Thursday, 25 October 2012

Celebrating May Morris

the Society of Antiquaries of London has put up a video-plus-ppt recording of my talk on the life and work of May Morris  - with luck accessible via this link

The direct link is:

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Janey Morris in her own words

"I agree heartily with those who consider the early work his best, but I think the same might be said of most men's works there is a freshness an interest in everything a wealth of invention that is seldom seen except in the production of the few first years of manhood, and all this without questioning the sanity of a man, that Gabriel was mad was but too true, no one knows that better than myself, but that his work after 1868 was worthless (as Gosse has the impudence to assert)  I deny --- I don't know why I am writing this to you but I feel that I  want to talk to someone about him.  I am not likely to be in town for a very long time to have any actual talk with you. Jenny is very ill still, I am almost in despair about her."

THE COLLECTED LETTERS OF JANE MORRIS, edited by Frank Sharp and myself, is now published by Boydell & Brewer.    470 pages, containing 570 letters, mostly published for the first time.  Including her strong opinions in favour of Irish Home Rule, and equivocal position on universal suffrage.

"I can't make up my mind about our vote, there is so much to be said on both sides, of course it is absurd that that I should not have a vote while many a drunken working man has one, but then I object to these noisy women having any increased power because they only want to reverse things and spitefully trample on the men.  I want both sexes to have equal rights  when the women are better educated companions and housekeepers."

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Cows in Stroud Green

I've been reading Gillian Tindall's new book on the history of Three Houses, Many Lives (a bit misleading as though many individuals are listed from censuses and registers, none are brought biographically 'to life'). One house - Stapleton Hall at the end of Stroud Green - was for 150 years occupied by farmers and cow-keepers, essentially as a dairy farm, the pastures being in nearby fields. 

 Across the junction is a large Old Dairy, now a pub, built in 1890 by the Friern Manor Dairy Company.  Tindall thinks this was unconnected with the Stapleton Hall farmers, but it is surely likely that the site was a cow-byre, milk-yard and possible dairy, already old when sold to Friern Manor Co. (a large dairy business that had previous connections with Stapleton Hall farm, and was consolidated in 1887). 

What's nice is that between stucco pilasters and brick swags on the exterior wall of their new dairy the new commercial owners commissioned  large sgraffito decorations, showing bucolic scenes and up-to-the-minute views of modern butter-making and suburban milk delivery - giving an illustrated history of agricultural development that also acknowledges the pastoral nostalgia for lost rusticity that accompanied Victorian urbanisation, a thread that runs through Tindall's work. 

It's amazing that after 120 years the seven sgraffito panels are still in place and in relatively good shape despite their main bus-route location. They show milkmaids with grazing cows, old-style delivery with pails and yokes, and the interior of a new hygenic dairy.  No-one seems to know who designed or made the panels, though it ought to be possible to find out.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale

EFB FANS  and others:
A PRE-RAPHAELITE JOURNEY, the exhibition from the Lady Lever Gallery, is transferring to the WATTS GALLERY, SURREY, GU3 1DQ
from 5 FEBRUARY 2013


The Lady Chapel altarpiece by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale mentioned in a previous post, as it's not easy for everyone to reach the Forest of Dean.  A poor photo owing to the dim church interior and light from window above, and the painting is in sore need of conservation.  But it  is a thoughtful representation of generations, showing the three mothers appropriate to a Lady Chapel : Mary & Jesus in centre flanked by St Anne (Mary's mother) with distaff on the right and St Elizabeth (Mary's cousin) with John Baptist on the left. A rose wall or hedge behind all. 

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Finding the Garden 6

 From In A Tuscan Garden, published anonymously 1902
On our second visit the old servant explained to us much that had puzzled us in our first hurried survey: the large villa was an old Medicean structure, and over a side door was an inscription showing that it had originally belonged to some scion of the papal Medici.  In more modern times it had been the country residence of the English minister then at the Court of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. During his occupation the English arms had been placed over the main entrance, and the avenue we had so much admired had been the high road, thus affording the inmates the joy, so dear to Italians, of seeing all that goes on in the world from their windows.  The English owner, being of a different way of thinking, persuaded the Commune – for a consideration - to carry the road around, thereby cutting into the adjoining podere, and in this way the small villino on the left had been incorporated with the property, with which it originally had no connection.  Some twenty-five or thirty years before the time of which I am writing, the English ambassador of former years, having given up all hope of ever returning to the place, sold it to the present owner, a wealthy Austrian banker, who occupied it during the winter and spring months, but spent the summer at another property in Northern Europe, when the small villino was often let to a temporary tenant.  We were shown over the house, which was of the most solid construction, and much larger than it looked, or indeed than we required. Among the dilapidated furniture it contained  were bits, here and there, that looked strangely homelike, and we found afterwards that, on one occasion, when extensive alterations were being made in the large house, its owners had themselves lived in the smaller one for more than a year, and no doubt furniture had been brought down there at that time, and had been allowed to remain.
I can always tell at a glance whether a house is adaptable or not, and I saw that this one had possibilities.  There were some lemon-plants in the court-yard, beyond which stretched what could only be termed a piece of waste ground.  I demurred at the size of the house, and the old servant obligingly offered to take us through the grounds to look at another villa just outside his master’s property, which was then vacant.
This place did not appeal to us at all, as it looked out on the highroad, on a number of small, poor houses. On the way back, old Giuseppe suddenly turned up the small flight of steps on which my companion had sat down when she lifted up her voice in protest against my intrusive ways: we followed him, and, pushing through the shrubs by a narrow path, we suddenly found ourselves standing in a large park bordered by beautiful old ilexes and fir-trees, with splendid conifers, tulip-trees and catalpas planted here and there.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Finding the Garden 5

 From In A Tuscan Garden, published anonymously 1902
Now I had no reason to suppose there was anything to be gained by walking up that avenue, but something seemed to impel me to go on.  The trees on either side were mostly fine old ilexes, with here and there a cypress, but the place looked absolutely uncared for, and not a human being was to be seen. When we had walked a few hundred yards we came to a piece of broken wall on the left-hand side, terminating in an old stone archway, from which a paved court-yard ascended by a gentle slope to the door of a long, low, two-storied house, from the farther end of which a “stanzone” (lemon house) projected into the garden. The side of this house abutted on the avenue, across which, directly facing the old archway, a short flight of steps appeared to lead into the bushes.  Straight ahead of us was a row of cypress trees and beyond them a very large and palatial looking house.
My companion dropped down on one of the steps and declined to go any further.  We had had a long and very tiring day, and were rather depressed by the sense of time and trouble thrown away. “Well,” I said resolutely, “I am going on to that house:.  I want to ask if there is anything to let hereabouts.” Accordingly I walked on to the big mansion, and was astonished to find the English arms over the ample portico!  The bell was answered by a fine-looking servant, who in answer to my query said, “No, the villino was let” – further enquiries elicited the information that it was let till the first of November.
That was the precise date at which we wanted a house.  The old man offered to show me the villino, but I felt that I had gained the information I wanted, and that it was better at that late hour to leave further investigations to another day, and to make the best of our way back to our distant home.  But a few days later we returned to this place; I was very anxious to arrive, if possible, at some kind of decision before my companion left for England, having no fancy for choosing a settlement entirely on my own responsibility.