Sunday, 4 March 2018



Oast Houses

I've lived in and around the Weald of Kent for the best part of my life. So, it will come as no surprise that I love the rolling countryside, and the farms; the picturesque blossom on the fruit trees in spring and the heady scent of hops, in the autumn. An artist who, for me, typifies this magical landscape is Roland Hilder. In my first DI Sonny Russell novel, Blood on the Tide, I wrote:

Russell’s train journey to Dover was uneventful. He was able to sit in a seat by the window and watch the Kent countryside slide by. Hop gardens, the bines twining ever upwards, were interspersed with apple orchards, the blossom fading as fruit buds formed. Distinctive oast houses, their conical kilns topped with sparkling white wooden cowls, and peg-tiled farmhouses nestled in the soft folds of the gentle countryside. “Perfect compositions for Rowland Hilder watercolours,” he thought.

Advert for Shell Petrol

Roland Hilder was born in New York in 1905. His English father moved back to Kent at the start of WW1 to enlist in the Royal Horse Artillery. Rowland enrolled at Goldsmiths School of Art and his talents were soon recognised. He had a long relationship with the Shell company, producing posters and calendars for them. He also worked for Oxford University Press and his decorative end papers and black and white drawings of "Treasure Island" won him The Times illustrators award in 1929.

Treasure Island

But as well as his watercolours of evocative Wealden landscapes, he was a skilled maritime painter. 

The punt

His critical eye and attention to detail produced some of the best nautical paintings of the 20th century, and he was called 'the Turner of his generation'.

The Shipwrights Arms

The pub that features in Blood on the Tide is called the Shipwrights Arms. Hilder's Shipwrights Arms is probably in Essex but it captures the exactly the atmosphere I tried to create.

The Shipwrights Arms was a modest building, with stone walls, tiny recessed windows and a pantiled roof. It sat right at the end of the quay, next to the station, hunkered down against the weather. It had withstood any number of gales and powerful storms and had survived, battered but unbowed. Inside was a small, low-ceilinged room, the once white paintwork now the colour of nicotine, stained dark from years of coal fires and the smoke of a lifetime of tobacco pipes. 

Sailing 1934

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