Saturday, 15 January 2011

An Ideal Setting for a Village Industry

The location of the Peasant Arts movement in Haslemere, is best understood through the judgements of their peers.  An article by Mary Schenck Woolson in The Craftsman (‘Revival of English handicrafts: the Haslemere industries’, January 1902) provides an excellent overview.  Woolson was President of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union, and Director of the Manhattan Trade School for Girls.

The Weaving House, Kings Road c.1902 - note the girl is holding a hoop and the tree in the middle of the road! - from The Craftsmen, January 1902

She describes the location of the Peasant Arts in Haslemere as “A more ideal setting for a village industry, whose avowed purpose is to make good hand-made materials under ideal conditions, could scarcely be found.  In the southwest corner of Surrey, in a deep valley between wooded cliffs, is the little town which straggles picturesquely in winding lanes like wandering vines up the steep slopes.  In summer, in the near distance, the eye traverses stretches yellow with gorse and broom, and purple with heather up to the hig, dark ridge of Hindhead.

The Devil's Punchbowl, Hindhead c.1900 from Trotter, The Hilltop Writers, The Book Guild, 2003

On the top stands high against the sky the cross which marks Gibbet Hill, where the execution of a sailor’s murderers once took place.  Below the cross is a romantic lonely hollow called the Devil’s Punch Bowl, around whose rim Smike and Nicholas Nickleby, as they were going from London to Portsmouth to seek their fortune, walked and read the description of the sailor’s murder.

Tennysons Lane c. 1897 from Wright, Hindhead or the English Switzerland, 1898

The atmosphere of Haslemere is artistic and literary.  Here George Eliot lived on the Shotter Mill way, Tyndall built high on Hindhead and Tennyson’s home looked out on the Blackdown.  Artists and writers still gather here. 
Hindhead Crossroads c.1900 from Winter, Tim, Around Haslemere, The History Press Limited,  2004

The village keeps its mediaeval appearance.  The cottages of the people are low, with slanting tiled roofs.  These ancient hand-made tiles of many varieties are well known to architects and antiquarians.  The lanes are often so steep that the sidewalk is only on one side, while a high, abrupt cliff rises on the other.

Haslemere High Street c.1894 from Trotter, The Hilltop Writers, The Book Guild, 2003

The sidewalk gradually ascends above the road way and the cottages open on the sidewalk with a steep staircase descending to the road.  This gives a curious and picturesque effect to the old stone cottages and the half timber houses with their overhanging stories.  The workers in the Haslemere Industries live in such homes as these, surrounded from birth with charming nature and the simple artistic handwork of man. 

Entrance to Kings Road from the station from Winter and Collyer, Around Haslemere and Hindhead in Old Photographs, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1991

….From the railroad station deep in the valley to the quaint little Weaving House modern factory conditions seem to struggle for a footing.  Foundry Road is a paved street with workshops, stores and working men’s houses crowding one another together.  When the road begins to rise out of the narrow valley, the Weaving House and its close companion, the Tapestry House, stand as if to utter a protest and block the way against the farther march of ugliness.  Beyond them the open valley stretches, the wooded hills show winding paths and the birds sing in meadow and copse. 

In front of the Industries the road slopes upward, so that the buildings are partly below the level.  Bridges swing across from the road to the second stories, and steps lead down to the ground floors of the buildings.

Inside The Weaving House, Kings Road from The Craftsmen, January 1902

From the open windows of the Weaving House the steady click and thud of the looms and the whirr of the wheels are heard by passers-by.  A sign hangs over the gate on the bridge bearing the name: “Haslemere Weaving Industry,” and below, a placard bids visitors welcome.”

“The cheerful, healthful workrooms, the mediaeval furniture of chests, presses, wheels, reels and looms, the bold fine colouring of the stuffs, the white aproned village workers, and the wide stretching meadows and steep hills of fair Surrey, as seen through the windows are a pleasant picture of labour under ideal conditions.”
'Miss Flora Synge at her spinning wheel at Kings Road, Haslemere in 1917' from  Janaway, John,  Surrey: A Photographic Record 1850-1920, Countryside Books, 1984

Whilst the picture in Janaway is annotated as Flora Synge, there is no such name recorded in the 1911 census. 


  1. I was very excited to see a photo of Flora Synge on your blog.She was my great aunt!! She wouldn't have appeared on the census of 1911 because she didn't go to Haslemere until 1912. She was a second cousin of Joseph King and a very independent lady, a graduate of Cambridge and wove all her life , settling in Hawkshead in later life. She used to take her spinning wheel on the train when she returned home to Liverpool to visit her parents. I am also a weaver and have some of her work and a photo of the King's Road Weaving Industry as a postcard with some of her writing dated June 1912.

  2. Oh how interesting! I had no idea she was related to Joseph King. She sounds like a hardcore weaver, and how interesting that weaving is still in the family. I'd be very interested in seeing any pictures of the examples of her work and that postcard you mention.

    I've since found that 'Miss Synge' was on the Peasant Arts Guild Committee in 1924 and 1925.

    I couldn't find Flora anywhere on the census in 1911, I'd be interested in her details so I can place her in the King family tree. Or in fact anything about their family tree; it seems to me that one of the reasons why the Peasant Arts movement is not very well-known is that the only child from the 3 'families' involved, was Katharine King, and I am not sure what happened to her.

    1. Dear Kate
      Sorry to take so long to reply!! I hope you might delete the bit on Florence Synes , it's incorrect and misleading. The photo is beyond doubt that of my great aunt , Flora Synge. I have the same copy and other photos of her as well. She was a second cousin of Joseph King and the Kings used to visit her family home , Fernlea , in Liverpool quite frequently. They are recorded in the visitors book. I do have a photo of the interior of the weaving industry at Haslemere and also a family tree that shows Flora's connections with the Kings. I also have quite a lot of her weaving too. I have more information than can be recorded here so I am happy to meet you if it will be useful to your research. Best wishes Averil Otiv.

    2. Dear Averil

      How lovely to hear from you! Thank you for getting back in touch. I shall correct the Syne reference. Since you got in touch I am now in contact with your great aunt Flora's god daughter, Pat, who lives in Haslemere in Flora's old house. Pat has some photos of Flora at her house in Haslemere and also at Hawkshead. I'd be delighted to meet you and I'm very interested in seeing Flora's weaving. Pat has kindly given me a table runner that Flora made. If you could e-mail me on we can talk further. Best wishes Kate

  3. We live in the house owned by Miss Synge on Hawkshead Hill in Cumbria.There is a Summer House which was gifted to her family by John Ruskin which she had erected in the garden when she moved here. There are still residents here who remember her from their childhood

    1. Hi Mike
      I have photos of your summer house and also your house , when my great aunt Flora Synge lived there , and even photos of the house when James and Laura Thornely , Flora's grandparents , lived there. Your summer house has also made a move you don't know about
      Best wishes Averil Otiv.!

  4. Hi Mike,

    Thank you for your comment. That's very interesting. I would be very interested in any information you have about this. How unusual to have a Summer House gifted to you by John Ruskin?! If you wish to discuss offline then please feel free to e-mail me on

  5. Hello. I came upon this publication which you may not have seen,

  6. Hi Marshall, thank you for the link.

    I do most of my research online and so yes, I have seen that link to The Craftsman article there. I don't think I enclosed the link to the online journals in my older posts. I have attempted to begin collating all of the 'literature' together on my Literature page, and that has many links to online copies of journals etc.


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