Saturday, 30 October 2010

An Introduction to the Peasant Arts

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, V&A 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.

Haymaking, Longdene Road in 1888 from Frith, Surrey Photographic Memories, Frith Book Company, 2001
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.

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!”

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Peasant Arts beyond Kings Road/ Foundry Lane

Godfrey Blount, Arbor Vitae, 1899

Looking at the wider area of Haslemere, it's interesting to see where the main members of the Peasant Arts Guild resided after the 1901 census, and how these locations related to each other.

The Blounts moved out of Foundry Lane around 1911, to St Cross on Weydown Road where they established the St Cross School of Handicraft but continued their relationship with the Haslemere Weaving Industry on Foundry Road.  Marion Hine moved to Silverbirches, a house almost directly above her previous residence of Greenbushes, further up the hill.

Whilst the Kings were living down the road in Witley, first at Upper Birtley and then at the hugely impressive Sandhouse, in 1922 they moved to Hillfarm in Camelsdale until Maude Egerton King died in 1927.

The third key family of the movement, Greville MacDonald, only moved permanently to Haslemere from Harley Street in London, in 1919, where he bought Wildwood on Weydown Road, a neighbour of the Blount's at St Cross.  Greville had built a house for his parents in 1900 on the Grayswood Road, St George's Wood where they lived to their deaths a few years later.

An introduction is required of Greville's father, the writer George MacDonald, who is described as "one of the magic Victorian circle of Ruskin, Carlyle, Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray and Macaulay, to pick out a few only of those with whom he was on the most friendly and respected terms....his work was immensely valued and successful, his novels grossly pirated were eagerly read all over America, equal in popularity with those of Dickens and Thackeray.  In his day his literary reputation ranked with the highest throughout the English speaking world.  About the turn of the century, Dr George MacDonald often drove into the town from his new home along the Grayswood Road draped in a scarlet cloak, which revealed a white serge suit, and with a bearded face topped by a large grey felt hat he presented an ensemble which would surely please the most progresive of modern tailors."  (Rolston, Haslemere, 1956, Phillimore & Co. Limited, Chichester).

Interestingly, the famous Haslemere family, the Dolmetsch's, of the early music and recorder manufacturing local fame, family house, Jesses, is directly opposite St George's Wood.  Joseph King is reported to have persuaded Arnold Dolmetsch to move to Haslemere.

At the same time as the Haslemere Weaving Industries were being established, the Hammer Vale Pottery was also set up by Radley Young, whilst Hammer Vale was a few miles away, Radley Young lived nearby to Foundry Road, in Hillcrest on Courts Mount Road.  It is very likely that he was an acquaintance with the artistic community further down the hill.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Where it all started: the Haslemere hot bed

Godfrey Blount, Arbor Vitae, 1899

The movement began on Foundry Lane and Foundry Meadow (now part of Kings Road), Haslemere.  The weaving houses were all closely located.  In 1901 a number of the key members lived in amongst the weaving houses.  It would appear that Godfrey and Ethel Blount's Studio of Applique Tapestry was the building that is now called 'The Old Studio', whilst the Kings weaving workshop was what is now called 'The Weaving House'.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Spies

Godfrey Blount, The Spies, 1896

Victoria & Albert Museum
 1896 by Godfrey Blount
210cm x 180 cm
Linen, with linen appliqué with satin stitch edging in linen thread

This is one of two works held by the V&A, both of which are titled 'The Spies'.

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