The kindness of strangers

25 January 2015
Ben Pentreath

One of the amazing things about writing a blog is the number of people, who were once strangers, who one gets to know from all over the world. Some I’ll only ever know as correspondents on the comments pages; others have visited Bridie and me in the shop and we now count as friends. And then from time to time it’s also wonderful to receive a nice letter saying hello.  Some letters are a little eccentric (some are very eccentric)… but that’s all in the nature of life, I think.

And then others are completely amazing, a bit like this.

Dear Ben,

I have very much enjoyed reading your inspiration blog over the past year or so – the images together with your wonderful musings really brighten my day. So… when I was clearing the house of my much loved Aunt before Christmas and came across this book that I didn’t know what to do with, I suddenly thought that you may like it?

It certainly looks as if it has lived an interesting and exciting life and I thought that you may appreciate it and take it on the next stage of its journey – I hope so!

I also wanted to say how delighted I was to read your recent post with news of your marriage and pass to you my sincere congratulations – wonderful news!

With best wishes

Georgina Williams.

There was a small, ancient paper slip enclosing a parcel. Which turned out to be a book.  Faded, worn, and with the first few pages gently scorched – I presume by a candle?


The beauty just of that little glimpse into the pages was something that was as fine as a work of contemporary paper art on its own.



Opening the book was remarkable. Le Clerc’s treatise, published in 1714:P1070677

I love this tiny scene at the bottom of the title page; and I love even more the motto – Printed and Sold by Richard Ware at the Bible & Sun in Warwick Lane, Amen Corner. It throws us back immediately to early 18th century London.P1070678

The following pages contain stellar dedications to the Worshipful Company of Bricklayers:P1070679 P1070680

Masons, and Joyners:P1070681

The Carpenters’ inscription faces the first of the orders.  Those of the readers who are familiar with Architectural Treatises will know all their five orders, Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian & Composite….P1070682

If you want to know more about the world of the Architectural Treatise, there are better experts than me. These (often tiny) pocket books were used by London and country builders, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, kept close to hand on the building site as a quick visual reference for how to form beautiful, simple, architecturally coherent classical buildings.  For a while now, I’ve had on the desktop of my laptop this remarkable list of treatises collated by a blogger… Extraordinary Book of Doors (quite a niche area), although interestingly I don’t see Le Clerc’s treatise contained on the list. No matter.P1070683 P1070684 P1070685 P1070686 P1070687 P1070688 P1070689

The Composite is here called the ‘Roman Order‘:P1070690

And who knew about the Spanish OrderP1070691 P1070692 P1070693

I love the description of a Chappelet of Pearls & OlivesP1070694

A ‘French Order’ appears at the end of the book, but this loose page was tucked in half-way through:P1070695 P1070696 P1070697

Every detail of a classical building is simply and clearly described. It always humbles me to think that the Masons, Bricklayers, Joyners and Carpenters of 18th century London were hardly able to sign their names, let alone to read or write; yet they were all to a man more immediately versatile in the language of classical architecture than I will ever be in my lifetime.  It was in their veins.P1070698 P1070699

I’m particularly fond of ‘A Composition of Architecture to be avoided’.  We could use a bit more of that today, I guess.P1070700

What an amazing book.P1070702

What an amazing present.

Georgina, I am so grateful, and so happy to say thank you (and sorry that I’ve had time to write the blog before I have had time to write you a card), and even happier to be able to share this wonderful, tangible glimpse of an earlier age right now, on a computer screen, with thousands of readers… many of whom will be using the little phone in their pocket to search for knowledge, inspiration,  humour. Perhaps… just perhaps… the internet is the ultimate treatise of today?

29 comments on this post

Louise Reasays:

Oh. How very special. I’d love to own a book like this. Not only for its fascinating contents and beauty, but the wonder of where its been, who owned it, and how it got burnt! Thank you for sharing.

Deby (in Canada)says:

Oh Ben… What a wonderful story, thank you again for taking such time to share with us the lucky readers who over time feel we are really a part of your life!
And Georgina is a treasure…
hugs and cheers

Aww! this is really sweet gesture of the reader. This is the best part of being blogger and having good caring readers. You are Lucky!

Georgina Williamssays:

I am so pleased that my hunch was right and that you liked it! Thank you for taking the time to share its contents with so many, I know my Aunt would be delighted. Very best wishes, Georgina.

I loved reading this it is heartwarming and such an inspiration. Thank you.

Being a frequent reader of “inspirations”, but one who exercises reservations in writing comments. I now feel compelled to come out of the shadows due to this wonderful book! Ben I want to thank you for the time and effort you make with these pages. I visit them with great anticipation. Just to learn that this wonderful book exist has made my day in conjunction with a wonderful glass of red wine and no, it’s not the wine talking.


A really cool gift from a very thoughtful lady.

Mrs Hsays:

Lovely book, and very lovely Georgina!

And congratulations – wishing you and Charlie very long and very happy lives together.


Ben I am so happy for you, glad the wedding went well, and I loved the book, shame about the candle damage, but just lovely.


I feel like I would be a better person if i read Georgina’s lovely letter, and your equally lovely response, every day. Inspirational indeed! And I add my congratulations on your wedding.

Oh, the best things come in small packages! What a lovely present. Regarding the low literacy rate of the time, Who would need words with such pictures? Also, I am a fan of the page of “don’ts” — these days, I understand that architects’ software programs have a drop-down containing any kind of moulding ever dreamed up, which is why there are such horrid mish-mashes of houses, with clam-shell mouldings on Greek Revival windows, for example. But back to the book: I love the hole! Maybe someone put it under the leg of a rickety table which wore a hole in it?


What a thoughtful gift! And how nice that something many unknowing people would have tossed has ended up in such good and appreciative hands.

The book takes me back to when I was in college in NYC before I went to architecture school and I took a night drawing class at the National Academy. We worked with a treatise such as this and learned how to draw much of what was in it. It was the late 80s and most of the people in the class were licensed architects who had never learned such details before but needed them for their postmodern designs. Such details were greatly frowned upon when I did get to architecture school due to a heavy deconstruction influence but I was always glad I learned them when I did and have always appreciated them and books such as this.

Being a thoughtful person is often unappreciated in this day and age. Such a lovely gift. L

Albert Premiersays:

Dear Mr. Ben,
This blog makes my day.
What a wonderful present. You absolutely deserve it. The lady is not only very generous but also sensible & wise because she put it in precisely the right hands.
Thank you both for sharing.
Highest regards,

These little Treatise books are amazing. I found a copy of “A Treatise on Madness” in our library at work. It was from the mid-1700’s and had a little four-leaf clover tucked in the pages. It made me cry, it was so poignant.

This is a stunning little book. Thanks for sharing it, Ben and Georgina!


A treasure given to a treasure.

Sharon Chansays:

What a gift! First it’s the thought…then to go through with it and get it mailed off in our busy age…then you open it and it’s just precious. Thank you for sharing. Thank you to Georgina for sharing this book with you, Ben. Thank you Ben for sharing with us. There are some wonderful Doric details I shall actually use in that book and just looking it over has honed my eye a bit. Thank you-thank you.

Sharon – Texas, USA

PS: Oh, and it really feels good to see others take the time to smell the roses….or leaf through and enjoy and old book. It makes one feel very human.


Oh Ben..what a lovely, cheering story for a morning that started out not so well- we are promised 24” of snow over the next two days here in New Jersey and that cancels all my plans; but instead of being glum, I’ll now surrender to what I can’t control. I don’t know what it is, but reading your blog always has such a good effect on me! Thank you:-) I also wanted you to know that after a lot of searching that I have finally found a wonderful antique secretary desk such as the one that is in your living room at the Parsonage..Now if only I could find such such a beautiful house too..


Dear Ben, thanks so much for sharing this with us on a Monday morning in January. You and your blog inspire me, and Georgina has inspired me. Reaching out can be a bit frightening, but look where it can lead. How lovely. Have a great week. sx


What a visual treat,such beautiful typography.


Thank you, Just what we needed to see this morning. How inspiring for the week ahead.


A lovely, thoughtful gift – but I love even more the fact that we have this, this week – and last week it was Are You A Roundy or A Squarey!


Made my morning.

Spanish Order – indeed unknown, and the difference between the “Roman” & the “Corinthian” barely discernible. How fascinating, and placed in exactly the right hands!


That is really, really beautiful. Lx

How very thoughtful of Georgina to pass along this treasured book to its new owner. Imagine, someone with less foresight may have easily tossed it in the bin, and how tragic that would have been.


What a beautiful gift, thanks for sharing x

A brilliant tale in all aspects. I’m so glad the book is in safe hands.


How utterly wonderful, a complete treasure and what a wonderful lady to send it. Thanks for this lovley post. X

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