Mary and the Guild of St George

Mary’s connection with the Guild of St George was revealed on our visit to Sheffield to see her nature diaries which are held in the Ruskin Collection.  Apparently Mary introduced herself to the Guild in the early 1930’s (the first letter from her to the Guild held in the Sheffield archive is dated 1935) keen […]

The Herkomer Drawing

Just as Melanie told me she had unearthed a Herkomer drawing of Mary in the archive I came across a reference to it in the letters.  On Sept 11th, 1941 Mary writes about more things she is sending to the Art Gallery including …”a portrait in pencil – or chalk – of myself by H. […]

Alphabet Counters

Whilst researching horn books I came across an article by W.S. Churchill, ‘Nuremburg Alphabetical Tokens’ in Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, (vol.20, 1902). Churchill talks about traders who worked at the mint in Nuremburg around the mid 16th century. They would make metal counters, usually out of copper or brass with each letter of the […]


I’ve been thinking a lot about value. It’s a common thread of discussion every time we meet. The value of the collection to Mary and the lack of value (or perceived lack of value) the collection has within the Art Gallery currently. I wondered if this was always the case. The letters certainly reveal that […]

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Still being influenced by the Mary Greg Chatelaine.

September 8, 2015 Artist Responses Comments Off on Still being influenced by the Mary Greg Chatelaine.

I feel a little odd adding to this as it feels like the site has been moth balled.. But I continue to create new attachments for my Chatelaine. I feel the Mary Greg project is still waiting for something to happen…we can’t have done all this for no “ending”

new 1


emergency joke capsule

The new “Emergency Joke Capsule” is fourth along, I have included two other test ideas either side. The first two objects are from my own collection and have influenced the final design.

The second new set of work I have made are a little more complicated. Again influenced by objects from my own collection. These are for collecting the card discs from party poppers…mementos of celebrations.

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Women, museums and everyday things

I was recently contacted by a PhD researcher at Cambridge, who came across Mary Greg through this very blog. Laura Carter’s research demonstrates that Mary was not alone in her interests and commitment to both the material culture of everyday life and the development of British museums during the interwar period. In fact, since starting my PhD, I have come to realise that there is a groundswell of academic interest in the active role of women in this area during the late 19th and 20th centuries, much of which has gone unrecorded for many years.

Laura’s email also contained the exciting news that Mary donated material to the Geffrye Museum in 1936. That makes a total of 30 institutions so far recorded as recipients of her generosity! Laura also offered to write something for the blog about her own research, which makes fascinating reading, especially in relation to the fuzzy boundaries between amateur and professional practice during this period. If there are other researchers out there, looking at similar material, please do get in touch.


Laura Carter

Cover of A History of Everyday Things in England by Marjorie and CHB QuennellMy PhD thesis is entitled ‘Everyday life’ and ‘everyday things’ in British popular culture, c.1910-1969. It examines how people published, preserved, and sometimes sought to re-make, the ‘everyday’ past in British popular culture. One chapter focuses on the life and work of Charles (1872-1935) and Marjorie Quennell (1883-1972), in particular their series A history of everyday things in England (1918-1934), and its reception. As ‘amateur’ historians in an age of professionalization, the Quennells enjoyed much commercial success with these books. They showcased social and aesthetic history instead of the more familiar political epochs. When Charles died in 1935, Marjorie became the first female curator of the London County Council’s newly overhauled Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch.

Marjorie Quennell had an impact on the consumption of popular history in Britain in the mid-twentieth century, despite being an ‘amateur’ in all of the fields she entered. Her trajectory is worth tracing and situating. It can tell us a lot about how the notion of the ‘everyday’ found its way into British popular cultures. Marjorie’s story also highlights the centrality of women to this social turn in popular history, a point that has been understated in favour of studies of male academic popularisers.

As a young housewife in the years before the First World War, Marjorie Quennell was exposed to Arts and Crafts influences through her husband’s involvement in the Junior Art Workers Guild. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Marjorie assisted her husband in creating their famous books, which successfully repackaged Ruskinian and Morrisite ideas of the ‘everyday’ into a more demotic format. By the late 1930s, she carried these intellectual influences into the centre of a burgeoning museums movement.

At the Geffrye, Marjorie was able to realize narratives of the ‘everyday’ in practical forms – through enlarging the museums collection of bygones and furniture (including around 100 objects donated by Mary Greg 1936-7), arranging the exhibits into domestic interiors, and by initiating a highly progressive museum education programme that involved the impoverished children of Shoreditch in their labour heritage. In this context, ‘everyday life’ came to be physically and experientially reconstructed for wholly democratic purposes. Marjorie remained at the Geffrye until late 1939, when ill health forced her to retire. In 1940 she boarded the last passenger boat to America, as her doctor had advised her that her delicate health would not withstand the bombing.

The Geffrye Museum has a forthcoming small display celebrating the museum’s centenary, opening on 1 July 2014, which will recognise Marjorie’s transformation of and contribution to the museum, and display some of the objects Mary donated to the museum during Marjorie’s tenure.

An ordinary day dress

May 28, 2014 Hidden Stories, The Collection, Uncategorized Comments Off on An ordinary day dress

Mary's dress 1

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a paper at the conference How Do We Study Objects? organised by Artefacta, the Finnish Network for Artefact Analysis, in Helsinki. It was lovely to be talking about Mary to an interested audience of international academics including historians, curators, archaeologists, anthropologists, artists and designers, all of them investigating the myriad ways and means by which human beings relate to the material world. There is a real groundswell of interest in Mary that continues to grow, evidenced by several new projects emerging from the individual interests of the original MMQC team and some exciting conversations that have recently taken place. But more of that to come (hopefully).

Mary's dress 2My Helsinki paper focused on a dress in the stores at Platt Hall, which I first looked at a few months ago as part of my attempt to audit the entire collection, a rather overwhelming task, spread out as it is across three sites. The dress in question is an ordinary late 19th century day dress; bodice and skirt in mushroom-coloured shot silk, with lace collar and cuffs. The typically brief entry on the catalogue card identifies it as a wedding dress c.1896, although Miles (Curator of Costume at Platt) tells me there is nothing intrinsic to the dress to identify it as such.

The day I first looked at it was typical of those spent with the collection, on my own in the quiet of the museum store. I love these days, they are almost meditative – the humdrum everyday world falls away as I slip into the reverie of close encounter with the tiny detail of material things.  As I am not so well versed in historic clothing (ceramics being my curatorial thing) I don’t find the dress ordinary at all, but am captivated by things both familiar and alien about it – the narrowness of the waist, the heavy fall of the pleated skirt, the hidden secret of a pocket deep within one of the pleats. The sheer number of hooks and eyes everywhere, there are seventeen down the front of the bodice alone, to hold, shape and contain the female body. It is so ‘done up’.

Mary's dress 3This is the nature of looking at the collection in store, the sense of wonder that it engenders. I was having a nice day. Then I happened to look inside the neck, where the lace collar is sewn into place on a white cotton tape. I got such a shock I nearly dropped the whole thing. A name was written in the bottom corner of the tape. Throughout my investigation I had been idly speculating on things I knew – the dress was given by Mary Greg, the catalogue card was probably transcribed from one of the many lists supplied at the point of acquisition, the attribution (as with many other objects in the collection) probably supplied by her. Mary and Thomas Greg married in 1895. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if…

Written on the tape inside the neck was the name M.Hope.

For a fraction of a moment the dress in the museum store-room was transformed into a real, living, breathing person in my arms. It really felt as though I was holding Mary, not a museum specimen. It was slightly scary actually, I had to put it down and take a step back. And have a think about it. Could this really be Mary’s wedding dress? Or is this wishful thinking, the over-enthusiastic imaginative leap? Does it matter? In the moment when a name inside an old dress came together with a particular set of interests and historical knowledge, it became Mary’s wedding dress. Once I’d calmed down a bit, I began to think this through. If it was indeed, Mary’s dress, how was this not known? But then, little was known (or remembered, at least) about Mary before we embarked on this project. Few beyond the MMQC team would know enough to connect the names Hope and Greg, and although there are other objects in the collection that were made by or used by Mary, she didn’t make any attempt to claim authorship or ownership of them in the historical record. According to Miles, it could well be the kind of thing an older woman (she was 45 when she married), especially one of Liberal non-conformist views, might wear on her wedding day. It is thus not unreasonable to suggest that this could be Mary Greg’s wedding dress. Until we find a picture of her wearing it, it’s not possible to say anything more certain than this. It is her dress… but it might not be. As has been observed previously by others on this blog, there’s something quite thrilling about this ‘is it or isn’t it’ status. Objects are funny like this, they resist being pinned down entirely, that’s what’s so compelling about them.

So that’s what my paper was about. Not in itself a find of international significance, but one of great poignancy and personal meaning for those of us who have come to know Mary through her letters and collections. It was as Mrs Greg that Mary Hope built up her collections and provided so many museums with a founding legacy on which they continued to build. For me, it was a powerful instance of the capacity of material things to pack an unexpected punch; to transform themselves in a moment, from one thing to something utterly other; to give up, in the smallest of details, insights that can leave you reeling. A reminder that history is not only to be found in the written pages of archives and books, but is inscribed in the very stuff itself. And that museums are full of the echoes of real lives, once lived.



Mary's dress 27

In search of Mary

March 28, 2014 Uncategorized Comments Off on In search of Mary

A snippet for the blog from my ongoing PhD research into Mary and her collection. The more I find, the more fascinating she becomes.

A particular highlight last summer was my trip to Westmill, in Hertfordshire, where Thomas and Mary lived for most of their married life. A beautiful village, much of which is owned and managed by the T&M Greg Trust, on behalf of the Guild of St George.

When Thomas died in 1920, most of the family estate of Coles was sold. The house, sadly, was demolished in the early 1950s and little remains now but the outbuildings. However, he also bequeathed a sizeable amount of land and property to Mary, which she subsequently left to the Guild of St George, to support the promotion of its Ruskin-inspired philanthropic and educational work. Visiting Westmill last August, I was amazed at how visible their presence remains in the village, in the properties they had built or renovated, in the church and in the village hall, converted from an old barn.

St Mary’s Church, Westmill:

Dial Cottage, where Thomas and Mary Greg lived (when they weren’t in London), from 1895 to 1906 when Thomas Greg inherited the Coles estate. I’m not sure why the plaque is dated 1915:

Hope Cottages, built by Thomas Greg in 1911. Hope was Mary’s maiden name.

Other plaques spotted about the village:

And spotted from the car, almost hidden by ivy, as we drove out of the village:

Mary on Tour

March 20, 2014 Artist Responses Comments Off on Mary on Tour

Those of you who have followed the development of my collaborative, creative response to the bygones spoon collection with weaver Ismini Samanidou, may be interested to know that the resulting piece has been exhibited at venues nationally and internationally.

Table Runner was exhibited in Utensil at the National Craft Gallery of Ireland, New Directions in Contemporary Craft at Mottisfont Abbey, National Trust and Pairings at Contemporary Applied Arts, London.

The collaboration was also featured in Samanidou’s solo show, Topography: recording place, mapping surface, touring from the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham to the Centre for Craft, Creativity and Design in North Carolina and the Weber Center, Utah, USA.

Table Runner (overview) – hand built ceramic and digitally woven cloth, 1500mm x 350mm

detail, three spoons, three voices

acknowledging value in the damage and wear of everyday use


the contemporary emerging from the historic

paying homage to the past, ceramic spoon placed within the woven shadow of it’s predecessor

The catalogue card

May 16, 2013 The Collection, Uncategorized Comments Off on The catalogue card

Two days ago I went to the Gallery for a bit of archive research. But instead of Mary’s letters I thought I’d look at some institutional stuff. Down in the basement office, tucked around a corner, there is an old index card filing cabinet. I don’t suppose anyone ever notices it, it is so redundant. Nearby there is a gathering of desks and other office furniture marked for disposal. One day I shall walk into the office and find the cabinet gone. I do hope not. Despite the fact that typed index cards have been replaced by the all-encompassing micromanagement of the relational database, there is material here that resists the omnipotence of the digital.

I know these cards well, they were my bread and butter when I first got involved in the Herculean task of digitizing the collections, twenty years ago. And I had a half-remembered notion in my head that there was unique information here, the trace of past approaches to the categorising of things, something I had not noticed elsewhere in the record. So I started to go through the cards. It may be corny, but it really did feel like seeing old friends, a little glimpse back to old times and my first excitement at working in a real, live, proper art gallery. I even said a quiet hello as I opened the drawer.

Each item in the collection has two index cards. The first, a dirty soot-grey with dense black type; the second more pristine, with bold handwritten numbers in red permanent marker and sharper type, possibly made by an electric typewriter? When do these two cards date from? Why was a second card written up, incorporating information from the first, but the first not discarded? Both are now rendered obsolete by the digital record, but still they remain. For now at least. Sometimes it’s better to go unnoticed.


typed museum catalogue card

typed museum catalogue card


What interested me was how much could be deduced and speculated upon by considering these two different records. Incidentally, I didn’t set out knowing I was interested in this, it just occurred to me as I was looking through and re-acquainting myself with familiar things, examined with the benefit of time and distance from my first encounter with them. I found myself considering them as artefacts in themselves, rather than simply as holders of information to be transcribed.

Immediate impressions:

  • How dirty the earlier cards are (from the days of smoky fires and air pollution?) and how they have a hole punched at the bottom in the centre, so they could be threaded onto a rod within the drawer, thus preventing removal and loss. I remember the index cards at the Central Reference Library used to be held by a device like this, again before the days of digital catalogues.
  • How curious it is that both remain. The second card deals with and builds on the information in the first (or on occasion discredits it) but still the first was considered significant enough to be stapled to the back of the second, for reference. This takes up twice as much space in the drawer.
  • The difference in type from one card to the other, from soft, dense, slightly fuzzy black, to crisp, efficient, delineated black.
  • Other markings – in pencil on the earlier card (temporary, subject to change) and heavy red marker pen (dominant, permanent) on the later one. Both in the top right corner.
  • The different prioritisation and layout of information on each card, what is left out and what is included, how it is written, the changes to headings, sentence structure and language.
  • The way typewriters don’t obey printed lines. Sentences float in the air, intersected by lines in the wrong places. There is a tension between the instruction of the printed card (write here please) and the self-determination of the machine (no, I will set my own line spacing, thankyou). Both cards exhibit this.

I have just been reading the introduction to Museum Materialities by Sandra Dudley. Susan Pearce, who has written so much on museums and collecting, likens the evolving study of materiality and museums to stages in a human lifetime, and this seems particularly pertinent to the evidence given by these two cards. She contrasts its ‘long, peaceful childhood with clear boundaries, rules and mealtimes, which allowed for the steady accumulation of understanding that was simple as it arrived’ with ‘a turbulent adolescence with dramas and departures in which complexities emerged and innocence was abandoned’.

The first of these cards is simple, to the point: ‘Key; square hole in centre; of Oxford Gaol.‘ Object; main identifying feature; source. No uncertainties, no questioning, it is what it is, for the purpose of the record. It is neatly fitted into the category ‘home fittings’, which comes first in the hierarchy of information, in capital letters and underlined. A place for everything and everything in its place.

The second card is rather different. There is no category heading and the dominant, shouty even, information here is the accession number, big and red. This object is predominantly its number. The description is scientific in tone, ‘Iron, oval bow with square-drilled hole. Three collars around top of solid shank, two collars around throating’. I recognise this approach, the way we are taught to describe things for the catalogue. The language is mildly technical (bow, shank) although part of me is brought up sharp by the way it ends with the word throating. Two collars around throating. In years gone by I would barely have noticed this, but today it strikes me as such a bodily thing, suggesting imprisonment or enslavement, a choking restriction. How appropriate for a key.

There is a loose and tentative attempt at attribution: ‘ENGLISH prob. early 19 th C‘, a new addition to the sum of knowledge, which was not given on the earlier card. And right at the bottom, at the lowest point in the information hierarchy, previous attribution is rubbished. What was previously given not only as fact, but arguably as the defining characteristic of this object, its story, has now been relegated to unreliable anecdote: ‘said by Mrs. Greg to be ‘the key to Oxford Gaol’. This is done not only by the implicit question mark within the phrase ‘said by’, but also by the use of inverted commas. In its defence, I can imagine past curators explaining the use of inverted commas as an objective approach, ensuring the preservation of Mrs Greg’s exact words. Although actually, these are not the exact words on the earlier card. Perhaps, though, I am influenced in my reading of this punctuation by the contemporary conversational habit of ironic speechmarks, two pairs of fingers wagging in the air to suggest a distancing of the speaker from what they are saying.

There is also, of course, the change from imperial to metric measurement. ‘Length 9 1/2 inches’ has become ‘L 24.0 cm.’ How exact! I could overindulge myself here, getting really stuck into the tiny detail and possibly romanticising it. 9 1/2 inches has a fuzzy quality that reflects the softness of the ink on the card; the use of full words, length, inches, and the approximate nature of the measurement itself. L 24.0 cm, on the other hand, is clipped, accurate, abbreviated.

The later card also includes a brief condition check of the object, missing on the earlier. This makes me smile briefly, as there is a mistake on the card! Whoever typed this up accidentally typed ‘o’ rather than ‘l’ in the word ‘slightly’ and had to go back over it.  O is immediately above L on the QWERTY keyboard, an easy mistake to make as a touch-typist would use the same finger for both keys, but one which must have caused a cross moment. Wouldn’t happen now, all mistakes are cleaned up by the magic of the word processor. But I digress. Is there anything to be deduced from the addition of ‘bow slightly bent’ on the later card? Again, I’m slightly anxious of the potential to over-interpret. But what the hell, here goes.

I notice that the earlier card includes information of a temporary, extrinsic nature to the object, information which pertains more to the institution than the thing: the category into which this thing has been put (home fittings) and its current location written in pencil in the top right, not all of which I can decipher (Now at: ? on show). Looking closely at the pencil marks, I can see the traces of an earlier location, rubbed out and replaced with this. On the back of the card, there is the typewritten inscription ‘Transferred to Fletcher Moss Museum 24th February 1939′. Does this contradict the ‘on show’ location given on the front? I suspect it does, but I will have to check. Did the system of location management via catalogue cards fall down at some point, leaving this final location frozen in time?

By contrast, the later card deals exclusively in information intrinsic to the object and its known history. No location or movement history, no interpretive headings or categories, the reluctant inclusion of Mrs Greg’s previous attribution presumably legitimised as pertaining to its collecting rather than use history. All the information on this card seems to me to be about fixing the object, pinning it down. In this context, the inclusion of its condition, ‘bow slightly bent’ would seem to be an attempt to freeze its physical state. It is not a perfect, mint-condition object, but we can differentiate between historic damage (intrinsic to the history of the object and therefore legitimate) and the potential for further deterioration which must be prevented.

Having just read this through and then glancing back at the pictures of the cards, something else occurs to me, which I do not think I would have noticed if I hadn’t already written this. The difference in how the acquisition of this object is described on each card.

Earlier card: ‘Presented by Mrs. T. T. Greg.’
Later card: ‘Gift of Mrs T. Greg (1922.720)’

Verb versus noun. The earlier card describes an act of donation by an individual. The later card reframes this as part of the nature of the object. The act is gone, the object remains. And is reinforced by the bracketed repetition of the accession number. As if we needed reminding! Does this card suggest a subconscious anxiety about the nature of this object? The earlier card certainly seems more relaxed!

So much to be considered, from two apparently straightforward documents. And I haven’t gone into other things I notice. The later card is flimsier than the earlier one and is correspondingly dog-eared along one edge. The later card is inconsistent in its approach to punctuation and grammar; descriptive sentences with capital letters and full stops (but no verbs) at the start, capitalisation of ‘Gift’ further down but no full stop, then just free-floating phrases, no punctuation at all (apart from the MG quote) at the bottom.Tippex! I’ve just noticed it, on the later card. The ‘i’ of ‘drilled’ in the first sentence has been retyped over Tippex. And yet, the typo below has been left. Oh dear, this way madness lies.

Some questions that arise from all of this. Firstly, how can I work out when the second card was produced? I notice that other cards have book references on them, the latest of which (so far) seems to be a publication from 1974, so they must have been produced sometime between 1974 and 1993 when I first started work. I can probably narrow this down. Secondly, why were new cards written at all? It must have been a considerable, time-consuming task. Contrary to my received knowledge (that the MG collection was pretty much forgotten after 1949) it suggests an attempt to re-value the collection, to bring it into the modern museum world. The cards reveal quite a bit of research – new descriptions, condition assessments, attempts at a more scientific attribution and bibliographic referencing. Was this project specific to the MG collection or did it take place across the entire Gallery? My memory suggests it did actually; I think there are new cards across other areas as well, but I need to check. If so, what prompted such an ambitious exercise?

And the big one, of course, is what does this contribute to our understanding: of the collection, of the institution, of the wider world and our relationship with stuff? Honestly, I don’t yet know. But what it does do is add colour and texture to the picture that is forming in my mind, suggest avenues of research I might follow up, chime with some of the things I am reading (be wary here though, not to just pick and choose what fits nicely) and provide me with the opportunity to practice looking, thinking, writing, thinking, looking some more, etc. etc.

Back to the Gallery tomorrow, to continue my original task, which was the collecting of categories – the Home Fittings and other typologies given by the earlier cards, which don’t seem to appear elsewhere. But whilst doing this, I shall also be thinking about my  observations to date and where they might take me.

Inspired by Mary Greg’s Watch key

February 12, 2013 Artist Responses 1 Comment

Small stylus for texting


A page from my sketchbook, January 2013.

A quick update, I am not getting much time in my workshop at the moment, so I have started a mini project inspired by Mary Greg’s watch key collection. Trying to make some objects using the minimal amount of processes. One bend and one solder and some word stamping. The first one I have made I use to text on my new phone as I keep hitting the wrong keys with my fingers…I might make more texting “keys”. Old technolgy meets new.


Turning the tables

January 21, 2013 Uncategorized Comments Off on Turning the tables

At today’s Talent Incubation Network meeting, staff from Manchester Art Gallery gave a series of presentations about the Gallery’s collections, exhibitions and learning programmes, to an audience of early career researchers (including me) from universities across the region. I quote (more or less)…

‘In the 1920s the Gallery received a collection of English pottery from Thomas Greg, husband of Mary’.

The first time I have ever heard him described thus. Redressing the balance!

No disrespect intended to the venerable Thomas, but it’s nice to hear it the other way round for once.


Xmas 2012, visit to Platt Hall

January 9, 2013 The Collection Comments Off on Xmas 2012, visit to Platt Hall

Just before Xmas Liz, Sharon and I met up to spend a lovely morning looking at the OPUA (Objects of Personal Use and Adornment) Collection. We ,as always, were focused on the Mary Greg objects. But these wonderful “Veil adjusters” caught my eye. The joy of being allowed to “rummage” in the collection has allowed us to find things we could never plan or expect, and this packet links in well with a Mail Art project I am launching this year on “How to Market Bent Wire”.


Instructions on how to use Veil adjuster.

Veil Adjusters from Platt Hall OPUA Collection.


Sort of connected..Fletcher Moss Art Gallery and 2 keys

November 16, 2012 Artist Responses Comments Off on Sort of connected..Fletcher Moss Art Gallery and 2 keys

A second year Interactive Arts Student, John Lynch, has organised an exhibition at Didsbury Parsonage (Fletcher Moss Art Gallery) for this weekend. I was kindly invited to be part of it and after a whistle stop visit a month ago , where I took a number of photos of keyholes, I decided to make a special  Escutcheon to cover one of the bare key holes and commemorate some  part of the history of the Fletcher Moss Art Gallery.

Research for Escutcheon for Didsbury Parsonage.

The connection is, that Liz found this entry in the MAG archives just last week and sent me these photos.

Two keys exist in the collection, alongside Mary Greg’s keys, but donated by Alderman Fletcher Moss.

MAG records

MAG record book

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  • Liz Mitchell: No, Laura has been through the archives and there is nothing...
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