My Cotswold Life: Jeremy Houghton
The village of Broadway, long associated with great American artists of the past, has a home-grown star in its midst. Jeremy Houghton has just had his first solo exhibition of paintings at the Saatchi Gallery in London
The village of Broadway, long associated with great American artists of the past, has a home-grown star in its midst. Jeremy Houghton has just had his first solo exhibition of paintings at the Saatchi Gallery in London and is now working on his first major international solo show at the world-renowned Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg.
Other achievements include being official artist for London Fashion Week, painting the Queen presenting a new 500th anniversary standard to the Gentlemen at Arms, and his recent selection by Olympic sponsors British Telecom as one of the 12 official artists for next year’s Cultural Olympiad.
During his five years as a professional artist, Jeremy has become increasingly known for his flamingo paintings. “I love flamingos, but they are almost a tool for me to experiment on the canvas,” he says. “They give me complete versatility because they’re always moving; there are always different shapes, different colours, different lights, different reflections: a kaleidoscope of options.”
Jeremy lives with his wife, Jess, a primary school teacher, and their 10-month-old daughter, Honeysuckle.
Where do you live and why?
I live in Broadway, weirdly enough in the cottage where I was born. It was where my parents lived for the first 10 years of their marriage and where my grandparents lived out their days. My grandparents bought the cottage, along with Austin House – a lovely big house in Broadway – in the 1930s. My grandfather was the local doctor and was responsible for bringing a lot of people into the village. Even our postman is named after him!
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I love living here. There are drawbacks – everyone knows who you are, for one thing. But it’s probably more difficult for Jess, my wife, because she moved from Sussex into a ‘Houghton’ place. My mum did the same thing when she married dad so she’s hot on Jess’s case. Whenever my dad tries to park his car at our house so he can walk up the hill, she always tells him: “No! Leave them alone!”
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
Since June 13, 1974! I’ve had stints away. I went to Cheltenham Junior for prep and then I got sent on to one of those funny old-fashioned boarding schools [Eton] before doing a law degree in Exeter - Dad’s a solicitor in Warwick and he told me I must get a ‘proper’ job. I also spent five years as head of art at the International School in Cape Town. Although it was a private school, it was more like your English state school in terms of facilities and the eclectic mix of pupils. There were a lot of European kids – French, German, English – as well as local kids. I found it a really refreshing place to work.
What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
Because I have so many palettes spinning at the moment, my perfect weekend is to catch up with work. Running my own business means that I’m the artist, as well as being my own gallery owner, agent, website and PR man, so having 48 phone-free, uninterrupted hours in which to paint is a luxury. But working at home also has benefits as I get to see Honeysuckle all the time. I’m able to watch and enjoy the little everyday changes. She’s now onto ‘da, da, da’ rather than ‘ma, ma, ma’, which I’m very pleased about!
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
I love it where I am now. But, if you want a more exciting answer, I’d live in one of the area’s smart hotels where I could order room service every night and leave wet towels on the floor. I also love people-watching and hotels are great places to do that. I’d like to say the Lygon Arms but it’s now owned by a chain and lacks that special touch for me. So I’d choose Bibury Court.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
Anywhere near morris dancers because I find them terrifying. I tried to see if there was a word for it but the closest I got was a fear of clowns – coulrophobia.
Where's the best pub in the area?
I am a pub person, though I do go through stints of not drinking. I’m such a lightweight that I can’t work if I’ve got booze in my system. Walking-distance down the road, we’ve got the Crown and Trumpet, which is a proper old pub, all about the beer and the atmosphere. As for the gastro-pub experience, I like the Fox at Oddington: good food but London prices.
And the best place to eat?
Russell’s, run by Barry Hancox, who’s a bit of a hospitality legend: he used to be general manager at the Lygon Arms. Fantastic food, fantastic atmosphere, and a great bunch who work there. I can walk from home, too.
Have you a favourite tearoom?
There’s new place in Broadway called The Workshop, in Gordon Russell’s old workshop [the Arts and Crafts innovator], which is really cool. That’s got things on the menu like pork crackling and apple sauce or baked beans on toast. Jess – my clever Mrs – makes their marmalades, jams and chutneys.
What would you do for a special occasion?
I love eating out. When you work all-day- every-day by yourself, sometimes you need to get out a bit and see what’s happening beyond your own little world, so we constantly find excuses to have a special occasion and head out for supper. If there were more time, then I’m very nearly gay and love spas, where you spend a fortune on treatments that do nothing at all. But you get to wander around shamelessly in a white dressing gown and feel healthy for five minutes.
What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?
It’s incredibly beautiful. I’ve been to some pretty awesome places around the world – New Zealand’s South Island; southern Africa; Venice… and, quite frankly, the Cotswolds are on a par with all of them. The weather doesn’t bother me. I like the fact that the Cotswolds are seasonal.
... and the worst?
Village politics, which ironically I quite enjoy because I love a good row. There’s never a shortage of tussles to get stuck into.
Which shop could you not live without?
That’s easy - Stow art shop [Cotswold Art Supplies]. How they fit everything into that tiny shop is amazing. They provide all my art materials and, therefore, my life depends on them. No pressure, ladies!
What's the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?
Second-hand shops. I don’t have a problem with wearing someone else’s shirt: I love a good bargain. The jacket I live in is a Paul Smith that cost me �25; it would have cost �250 or more new.
What is a person from the Cotswolds called?
What would be a three course Cotswold meal?
Vale of Evesham asparagus, lamb with dauphinoise potatoes, which is what we had at our wedding; then my favourite pudding in the world is ice cream.
What's your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
We live on the Cotswold Way so our easiest and nicest walk is to go out of the door and head up to Broadway Tower. From the tower itself, you can see up to 13 counties; but I almost feel that you lose the personal nature of the view from that sort of height because it’s so vast. Whereas, if you’re halfway up, you can see the smoke coming out of chimneys of Broadway, with Buckland round the corner, and Stanton and Stanway nestling below, just as William Morris would have seen it.
What's your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
Stanton because the tourists haven’t discovered it. And a mile down the road you’ve got Stanway House with the JM Barrie connection. In the late 1880s, Barrie had a travelling cricket team and he challenged all the Broadway artists to a match on the village green. We re-enacted it last year at the Broadway Arts Festival: I captained the artists and we played against Michael de Navarro – his great-grandmother, the actress, [Mary Anderson de Navarro] captained the original Broadway team. The de Navarro team won this time, which was really annoying!
Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds
Timeless, seasonal, and full of character – both in terms of people and villages.
What's your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
St Eadburgha's church. My grandfather started the Friends of St Eadburgha and helped restore it back to its original glory; in 1969, my parents were the first couple to get married there for over 400 years. I was christened there; Honey was christened there.
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
Eat sushi, because you can’t.
Starter homes or executive properties?
Starter homes. It would be nice for a younger crowd with babies to come to Broadway so Honey has lots of friends to play with. There aren’t enough prams and yummy mummys going up and down Broadway High Street.
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
Broadway, Hook Norton, Bath and Tetbury.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
When I lived in South Africa, I took my wellies, which everyone thought was hysterical.
What would you change about the Cotswolds or banish from the area?
Dog-poo bags. The amount I pick up that people have just slung into hedges is an absolute joke. It defeats the whole object.
What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Come to my studio and invest in a Houghton.
And which book should they read?
If a fact book: my grandfather’s Broadway Pictorial, which he did aged 93 along with a photographer called Nick Darien-Jones from Painswick. It combines old photographs and illustrations collected by my grandfather with new ones of the same scenes. Although there’s now tarmac instead of the old yellow roads, you can see how little has actually changed. The book can be bought at various Broadway outlets.
Fiction: Brideshead Revisited. Waugh based his Flyte characters on the Lygon family.
Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?
The Cotswold Way.
Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?
Broadway Arts Festival [www.broadwayartsfestival.com] and my own art tours [www.broadwayarttours.co.uk ]. Broadway celebrated its 1,000th birthday in 1972 with a millennium festival, which we revived as the Broadway Arts Festival last summer. It attracted visitors from around the world so we’re going to carry on doing it every other year. It’s incredible to think of the artists who once lived and worked here - Singer Sergeant, Alma Tadema, Millet, Parsons. Millet died on the Titanic but there are still relations of his living in Winchcombe. I’m visiting Boston this month, partly because that’s where our American artists came from, and partly to establish other links – between the schools, for example.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
I’d go for a wander round Toddington Manor and see what Damien has been up to. I’m interested not so much in his work but in him as a character. The manor has been under plastic for three years so it looks like a giant ice cube but it’s an amazing building, designed by the same architect who designed the Houses of Parliament.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
The horse. People tend to forget that 100 years ago, without your horse, you’d be absolutely stuffed. It helped build this place.
The Cotswolds - aspic or asphalt?
Less asphalt, therefore more potholes so people would drive more slowly. And more aspic… I believe it’s a revolting jelly-ish kind of food. I’ve yet to find anything I don’t like to eat so maybe this would be it.
What attitude best sums up the Cotswolds?
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
Prince Charles. I’m actually doing some sketching and painting around his Highgrove garden and farm because I wanted to do a portrayal of a farm that’s organic and using traditional methods. He’s clearly very knowledgeable and I like talking to people who have a passion in life.