The Shambles is the name Tolia Crisp has settled upon for the latest of her Homestead regions designs which she broadly offered to visitors under her Frogmore Land Management group / brand. And for those familiar with the likes of Frogmore and Mousehole, there are elements here that place The Shambles within the same realm of those settings, with much to set it apart and offer a sense of mystery and surprise.
The first of the former of these is that the location is described as being “up the River Foss”; this is likely a reference to the river of that name that flows through North Yorkshire, England, rising close to Oulston Reservoir and meandering roughly south for about 30 kilometres to join the River Ouse in York. This puts The Shambles squarely into Tolia’s theme of English settings, albeit within a location pretty much diagonally at the other end of the country compared to Frogmore and Mousehole with their Cornish locales.
However, where Frogmore and Mousehole have their feet pretty much rooted in reality, The Shambles stands well to one side, a veritable potpourri of themes and ideas brought together in a surprising whole that delights the eyes. This is something that is immediately obvious on arrival: sitting behind the landing point platform and hovering over a broad channel that sits between village and an oddly denuded hump of an island, is a strange windmill, held aloft by downward-pointing rotors spinning away beneath it and the metal deck before it. In fact, with its larger sail turning slowly behind it, it looks not so much like a floating windmill as it does a fanciful flying house.
The landing point occupies a tiny islet connected to the village by a metal bridge around which tentacles rise from the coastal waters, adding a touch of Innsmouth to the setting.
On the little waterfront across the bridge are hints which, together with the hovering house / windmill, help the setting lean towards the suggestion that is it steampunk themed. Cogs turn slowly on the wall of a cottage as a kind of mobile décor; a great gas boiler pumps heat into the cottage’s interior and, further along the waterfront, what looks to be the face of an old copper clock has been fashioned into a table where refreshments might be taken, watched over by a mechanical messenger owl.
However, it doesn’t take much to realise that the themes here run much broader than steampunk alone; close to the table mentioned above, for example, a poster hangs from the doorway of a magic shop proclaiming Harry Potter is Undesirable No 1, while the waterfront itself is probably awash with the engine noise from the Star Wars-esque flying vehicle which appears to have just passed overhead, zipping between rooftops and the bulbous bulk of a balloon moored by the landing point.
Enter the main street of the village, and more of this blending of ideas unfolds before your eyes in ways that are genuinely captivating. A dieselpunk tricycle, driven by a great chugging internal combustion engine turning a pusher propeller awaits a driver; futuristic lasers zap between buildings; a steampunk style airship appears to have wedged itself into the cul-de-sac of the street, neon signs and LCD panels hang from walls…
This is a place where nothing is as it seems and unique elements are waiting to be found everywhere the camera turns. Take, for example, Cordelia Curiosus and the boulangerie adjoining it. Leaving the Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference in the name of the former, these initially appear to be ordinary places of business. But look again: the windows of Cordelia’s are aquariums, home to fish and corals, the water held in by a combination of window frames and – magic? Similarly the wall between the two shops is a shimmering face of water held back by something, the boulangerie a further haven for fish, turtles and aquatic plants.
More touches can be found across the street, where a host of incongruities are gathering into a little vignette that offers so much. There’s a Victorian-era Bobby standing with his back to a pub cheekily calling itself the Scotland Yard, the walls of will are posted with a reward poster typical of those times and the front page of a newspaper offering the latest on the Whitechapel Murders – and the involvement of one S. Holmes, Esq.
The Bobby himself stands between a set of very futuristic packing cases before which floats a glowing umbrella projected by an equally glowing wand, none of which seems to fluster our good constable in the slightest – and nor does the London Police telephone box very definitely from the 1960s – so very definitely in fact, that one might be tempted to ask if it really is a police telephone box – and thus the entire vignette allows the imagination to take flight.
Thus, wherever you roam, down through the village with its little stream and cornucopia of buildings, businesses and photo opportunities, or up on and between the rooftops, there is a lot to appreciate within The Shambles – far more than mentioned here. Yes, it is a little texture-heavy when loading; but it is nevertheless highly photogenic and offers more than a few places to sit down and pass the time. Those in the Frogmore group also get rezzing rights when visiting – but do please clean-up when done!
With thanks to Shawn Shakespeare for the nudge.
- The Shambles (The Hidden, rated Moderate)