Thursday, 17 March 2011

Peasants or Princesses?

I have a few more pictures of the Wheel and Spindle Club which I thought I should share with you following my last post.  Unfortunately I did not note down the journal that they came from, but I am sure I will track it down again!

From these pictures and those in my previous post it is evident that the Peasant Arts movement was performing a worthwhile community function through the Wheel and Spindle Club, which seems to have brought a number of young girls together to learn spinning and weaving.  From the "garland day" picture it is evident that boys were also included in some events at Sandhouse.  

The Wheel and Spindle Club, Sandhouse, Witley
The picture above would appear to have been taken at a special Wheel and Spindle Club event taking place in the gardens of Sandhouse, Witley, Joseph and Maude Egerton King's home.  The girls all dressed in white wearing bonnets make for a curious sight, and the older women at the back appear to be wearing what I would call formal 'event' hats.  

In the book Rearing an Imperial Race (Hecht, Charles, National Food Reform Association, 1913) Ethel and Maude are quoted with reference to an address by a Miss Gordon on the place of handiwork in education: ""There is nothing," said Miss Gordon in an inspiring address, which like her paper, claimed for her subject a high place in the educational curriculum, "like handiwork for helping men and women to find their level; in other words, there is nothing like craftsmanship for character building and character building is the whole object of teaching, I take it"".  There is then a footnote quoting "To give a little girl the use of her hands is to bring a disinherited princess back into her kingdom"  (‘Our experience of the Influence of Handicraft upon the Workers’, Peasant Arts Guild Paper, No. 10 , Ethel Blount and Maude E. King).
Garland Day in a MPs garden,
from 'The Ailing Countryside, and prescriptions for some forthcoming physic'

The mass of flower garlands on heads in the picture above, and the poor quality of the photo and photocopy(!), make it hard to make out individual faces.  The distinctive chequer work of Sandhouse is more easily visible.  In some parts of England, May Day (1st May) is called Garland Day, and it seems in other parts of England, like Derbyshire, it is at the end of May.  The picture appears to be testimony that the Kings were holding a quaint 'country' community event. 

The girls in these pictures do appear to be closer perhaps to Princesses than the 'country peasant' that the Blounts and Kings wrote about.  The Kings were clearly wealthy, as the magnificence of their house, Sandhouse, testifies, and the Blounts and Greville MacDonald were also comfortably off.  Maybe as a result of their wealth, their concept of the 'country peasant' which they were aiming to inspire through their movement, was a little distorted?


  1. Interesting question you pose at the end-but certainly they were helping the peasants to be able to stand on their own two feet presumably through the sales of their garments and other items they produced- as well as developing them as individuals as you describe.
    Another great and thought provoking article.-well done.

  2. Thanks Dunc. I was thinking that 'peasants' wouldn't look so well-turned out as the girls and boys do in these pictures.


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