Magnus Maximus Designs was a short-lived English jewellery company founded by three designers and jewellery makers, Michael Gray Bell, Pauline Diane Bell and Ian Murray Pennell, who worked in Frizington, a village in Cumbria. During its short period of operation, the company produced a range of stylish jewellery, which can be broadly split in to two main types: pieces using flat or rounded cabochons of semi-precious and other hardstones, and those using nuggets of raw crystals and minerals (‘druzy’). The mounts and frames for these pieces were usually plain and unadorned, creating a minimalist, sculptural effect and showcasing the stones perfectly.
Magnus Maximus Designs rings, in sodalite, amethyst, carnelian, jadeite and agate, all for sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery. Click on photo for details.
So far, all the pieces I have seen of theirs are hallmarked between 1971 and 1979. I have seen 1971 and 1972 Birmingham hallmarks, and 1972 to 1979 inclusive Edinburgh hallmarks, so it looks like at some point in 1972 they decided to change from using the Birmingham Assay Office to the Edinburgh one. The Edinburgh maker’s mark was registered at the Assay Office there in May 1973, but as it was used on at least one 1972 Edinburgh piece, obviously they were using it before it was registered.
Jadeite ring by Magnus Maximus Designs, hallmarked in Edinburgh in 1972. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.
Snowflake obsidian heart-shaped pendant by Magnus Maximus Designs, hallmarked in Edinburgh in 1977. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.
Tiger’s eye luckenbooth pendant by Magnus Maximus Designs, hallmarked in Edinburgh in 1977. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.
Magnus Maximus Designs iron pyrites ring, 1973-1974 Edinburgh hallmark. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.
I have an interesting pewter pendant which is marked on the back by hand with MMD. I am certain this is by Magnus Maximus Designs, but have seen no other pewter pieces by them. Stylistically it would fit well win their oeuvre, with a flat cabochon of an agate-like stone, perhaps serpentine, and a bold sculptural frame.
Pewter and hardstone pendant by MMD: Magnus Maximus Designs. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.
As there seem to be no pieces post-dating 1979, I assume that the company ceased trading in 1979 or the very early 1980s.
I would love to know more about this company, and what the three designers went on to do. If you have any information, I’m all ears!
We’ve had a few special bird sightings from our cottage this year, but sadly I can’t illustrate any of them with photos as my camera was not to hand …
The first was a strange occurrence indeed. In the 25 years we have lived here we have only once ever before seen a heron (Ardea cinerea) flying over the village. There is not a lot of water round us: we are on the chalk and a lot of the streams are winterbornes ie they only flow in winter, and the nearest lake is 2.25 km (1.4 miles) away and the nearest river about the same distance. So we were very surprised one morning not only to see a heron flying very low over the gardens near us, but to then see it pitch up on a telephone wire over our neighbour’s garden.
Grey heron (Ardea cinerea). Imagine this, but on a telephone wire … Photo by ErRu.
It perched there, swaying slightly, and it was the most amazing sight: such a massive bird, hanging around the cottages completely unconcerned. For such a huge, ungainly bird we were very impressed at its balancing act. It stayed for a few minutes, and then flew off, leaving us delighted.
The second lovely sighting was earlier this week: a lesser spotted woodpecker (Dryobates minor) on one of the telephone poles (I’m not going to call it a telegraph pole because we’re not living in Downton Abbey times any more), going up and down poking insects out of the drilled holes in the pole, and also banging away at the wood.
Lesser spotted woodpecker (Dryobates minor). Imagine this, but on a telephone pole … Photo by Zaltys.
He flew off and then was back again, scurrying up and down the pole. We’ve seen both lesser spotted woodpeckers and green woodpeckers (Picus viridis) doing this, so there must be rich buggy harvests in all the holes.
The third sighting was last night, and a very exciting one: my first ever starling murmuration over the village. When we moved here we rarely saw starlings (Sturnus vulgaris): maybe one or two every now and then. Chap has been feeding our wild birds regularly for a few years now, and in this time we have noticed various bird species increase (and sadly, decrease – or at least, populations seem to fluctuate). One of the success stories is that of the starlings. In the last year the numbers have increased hugely – we now have a biggish flock that seems to stay around the village all day. This might well be to do in part with Chap putting out vast quantities of dried mealworms as well as sunflower seeds several times a day. The starlings (or stormtroopers, as we affectionately call them, due to their strutting walk and bolshy behaviour) come down in droves and hoover up the worms in no time, and I like to think that this regular supply of protein-rich food throughout the year has helped them thrive and breed and raise broods successfully. We regularly see twelve or fifteen juveniles perched on a television aerial or hanging round on the chimney stacks.
Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Adults left and centre front; juveniles right back. Photo by Daniel Plazanet (Daplaza).
The murmuration was so exciting to see. It was at about six thirty – so not near dusk, really, but the sky was very overcast (so overcast that we didn’t get to see the partial eclipse later on last evening, bugger it). I reckon there might have been several hundred birds, and they flew in a long, snaking, undulating group over the houses and perched in one of the large beech trees. Having seen with envy footage of huge murmurations over the Somerset Levels and elsewhere in the UK on the telly, it was magical to see one myself, and from our cottage. I hope this will be the first of many.
A starling murmuration. Photo by David Kjaer.
And here is the most wonderful video of a murmuration. Stick with it: it starts with some photos, and then …
We have found the cheapest place to bulk-buy mealworms is Croston Corn Mill: we buy a 12.55 kg (!) bag at a time and pound-per-kilo it seems to work out much cheaper than other places, both physical shops and online. We get through a bag every two weeks or so ….
Today is a sad anniversary: 50 years ago today the playwright Joe Orton was murdered by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell.
Joe Orton in 1967.
I have long been obsessed by Joe Orton. I was a young teenager when I first saw one of his works: the wonderful 1970 film of Entertaining Mr Sloane, based on his 1964 play of the same name. It was dark – blackly dark, and funny as hell, and full of the most joyous and brilliant language.
It spoke to me, even more so when I learned that he was from Leicester, the Midlands city where I lived at the time. From then on, I tried to find out as much as I could about him, to see all his plays and read everything he had written, and that had been written about him. It seemed so cruel that such a wicked, witty and scabrous mind had been taken from us at just 34 – what other wonders would he have created had he not died so young?
Joe in the one-room flat he shared with Kenneth Halliwell in Noel Road, Islington, 1964. (c) The Leicester Mercury.
John Lahr wrote a fantastic biography of Orton, Prick Up Your Ears, which was published in 1978. He later in 1986 published Orton’s diaries in edited form.
This BBC Arena documentary from 1982 is a good introduction to Orton:
A film adaptation of Prick Up Your Ears was released in 1987. Gary Oldman plays Orton, and Alfred Molina plays Halliwell. I can’t think of a better actor at the time than Oldman to capture not only the physical likeness of Orton, but his mischievousness and charm and sexual confidence and humour, all of which are abundantly clear in Orton’s diaries.
I have always felt a connection to Joe, even though he was a gay man and I am a straight woman: I adore his black humour, his sexual innuendos and irreverence, his pomposity pricking and subversion. He is my writer. I was even happier to learn that he had lived for his first two years in Clarendon Park, the same area of Leicester in which I had lived.
In 1988 I briefly worked in a bookshop in Leicester, and helped out when the shop hosted an evening with John Lahr, to coincide with the new productions of two of Orton’s lesser-known plays, The Ruffian on the Stair and The Erpingham Camp, at the Haymarket Theatre. He gave a very interesting talk about Joe, and Leonie, Joe’s sister, was there too to answer questions. I took all my Lahr Ortonalia along for the great man to sign: treasured possessions still.
Joe in 1965, photo by Lewis Morley. You can read Morley’s recollections of the photo session during which the photo was taken here.
The publication in 1993 of Kenneth Williams‘ diaries, edited by Russell Davies, gave another wonderful insight into Joe’s life. Lahr had talked to Williams for Prick Up Your Ears, and had been allowed to quote from Williams’ diaries, but the publication of the diaries gave us a much fuller picture of Joe, and his relationship with Halliwell and with Williams.
Joe in 1966. Photo by John Haynes.
If you haven’t discovered Joe Orton yet, I encourage you to dive in, head first. Entertaining Mr Sloane is my favourite play of his, and the film version starring Beryl Reid, Harry Andrews and Peter McEnery captures its anarchic irreverence perfectly.
1:25,000 map of the area. Each blue grid square is 1 km x 1 km.
Google Earth image with route marked. We started at Tollard Royal at the bottom of the image and walked the route anti-clockwise direction, going up the straight byway at the start of the walk.
Going up the long straight byway. A byway is open to all traffic: we met a couple of cheery off-road motorbikers.
Lovely vista of Ashgrove Bottom, one of the many dry valleys (coombes) on the chalk downland.
The path is still climbing, and on the left and centre you can see the tops of the wooded coombes in which Ashcombe House nestles.
Lovely meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense). It’s a much more vivid blue than this – the colour never comes out right in my photos.
If you just squint you can see a part of the roof and dormer windows of Ashcombe House in the centre of the photo, surrounded by the woods. It is in the most wonderfully secluded spot.
Looking down on the woods. To me, there is no finer sight than the English countryside in summer.
Not that you’ll be able to spot them, but there are two red kites (Milvus milvus) in this photo. The red kite has only colonised this area in the last 15 years or so.
A common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), just starting to go over.
Another common spotted orchid flower, slightly differently coloured (they are quite variable).
Ferne House, just to the north of the Ashcombe Estate, with its double avenue of trees. Despite looking like it has sat in its grounds for centuries, this mansion was built in 2001 for Lord Rothermere. It was designed in a Palladian style by architect Quinlan Terry.
Ferne House and grounds. I’m fascinated by the groups of trees that have been planted – squares, circles, crosses, triangles and even what might be a love heart! This is the highest point of the walk, and is only a few metres lower than Win Green, the nearby highest ground with a trig point and fabulous vistas over south Wiltshire and north Dorset.
Starting the steep walk down through the woods to Ashcombe Bottom. You can see here how Ashcombe got its name – valley of the ashes. There were also some beautiful beech trees in the woods, and luckily no sign of the dreaded ash die-back disease we’ve been hearing so much about recently.
It was a lovely surprise to see so many nettle-leaved bellflowers (Campanula trachelium) in the woods. The ransoms/wild garlic (Allium ursinum) leaves were dying off but the aroma was still pungent – delicious!
Walking down Ashcombe Bottom. Along with the estate trees (with their stock-proof cages) it was lovely to see the hawthorn bushes (Crataegus monogyna) on the hillside: such a classic part of chalk downland life.
Heading back to Tollard.
A rather crappy photo of a gorgeous comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) with its ragged wing edges.
Journey’s end: the beautiful wildlife pond at Tollard Royal.
Such a lovely walk: we saw some many wildflowers and grasses, including goatsbeard (Tragopogon pratensis), quaking grass (Briza media), pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis), common spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), common valerian (Valeriana officinalis), field scabious (Knautia arvensis), nettle-leaved bellflower (Campanula trachelium), meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense), chalk milkwort (Polygala calcarea), lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum), wild carrot (Daucus carota), greater knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa), hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo) and many others. The one plant I expected to see and did not was the harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), an absolute classic flower of chalk downlands.
We saw ten butterfly species: small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), small white (Pieris rapae), grizzled skipper (Pyrgus malvae), marbled white (Melanargia galathea), peacock (Aglais io), red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), comma (Polygonia c-album), meadow brown (Maniola jurtina), speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) and gatekeeper (Pyronia tythonus). We weren’t really looking out for birds so much, but saw red kites and buzzards, plus a female blackcap and heard a beautiful male blackbird’s song in the woods. A blue damselfly settled on the drive in front of us as we walked along Ashcombe Bottom. It’s a wonderful walk in beautiful countryside, and we shall be doing it again before too long.
I’ve long had a thing for granulation in silver jewellery, and I love orbs, balls, spheres, domes, bobbles and bubbles in all their forms. So it’s no surprise that I have a few bobbly rings in my Etsy shop right now:
NE From Danish sterling silver bypass bobble ring. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click photo for details. (NOW SOLD).
Modernist Finnish sterling silver bobble bypass ring. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).
Swedish modernist ring, imported to London in 1970. This one has a little silver ball inside that tinkles around. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).
1970 brutalist Finnish 930 silver ring by Valon Kulta & Hopea of Turku, Finland. Love the granulation on this! For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD.)
Bengt Hallberg (Sweden) sterling silver bypass ring. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.
Modernist sterling silver ring in a Georg Jensen style. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).
1960s sterling silver jester ring by Anna Greta Eker. Eker was Finnish but worked in Norway, and is regarded as one of the greats of Scandinavian/Nordic silver design.
NE From sterling silver ring. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery. Click on photo for details.
1950s sterling silver ring by John Lauritzen of Copenhagen. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photos for details.
Here’s an earlier post with a few more granulated pieces I’ve since sold, plus an interesting video showing how the bobbles are made.
One of my charity shop finds last year was this pair of watercolours in their basic wooden frames.
I’d love to know a bit more about them. They are crudely done, and are not signed. I wonder if they belonged to some countryman, maybe a farmer: a portrait of him and his fine and faithful hounds. I had thought that the fashion of the man’s clothing and the type of gun might help me date the paintings, which are clearly a pair, but … apparently the fashions of country people back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries often lagged quite a few years behind city fashions. This is perhaps partly due to financial constraints, and also largely due to opportunities to buy new clothes being few and far between in the days before easy transport, plus even the dissemination of fashionable new ideas for local seamstresses to copy took much longer. So wearing decades-old clothes was not unheard of, and likewise the expense of buying a new gun might mean that a perfectly serviceable old one was carried on in use for years.
I’m not a fan of bloodsports in any way, shape or form, so like to tell myself that this gentleman was shooting for his pot.
I’m getting a very late eighteenth or early nineteenth century vibe off the paintings … but what do I know? If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear!
On Saturday my sister and I did a trip round various National Trust properties in Somerset, and fitted in a visit to Kelways Nursery at Langport on the way back, a specialist paeony and bearded iris nursery. The paeonies were looking amazing, and they weren’t all in full bloom. My sister came away with a trolley load:
Paeonies from Kelways.
Some of the paeonies were on offer as they had been intended for Chelsea Flower Show but had flowered too soon, thanks to the lovely weather we’ve been having recently.
The beautiful view in my rear view mirror on the way home.
Every now and then in my Etsy shop I notice I seem to have a lot of jewellery in a particular style, or by a particular maker, or in a particular colour. And the other day I realised I seem to have accumulated a lot of blue jewellery.
Sadly none of the stones is a sapphire: blue glass, sodalite, turquoise and chalcedony, plus wonderful blue enamel on the Joid’art ring at bottom left. I haven’t listed everything yet, and two of the brooches are already spoken for, but just today I put the wonderful NE From sodalite ring in my shop. I don’t expect it’ll hang around for long …
NE From sodalite and sterling silver modernist ring. Could it be any bluer? Click on photo for details.