Friday, 28 February 2014

Gertrude Jekyll and the Haslemere Peasants Part 4

There are a few more links that I would like to highlight between Gertrude Jekyll and the Haslemere Peasant Arts movement.

A quick recap: Gertrude Jekyll's interest in collecting peasant art is indicated by her loan of exhibits to the 1902 Peasant Art exhibition at Charterhouse School organised by her friend Rev Gerald Davies, who was to later sell his collection to the Peasant Arts Guild (and is now held by Haslemere Educational Museum), and written in this post.  Her love of bygone days and the simple peasant lifestyle is expressed in her Old West Surrey book mentioned in my last 3 posts on this subject (Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3). 
Godalming's suffragette banner, designed by Gertrude Jekyll
image from People's History Museum

Jekyll also had an interest in the suffragette movement, which I cannot see too widely documented.  The most I can find is that Jekyll is noted as being in the audience in October 1910 at a NUWSS Brighton demonstration, according to Elizabeth Crawford (The Women's Suffragette Movement in Britain and Ireland, Routledge, 1913).

Godalming museum hold an embroidered 'Godalming' suffragette banner which Jekyll designed.  Whilst the design holds little similarity to the work of the Peasant Arts movement, it is of interest because Haslemere's suffragette banner was woven by the St Edmundsbury Weaving Works which was based at College Hill, Haslemere (before re-locating to Letchworth Garden City).   The St Edmundsbury Weavers advertised their business in conjunction with the Kings, Blounts, Luther Hooper and Arthur Romney Green as the 'Handicrafts of Haslemere'.

Gertrude Jekyll's Godalming Suffragette banner,
on display at Godalming Museum
detail of Gertrude Jekyll's Godalming Suffragette banner,
on display at Godalming Museum

 The Surrey Times (20 June 1908) highlighted the Haslemere banner as being particularly beautiful and carrying the slogan 'Weaving fair and weaving free England's web of destiny'.

Handicrafts of Haslemere leaflet c.1902
reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum

Whilst Haslemere Educational Museum hold a photograph of a 1908 suffragette march where the banner was carried, it's impossible to identify the banner from the photograph.  Presumably it's either the first dark coloured banner in the parade or the tall white banner further behind, the circular looking design is perhaps representing a 'web'?  Crawford (ibid.) notes that the Haslemere NUWSS was founded in 1908, she also reports that "in July 1913 a bomb, presumed to have been the work of suffragettes, was left at Haslemere station but failed to ignite".

Suffragette march, Haslemere High Street 1908
carrying the Haslemere suffragette banner
reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum

1908 was a popular year for suffragette marching, the website exploringsurreyspast reports that "in May, 1908, The Surrey Advertiser reported the Suffragettes on Tour, with Lively times at Godalming. The meeting ended with the ladies having to flee through the back door of Thorns Restaurant in Church Street and escape by means of ladders over a high wall into the Deanery House garden. They went to the railway station, but were ordered out, then made their way to the Burys and Bridge Street. Here they took shelter in the police station for an hour before going back to their van."

Suffragette march, Godalming c.1908
with Gertrudge Jekyll designed suffragette banner
photograph on display at Godalming Museum

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Gertrude Jekyll and the Haslemere Peasants - Part 3

The final similarity in Jekyll's Old West Surrey which I believe does reflect some of the sentiment held by the Haslemere Peasant Arts movement, is Jekyll's views on furniture, which she covers in Chapter 2, "The Old Furniture of Cottage and Farmhouse".  This, and Jeykll's accompanying photographs of oak furniture, reminds me of Arthur Romney Green's furniture, although Green's furniture is more stylistic.

“It seems a strange thing that, in these days of general progress and enlightenment, the household furniture of cottage and farm should have become so much debased and deteriorated.

Oak table, seven feet long
“In the older days it was sufficient, strong, well-made, and beautiful of its kind.  It gave a comfortable sense of satisfaction, in that it was absolutely suitable for its purpose. Many of the more solid pieces, oak tables, dressers, linen chests and cupboards, had come down from father to son from Tudor and Jacobean times.  They had gained a richly dark colouring and delightful surface by age and by frequent polishing with bees’-wax, and were the just pride of the good housewife.

“Now, alas!  This fine old furniture is rare in these country dwellings.  It has been replaced by wretched stuff, shoddy and pretnentious.  It is even more noticeable in the farm houses, where, even if a good piece or two remains, it is swamped by a quantity of things that are flimsy and meretricious.

“The tendency of the age, regrettably prevalent in England, and shown in a straining after a kind of display unsuited to station, seems in some measure to account for this.  Another bad influence is the quantity of cheap rubbish, the outcome of trade competition, offered in shops; stuff that has no use or beauty, but that is got up for rapid sale with a showy exterior in imitation of a class of appointment used in houses of an entirely different class.

"The painful result is that the labourer’s cottage and the farmer’s house, that formerly had their right and suitable furnishing, and therefore each its own respective beauty and dignity, have now lost both these qualities, and for the most part only show an absurd and sordid vulgarity.

“Here and there one still meets with people who have the wisdom to honour their own station in life, and whose good sense and good taste has led them to treasure their fine old furniture and to resist the flood of pretentious frivolity that has in so many cases debased the homely dignity and comfort of the farmhouse parlour into an absurd burlesque of a third-rate drawing-room."

Two rush-bottomed oak armchairs

Monday, 3 February 2014

Gertrude Jekyll and the Haslemere Peasants Part 2

Gertrude Jekyll's chapter 'Home Industries' in Old West Surrey (Jekyll, Gertrude, Longman, Green & Co.,1904) exhibits some shared thinking with the Haslemere Peasant Arts movement:

"It is so long since the spinning-wheel was at work in this district that I cannot hear of any one in the neighbourhood who remembers having seen it used, although some of my old friends among the labouring folk are between eighty and ninety years of age.…Spinning and winding wheels have come out of them (lofts) none the worse for wear after many years of retirement and thick coatings of dust and cobwebs.

The spinning wheel
from Jekyll, Gertrude, Old West Surrey

"When they are carefully cleaned one cannot but admire their simple structure, and the way their makers delighted in putting pretty turned work into their legs and into the many spindles that went to form their structure. 

"The sight of these simple pieces of mechanism – mechanism, that supplemented but did not supplant hand labour – makes one think how much fuller and more interesting was the rural home life of the older days, when nearly everything for daily use and daily food was made and produced on the farm or in the immediate district: when people found their joy in life at home, instead of frittering away half their time in looking for it somewhere else; when they honoured their own state of life by making the best of it within its own good limits, instead of tormenting themselves with a restless striving to be, or at any rate to appear to be something that they are not.  Surely that older life was better and happier and more fruitful, and even I venture to assume, much fuller of sane and wholesome daily interests.

"Surely it is more interesting, and the thing when made of a more vital value, when it is made at home from the very beginning, than when it is bought at a shop."  

The winding wheel
from Jekyll, Gertrude, Old West Surrey

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Jekyll's Old West Surrey snippets

Jekyll's Old West Surrey (Longman, Green & Co., London, 1904) is a fascinating book of the seemingly mundane objects and memories of the countryside around a hundred years ago.  As a small diversion from any connections with the Haslemere Peasant Arts movement, like in my recent post, I feel compelled to share some of the gems in Jekyll's book.  Whilst I had briefly looked at the book in the Haslemere Library, I found it a much better read to flick through online.

'Some of the old sort in white corduroy'
Old West Surrey
Her attention to detail is quite extraordinary, for instance on page 29:

“…how pleasant, both in use and appearance are the hand hunting-gates, and the oak stiles, with the convenient foot-board and the massive rounded rail, that by the end of the summer shows a bright polish from the friction of the labourers’ corduroys.

An' oak stile' from
Old West Surrey

"It is sad to see, in place of these sympathetic homely things, made in the place and suiting it to perfection, miles of dull and ugly iron-work from a distant manufacturer’s pattern-book.

"It is scarcely too much to say, that it is the almost culpable insensibility to the true value and rightness of these locally-made things, on the part of landowners and their agents, that is robbing rural England of so much of her priceless heritage of simple beauty.

"There is no need for anything to be ugly, not even the sewage-pump.  Although its name does not suggest visions of beauty, yet it may be a quite comely object.  Here is its portrait: just a common leaden pump, with the elm weather-boarded covering of local tradition, and with a wooden handle instead of an iron one, for the better grasp of a man’s hand, and for greater comfort of winter use."

'A sewage pump' from
Old West Surrey

Other unusual objects included two "dead-fall mouse traps", "killing instantly by the fall of a heavy wooden block".

'Two dead-fall mouse traps' from
Old West Surrey

A few further snippets of local interest, on page 228:

“The villagers like to make out what their church bells say, and to poke fun at each other on the subject.

“Dunsfold has three bells.  They bang out a challenge to the neighbouring villages: ‘WHO BEATS WE?’ Hascombe, next door to the east, has only two, but found she could answer quite to her own satisfaction: ‘WE DO.’  Both say that Hambledon, who has only one, dolefully bewails herself: ‘A-OH’.

“Truculent Dunsfold says of Chiddingfold, which has six bells, that they say ‘POOR CHIDD’N FOLD, HUN GRY’AN COLD.’  But this is pure envy for Chiddingfold is a fine large place, quite as well-to-do as any of them.”

On the locals exertion of justice, on page 230:
“An old custom that I remember in my young days, as a strong expression of pubic opinion, was the performance of ‘Rough music.’

"If a man was known to beat his wife, he was first warned.  The warning was a quiet one enough – not a word was spoken: but some one went at night with a bag of chaff, and laid a train of it from the roadway up to the cottage door.  It meant: ‘We know that thrashing is going on here.’  If the man took the hint and treated his wife better, nothing more happened.  But if the ill-treatment went on, a number of men and boys came some other night with kettles and pans and fire-irons, and anything they could lay their hands on to make a noise with, and gave him ‘Rough music.’  The din was something dreadful, but the effect was said to be salutary.  My home was half a mile from the village, but every now and then on summer nights we used to hear the discordant strains of this orchestra of public protest and indignation. "

'The sun bonnet'
from Old West Surrey

And on page 240:
"Neither men nor women spared themselves as to labour or long hours.  I know of a carpenter with his two sons, Godalming men, who finished a fencing job at Portsmouth one evening at half-past five, and walked all night the thirty-seven miles back to Godalming to be ready at the master’s place at six the next morning to see about the next job.  They not only walked but trundled a hand-cart with their tools, including spades and iron bars.  They thought nothing of walking to jobs at Putney, Wimbledon, or Wandsworth."

And on page 243:
"Godalming fair-day (February 13) is credited with a mysterious influence on the weather during the next few weeks.  The local saying has it that ‘If the sun shines before noon on Godalming fair-day, the winter isn’t half over.’"

Jekyll shows her feelings towards the 'peasants' on page 264:
"Every sort of folly or absurdity is committed by these poor people in this insane striving to be what they think is ‘fashionable.’  A lamentable example was shown me lately.  It was a photograph of a wedding party of the labouring class.  The bride had a veil and orange blossoms, a shower bouquet, and pages!  The bridegroom wore one of the cheap suits aforesaid, and had a billycock hat pushed back from his poor, anxious, excited face that glistened with sweat.  In his buttonhole was a large bouquet, and on his hands white cotton gloves!  No more pitiful exhibition could well be imagined.

"Have these poor people so utterly lost the sense of the dignity of their own position that they can derive gratification from the performance of such an absurd burlesque?  Such wedding parties do not walk to church: the bride’s party, at least, hires the closed village fly, which for the occasion is called ‘the brougham’.

"A wise old woman remarked, ‘When I was married we walked to church: and then walked home, and I cooked two chops.  And then we changed our clothes and went to our work!’"

'The cottage porch'
from Old West Surrey
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