Thursday 22 February 2018


In the American Connection blog that I posted last month - Part Five - I explained that the material for the blog had come from my Mailchimp newsletter for December. This blog - The American Connection - Part Six - is based on material from the January Mailchimp newsletter. Mailchimp readers get the stories first! If you want a free subscription so you can read on March 1, 2018, the latest news about 'Jago', my biography of Jago Stone, the burglar-turned prize-winning artist, press the link here. 

And now, the story of an American FIII fighter-pilot called Bob Pahl and what happened when he met the remarkable artist, Jago Stone, back in the mid-1970s:

"Last month I reported on the latest upsurge in interest in Jago across the Pond. This month I continue with that theme, focussing on one American in particular and his collection of Jago Stone paintings. First, though, a reminder of what Jago himself wrote in 'The Burglar's Bedside Companion':

"A large number of the personnel (at USAF Upper Heyford) take home my paintings of the Cotswolds when their tour of duty ends. There are innumerable Jago Stone works of art in Texas, Alabama, California, New Mexico, Washington - and there are even a couple of pictures of Banbury Cross on Sunset Boulevard. It seems like a joke, but I can lay claim to being an international artist." (P.118)

And this month the American in the spotlight is Bob Pahl. I can best tell this story through using extracts from the second draft of Chapter Seven: 'The American Connection' in the biography 'Jago'. Giving my Newsletter readers a taster of the book seems a good idea.

Jago and the Americans from their USAF base – they went together like a horse and carriage. A kind of marriage. During the Cold War (1946-1991) between the forces of capitalism and communism, the USA and NATO countries squared up against the USSR and its allies in the Warsaw Pact. In 1950, permanent United States Air Force (USAF) bases in Britain were approved. American Strategic Air Command were worried about the vulnerability of their bases in the east of England and established four more bases to the west, at Upper Heyford, Brize Norton, Fairford and Greenham Common.  Between 1951 and 1953, the RAF Upper Heyford air base was given new runways, aprons and hard-standings as well as new purpose-built structures to allow maintenance on the new generation of bombers designed for the age of the nuclear bomb. By 1971, Upper Heyford was probably the largest fighter base in Europe. From the late 1970s, over fifty hardened aircraft shelters were constructed including those in the Quick Reaction alert area in which planes armed with a nuclear bomb could take off within three minutes.

It was into this concentration of focused threat and retaliatory power that Jago found his way. What he made of the politics of it all, I don’t know – but those magnificent feats of engineering – the aircraft – would have thrilled him and the men who flew them he would have admired. Many became his patrons as his brush strokes captured the likeness of their English homes. He would have loved the fact that some of the new aircraft shelters were painted by the air crew – one with tigers and stripes, another with a red dragon. Today, Upper Heyford has more wall art than arguably anywhere else in Britain. Maybe, Jago inspired some of it, even added his own touches. And English Heritage has declared the Upper Heyford air base site Britain’s best-preserved relic of the Cold War, comparable to Hadrian’s Wall in its significance as a military structure.

And so we come to the Bob Pahl connection. Bob was an American pilot, one of the elite flying crew who - with their families - were billeted in the villages around the air base. His tour at Upper Heyford was from 1974 to 76 and all the paintings whose images are shown in this Newsletter were commissioned or bought by Bob and went back with the Pahl family to the United States. I am very grateful to Bob for his kindness in giving me permission to show them in this way. 

Here is Bob's story and how it touches Jago's. I have placed it in the context of last month's extracts from Chapter Seven so you will recognise the opening section:

In mid-November 2017, one Saturday tea-time, I contacted the three websites on Facebook created and used by those – mostly American veterans - who had served on or had some contact with the Upper Heyford air base. I explained that I was writing the biography of Jago Stone and re-posted my first American Connection blog with its picture of Becky Bender’s English home, painted by Jago in 1983.  By midnight, that re-posted blog had had 168 views. The views for Sunday, the next day, were 511. Truly a gold-rush in cyber-space!

I had asked for memories of Jago, stories and images of paintings. They came in their scores.

From C L Kolodny, now living in Premont, Texas, there was this story:
“Lived in Merton, near Bicester in an old stone cottage near to the Plough, a free house owned and operated by Lou Bevan. One day I was there drinking pints of Hooky when a phantom with a small entourage flew in. I thought I had gone back in time and encountered Oscar Wilde. This guy was a real character. We drank and talked for a couple of hours and he departed never to be seen again. This chance encounter was so electric and mystical that I have thought about it many times over the years. It was a Sunday afternoon in 1980 0r 1981.”

I asked if there were any other specifics that he remembered.

“… (Just) the flamboyant dress, intense facial expressions, rapid intellectual mainly one-way conversation …”

All this, from “a brief encounter leaving a real memory”.

And from Marie Mazy Cooper, now resident in Sarasota in Florida, came this comment:
“My husband and I were stationed at our RAF Heyford and lived in Wardington. Jago knocked on our door one night in 1975 to ask to paint the Vicarage we lived in. We were told he was a thief and not to allow him in and that had stolen from churches and spent time in prison …  But we did and became friends … he had such great stories and we have 2 beautiful paintings of our beautiful Vicarage. Afterwards, we introduced him to a number of friends stationed with us to have their homes painted … he was a character you could never forget.”

A few days later, in response to my question: “What stories did he tell?”, Marie added:
“Jago had so many wonderful stories about his life as a thief stealing from the churches … he met many Air Force members and painted all their homes.”

Bob Pahl, from Holly Springs in Georgia, whetted my appetite with these words:
“I still have a host of his paintings and have some great stories. I met Jago during my tour at Heyford, and specifically when living in a 450- year-old manor house in Hampton Poole, just north of Oxford, from July 1974 to July 1976. We had many an occasion where he would show unannounced and asked to paint for a minimal fee. Also we were invited to his wedding reception.”

At the start of 2018, Bob sent me images of the six water-colours that he had bought from Jago and still hang in Bob’s house in Holly Springs. He explained:

“Two of the paintings (both undated) – ‘England’s smallest bar’ in Godmanstone, Dorset and the 15th century ‘Victoria and Albert’ pub in Netherhampton, Wiltshire - he just showed up with and sold for a few pounds”.

Three paintings in the collection, all dated 1976, depict idyllic English settings: the courtyard at ‘Poyle Court’, a 16th century Grade II listed building in the village of Hampton Gay and Poyle, just north-west of Oxford; cottages and church in the village of Welford-on-Avon in Warwickshire, near Stratford-upon-Avon; and the ‘Old Crown’ pub at Chiddingfold in Surrey, a one-time 13th century rest-house for monks.

And then there is Jago’s water-colour interior of the living room of the 16th century manor house that Bob and his family lived in during their two-year tour. Yes, as you might have guessed, the Pahl family lived in the very same ‘Poyle Court’ as described above. Bob wrote that when Jago heard about the house they were living in ‘he became extremely interested in painting it’.

That painting now hangs in the home of Bob’s younger son. Poyle Court was owned and rented out by a retired American brain surgeon who had worked at the Radcliffe hospital in Oxford and was now was living in Scotland. The American government and its defence department knew the value of looking after its elite flying crew at home and abroad. Nothing but the best for the best.

Bob Pahl’s service history is extraordinary with four tours in the UK between 1968 and 1990 that included seventeen years flying F111s. These tours were interspersed with reassignments flying F-100s in Vietnam, flight testing in Rome in the state of New York, service at Ramstein air base in Germany, and two years as Test Pilot at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas followed by five years in New Mexico flying F111s.

Bob took to Jago because of the man’s talent as an artist and his eccentric character. Jago, I imagine, would have taken to Bob because the American was young and skilled and flew those magnificent aircraft behind the perimeter fence at Upper Heyford - exquisitely engineered birds, soaring upwards to freedom. Jago would have loved the company of another freedom-finder. 

I hope you have enjoyed the Bob Pahl gifts and story. The year, remember, is 1976 - the American bicentennial year of celebration for the nation's declaration of independence from British imperialism in 1776. Jago gifted his painting of George Washington's ancestral home, Sulgrave Manor House, to the American president, Gerald Ford, and the peoples of America in 1976. It was also the year he got married. He also in 1976 painted a palette-knife painting that I only discovered this autumn.

I thought that Jago had ceased to paint with the palette-knife by1972 - I had no evidence of any such work after that date. How wrong I was. The story of that painting and its discovery I hope to give you next month in the March Newsletter. Meanwhile, if any of you readers out there can re-educate me further on Jago's palette-knife painting history I am your willing student. Artists are worth remembering for several reasons - knowledge of their best work is a very important one.

I promised in the title an update on progress to publication. Having secured my copy of the 2018 edition of the 'Writers' and Artists' Year Book' and read the relevant sections, I now realise I need to complete the biography before seeking an agent. My aim is to finish by mid-March."  

 I hope that has whetted your appetite for the Mailchimp Newsletter and for the book itself.

Sunday 4 February 2018


Here is Part Two of my piece that stands as a tribute to the late Jim Hodge who passed away on November 23, 2016 and has recently been published in a slightly adapted form in The St Ives Times and Echo.

A word first about the images that accompany the text. In 1893, the photographer, J.C. Burrow, was commissioned by local mine owners to bring the underground world of tin mining to life. He used very early flash photography techniques in these images from four tin mines at Camborne, Dolcoath, St Agnes and Pool. And now, to continue:

'One all-important dimension in this Cornish industrial landscape is, nevertheless, missing. Where in the description are the women and children working above ground, where are the men working below ground? It is as if they have been airbrushed out of the picture. The wealthy and powerful had reasons to fear the masses and distance themselves from that world; the shadow of the guillotine and the events of the French revolution at the end of the eighteenth century cast a long shadow over Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century as industrialisation and the exponential increase in population reshaped the world. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that the social conscience of a few enlightened reformers within the Westminster elite led to such eye-opening documents as Edwin Chadwick’s Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population (1842) and the slow acceptance of the need for reform.

But only with the advent of the Edwardian age at the beginning of the twentieth century did a new kind of sensitivity develop within the ranks of the Westminster elite and the urban and rural elites from which it was drawn. For the first time, those with wealth and power began to vote through legislation that raised taxation centrally from their own pockets to pay for the amelioration of the social hardships that unregulated market forces inflicted upon three-quarters of the nation:  the labouring poor. In 1910, in Norwich on the other side of the country, Sir Peter Eade, a physician, and still, in his eighties, one of the leading members of the urban elite having served as councillor, sheriff and mayor, captured this change in outlook: ‘“Socialism” as it is called, undoubtedly demands better conditions for the poorer classes of all classes and the result of investigation into the present condition of any of these fully justifies many of the ends for which socialism is aiming and agitating … The rapid increase of population (and) the growing scarcity of  work and employment, are intending the poverty of large numbers of the working classes with the necessary consequences of home privation and enfeebled health to all, but especially to the young'.

The fabulous wealth of men such as Taylor (who came to Cornwall from Norwich to make his fortune) and Halse was made through the sweat and labour of fellow human beings, labouring under the ground in appalling conditions with their heads filled with the constant fear of death or injury. A.K. Hamilton-Jenkin, in his seminal work on the Cornish Miner (1927), noted that one writer in 1847 calculated that nearly one out of every five Gwennap miners incurred a violent death to produce the copper that made such a contribution to the wealth of the country. Descending and ascending the mine shafts for hundreds of feet by rope ladders was fraught with peril, to name one particular hazard. Medical authorities calculated that in the 1850s, in and around the St Just mining area, the average age of a miner was in the late twenties; the average death age was around the late forties. A miner who escaped the perils of a premature death faced a future of light surface work or at worst
nearly twenty years of unproductive life as a result of accident or disease.

The installation of steam-powered man-engines, the first in the 1840s, to drive a series of interconnected small platforms that were raised or lowered twelve feet in the shaft at every stroke of the engine, saved many lives.  However, the development later in the century of the machine drill turned out to be deadly for the miner underground. In 1904, a Government inquiry into The Health of Cornish Miners established that there had recently been “an enormous increase in the death-rate from lung diseases, in miners particularly between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five”.  The death-rate among Cornish miners was eight to ten times higher than that for coalminers. The explanation lay in the machine-drilling of granite that produced clouds of dust containing fragments such as quartz that were inhaled and over time effectively punctured the lungs – the medical condition known as phthisis was the new killer. Ameliorating the effects of dust inhalation, particularly through water spray, became a twentieth-century priority.

The labouring mass of humanity that worked the Cornish mines over the last three centuries were sustained not through the benevolence of the mine owner; the money the miners earned when the markets were paying good prices was more than they could have made from farming or fishing but amounted to a risible fraction of the profits made by the owners.  They were sustained by other means, perhaps above all by their own camaraderie in the face of accident and death. Drink provided an acceptable social release of working pressures. Many embraced the salvation offered in this life and the next by the good Lord as revealed through the Methodist evangelism that the Wesleys brought to Cornwall in the second half of the eighteenth century. John Wesley preached 18 times between 1762 and 1789 at Gwennap Pit, a hollow formed by the subsidence of old copper mine workings on the edge of what was described as the richest square mile in the world. Christianity and Mammon have always had an uneasy relationship.  

As Jim and John told their stories of life under the ground, Jim with his focus on water drainage and supply, John from his mining perspective, an undercurrent of danger, fear and death was never far from the surface of the tale. Sometimes, it burst through to harrowing effect. They shared an account of a young miner they knew who on the spur of the moment decided he would get his tea break early and attempted to hitch a lift on a kibble – a large bucket – that was being raised up through the vertical shaft to the surface. He misjudged the move and was left hanging on by his fingertips. The men at the top of the shaft saw him come into view as he and the kibble neared the surface. His last words were: ‘I can’t hang on anymore. Goodbye.’ It took the other half of the day to get his body back to the surface.

Fear and the closeness of death; the sheer peril of going underground surfaced in Jim’s account of an adit inspection that very nearly cost him and his miner companion their lives. Adits are drainage channels, generally at a relatively shallow depth, inclined gently towards the outside to allow passive drainage. The survey map on our table showed clearly the course of the adit for the Stennack lode, intersected at intervals by the vertical shafts excavated through the rock to reach the lode. Jim had determined that this adit needed a clearance and maintenance inspection.

Ankle deep in water, Jim and a local labourer entered the adit through a shaft in the town itself. Jim had his measuring instruments, the labourer his tools; a telephone system had been set connecting Jim with a water board architect at the top of the shaft ready to plot the information, the measurements and bearings, passed on by Jim through the telephone. Jim and the labourer began to thread their way through the tunnel that measured around five feet by three feet for most of its length, around two hundred feet beneath the surface.  After an hour or so when they were more than half way up the Stennack Jim noticed that the water level had reached his calves. The phone line connection had begun to crackle and was then lost. ‘I think it’s time to turn back’, he said to the labourer who had scarcely noticed the rising water. Their return journey in that dark, low narrow tunnel became a race for survival as the waters rose steadily around them towards the top of the five feet high ceiling in the tunnel. They just made it to their entry shaft before the waters covered them completely. A white-faced architect met them with the news that there had been a cloud burst over St Ives and the Stennack was awash. 

Jim spoke with pride of the engineering achievements of H.E. Phillips, the man in charge of the mains water supply for St Ives from the 1930s. In 1935, Phillips oversaw the construction of a project to use the waters gathered in the now disused Trenwith mine area to supplement the town’s water supply, specifically to supply the Downalong area of central St Ives. Effectively, 200 million gallons of water were contained by an underground dam, controlled by a penstock, a valve or sluice gate, which in the course of time Jim through his rising seniority was able to operate. He quickly learnt to fasten himself to a nearby structure to stop himself from being washed away in the surge of thunderous water released as the valve opened. 

The Trenwith mine had yielded both copper and tin in the first half of the nineteenth century but falling international prices forced its closure in 1856 as a copper producer. However, in 1908 Trenwith reopened as a radium mine under the control of the Germanowned British Radium company, with some of its output being used by Madame Curie in her experiments. It had been in the 1840s that some of the Trenwith copper ores had been found to be mixed with pitchblende, a mineral then of little perceived value, but later to be worked as the source of radium. The Company had plans to turn the Great Western Railway Tregenna Castle Hotel in St Ives into a health resort – a Cornish spa - utilising the supposed curative properties of the water but these ideas came to nothing and the mine itself was forced to shut down with the outbreak of war with Germany in 1914. 6 Jim told the tale passed down to him of a rich German who bought at some expense measures of radium to cure his illness and died of a radiation overdose soon after – but  evidently the radium content of the water supplied to Downalong residents from 1935 was safe enough. Both John and Jim drank it as children in Downalong as did tens of thousands of others. Those who implemented European health and safety legislation in the 1970s perhaps erred on the side of caution when it was decided that Trenwith water was no longer suitable as a source.

One last story remains, a warning perhaps for the future since so many in St Ives live above the industrial mining landscape buried beneath the surface. Jim told the tale of the lady in one house in Trenwith Place towards the bottom of the Stennack who was awakened one night over fifty years ago by an alarming sound from downstairs. Fearful, she descended the stairs and looked round the living room. Nothing out of place. She opened the kitchen door, hesitated before entering the room, reached for the light and lo! Before her stretched a gaping hole, a sixty foot drop into the world beneath her feet. The kitchen floor had disappeared into an old, unmapped mine shaft. The shaft infill had collapsed. 

To have had the opportunity to listen to the stories of Jim and John and see the survey plans, to have seen the jar containing almost pure tin extracted from the ore, is to have experienced  the wonder of recapturing the past. All who value the understanding of those things that have shaped us will appreciate what we were gifted. A Cornishman, Nicholas Johnson, who played an instrumental part in the inscription of the Cornwall and West Devon mining landscape in the UNESCO list as a World Heritage Site (WHS) in 2006, has stated that overall there was little recollection of mining’s eighteenth- and nineteenth-century heyday among the Cornish:  ‘… once [the memory of mining] passes beyond your grandfather, it almost passes out of mind.’ I hope this essay can play some small part in keeping the past alive.    

Saturday 3 February 2018


The editor of the St Ives Times and Echo, Toni Carver, has been looking for an opportunity to publish a piece I wrote called 'Under the Surface of St Ives'. This he was able to do, in two parts, in the editions for Friday, January 19th, 2018 and Friday, January 26th, 1918. These articles stand as a tribute to the late Jim Hodge who passed away on 23 November 2016.  

Here is the first part of my original text:

We moved to our terraced house, situated off the Stennack, coming out of St Ives, uphill, heading S.W., in January 2013. By the summer of that year, I had written the piece that appears this week for the first time on my website - press here. It is called 'Under the Surface of St Ives.' Do read it in its entirety if you can - it provides a remarkable insight into St Ives in the past thanks to the stories of my two sources, John Toman and Jim Hodge. The picture below shows the old Stennack school, the Board School, built in 1880 on the outer margin of St Ives. The river and road are on the other side of the school, unseen in the photograph. The houses you see now do not exist. Instead the landscape is dominated by the spoil heaps of the Trenwith mine. This is an industrial landscape. Men were mining under the surface as the shutter opened on the camera to take this shot. Men were making their living. Men who were to die before their time, some in accidents, some through the substances they inhaled.  

 Jim Hodge is 79, still a man broad of shoulder. It comes as no surprise when he talks of playing rugby with the men, the miners and other underground workers, who feature in his remarkable story. John Toman is in his mid-seventies. Jim and John share a mutual respect. John, after all, served for a time as a stand-in mine captain during his life in mining as a surveyor. Both are men who have achieved success in their professions. Jim grew up with the pull of the sea; fishing would have been his first choice but his father wanted him to learn a trade and plumbing won the day. Fish might have