Lost and Found

14 June 2015
Ben Pentreath

It’s been an extraordinary weekend. So apologies for a long blog, but you will understand why.

We had our friends Maggie and Stephen staying (or should I say, Maggie, and Stephen; the comma designating that they are not a couple?). Maggie is our neighbour next to the shop; when you next pop in to see us at Rugby Street, be sure to pop in too to see Maggie in her lovely jewellery shop next door.  Steve, meanwhile, is my craziest friend of all time. We’ve known each other since we were seven years old, which is a long time these days. He’s about to embark on an incredibly exciting venture, opening a very smart, very beautiful hotel somewhere here in the south west. I can’t wait. It will be amazing.

The weekend began, though, with a quieter treat. My friend Gracie, who runs the superb Little Toller Press (that has been a regular fixture of the blog over the years) had arranged for us to visit and meet Julian Francis, author of the recent monograph on one of my favourite artists and discoveries… Rena Gardiner, who I blogged about a couple of years ago now, here. Do you remember?

Julian and his family live in a beautiful Manor House to the east of Dorchester. We had tea and scones in the garden served on Ravilious china, before starting an incredible inspection of Rena books, illustrations and linocuts.  Within seconds we were sitting around Julian’s dining room table, absorbed in Rena and her books.

P1070843 P1070845

By far and away the greatest treat is a rare, rare copy of Portrait of Dorset, which in bookish circles has a mythic status.P1070846 P1070847

You open it and see why – she printed only 30 copies.P1070848 P1070849

Such a beautiful dedication on the title-page.P1070850 P1070851 P1070852

This image of Durdle Door forms the cover of Julian’s monograph:P1070853 P1070854 P1070855 P1070856 P1070857 P1070858 P1070859 P1070860 P1070861 P1070862 P1070863 P1070864 P1070865 P1070866 P1070868 P1070869 P1070870 P1070871 P1070872

I love this print of the Customs House at Poole:P1070873

And read, too, Rena’s incredible writing:
P1070875 She cares as much for the industrial and unattractive as the more picture-postcard aspects of Dorset.

But reverts time and again to the early Georgian buildings that I feel were her greatest love:P1070878 P1070879

Beautiful colours in the illustration of Waterston House:P1070880 P1070881 P1070883 P1070884 P1070885 P1070886 P1070887 P1070888 P1070889 P1070890 Portrait of Dorset is the most magical book I’ve looked at for a long time. It would be wonderful if we could persuade Gracie to do a facsimile reprint, although the book is so fragile I am not sure how that would even happen.
P1070892 P1070893 P1070894 P1070896

Here is a lovely early copy of the guide to Trerice, that I blogged about when I first wrote about Rena. The illustrations are near perfect.P1070897 P1070898 P1070899 P1070900 P1070901 P1070902 P1070903

This is the cover of Julian’s book, which he has written with Martin Andrews. P1070904 I’m thrilled that we have copies of the book in the shop.  Only 1000 have been printed and already fewer than 100 remain. If you are intrigued, you can buy a copy here. Hurry!

Julian gave us a brief tour of his beautiful library. I love books on shelves, but even more so when they are the shelves of a serious, knowledgeable, charming collector, generously sharing his treasures.



The view across the water meadows as we left Julian’s beautiful house was as serene as many of Rena’s illustrations that we had just been looking at. I reflected that the work of an artist that was so nearly lost has been re-found, a reputation strengthened and re-established by the efforts of this gentle man.

Today, by contrast, we found ourselves on an extraordinary trip through North Dorset… visiting (partly by design, partly by chance) the ancient walled garden of a splendid, now vanished, country house on the edge of Cranborne Chase… a garden that has been all but lost to time and decay. Little remains of what must have once been a place of staggering beauty and productivity. P1070936

But the memories of the place were powerful.P1070937 P1070938 P1070942 P1070943 P1070944

Ancient roses climbed through the branches of knarled fruit trees.P1070945 P1070946 P1070947 P1070948 P1070949

A Victorian glasshouse gently ebbed and flowed in a state of collapse.P1070950 P1070952 P1070954 P1070958

Overtaken by time, just too late to save without a major reconstruction:P1070961 P1070962 P1070963 P1070966 P1070970 P1070971 P1070972 P1070979 P1070980 P1070983 We left in quiet speculation.  There is something so beautiful about gardens in need of love and nurture. Did you ever read The Secret Garden as a child? One of my favourite books.

Charlie and I dropped Steve and Maggie at the station at the end of our adventures and returned home to a quiet, still Parsonage… bathed in late evening sunlight. Charlie’s garden is filled to bursting at the moment… a total contrast to the eerie emptiness we had been witness to hours earlier.P1080052 P1080074 P1080060 P1080068 P1080066Just at this time of year, can I admit… there is no where on earth that I would rather be.

19 comments on this post


I’m a bit late to this party, but thank you so much for sharing the images of ‘Portrait of Dorset’ – what a tour-de-force! Simply stunning … regards – Fraser


Oh yes, I was thinking of The Secret Garden, too, as I looked at the wonderful photos of the Cranborne Chase walled garden. My brothers and I loved that book so deeply that we convinced our parents to name their fourth child Colin. What a lovely post (I am binge-reading today)!

Margaret Powlingsays:

I am a lucky girl as I have the Trerice book. What a superb illustrator she was, Ben.


I grew up on the IoW, just minutes before all the old Victorian Crumblies were cleared away and housing estates erected in their grounds. All those years spent playing in them, discovering garden forks left at the centre of rhodo bushes, paths that disappeared under grass, staircases that stopped midair and glassless old ballrooms. All that beauty held in fragile suspension, the utter seduction of dereliction. Your photos of that garden and glasshouse are beautiful; one or two made me gasp and took me right back to then…

Love the red staircase.

And Charlie’s garden – well!

The books are gorgeous – truly worth reissuing!

As for the walled garden – HEAVEN! The lure of the walled garden is something deep within us, and, yes, there is a copy of The Secret Garden in my office. We all want to rescue a secret walled garden.

Like for the books, these are the best !
Keep on posting la this!


Wonderful photos, the art reminds me very much of some of the St Judes work. Love your blog, thanks.


Thank you for taking the trouble to photograph the contents of some of Rena Gardiner’s work for us. What tremendous artistry and production. And a neglected garden with WALLS! The blog can never be too long in my opinion. Best, Nicola

Thank you for publishing another wonderful weekend recap. And they are NEVER too long! I enjoy settling in with my tea for a wonderful read to start my week……k

oh ben.
i follow your beautiful blog religiously… but seldom comment.
i live in the landlocked prairie state of oklahoma in the u.s.
but am an anglophile through and through.
how i loved this post… and the glimpses of rena’s books.
it was sheer heaven. as is the parsonage.
thank you for taking me to england always… if only in my mind.
love to you and charlie!

Lovely – someone should reissue the books they are wonderful.


What a beautiful walled garden! What is the name of the lost house? Would love to find out more

Sophie Caruthsays:

Oh ‘be still my beating heart’, I would buy many copies of Portrait of Dorset if it was reprinted. What a treat. As for The Secret Garden, it is my childhood book. Let’s take that sad, beautiful garden in hand once Reddish is back on its feet – don’t tell David though!

Lee Sanderssays:

Books, gardens oh and a romantic old greenhouse how does one choose?


Oh if Little toller could do a facsimile that would be soooooo wonderful. What a beautiful book, what an amazing discovery!
Dorset looks so green and lush from here, heavenly Patmos. Almost makes me glad that I will be back there in a week.
What a glorious glasshouse too. I wonder if someone with very deep pockets will come along and restore it too its former glory. I prefer it how it is though, but I guess it will only stay thus for a few more years.

David Sanderssays:

Ben, thanks for the introduction to Rena’s works.The interior illustrations of the drawing rooms etc, are exquisite and quite captivating.

Nicola Lawrencesays:

Absolutely beautiful books, colours, illustrations, overflowing bookshelves (love), gardens, walls, doors, decaying buildings, Parsonage (Charlie’s) garden, sentiments. (Have just, between pics, bought a Rena Gardiner book on Norwich Cathedral so that I can study more closely – only the front cover was shown (on ebay) so the pages will be a surprise. Thank you Ben.

What—am I the first comment? Nevah! Someone is probably typing like merry hell to beat me to that distinction!

The Rena books are marvelous on so many levels. The tone of her writing is glorious. If she doesn’t care for a place, she just says so. I wonder how many people—excepting the hapless occupants—read beyond the first line when she writes about uncherished towns.

And the linocuts! I’ve tried that, and it is bl~~dy hard work! I almost took a chunk out of my hand, and you have to be strong, so my slimness is a definite hindrance.

I particularly love the red staircase.

And you are very naughty, Ben, to dangle an old walled garden and collapsing glasshouse in front of me. It makes me morose, and encourages me to resent our emigrating…





oh my those books!

sitting in my wee secret garden in the near 90 heat (in ny!) its lovely to see those wonderful prints!

and that lost deserted garden – one wishes one had the money…

of course your garden delightful and inspiring.

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