An Introduction

Godfrey Blount, Arbor Vitae, 1899

Commuters walking down Kings Road, Haslemere today may be surprised to know that over 100 years ago this was the site of a thriving arts and crafts community.  Alongside the silk weaving of Luther Hooper, and woodwork of Arthur Romney Green was the Haslemere Weaving Industry and Peasant Tapestry Industry, forming part of the Peasant Art Society run by three families practising their radical beliefs of creating art for ‘love not money’ and restoring ‘country life, its faith and its craft’.
Kings Road in 1909 from Frith, Surrey Photographic Memories, Frith Book Company, 2001

The Peasant Arts Society’s founders, Joseph King MP and his wife Maude Egerton King (nee Hine), Godfrey Blount and his wife Ethel (Maude’s sister) and Greville MacDonald (Joseph King’s cousin) were writers and artists who all had a significant impact upon the local area.   Their rejection of mass consumer products and belief in the restorative pleasures of home-making has parallels today.  That a number of the tapestries created are held by the Victoria and Albert Museum is testament to the enduring quality of their work.

published 1898

The arrival of the railway to Haslemere in 1859 as part of the London to Portsmouth route made the secluded town of Haslemere accessible to city dwellers.  From a population of 840 in 1842, the town had swelled to 2,000 in 1897.  By 1875 Haslemere was a health resort, likened to an ‘English Switzerland’ (Wright, Hindhead or the English Switzerland, 1898).  Artists and writers were attracted to the region including Tennyson, George Eliot and Walter Tyndale.

The genesis of the Peasant Arts Society began in 1894 when Joseph and Maude King moved to Upper Birtley, Witley.  Greville MacDonald declares Maude to be the main force behind the movement. The Kings opened the Wheel and Spinners Guild at their home in Upper Birtley.

St Cross hand-loom workers, Studio International, Vol 43, February 1908

The Surrey Times 17th November 1900 writes of Joseph King’s address to visitors to the Weaving House explaining that “it was about eight years since the work was commenced, largely through the fact that Mrs King had been very interested in the working of the handlooms of some Swedish ladies.  She had a loom in her own in London, and on moving to Lower Birtley (sic?  As census has the Kings living at Upper Birtley in 1901) they had first a room in the house set apart for the work, then an outhouse, and later the present premises (in Foundry Lane / Foundry Meadow, now Kings Road) were designed and built in order to be near a centre of population.”

The Spies, 1900, by Godfrey Blount from the Victoria & Albert Museum

Soon after Godfrey and Ethel Blount opened a weaving house in Foundry Meadow.  The Surrey Times, 2nd Sept 1899 reports:
“New weaving house in Foundry Meadow, to be opened on Tuesday next consists of two large work-rooms, etc. and is a picturesque building, designed by Mr Frank Troup.  Eleven looms can be comfortably worked in it, and spinning will soon be a branch of the industry, two girls being already taught.  Lessons in weaving and spinning are given at the weaving house, which is open to visitors…the Peasant Tapestry Industry, which was originated by Mr and Mrs Godfrey Blount, and which has hitherto been carried on in a small cottage in their garden.  This is now being removed to the tapestry house in Foundry Meadow.  Several women and girls are employed some for half-days and some for whole days.

Their vision was not to generate profit but to teach skills to the local community.  Ethel Blount writes in her book The Story of the Homespun Web, 1910, “We have all been robbed of most of the things which make life happy.  Materialism has stolen our ancient joys and privileges, our traditions of dress, food, craft, and amusements (not to speak of yet nobler things), and it is women, mainly, who will have to fight for them and recapture them for the world, if we are ever to have them again.  But they must do it in earnest and wholeheartedly.  They must reconquer the ancient crafts of the home, re-making the home the centre of creativeness and pleasure; they must forgo the worship of fashion, and no longer clothing themselves, as kaleidoscopes, with eternal change of meaningless colours and shapes, they must wear the beautiful stuffs that their hands have made, and clothe their household in them: they must make the bread their children eat, and in a thousand ways affirm the truths that imaginative hand-labour is honourable, and that all true life can, and should, be sacramental.

Longdene 1888, from The Francis Frith Collection
If but few can be found to try such a mode of life, let women take heart, and begin by twos and threes, for more will assuredly follow in their footsteps.  What might not England be in even ten years’ time if women would turn their splendid energies and devotion to this re-conquest?  England, after centuries of mechanical degradation, and lost imagination, would arise like the prodigal, and weeping out its repentance at its Father’s feet, would be restored to its ancient dignities, with fairest garment, the garment of the forgiven wanderer on its shoulders.  May such an heraldic coat be given to our land some day, and may we help to weave it!”
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