Sunday, 13 March 2011

Weaving and the Emancipation of Princesses: The Wheel & Spindle Club


As well as targeting adults, the Peasant Arts movement also reached out to children.  The teaching and inclusion of children in the weaving activities is exemplified by the Wheel and Spindle Club that Ethel Blount and Maude Egerton King established in 1912 “to teach local girls to spin.  

The Wheel and Spindle Club, Sandhouse, Witley
Carding and spinning.
Reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum


























The youngest, seven to nine years old, carded wool, while older children, nine to fourteen years old, spun on spinner and spindle wheels…The half-day sessions (from 3 to 6.30pm) finished with singing sessions” (Myzelev, Craft Revival in Haslemere: she, who weaves…, Women's History Review, Vol 18, Issue 4, 2009).  Myzelev reports that these sessions ended with the singing of folk songs of Cecil Sharp.  This links up with Mrs Godfrey Blount being recorded in 1908 as a member in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society.
Maude Egerton King working the loom,
The Wheel and Spindle Club, Sandhouse, Witley
Reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum

Blount and King reported on this venture that “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).  Myzelev surmises that “Beautiful traditional tunes and the practice of handicrafts had the power to stimulate young girls, allowing them to escape reality, to imagine travelling to enchanted lands.”  This reminds me of Greville MacDonald’s statement in Reminiscences of a Specialist (MacDonald, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1932) “I am increasingly sure that fairy-tale is a necessary corrective to the inevitably mechanical of much school education.  It is a wild flower for the child adventurer to clutch at and gather for his joy: from its free, untutored glory all literature has grown.” 
Going to class,
The Wheel and Spindle Club, Sandhouse, Witley
Reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum

Maude Egerton King, with some of her work,
Reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum
The wonderful pictures in this post have been kindly obtained from the Haslemere Educational Museum.  They place the Wheel and Spindle Club at Sandhouse, the Kings home in Witley.  It is fascinating to see the teaching of the Peasant Arts movement at work.  It would appear that the club met in one of the outbuildings at Sandhouse.  The pictures of Maude and another of a girl climbing the outside stairs of a building, appear to be of them entering the building where the Club was held.  
Girls carrying their spinning wheels to class, Sandhouse driveway
The Wheel and Spindle Club, Sandhouse, Witley
Reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum

There appear to be a number of outbuildings on the Sandhouse site with outside staircases to the first floor, very much like the Dye House at Kings Road, all presumably designed by the architect Francis Troup.  The outside brickwork in the pictures of the stairs seems to match the distinctive chequerwork of the main Sandhouse building, and the picture of the girls walking down the driveway carrying spinning wheels has a Sandhouse gatepost (which are still there) in the background.  I had thought that the picture of the girl climbing the stairs was of Maude’s only child, Katherine King, but she was born in 1893, and so should have been at least 17 years old in these pictures; perhaps she is the lady in white carrying the sinning wheel in the picture above, and below looking down by the second spinning wheel.  The font of the 'Wheel and Spindle Club' posters in the pictures have the distinctive Peasant Arts feel to them.
Reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum

Sandhouse, Witley c.1902
Built for Joseph and Maude Egerton King by Francis Troup
from the Francis Troup Archive, RIBA


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