking broncos in the district at the time, and the building survived. It has been restored as a family home and is strictly private. Image courtesy of the Carr family and Northamptonshire Archives Service © Mr R.Carr.

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

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

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)

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts are always welcome: please scroll down to the comments box below to get in touch.




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14 thoughts on “A Novel Discovery: J.L. Carr and Northamptonshire landscape ornaments”

  1. John Davies says:

    What at fascinating post! I’ve enjoyed Carr’s perfect novella and also the little booklets he self-published on a wide range of subjects, but I had no idea he was an artist, let alone an accomplished one. The Triangular lodge is indeed ‘Piper-ish’. There is also an excellent biography of Carr (I think by Byron Rogers from memory) which is worth a read. Thanks for the link to the digital archive, just brewing up now……….

    1. Editor says:

      Morning John. The three images I include don’t show him at his best. I know you will enjoy browsing the rest of his work online.

  2. Gand says:

    We had the pleasure of watching North Country Theatre performing A Month in the Country on stage in N Yorkshire. The other books Mr Carr wrote are also an excellent investment of time.
    The link to follies is fascinating and will be looked into in due course.
    Thanks to Flaneuse for a truly enjoyable Saturday morning read.

    1. Editor says:

      Thanks Gand. Yes, I am a big Carr fan and also particularly like A Day in Summer. I haven’t seen it on stage, lucky you, but must rewatch the film.

  3. Archaeogail says:

    Wow Karen, how utterly fascinating! I love Carr’s novels, and especially the films, which are some of my all-time favourites too, but I had no idea that he was such a talented artist with a passion for buildings! How fantastic that the collection has been digitised, I shall certainly be taking a closer look. Is it greedy to wish that he’d painted more in Yorkshire?! Thanks for yet another wonderful post!

    1. Editor says:

      Thanks Gail. I share your delight: I too was thrilled to find out more about Carr the polymath. I don’t really know Northamptonshire, but after a quick visit to research this post I hope to go back soon and explore further. And I must look out for Carr’s carvings in the churchyards!

      1. Norma Hebden says:

        Such joy to learn more about J L Carr. In my book, this post is quincessential reading!

        1. Editor says:

          Good to see that you have taken over punning duties this week Norma!

  4. John says:

    Another fascinating post – thank you. We first came across JL Carr nearly 50 years ago. A friend had one of his ‘county maps’ which we liked so much we got in touch with Mr Carr and bought two maps – Nottinghamshire (my wife’s home county) and the map of England and Wales. They have hung in our hall ever since and have always had a lot of attention from us and visitors to our house. The detail – tiny drawings and a wealth of names, dates and other information – always amazes us, as do some of the quirky (and a few inaccurate) facts. Sadly, it looks as if both the maps we have are now out of print.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello John, and thanks for the appreciation. The maps are amazing, in fact Carr’s entire output is a treasure trove. What a lovely memory to know you bought from Carr himself. I hope you continue to enjoy your maps.

  5. Simon says:

    Fascinating. As a Northamptonian, Carr is well known to me but I had no idea there was an archive of his images. Made me search VADS for others and I found a fabulous drawing of “Grotto Lodge” by Dryden that I was unaware of, see
    In my Boughton Park researches I have only ever known it called New Park Barn or (much more recently) Fox Covert Hall.
    If ever I do another edition of my Boughton Park book, I now have two new illustrations to include! Thank you.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Simon. Yes, isn’t it an amazing resource? Northamptonshire seems to be particularly strong. I’m pleased you have added to your knowledge of Boughton Park.

  6. Mark Draper says:

    As a native of Kettering, now living in Rushton and a descended from a long established firm of Drapers furniture makers and retailers in the town ( recently closed down after 150 yrs). I was fascinated to read your entry about J. L.Carr. In particular, I enjoyed reading about the Orangery. Such a fine building must have been designed by a very talented architect and I for one like to think it was by Repton. I studied it some years ago and did my best to model it in clay, having read your article, I’m inspired to revisit the project. I’m very much enjoying your website, thank you, Mark Draper

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Mark.As you know, I am a fan of your ceramic models having first seen them on display at Lyveden New Bield. I am excited to know that you might revisit your Orangery project, and I very much look forward to seeing the end result. I couldn’t find an architect for the Orangery – in fact I could find very little at all about the place. When I visited the hotel was in some kind of Covid/Change of owner limbo so I hope it has reopened and guests can see that magnificent building.

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