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Edwin Smith Exhibitions

The last photograph taken by Edwin Smith, from the author's collection.The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is hosting the first major retrospective of the photographs of Edwin Smith from 10 September 2014 – 6 December 2014.

Entitled Ordinary Beauty: The Photography of Edwin Smith it draws on the archive of his work held at the RIBA following the bequest by his widow Olive Cook in 2002. Such an overview of his work is long overdue and it is to the credit of the RIBA that they have commissioned this eagerly anticipated show.

Details from the Fry Gallery Website

The Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden, Essex, hosted a major exhibition of Edwin Smith's paintings, drawings, cuts and photographs from July 7 until September 1, 2013.

The author of this site contributed paintings, photographs, woodcuts and artefacts for inclusion in this show. Details of the Edwin Smith collection at the Fry may be viewed on their website: Fry Gallery Edwin Smith Collection.

Cooperating with the Inevitable

Edwin and Olive's wedding in 1954Olive Cook became a good friend of mine during the 1980s and I acted as her printer for Edwin’s photographs for many years. I created a website about Edwin after her death in 2002 as a small contribution to her life-long effort to keep his memory alive, something she had tirelessly devoted herself to since his death in 1971. 

Over time, it seemed appropriate to start including information on Olive as well, as their lives were so inextricably linked. Contained within the site is much biographical information, many essays and transcriptions, together with examples of Edwin’s photographs, books, drawings, paintings and linocuts alongside biographical material on Olive and her writings.

Where material has been gleaned from other sources acknowledgement is given. Particular thanks are due to the late Robert Elwall, for his extensive help and for giving permission to reproduce photographs from the RIBA collection free of charge. Thanks also go to John Randle of Whittington Press, for permission to reproduce many articles from Matrix and to the endlessly-patient archivists at Newnham College, Cambridge, for their cooperation on numerous occasions.

I am particularly indebted to photographer, friend and colleague, Brian Human, who has helped immeasurably during the evolution of the website. His contributions based on interviews with people that knew Edwin and Olive and his extensive research at the RIBA and of the Olive Smith Papers held by Newnham College library give the content a richness it would not otherwise have.

Edwin George Herbert Smith (15 May 1912 – 29 December 1971), the photographer, produced quintessential images of English architecture, landscapes, gardens and interiors.

He described himself asThe Edwin Smith 'estate' stamp, used by Edwin on all his photographs and now applied to authorised prints from his negatives.

"an architect by training, a painter by inclination, and a photographer by necessity"

He considered his life to consist mainly of "going with the flow" and "co-operating with the inevitable".
Trained as an architect, he was also a prolific artist, producing countless drawings, watercolour and oil paintings, woodcuts and linocuts throughout his life. His photographs featured in books covering a wide range of subjects and places, often produced in partnership with his wife, the artist and author Olive Cook.

Read more: Cooperating with the Inevitable

Unwrapping the Enigma

Portrait of Edwin Smith (self-portrait?) ©RIBADespite his claim that he was a photographer only ‘by necessity’, Edwin Smith was one of the most important British photographers of the 20th century. His simple yet distinctive style showed both his unerring visual perception of form and his love of architecture from the vernacular to the grand. The importance of his work derives both from its quality and its breadth. Yet, despite the limited recognition he received during his lifetime and the more prominent promotion of his work by his widow, Olive Cook, following his death, he remains something of an enigma.

Read more: Unwrapping the Enigma

Record and Revelation

This descriptive text was written by Olive Cook after Edwin's death, to accompany a major exhibition of his photographs at Impressions Gallery, York, in 1983. It neatly summarises Edwin's life and illustrates Olive's tireless promotion of her late husband's work, which she maintained for thirty years after his death.

The text appeared in the catalogue for the exhibiton, illustrated below.

Read more: Record and Revelation

Edwin Smith – Ways of Working

On other pages, Unwrapping the Enigma, I describe how in 1989 we set out to explore the work of Edwin Smith and in doing so talked to his widow, Olive Cook, and some friends, a few of whom worked with him.  That article uses the interviews to try to gain some insights into the character of Edwin.  This article uses the same sources and research in the Olive Cook Papers (Newnham College) to explore something of his way of working as a photographer.

Read more: Edwin Smith – Ways of Working

Edwin Smith & Social Documentary Photography

Gateshead 1936; Photograph by Edwin Smith ©RIBAEdwin Smith is one of the great British architectural photographers of the 20th century.  Between the publication of English Parish Churches in 1952 and Rome: from its Foundation to the Present in 1971 he established a deceptively simple yet distinctive style of photography that celebrated the architecture of Britain and mainland Europe.  To those familiar with this work the inclusion of documentary photographs dating from the 1930s in the main two monographs on Edwin (Edwin Smith – Photographs 1935-1971 (ESP) (1984) and Evocations of Place – The Photography of Edwin Smith (EoP) (2007) and the portfolio in Creative Camera International Year Book 1978 (CC) (1977) may come as a surprise.  Study of the Edwin Smith material held at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) shows that the published pictures are but fraction of a larger body of work made in the 1930s.

Read more: Edwin Smith & Social Documentary Photography

Capturing Paradise –Edwin Smith's Painting & Drawing

Edwin Smith painting in Saffron Walden, 1960Edwin Smith always said of himself, ‘I am an architect by training, a painter by profession and a photographer of necessity.' However, it is as a photographer that he is known professionally and artistically, while his painting and drawing is almost entirely neglected.  Working from the interviews conducted in 1989 and research in the Olive Cook Papers (Newnham College), this page hopes to shed a little light on Edwin the painter and drawer to complement our understanding of him as a photographer.

Read more: Capturing Paradise –Edwin Smith's Painting & Drawing

The Woodcuts of Edwin Smith

The following article by Nigel Weaver appeared in the Winter 2004 edition of Matrix (No. 24) and is reproduced by permission of the Editor. It was also published in the Fry Art Gallery July 2005 Newsletter. Matrix is a review for printers and bibliophiles, published in an edition of 800 periodically by the Whittington Press.
The examples of cuts by Edwin Smith shown above are from The Fry Art Gallery collection and the editor's personal collection.

Read more: The Woodcuts of Edwin Smith

The Photographs of Edwin Smith

These are some of Edwin Smith's photographs from my own collection. They are a few from the many that I printed for Olive Cook during the 1980s and 1990s.

In my first solo exhibition of my own work, I used a quotation from Edwin in the requested 'artist's statement':

"The man who lives through his eyes is continually confronted with scenes and spectacles that compel his attention or admiration and demand an adequate reaction. To pass on without pause is impossible and to continue after purely mental applause is unsatisfying; some real tribute must be paid.
Photography, to many of its addicts, is a convenient and simple means of discharging these ever-recurring debts to the visual world."

From the first time I encountered Edwin's work I was enthralled by his approach to his subjects. Undoubtedly, there is something of the romantic vision of an idyllic rural England embodied in many of them which is always attractive, but his approach to this was not condescending or patronising and certainly not 'pictorial'. He would treat every subject the same whether it was a King's bedroom or a farm-worker's kitchen. His photographs are akin to those of Eugene Atget (the only photographer whose influence he admitted to) and are perhaps even more the 'documents pour artistes' that Atget advertised - the artist in this case also being the photographer.

Many more of Edwin's photographs can be viewed in the article Edwin Smith & Social Documentary Photography.

Read more: The Photographs of Edwin Smith

Edwin Smith – Books

Edwin Smith books The listing below is revised as and when I discover yet another book that Edwin Smith or Olive Cook produced or contributed to. However, this list is nearing completion; all the main titles are captured here and many of them I have in my collection.

If you know of any that are not listed below then please let me know. Where copies of these books are available, links are given.

Read more: Edwin Smith – Books

Book Review: Evocations of Place

evocationsIn 1940 the Focal Press published Edwin Smith’s 'All the Photo Tricks'; this is doubly curious. It is rather at odds with Smith’s photographic mantra of ‘cooperating with the inevitable’ and a somewhat tricky undertaking when the evidence suggests that, as a conscientious objector, he spent much of the War years playing hide and seek with the authorities. This is just one of the curiosities of Smith’s life.

Read more: Book Review: Evocations of Place

Exhibitions Chronology

This list of exhibitions at which work by Edwin Smith was shown is by no means complete, and doubtless contains some inaccuracies. Even Olive Cook, with her remarkable memory, was not able to provide a complete list.

The compilation has been drawn from many sources; much is from my own collection of catalogues, press releases, private view cards, notes, etc. The dates in bold represent solo exhibitions; the others were group shows that included Edwin's work. Recent research carried out by myself and Brian Human of the Olive Cook papers held at Newnham College library, Cambridge, has shed some new light on dates and locations of exhibitions.

Read more: Exhibitions Chronology

Exhibitions of Paintings & Drawings

In 1992, an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Edwin Smith was held at the Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden. Ever since his death, Olive Cook had tried to promote more interest in Edwin's non-photographic output - which was prolific but largely unrecognised during his lifetime.

In 1997, Olive exhibited his non-photographic work at the Sally Hunter Fine Art gallery in London, now closed. There have been no other major exhibitions of his work that we know of, but The Fry Art Gallery has an extensive collection of work by both Edwin Smith and Olive Cook, as does The Chelmsford Museum.

Edwin Smith used to say that he was "the only artist with a complete collection of his own work".

Read more: Exhibitions of Paintings & Drawings

Olive Cook – a brief biography

Olive Cook by Edwin Smith (1946-47)It is apt, and perhaps inevitable, that Olive Cook's first book was Cambridgeshire: Aspects of a County, for she was born, brought up and educated in Cambridge.  In Cambridgeshire she wrote, 'It is not easy to give an impression of a place to which one has never been a stranger'; and 'Every native of the town and all the men and women who have spent three years of their lives among those images of splendour and repose must forever cherish memories of Cambridge.'  Olive's parents and grandparents were Cambridge people too.


Arthur Hugh Cook, born in 1886, was the sixth of the seven children of George and Sarah Cook.  In 1901 George Cook is described as a plasterer living at 35 Montague Road, a solid bay fronted semi-detached house in the fashionable Defreville Estate that was developed in the 1890s.  He was probably a small speculative builder of the sort more common then; and plastering, including creating fashionable decorative molding, was a considerable craft skill.  Arthur, 15 in 1901 appears still to have been at school; he started work at the University Library in 1903.

Read more: Olive Cook – a brief biography

The Olive Cook Archive

The 1964 National Trust calendar, with photographs by Edwin SmithI suppose we should let Edwin Smith’s photographs speak for themselves and speak for him; they are his legacy and life’s work. But anyone reading the articles on this site will soon realise that we are not content to let it rest there. We believe that to understand the work you also need to understand the artist, what drove him, what influenced him and how he worked. To take one example, Edwin’s architectural photography is more than just that; his cottages, churches and great houses embody his romantic view of the world,.They capture a world that he feared was passing in his lifetime and they must be understood as both art and propaganda.

Read more: The Olive Cook Archive

Olive Cook Obituary - The Independent, 2002

This obituary appeared in The Independent, May 8, 2002 as is written by a long-time friend of Olive's, Norman Scarfe.

Read more: Olive Cook Obituary - The Independent, 2002

Olive Cook Bibliography

This is an attempt to catalogue all of the books which featured Olive Cook either as primary author or contributor, or which contain information about her and her work. It is doubtless incomplete, but goes some way to illustrate the enormous output she achieved during her lifetime.

Read more: Olive Cook Bibliography

Ardna Gashel

The gold-embossed cover of Ardna Gashel, designed by Edwin Smith.This short allegorical tale, written by Olive Cook, was published in a limited edition of 300 copies in 1970 by Golden Head Press, Cambridge. Each copy was signed and numbered by the author and her husband, Edwin Smith, who provided the few illustrations and decorations. My copy is number 168.

Read more: Ardna Gashel

Novelty and the Sense of Continuity

Matrix 20This article by Olive Cook appeared in Issue 20 of Matrix and in it she shows her vehement distaste for contemporary art and architecture and the 'shock of the new', making a temporal leap to compare modern trends with her perceptions of how the 'new' was expressed and experienced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

In a review of the Exposition Universelle of 1855 and of the work of Delacroix, the artist as a force that excites a sensation of the new. The whole history of art can indeed be seen as a chronicle of innovative creativity. But during the century and a half that have passed since Baudelaire's article was first published the new, which he rightly recognised as the unsought by-product of a great imagination, has become the object: of a deliberate and ever more frenzied quest and of a demand which has crescendoed into a deafening roar heard from New York to London, Paris, Tokyo and beyond. 'The point is', as one of the characters in the trendy film Trainspotting says, 'you've got to find something new.' And after more than a hundred years of 'isms', of leap after leap from vanguard to vanguard, we are confronted at the dawn of the third millenium by sliced and pickled animals, a grubby and disordered condom-strewn bed, casts of the underneaths of chairs, a twenty-foot-high bronze cast of a popular animated toy and a crude representation of the Virgin partly painted with elephant dung and decorated with cut-out images of genitals, all masquerading and acclaimed as outstanding works of art. We are dismayed rather than stimulated by buildings of Brobdignagian proportions and materials, more alien than concrete, like those of Canary Wharf and the many similar developments and by structures which like the museums at Bilbao and Stuttgart, the one a giant glittering sculpture rather than a work of architecture, the other defying tradition and gravity alike with its lurching walls and eccentric manipulation of space, seem at odds with the purpose for which they were commissioned and impinge on their surroundings like objects from outer space.

It is not only the dull-witted who greet such manifestations of the new with scepticism: they are dismissed by art lovers and artists who acknowledge and rejoice in the novelty of genius, who delight in the energy and fecundity of Picasso's endless, exhilarating transformations of visual experience, in the charm of Klee's exquisite waking dreams, in Chagall's astonishing formal variations on recurring themes and poetic surrealism and Howard Hodgkin's ravishing juxtapositions of colour.

Perhaps some light may be cast on the controversial new of the present time by a glance at an age distant from our own but akin to it in its preoccupation with novelty, memorable for the splendid vitality and daring of its creative endeavour In every field and of exceptional interest because it was then that men's minds turned away from the contemplation of the eternal and the absolute towards the particular and the ephemeral which are now our chief concern. During the sixteenth century the mediaeval world, Its all-embracing celestial vision and the security of its ancient limitations, came to an end. The discovery of a new and unsuspected continent, the establishment of a new Church, revolutionary political, social and economic upheavals, the pioneer work of physicists like William Gilbert of Colchester, of mathematicians like Napier, the inventor of logarithms, of astronomers like Thomas Digges and John Blagrave, of geographers like Hakluyt and of the cartographers Speed, Norden and Saxton; the setting up of the new iron and copper mining industries, the development of the already existing industries of coal mining and brick and glass making, and the introduction of many new technical devices such as the stocking making machine and the water closet all laid the foundations of life as we now know it.

The extraordinary rush of energy that gave rise to these reasoned, practical achievements was also the source of a miraculous outburst of great works of art. This was the age of Shakespeare, Spenser and Marlowe, of a glorious upsurge of both religious and secular music and of the emergence of the new arts, born of a heightened sense of personality, of the portrait miniature and the life-like effigy. Agreements of that period for sepulchral sculptures often specify 'exact similitude' or 'a resemblance as he was in life'. These figures seldom lie, like mediaeval divines and nobles, in calm resignation with hands clasped in prayer: alert and bugle­ eyed, painted to counterfeit the hue and freshness of living flesh, they turn on their stone cushions, kneel, stand and take up familiar attitudes, eagerly proclaiming their zest for life. Elizabeth Williams, dressed in the height of fashion and wearing a large, becoming hat, leans on her elbow gazing at passers by in the Lady Chapel of Gloucester Cathedral; the young, muscular Grissell Barnardiston is informed with such vigour that she seems about to rise from her knees as she stares boldly into the nave of the church of St Peter and St Paul at Kedington in Suffolk; John Farnham stands, clad in armour, against a realistic relief of a battlefield with cannon and cannon balls; Dean Boys sits at a table covered with a fringed cloth in a marble reconstruction of his own library in Canterbury Cathedral.

It was in this charged, electric time too that the word 'architect' made its first appearance in the English language. It occurred on the title-page of the only book on architecture to be published during the reign of Elizabeth I, John Shute's The Firste and Chief Groundes of Architecture used in all the ancient and famous monyments; with a further and more ample discourse upon the same, than hath been set out by any other. Published by John Shute, Paynter and Archytecte. Imprinted at London at the Flete-strete near to Saint Dunstans Churche by Thomas Marshe, 1563. The publication marked the beginning of the momentous distinction between the designer of a building and the master craftsman of the Middle Ages who planned and directed the work from the masons' yard and the carpenters' shop. When Robert Smythson, the inspired author of Wollaton and probably of Hardwick, Longleat, Fountains and Barlborough died in 1614 he was called 'Architector' on his tombstone. And while industry was already making its impact on the landscape, that landscape was transfigured during the sixteenth century by an explosion of domestic building.

Whole villages were rebuilt and local materials varying from the fine-grained limestone of the Cotswolds to the dusky brown sandstone of the north, and from the grid-patterned half timber of the West Midlands to. the close-set framing of East Anglian wattle and daub, were brilliantly exploited. But it is the great houses of the period, their scale, their ostentation, their idiosyncratic and imaginative translations of the classical idiom and of classical symmetry, their fantastic, exuberant novelty which excite our attention today and seem to be of peculiar significance.

It is impossible to imagine the effect of these buildings on those who watched them going up and who first saw the triumphant conclusions of their creators' audacious fabrications. Four hun­dred years later they are still among the most exotic and most ingeniously planned works of architecture that have ever been seen. Even Longleat, at first sight one of the most restrained of these houses, is of startling originality. Of classical symmetry, it is set on the newly introduced high base and moves to the rhythm of the great storeyed, projecting, glass-filled bays which were one of the most spectacular inventions of the era.

Great expanses of glass play as important a part in Elizabethan architectural design as they do in the buildings of today. The massive ornate bulk of Wollaton with its huge, tower-like central hall is so lightened by its enormous windows that it rises on its hilltop site above the surrounding industrialised landscape like an elaborate birdcage. Glass turns Montacute, Burghley, Earlborough, Fountains and Kirby into fabulous openwork structures. At Montacute the abstract patterns of gridded glass running across each of the three storeys emphasise the stately advancing and retreating movement of the design, contrast with the diverse forms of obelisks, semicircular pediments, curly gables and disc-shaped niches and set off the grave beauty and realism of the sculptured figures in military dress standing in recesses between the windows of the top floor. The profusion of tall windows in William Cecil's palatial mansion at Stamford and the assertive vertical accent of the mullions counteract the powerful horizontality of the thick mouldings which divide the three storeys and hold down the riot of pepperpot domes and chimneys in the guise of Tuscan columns soaring above the parapet of arches and obelisks. At Barlborough the projecting hexagonal bays are fashioned almost entirely of glass. They shoot up above the roof line like turrets and enhance the grace and lightness of the whole captlvating composition. The grand display of windows filling the entrance range of quadrangular Kirby is clearly based on the design of a Perpendicular church nave but this is an utterly novel interpretation of the mediaeval invention, for pilasters have taken the place of buttresses and the facade is electrified by a porch of rivetingly bizarre aspect. Fashionably placed in the centre of the symmetrical front it is like one of those showy frontispieces of the period turned into stone. Rising high above the rest of the building it is surmounted by an attic storey which like that of a Continental Baroque conceit is purely decorative for there is nothing behind it. It takes the unexpected form of a Dutch gable flanked by flaming ball ornaments set at either end of a screen of seven Corinthian colonnettes placed on brackets bulging from a frieze of strapwork. Below this an arched and balconied opening with a broken pediment rests on coarse brackets between pairs of tapering columns with bases like colossal leaves. The arched entrance is again flanked by coupled columns, fluted and with a stronger entasis than those above them though this is gently checked by a third column set round the corner on each side of the porch.

Hardwick Hall, west front, by edwin Smith ©RIBApixGlass makes a major contribution to the newness of all the houses so far contemplated; but it is at Hardwick that it makes its most overwhelming impact. This wonderful house is, as the old jingle goes, 'more glass than wall'. It faces west and to come upon it from this direction at close of day is a most thrilling experience. The entire incredible stretch of leaded lights spreading across the front above a classical colonnade and embracing two rectangular towers is ablaze with the crimson and molten gold of the setting sun.

Four more towers, two on the east side and one jutting from the middle of each end of the building, join with those of the west front to coax the whole prodigious conformation into slow angular and aspiring motion. From their tops all six towers brandish the letters 'E. S.', the initials of Elizabeth Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick) the formidable, zestful, gifted owner and the driving force behind Robert Smythson's masterpiece. The battlements of sixteenth-century towers take many odd forms but none so individual and ostentatious as these.

Bess of Hardwick's personality is felt in every corner of the interior of her house - in the unusual choice, prompted by her passion for light, of the top floor for the most important rooms and in the novelty and fantasy of the architectural detail, the furnishings and decoration. A spectacular broad and shallow stone stair, departing utterly from Gothic practice, climbs. without a balustrade through half the length of the great mansion, giving unity to the composition and yielding sudden, unexpected vistas as It leads to rooms of delightful variety, rooms where tapestries, marble and alabaster sculptured ornament, velvet hangings, remarkable needlework, including collage made by Bess herself from monastic copes, and springy floors all stir up rumours of the life that filled them four hundred years ago. The most original and evocative of all are the High Great Presence Chamber and the Long Gallery. The source of the haunting beauty and romantic atmosphere of the High Great Presence Chamber is the astonishing, enchanting, moulded and painted plaster frieze (see frontispiece). It is twelve feet deep and vividly contrasts with the dim tapestries below it, from which it is separated by a bold cornice. The tapestries interpret the story of Ulysses with ltalianate academic correctness; the plaster relief illustrates themes from classical mythology with marvellous freshness and spontaneity. Venus and Cupid, Diana and her attendant maidens, Orpheus and Ceres, huntsmen, dogs and wild animals all emerge from the spring and summer green of an English forest of smooth-stemmed trees and giant foliage. The frieze is a stupendous example of a new art.

The Hardwick version of the room that was a special Elizabethan creation, the long gallery, is memorable for the extraordinary effects of the crystal light pouring through the gigantic windows on the garden side of the apartment. It shivers in huge rectangles on the rush matting and plaster floor and heightens the idiosyncrasy of the decorations. The walls are hung with Brussels tapestries unfolding the tale of Gideon, more than half hidden because used, with audacious lack of scruple, as the blue and umber background for jewel-like portraits of Bess of Hardwick's relatives and friends. The tapestries are also the muted back­ ground for two superb architectural chimneypieces, Thomas Accres's inspired variations on a design by Serlio. The all-pervading light irradiates the subtle and contrasting colours of the local alabasters and marbles of which they are made and draws the eye to the vigour and curious form of the strapwork surrounding bold ornamental figures of Justice and Misericordia. And the beauty and the strangeness of this and all the rooms are echoed by the enigmatic motto that runs through the house like a refrain:

The redolent smell of eglantine
We stagges exalt to the Divine.

Lulworth Castle, Dorset, by Edwin Smith ©RIBApixThe towers of Hardwick, the central mass of Wollaton, the upward shooting turret bays of Barlborough, all conjure up memories of the mediaeval castle and in an age when the ideal of chivalry was kept alive by the spectacle of the tournament, it was natural that architects should be stimulated by the castle architecture of the past. They refurbished some Gothic strongholds as grand houses, Wardour, Carew and Naworth among them, and they built castles of their own ardent imagining. East Lulworth, ruined and set by the sea, belongs to the same spellbound world as A Midsummer Night's Dream. Rectangular and battlemented, with big circular angle towers, it rests on a high base and is approached by a rush of steps. The entrance, round-arched between Ionic columns, is surmounted by a mysterious wheel window filled with seven tangent circles which seem strangely significant. On either side of this window life-size figures, bare-headed and in the dress of Roman soldiers, raise their arms in salutation of whomever climbs the weed-encumbered steps.

This castle of high romance is a place of magic, but as an embodiment of the new it is surpassed by the theatrical metamorphosis of the castle theme at Bolsover. It was designed by John Smythson, the son of Robert, but its form was dictated by the architect's patron, Charles Cavendish whose mother was Bess of Hardwick and who had already been concerned with other castles at Slimsby, Blackwell in the Peak and Ogle. Sited on a promontory, Bolsover commands a prospect of industrial housing, scarred hillsides, stone-walled fields and traffic­filled roads, all of which intensify the drama of the great withdrawn, make-believe pile. Its nucleus is a towered and turreted keep consciously recalling the Norman keep of the fortification supposed to have been built on the site by William Peverell. But no one would take it for a mediaeval stronghold since it is crowned by a pretty lantern and cupola and lit by large rectangular windows and a balconied, projecting bay resting on corbels and an Atlas figure. In front of the keep is a small, stony forecourt shut in by a battlemented wall and entered between stout, squat pavilions, crenellated and adorned with obelisks.

The internal plan derives directly from that of the Gothic fortress. The kitchen and offices are in a vaulted basement; the hall and parlour (called the Pillar Parlour from its central stone column) occupy the ground floor and on the first floor are the Star Chamber and the black and white Marble Closet together with a bed chamber. Above them are the Elysium Room and the Heaven Room; and on the top floor a group of tiny rooms leads off an octagonal lobby under the cupola. All the rooms are small, richly detailed and strikingly individual. Vaults suggest the Middle Ages but the mediaeval skeleton is clothed and combined with classical motifs: bosses, brackets, pendants and panels display Renaissance mouldings and arabesques, though always adapted with originality and used to define the special character of a particular room. The Pillar Room, for instance, is distinguished by the horse-head brackets of its pendants, intended to celebrate the Cavendish passion for riding and racing. But the most concentrated expression at Bolsover of the hybrid visual poetry of the age is embodied in the energetic chimneypieces. They symbolise the whole character of the period of which they are among its last architectural manifestations. John Smythson used Serlio's designs as his starting point but his amazing inventions surpass their source in the same way that Twelfth Night and All's Well that Ends Well transcend the stories of Bocaccio and Bandello. The fireplaces are extremely varied. Some are square, others are part-octagonal, others, set in the angles of the rooms, are quadrant-shaped with conical hoods enriched with complicated, deeply moulded panelling, crested with strapwork and volutes, embellished with delicately carved bundles of musical instruments or trophies of arms and studded with jewel-like roundels and plaques of coloured marbles. The lintels are never horizontal, but arched in the Gothic manner, and in one instance the opening is trefoil-shaped. Each chimneypiece is set against a rectangular stone slab and enclosed by a stone moulding so that it is like a sculptured relief.

As the climax of the great series of sixteenth-century castle fantasies, the Bolsover keep would be outstanding if it stood alone, but its effect is magnified by the extraordinary building adjoining it, the Gallery, designed by John Smythson for Charles Cavendish's son William in the early seventeenth century. One hundred and seventy feet of extravagant masonry advance along the terrace towards the keep like some wild parody of a Sicilian Baroque facade, so improbable are the architect’s modifications of the classical idiom. The colossal windows are surmounted by pediments feverishly broken into three instead of the more usual two parts and the main entrance, approached by a double stair, is heavily rusticated and topped by a broken pediment of the more orthodox kind but with a detached segmental pediment hovering oddly above it. The wall is further animated by regularly spaced, startlingly unexpected projections, rounded, flamboyantly banded and vermiculated. They cannot be called shafts for they do not support anything. They nonethelesss serve a purpose: they control the rhythm of the mighty composition and they refer picturesquely to the castle's defensive theme, for their shape is that of upright cannon with the bolt at the lower end. Huge thrusting water­ spouts set along the parapet accelerate the movement of this strange composition; and its progress towards the keep is hastened, when the goal is almost reached, by a singular device: instead of making a right-angled turn on reaching the keep, the wall moves diagonally and the gesture is emphasised by a curved and pedimented gable. The two buildings are physically con­ netted by a door which leads from the keep onto the top of a battlemented wall and over an archway into the Gallery. The door itself is an amazing manifestation of the new for its panelling is entirely covered with rustication. Smythson is known to have made drawings of Renaissance rustication but the astounding idea of carrying out this form of decoration in wood was his alone.

This great mock fortress of Bolsover is recognisably related through its keep to its Norman predecessor. And even from the inadequate descriptions attempted here it has become clear that the novelty of sixteenth-century architecture is based on a firm grasp of traditional design. Montacute despite its up-to-date symmetry perpetuates the mediaeval hall house plan with its projecting wings ; Barlborough's adventurous façade is part of a familiar quadrangular structure. Burghley too is built about a courtyard and its great hall is furnished with a double hammerbeam roof in which the spandrel tracery is associated with classical ornament. The serene and symmetrical front of Longleat, when viewed across the park from the top of Paradise Hill reveals itself as a screen behind which gesticulating figures, heraldic beasts and whimsical chimney pots agitate the skyline. Even the staggeringly innovative plan of Hardwick is a development of time-honoured usage, for its H-shape is that of the hall house broadened and with the cross bar projecting on either side. The resemblance of the entrance front at Kirby to the nave of a mediaeval church has already been noted; and of course the enormous windows of the Elizabethan prodigy houses were the successors of the windows of Perpendicular churches. The glass of the monstrous central feature at Wollaton is actually traceried. Each of these unique houses is indeed as much a synthesis of the old and the new as the Church which resulted from the Act of Supremacy of 1550, the break with Rome and the establishment of the Queen as supreme governor of things temporal and spiritual.

Looking back now at the constructions with which this essay opened it is clear that in our own time the word 'new’ signifies a complete break with tradition. The vivid sense of continuity, so essential to our well being and which in the past was nourished by what had gone before and by allusion to particular masterpieces, no longer cushions the shock of the new and plays no part in the ceaseless pursuit of it. The desire for the new is the most telling indication of the post-culture in which we now live.

But all is changed, that high horse riderless,
Though mounted in the saddle Homer rode
Where the swan drifts upon a darkening flood.

A View of the Cotswolds

Matrix 21This article was published in Matrix 21 in 2001. Written by Olive Cook, it was to introduce the last book of Edwin's work that she would oversee in her lifetime.

I have a copy of this book and the reproduction quality of the images is superb, akin to the photogravure process that Edwin loved. The overall production of the book is of the usual high standard associated with the Whittington Press, with a cover featuring an Edwin Smith linocut.

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Olive Cook and Matrix

In Matrix 23, where the article by Lucy Archer about Olive Cook appears, John Randle wrote a short note about his long association with her as a contributor to the journal.
John and Rosemary Randle are owner/founders of The Whittington Press, publisher of The Matrix ('by far the finest periodical of the book arts of the twentieth century, surpassing even the seven-volume Fleuron issued in the 1920s'), which is now in its thirtieth year.

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A Cabinet of Curiosities: The Saturday Book

The cover of Matrix 27, Winter 2007.This article, by Robert Elwall, appeared in Matrix 27 in 2007. It discusses Edwin Smith and Olive Cook's involvement with The Saturday Book.

IT is a fact all too commonly overlooked by photographic historians and critics that the potency and influence of the photograph is more generally derived from its printed reproduction than from the hallowed but often little seen original print. The importance of rendering the photographic image compatible with the printing press was however recognised from the very invention of the medium with the Art 'Journal repeatedly trumpeting the benefits that would accrue from 'the application of the solar pencil to the general purposes of book illustration'.

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Working with Olive Cook

This article, written by Lucy Archer and originally published in Matrix 23, is an evocative and moving tribute to Olive Cook. I recognise so much of my own experience in working with - and being good friends with - Olive for many of the years preceding Lucy's contact with her. It is testament to Olive's character that Lucy experienced the same convivial hospitality and enthusisam that I remembered from ten years previous.

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Olive Cook - A Triumph of Evocation

The Cover of Matrix 19, Winter 1999This article, written about the photographer James Ravilious (1939–1999) by Olive Cook, first appeared in Matrix 19, published by The Whittington Press in Winter 1999. James Ravilious died just before the article was published. It is reproduced here with permission.

Olive Cook and her husband, the photographer Edwin Smith, were great friends of the Ravilious family and James, as a young boy, would often stay with them after his father, Eric Ravilious, was killed during the Second World War. It is unclear whether or not Edwin Smith had a direct influence on James Ravilious' decision in the 1970s to take up photography, but he must have been well-used to seeing Edwin's work and was undoubtedly conversant with the photographic darkroom from his association with Edwin.

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Photography and the Visual Arts

The cover of Matrix 18This article, written by Olive Cook, first appeared in Matrix 18, published by The Whittington Press in Winter 1998. It is reproduced here with permission.

Olive Cook was married to Edwin Smith and a published author, academic and artist in her own right. She did not suffer those whom she considered to be 'artistic fools' gladly and some of the tone of that dislike for the pretentious comes across in this article. She was however a staunch believer in the power of photography to capture 'the genius of place' and she devoted much of her life after Edwin's early death to promoting his work as a photographer.

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Olive Cook - The Art of Tirzah Garwood

The cover of Matrix 10 by The Whittington PressThis article, written by Olive Cook, first appeared in Matrix 10, published by The Whittington Press in Winter 1990. It is reproduced here with permission.

Olive Cook was a close friend of Tirzah Garwood and this beautifully written short biography is a one of the few detailed references to an artist who is often overlooked in the history of English art and design. As the wife of Eric Ravilious, she was somewhat overshadowed by his reputation but nevertheless produced a large body of work that is accomplished and significant in its own right. Her son, James Ravilious, was also a noted artist and photographer, referenced elsewhere on this site.

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On photographing cathedrals and parish churches

The cover of 'English Cathedrals'.Olive's dedication to me on the inside cover.In 1990, Olive Cook gave me a signed and dedicated copy of 'English Cathedrals', which had just been published. In the Foreword she says that the book was needed because relatively few of Edwin's photographs of cathedrals had ever been published, yet it was a subject to which he was considerably drawn.

It is interesting also because it contains his 'last' photograph – or at least so Olive believed until I discovered a roll of unprocessed film in a camera of Edwin's that she later gave me. That 'last' photograph, of Canterbury, is reproduced to accompany the text below.

In the 1971 re-issue of Edwin and Olive's first collaborative book, 'English Parish Churches' (originally published in 1952), Olive included an article that Edwin  had written about his experience of photographing in cathedrals and churches. This text forms the main body of this page.
In the considerably revised and expanded reprint of 'Parish Churches' of 1971, the detailed architectural drawing that Edwin devised to illustrate the evolution of the English church was also reproduced. I have included it here not only because of its interest but also to show that he was indeed a very competent architectural draftsman, as befits his training as an architect.

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Edwin Smith Recollections

These recollections, by people who knew Edwin Smith, where published to accompany the exhibition of his work held at The Minories Gallery, Colchester, in 1974.

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Edwin Smith – The Last Exposures

These photographs were on the roll of film that still lay, undeveloped, in Edwin's Ensign Autorange camera when Olive gave it to me in 1993. I processed the 22 year-old roll with great care and was astonished to find it contained usable images.

Edwin Smith's Ensign Autorange camera.The film was Kodak Verichrome Pan 120 and had sat in the camera since the day these pictures were taken all those years ago. I phoned Kodak Ltd and sought their advice on development. I was advised to use increased amounts of anti-foggant in a standard D-76 formulation - and hope for the best! The latent images survived and were surprisingly clear, although the base fog level on the film had increased enormously.

They are the last photographs ever taken by Edwin Smith as he became increasingly incapacitated by pancreatic cancer and died later that same year. He never saw them, except through his viewfinder at the time of exposure.

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Bomarzo and the Sacro Bosco

Earth Goddess, Bomarzo, Italy, 1960-63, by Edwin Smith ©RIBAIn the days when I was printing Edwin Smith's negatives for Olive Cook, his widow, she would sometimes give me copies of his original prints as gifts. This was always a great honour, as she was extremely protective of the work he left behind, particularly any prints he had made himself.

This is one example, which I received sometime in the early 1990's. Although given to me framed, I never hung it as the makeshift mount was one made for a landscape print and this was portrait format, so it didn't look right at all. The frame was also old and battered, so recently I took it apart to cut a new mount and re-frame.

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Daily Telegraph: Edwin Smith's England

Evocations of Place, by Robert Elwall.Christopher Howse celebrates the nostalgic photographs of Edwin Smith and the glorious, changing landscape that inspired him 50 years ago.

An article in the Daily Telegraph, 2007, by Christopher Howse

"A photographer who conveys the apparent timelessness of England's landscape, and its vulnerability, is Edwin Smith".

Read the full article here.

The mysterious case of a village, its mermen and an airport.

A Study of Anstey, by Olive Cook::Published in 1969, this slim volume is a unique insight into Hertfordshire village life in the 1960s.How can a small village in Hertfordshire be linked to mermen and London's third airport?

In 1969, as part of the organised opposition to proposals to site London's third airport at one of four locations in the Eastern region, the Nuthampstead Preservation Association commissioned the author and historian Olive Cook to compile a study of a typical village in the area threatened by the plans. She chose the village of Anstey and engaged her husband, the photographer Edwin Smith, to record a cross-section of the village environment and its residents. Anstey was chosen because: "...its topographical, architectural and sociological features seemed to typify those of the whole district...".

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Powerscourt Revisited

Powerscourt photographed by Edwin Smith in 1965In 1965, whilst photographing in Ireland for the book of the same name published in 1966, Edwin Smith visited the formal gardens at Powerscourt in County Wicklow.

One of the photographs he took there has always held a certain fascination for me and my trip to Ireland over the last week gave me the opportunity to visit the gardens and see this impressive place myself. Armed with a copy of this published version of the image on my iPad as a guide, I set out to try and photograph the view as it is today.

The dramatic vista that Smith portrayed is perhaps one of the strongest photographs in the book that ensued, evoking both the beauty and grandeur of the Irish countryside and the great tradition of formal garden landscaping. The garden was designed by Daniel Robertson in 1830 for the 6th Viscount Powerscourt. 

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