Late in 1963, a series of books was published with an eye for the Christmas market. Three of the titles featured British landmarks in the form of Bridges, Monuments, and Follies, and they were launched in time for ‘Christmas reading, New Year travelling’. Whilst Sir Hugh Casson, as editor of the series, was the big name to capture the attention of shoppers, the real heroes were Paul Sharp who provided the wonderful whimsical illustrations and bold design, and the writer E.M. Hatt, whose bright prose is a delight to read.
The books (there were eventually 8) were published by Chatto & Windus on behalf of the National Benzole Company, with the stated aim being to ‘stimulate and satisfy the curiosity of the motorist, and thus increase the pleasures of his journey’. Of course the books were the brainchild of the marketing department, and there was an ulterior motive: the more motorists explore, the more petrol they buy. The Follies volume was the first, and understandably it is Casson’s name on the cover, but although Sir Hugh writes in his introduction that the follies are ‘wittily and accurately described and affectionately depicted’, Hatt and Sharp are not mentioned by name until the acknowledgements on the final page of the book. The Folly Flâneuse hopes to give them the credit they are due here.
Ella Mary Thompson (1907-1972) was born in Bristol where her father was a newspaper reporter. She spent some time in Paris at the Sorbonne and then in 1932 she married her father’s journalist colleague, Richard William Hatt. Hatt came from a prosperous Bath family who had been wigmakers, hairdressers and perfumers, but his career was influenced by the field of his uncle, who was Chairman of the Wessex Associated News. A son was born in July 1933, but tragically Richard died at the early age of 40 in September of the same year. After her husband’s death Ella was offered help and support by his sister, the artist Doris Hatt, and her partner Margery Mack Smith.
In 1939 Ella was working in Bristol as a proof-reader and indexer, but by 1942 she had moved to London and found employment with the publishing house Faber & Faber, working with T.S.Eliot. Alongside her work as an editor, she began to write books for children. A volume of verse, Callers at our House, illustrated by Leslie Wood, appeared in 1945, and three stories were published in 1947: Priscilla the Paddington Mouse, with illustrations by Francis Gower, The Cat with a Guinea illustrated by Leslie Wood, and The House that was No-one’s Affair with illustrations by Margaret Wolpe. The 1947 publications were well-received in the press, and recommended as Christmas gifts. She also translated a wide range of works from French and German – her eclectic list of subjects including cookery, caving, and compost. The latter had become something of a Faber specialism, as director Richard (Dick) de la Mare was passionate about the organic movement, and this section of the list became known in-house as ‘muck’.
Mrs Hatt, as she was formally known at Faber & Faber, published under the name E.M.Hatt, seldom revealing her gender. But there was one exception: in 1962 ‘Ella Hatt’ wrote the text for the last in a series of books produced by National Benzole on the subject of ‘Our National Heritage’. The foreword to Our National Heritage: Gardens was written by Vita Sackville-West, and again the writer and illustrator were relegated to a note at the back of the book. The delightful illustrations and design were by Paul Sharp, and as Vita wrote ‘How delightful it is to come across such a series in a world which tends more and more towards cheapness and vulgarity’. The success of this publication probably led to Hatt and Sharp working together on the Follies series the following year. Hatt’s text for Follies is lively and engaging (the Barwick Park follies are ‘the jolliest collection of frolics’), probably because she had a genuine interest in the subject: her grandson recalls car journeys being interrupted to investigate nearby curiosities.
The visual side of the book was the work of Paul Spencer Sharp (1921-1998). He was born in Sowerby Bridge in Yorkshire, and would have been familiar with follies from a young age, as the mighty Wainhouse Tower dominates the view towards Halifax. Sharp studied at Wakefield School of Arts and Crafts, where in 1939-40 he won an award for designing the school Christmas card. His prize was a copy of the recently published High Street by J.M.Richards with the now-famous illustrations by Eric Ravilious – which must have influenced the young artist. He went on to Leeds College of Art before serving with the RAF in the Second World War. He finished his education at the Royal College of Art and then taught at Farnham School of Art, where he rose to become head of the Department of Design. He left teaching in 1960 to concentrate on graphic design, and would go on to work for clients including the Paul Mellon Centre, the National Gallery, Sothebys, Royal Doulton, Spink and the Mermaid Theatre.
The series of books for National Benzole was a major project for Sharp, and his obituary in The Independent reveals that he drove over 150,000 miles ‘to visit some of the most obscure corners of the British Isles’ whilst researching and sketching. The obituary was written by Paul Atterbury, a specialist in 19th and 20th century art, now recognised from his appearances on TV’s Antiques Roadshow. His father, Rowland, ran the Westerham Press where Sharp was a favoured designer and friend, and where the National Benzole books were printed. Paul Atterbury’s draft obituary (not published in its entirety) remembered his ‘calm and well-ordered graphic style’, and his ability to ‘catch in a few lines and a few minutes, the essence of a building […] he could draw through the car window, or under an umbrella in a howling gale. Nothing could stop him’.
In 1967 the three books on follies, castles, and monuments were reissued in a single volume by The Reprint Society, a book club. Top marks to them for righting the wrong and giving Hatt and Sharp full credit on the cover.
The Folly Flâneuse was delighted to be introduced to the work of artist Doris Hatt, whose work often features Cabot Tower and Walton Castle in Bristol as a backdrop https://www.courtgallery.com/artists/210-doris-hatt/biography/
There’s a short film about Sharp’s work here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxMRRKXsJfg
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