Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The View from the Surrey Hills – Haslemere cranks Part 1

It’s interesting to read a few observers reports of the lifestyle of Godfrey and Ethel Blount.  They provide revealing glimpses of what must have seemed a very unusual way of life at the turn of the century.

In The Surrey Hills (F.E. Green, Chatto & Windus, London, 1915) Green journeys around the Surrey Hills speaking to locals along the way.  After relating some tales from locals about being driven off the land due to the Enclosure Acts he relates “There is another kind of peasant at Haslemere who is enrolled in the Peasant Arts Society – at least it is a paper peasant if not a real one – the peasant that is put to the potter’s wheel, the carpenter’s bench, or to the hand-loom.  The wild moorland peasant, sprung from a struggling, poaching stock and turn aesthete, would be something to wonder at, could he be found.
The Devil's Punch Bowl, Hindhead from The Surrey Hills (F.E. Green, Chatto & Windus, London, 1915) 

I do not know if it is the air at Hindhead and Haslemere or the romantic scenery, or the literary and scientific heritage left by unconventional folk in the world of letters, that has enriched this neighbourhood with a number of striking and interesting individualities.  They desire not only a life beautiful for themselves, but also for other people.  The aesthete of Haslemere believes in the dignity of hand-labour.  The prophet, priest, and organiser of this interesting band of workers is Mr. Godfrey Blount.  He has even provided a country church for the taming of the peasant, where services of an unconventional character are carried out, and the unpaid priest is robed in a cinnamon suit of hand-woven stuff.  On the notice board of The Country Church, which is a humble green barn, (NB. This was in St George’s Hall on King’s Road, where St George’s Flats now stand) we learn that it is “oratory of the New Crusade for the true liberty of Life and Thought.  Warden, Godfrey Blount.”
St Cross hand-loom workers, Studio International, SVol 43, February 1908

Mr Blount lives at St. Cross, a house in which everyone is blessed “who cometh in the name of the Lord,” so we are told by the writing over the front door.  Work at weaving the wool spun at the spinning-wheel is carried on indoors at hand-looms, where the stuff is woven into cloth.  Mr. Blount designs, and Mrs. Blount generally arranges the colour schemes.  Here, too, some of the “peasant girls” work under Mrs. Blount’s guidance.  The large drawing-room is perhaps the most original I have ever entered.  The arresting note of the room comes from the large oaken beams overhead.  Here, one could read at a glance from the bold letterings the religious inspiration from which Mr. Blount wove his philosophy – his traditional reading of the earth, to which he adds the feelings of a prophet of the twentieth century.

On the first beam are the words, “I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, whence cometh my help,” and on the other side of it, “My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”

On the middle beam is inscribed, “Thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field, and the beast of the field shall be at peace with thee,” and, “Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.”
Little St Cross reproduced courtesy of The Dartford Warbler;
the first beam says "In heaven the only art of living is forgetting & forgiving",
the other two beams repeat what is said below

And on the third beam are these words of hope, pregnant with a promised fullness of life, “Awake thou that sleepest: arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light,” and, “I am come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”

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