The best things are the least expected

13 October 2014
Ben Pentreath

I’m afraid the blog has had a cold today and yesterday. I’ve been in bed all day.  So, sorry for being late. Can I say, before kind offers of sympathy, that I really don’t mind being sort of ill too much at all? Ill enough not to get up; not so ill that you can’t do anything. So it turned out to be a different sort of productive day. I thought about quite a few things, in between sleeping, and filed a couple of articles that were well past their deadline. But every time I tried to get up it was a disaster. That sort of ill. Everything worked so long as you didn’t do too much.

Yesterday, I had set out that I was going to write about a little subject that has become quite close to my heart recently; Roger Hargreaves’ brilliant series of books about Roundies and Squaries. It’s always a nice thought when you know the blog. And for a little while I’ve been hunting down Roundies and Squaries and I think I’ve found the last one.

Charlie and I drove up from Dorset early. It was a grey day, rather miserable, and there wasn’t a mass to do down there; that’s what happens when you’ve both got a cold. All change from a hectic and hilarious Friday evening Quiz night in the village hall. So we got home and were unloading bags and found what felt like a thousand people on the ground floor.


That’s what happens from time to time when you live at the Art Workers Guild, possibly the most unpredictable building in the whole of London.

We had no idea what was going on, but it turned out to be the one-day-only tabletop museum.  Brothers of the Guild had come together to display their tabletop collections. We’d never seen anything like it. This is the guild at its craziest. I love it.

For instance – Beards, Bonnets, Bicycles and Bad Boys, A collection of late 19th and early 20th century photographs:

P1040835 P1040836

A plastic thimble roundup:P1040838 P1040839

British Bricks, with their beautiful typographic markings:
P1040840 P1040841 P1040842 P1040843

Cottages and Castles, which was a dream:P1040844 P1040845 P1040846 P1040847

The Pear-Ovum Museum (yes, you are right… twins):P1040849 P1040850 P1040851 P1040852 P1040853 P1040854

Nordic Souvenirs from the 70s:

My favourite of all, a collection of Butchers Bags:P1040856 P1040858

I didn’t even get to see what this one was (I’m afraid we didn’t get to look at every exhibit. The place was completely overwhelming):P1040859

A Gay doll collection:P1040860 P1040861 P1040862

(incidentally for wallpaper aficionados the wonderful self-portrait behind, left, is a younger Marthe Armitage. Past Master Armitage is one of the great wallpaper designers of our age. You can read about her here, on my friend Ruth Guilding’s brilliant blog).

There was a tabletop collection of feathers:

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And of New Forest Toys (with quite a nice collection of eccentric hats in the background):P1040865 P1040866

A collection of items with dots:

Monica (the guild secretary)’s new dog, Lola:

And the best collection of misfits and strange folk from around the country…. The brothers of the Art Workers Guild, in their beautiful hall which celebrates its 100-year anniversary in 2014.P1040873

Bro. Stephen Fowler has curated the exhibition (read his blog here for a dip into other worlds):P1040875

And the cake was delicious.P1040877

We staggered upstairs. I’m afraid I was too tired to write it all down. And my own tabletop collection, of Roundy and Squary books, is going to have to wait for a blog for another day. Believe me, that’s going to be a blog worth waiting for.P1040878

What would be on your tabletop museum?

15 comments on this post


I have looked over and under for the scary line which drew people to the conclusion that you have ended your blog. I’m reading this well after the fact, so I know you have not, but I think you must have deleted the loathesome phrase. Naughty boy! (Or blind reader, perhaps…)



Knock, knock, is there any body there?
Have you both recovered from your’e colds?
Are you very busy catching up with work?
The last comment has worried me.
Have you ended your blog?
If so, I am very so very sorry. I found you’re blog through Elsperh Thompson and Jane Brocket and have loved how it has evolved over the years and how you have let us into you’re world and how you have opened my eyes to :- colour, light, textures, landscapes, buildings here and abroad and finally the B. Valley and Dorset which I fell in love with on a geology field trip as a teenager.
Best regards, from a country mouse (who travels in a Morris minor convertible, called Bluebelle).

AJ Wigdorsays:

Dear Ben,
I hope that both of you have recovered from your colds and you are now VERY busy catching up on all your projects, running your empire and enjoying the fruits of your labours in the vegetable garden.

I just checked in to see if I have missed a blog but the last comment has got this little old country mouse worried. Is it over? Have you finished blogging or are you just too busy to sit down and send thoughts and images down the internet ether to us?
Best wishes, Ali.


RIP Ben Pentreath’s Blog, thanks for the good times, your be missed!

Elfreda Pownallsays:

Hats off to you, for showing us all this fun. But double hats off to Prue Cooper, Master of the Art Workers Guild this year (in orange skirt and check shirt in your first picture) who is making its centenary year outstanding.


What fun! Thanks so much for sharing something most of us would never, ever know about. I chuckled and marvelled all the way through the photos. Ben, you’re just great!

Well, Ben, this has got to be one of my all-time favorite posts! So interesting to see the things that people hold dear and want to share (including those in your readers’ comments.) And how nice for them to see the event recorded on your blog. I can now go boldly forward without a bit of guilt about the “junk” accumulating in my house. Vintage postcards, old maps and lots of other ephemera, and finials, urns, decorative brackets… Some of it is stuff I intend to use in assemblage pieces, so I do have an excuse for my pack-rattery.

My museum could be of religious items collected at flea markets when I lived in Europe, because I will never find the like here in the US: miniature bronze souvenir cathedrals from Germany, vintage prayer-books going back to the 18th c, vintage crucifixes and holy cards. I’m not religious but I grew up RC so I consider such things my birthright for making (somewhat) irreverent artworks.

Ben, I will just have to do a post on my own blog about these things, a VIRTUAL table-top museum!! Thank you for the inspiration!



The most miniature of cowrie shells I collected in true OCD fashion from a Cornish beach when I was 17. Or my collection of cottage ware. Loved the castles and 1970s novelties. Cold or no cold, you’ve done it again and produced a hilarious post.


Fantastic. Once again, I set aside time for a quick peek at your post only to find myself studying the photos and wandering the links bumping into interesting people and beautiful things.
This one is a hoot. Thank you.

Oh! What a wonderful surprise it must have been to come upon this gathering–like a dose of vitamin C to cure your cold! I agree completely with Anna, that this communal eccentricity is an expression of alertness and keen observation of the possibly-lovely, the connected, the interesting, that we encounter everyday. Thank you for sharing this– I’m completely inspired… It’s so difficult to decide what my own museum would be– perhaps for the first one 😉 I’d choose my antique desk tool collection. Or my African beadwork collection. Or my tea caddy collection. Or our mineral collection. Or our Japanese netsuke collection………..


Wonderful examples of British eccentricity which is a sort of love, isn’t it? Love for the odd, the unnoticed, the maybe-not-beautiful-but-could-be…

My little museum would house my vast collection of (mostly) postcards but also drawings, paintings and prints of women reading.

Steven Zicksays:

Amazing photos, as usual. The best thing for me was the glimpse in each shot of the permanent portraits peeking into each wacky booth–don’t their subjects look a little bemused–or amazed- by the show in front of them? I must confess to missing the weekly dahlia parade, but there would be no point in risking a worsening cold by taking pix in bad weather!

Lynn Bennettsays:

Bonkers but brilliant!!


My collections of accordion ornaments, porcelein feves and 1970s children’s picture books! Can’t believe I missed this! Hope your cold dries up soon – “blog” sounds like the kind of thing one would say with a head full of snot…

What a mad, mad world, but a fascinating one too. I would have loved to see this for myself so thank you for enlightening your loyal readers with this great post.

I saw a hilarious “carnival gift” from the 1950’s this past weekend that would have fitted into the twin museum. It was a pair of small colourful wooden carved tortoises. Nothing extraordinary about them upon first glance, but once they were turned over they revealed fully painted and carved male and female organs. It had me in fits of giggles and had my brain wondering which carnival game would have given these little treasures out as prizes.

My museum could be a table of 19th century slop bowls. Somehow, I seem to have accumulated a small collection of these tea articles. I think I love their name more than anything.

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