Friday, 24 January 2014

Gertrude Jekyll and the Haslemere Peasants - Old West Surrey Part 1

I found the Carthusian (April 1902) article on the Peasant Art exhibition at Charterhouse, Godalming (in my previous post) of particular interest as it mentioned that some of the 700 objects on display had been loaned by Gertrude Jekyll.  I have been wondering if there was a link between Jekyll and the Peasant Arts movement as there do seem to be some overlaps, and Jekyll's involvement in the Charterhouse exhibition is the closest link that I have found.  The exhibition had been organised by the Rev Gerald Davies who later sold his peasant art collection to the Peasant Arts Guild and it formed the basis of the Peasant Arts Museum on Kings Road, Haslemere.  The beginning of the museum is outlined in this post.

Cover of
Old West Surrey
Gertrude Jekyll, Longman, Green & Co., London, 1904
Jekyll the famous Victorian garden designer, also published a book in 1904 that touches on some of the Haslemere Peasant Arts themes.  Old West Surrey (Jekyll, Gertrude, Longmans, Green and Co, London, 1904) seeks to record the old way of life in the local area "so great and so many have been the changes within the last half-century, that I have thought it desirable to note, while it may yet be done, what I can remember of the ways and lives and habitations of the older people of the working class of the country In have in almost continuously ever since I was a very young child".  I am not clear whether this book is particularly well known or not.

Jekyll calls ‘West Surrey’ “the long chalk line of the Hog’s Back on the north, with its eastern prolongation beyond Guildford, and the Weald of Sussex to the south.

“We hardly ever go northward beyond the Hog’s Back, except of course in the train which does not count, and we do not go much down to the Weald.  We like to look out from our southward-facing hills and see right across the Weald to the long dim, blue-hazy line of the South Downs, and to know that beyond this is the sea, and then France, and the rest of the world.

"But we wander a long way east and west in the pleasant country of the sandy hills, from the still wild lands south of Dorking on the east, right away to Woolmer Forest and Gilbert White’s country in the west..

"When I was a child all this tract of country was undisocered; now alas! It is overrun.

Detail from the title page of
Old West Surrey
Gertrude Jekyll, Longman, Green & Co., London, 1904

"It is impossible to grudge others the enjoyment of its delights, and yet one cannot but regret that the fact of its being now thickly populated and much built over, has necessarily robbed it of its older charms of peace and retirement.

"Formerly, within a mile or two of one’s home it was a rare thing to see a stranger, and people’s lives went leisurely.  Now, the strain and throng and unceasing restlessness that have been induced by all kinds of competition, and by ease of communication, have invaded this quiet corner of the land.  In the older days, London might have been at a distance of two hundred miles.  Now one never can forget that it is at little more than an hour’s journey.”  

It is interesting that we are still about an hour away from London!  

“Common things of daily use, articles of furniture and ordinary household gear, that I remember in every cottage and farmhouse, have passed into the dealers’ hands, and are now sold as curiosities and antiquities.  Cottages, whose furniture and appointments had come through several generations, are now furnished with cheap pretentious articles, got up with veneer and varnish and shoddy material.  The floor is covered with oilcloth, the walls have a paper of shocking design, and are hung with cheap oleographs and tradesmen’s illustrated almanacs.

"This is the modern exchange for the solid furniture of pure material and excellent design, and for the other things of daily use – all the best possible for their varied purposes – that will presently be shown and described.”

Here Jekyll resonates many of the beliefs of the Haslemere Peasant Arts movement, and of Arthur Romney Green's solid wood furniture.  In the Preface, Jekyll thanks a number of people for helping her, this includes the Rev. Gerald S. Davies.  

from Jekyll, Gertrude, Old West Surrey, Longman, Green & Co., London, 1904

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