Category Archives: Disability

Humphry Repton, disabled garden designer

In my 2011 book Radical Gardening I included material about gardens and gardening and health and disability. I included here a little discussion of Humphry Repton, the Norwich schoolboy who became the hugely influential designer who coined the phrase ‘landscape gardening’, and whose bicentenary of death we mark this week.

A decade or so before he died in 1818, Repton was involved in a carriage accident which left him physically disabled, with restricted mobility, and using a wheelchair (or bathchair). In  Radical Gardening I mused on the kind of impact this life-change could have on him, on his work, on garden design. I do need really to go back and do further work on the question, to produce a more solid and informed piece about Repton, disability and garden design. (Another Norfolk figure on my list is the multiply-disabled Burnham Thorpe lad Horatio Nelson. I want to crip Nelson and Repton alike, as we say in DS [Disability Studies].) But here is my brief discussion from Radical Gardening, which identifies five ways in which we can crip Repton.

In the context what academics of disability in society and culture have begun to term our dismodern world—acknowledging the increasing presence and visibility of disability (due to inclusive legislation, improved medical techniques, and ageing populations)—we should note the place of gardeners with disabilities in gardening history. The eighteenth and early nineteenth century garden designer Humphry Repton, one successor to Capability Brown and the designer responsible for the term ‘landscape gardening’, was himself physically disabled. As a result of an accident in 1811/13—when in his [late] gardening prime—Repton became a wheelchair (or ‘bath-chair’, in the language of the day) user. His mobility impairment influenced his thoughts about gardening, and in his new physical state he now ‘turned his mind energetically to the best kinds of gardening for people like himself.

He wanted his gardens and parks to be linked to the wider world,  and when he suggested a prospect from a terrace he often included a lively scene of motion—“a busy scene of shipping”, a turnpike with its carts, a view across a city like Leeds’. In this way the mobility-restricted gardener could feel connected and stimulated, the person with a disability included not excluded from the continuing experience of social activity and engagement.

Repton, 1816, in chair. Note accessible garden design features: raised bed, pergola and hanging plants, wide smooth paths

His 1816 The Luxury of Gardens includes an image which shows Repton in his wheelchair in a garden, directing works. Here the level of design displays some of the thoughtful elements enabling people with disabilities, in this instance wheelchair users, to be, or to continue to be, gardeners. The impact would be all the greater since Repton himself, as noted, a man at this stage of his life with restricted mobility, was a famous, professional gardener—and writer of a book the illustrations in which displayed rather than obscured his disability.

The raised bed is the primary feature, providing ease of viewing and enjoyment of the plants, as well as facilitating the act of planting itself, but there are other inclusive design features: the smooth and level path, the wide pergola, each of which would enable a wheelchair user to have ease of access around the garden, for instance.

Share Button

New research on anorexia and popular music, Karen Carpenter

I am delighted that some work I have been researching for the past 18 months or so is now published. My article ‘Skinny blues: Karen Carpenter, anorexia nervosa an popular music’ is now available in Popular Music (January 2018) vol. 37(1): 1-21.

This is a development of some of my work on disability and pop. I would like to thank a reviewer of Shakin’ All Over: Popular Music and Disability for asking in her review something like, Why no Karen Carpenter?, and setting me off on a journey. That was Jessica A. Holmes, in Ethnomusicology Review. Good question. Also I thank my University of East Anglia colleague Su Holmes (no relation)  for initial critical discussions and for sharing some resources, as well as for a sharp critical reading of a draft (errors remain mine).

Below is the abstract, which describes the content and argument of the piece. The article contains four black and white images, including one (right) which I’m pleased to see also adorns the journal’s front cover.

You can download the complete article here for free: skinny_blues_karen_carpenter_anorexia_nervosa_and_popular_music

This article discusses an extraordinary body in popular music, that belonging to the person with anorexia which is also usually a gendered body – female – and that of the singer or frontperson. I explore the relation between the anorexic body and popular music, which is more than simply looking at constructions of anorexia in pop. It involves contextually thinking about the (medical) history and the critical reception and representation, the place of anorexia across the creative industries more widely, and a particular moment when pop played a role in the public awareness of anorexia.

Following such context the article looks in more detail at a small number of popular music artists who had experience of anorexia, their stage and media presentations (of it), and how they did or apparently did not explore their experience of it in their own work and public appearances. This close discussion is framed within thinking about the popular music industry’s capacity for carelessness, its schedule of pressure and practice of destruction on its own stars, particularly in this instance its female artists.

This is an article about a condition and an industry. At its heart is the American singer and drummer Karen Carpenter (1950–1983), a major international pop star in the 1970s, in the Carpenters duo with her brother Richard; the other figures discussed are Scottish child pop star Lena Zavaroni (1963–1999), and the Welsh rock lyricist, stylist and erstwhile guitarist of the Manic Street Preachers, Richey Edwards (1967–1995 missing/2008 officially presumed dead).

Share Button