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Mary and the Guild of St George

March 29, 2010 featured, Mary Greg 1 Comment
Mary and the Guild of St George

John Ruskin, Founder of 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 to support their causes which she identified as being close to her heart.

The Guild of St George was founded  by John Ruskin in the 1870’s as a non-profit making body to “promote the advancement of education and training in the field of rural economy, industrial design and craftsmanship and appreciation of the arts”.  Ruskin appealed for donations of land and property which were held in trust and rented out at affordable rents on long leases in order to implement and support his utopian, social ideals.  In addition to this he established the St George’s Museum in Sheffield (now part of the Millennium Galleries).  He amassed a collection which was intended to be available to the working class to assist “the liberal education of the artisan”, making works of art accessible to the people.

It is clear from reading Mary’s letters to William Batho that she identified strongly with these ideals, but her commitment to this cause was all the more reinforced in the reading of her Will  which reveals that she bequeathed a significant number of properties in Westmill (the village in which she lived for many years and location of the family residence, Coles) to the Guild.  Her generosity was acknowledged in her Guild status of ‘Companion Extraordinaire’.  Mary wrote to the Guild regularly from 1935 till the mid 1940’s and the letters are held in the Sheffield archive, Box GSG21, box 18.  She also donated a number of objects to the Guild “…a little portrait and an Italian casket … a circular revolving table with drawers, all sound…”.  On the 30th November, 1941 she writes “..I have come to the end of my treasures”.

Her last letter to them dated June 20th, 1945 details her great interest in Ruskin’s influence and the various papers and speeches she has enjoyed on the subject.  She was in her 96th year, demonstrating the energy, passion and sharp intellect she maintained throughout her life.  An amazing woman!  Sharon

The Herkomer Drawing

August 16, 2009 featured, Mary Greg 1 Comment
The Herkomer Drawing
Mary Greg aged 36 by Hubert Herkomer, 1885

Mary Greg aged 36 by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, 1885

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. Herkomer which Mr Batho asked for.”

The accession number of the portrait matches the date of the letter, so that’s definitely when it came into the collection.

At the time of sending Mary was 91 and beginning to pack up the flat in London as it was getting too much for her (she moves to Cheshire). As the portrait was made when she was 36 It must have been with her for a long time and probably hung somewhere at Coles and the London flat.

The art historians amongst you will already know that Herkomer was a well known and successful artist of his day.  His work can be found in numerous UK collections including the Tate, the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts, where he was Professor of Painting from 1899 – 1900 and again 1906 – 1909.  His most famous paintings include On Strike (1891 held at the RA) and Hard Times (1885 held at Manchester Art Gallery).

How did Herkomer end up drawing Mary? Interestingly the portrait of Mary is also dated 1885. Is that how he came to draw her, through the Art Gallery connection? Did Thomas Greg commission the portrait of his wife?

There is another possible connection in that Herkomer moved with his second wife to Bushey, Hertfordshire where he built a house about 40 miles from Coles.  Might they have been part of the same social scene?  Did the Gregs put in a good word for him at the Art Gallery and encourage the purchase of the painting?  Or were they not involved with the gallery at this time and the whole thing is just conjecture and coincidence?

I have added the links to Herkomer for those who would like to find out more.  Sharon



Alphabet Counters

Alphabet Counters
Lid from a box of counters, each inscribed with letters of the alphabet from the Mary Greg Collection

Lid from a box of counters, each inscribed with letters of the alphabet from the Mary Greg Collection

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 alphabet on them, and they were generally one inch in diameter. Some counters had biblical characters, or figures from Roman history on them instead of the alphabet. Although our counters are bone or ivory I thought there could be some link.

Churchill’s article was closely linked with William E.A. Axon’s ‘Horn Books and ABC’s’ from the same journal. It details that hornbooks would also include prayers. The Pater Noster, Ave Maria and the Crede. Juliet O’ Conor also writes about the hornbook noting that they were an item that all strands of society had access to. In its basic form it was an educational aid to poorer children and in its most extravagant the horn book could be made of ivory or silver and become a family heirloom.

‘There are anecdotal references to the use of horn-books made of gingerbread, which meant that a reward for children mastering their letters was readily at hand’

I particularly like this idea!



Mary Greg letters

Mary Greg letters

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 the collection was held in greater esteem in the 1920’s. It was considered worthy enough to house a permanent display at Heaton Hall. Bathos writes (9th Oct 1924)

“….your collection at Heaton Hall is still attracting thousands weekly. Up to date this year over 154,000 visitors have passed through the turnstiles.”

And again in 1925 (Aug 17th)

“…123,208 visitors to your exhibition of dolls at Heaton Hall this year.”

There was even a Royal visitor in May 1927!

“.. Princess Mary appreciated all that was shown her”.

Interestingly in June 1927 Bathos informs Mary that Heaton Hall had 16,000 visitors over Whitsun compared to the 14,000 at the City Art Gallery. 1-0 Mary!

If value were to be judged by visitor figures alone then this collection was significant. I also think there must be some value in further research into the visitor demographic and exhibition content held at different sites. Did one appeal more to the masses and why? Are there any other historic, statistical records held at the Gallery? When and why was the collection taken off display at Heaton Hall? Is that when it went into storage?


Bits of string, continued…

June 30, 2009 featured, The Letters 1 Comment
Bits of string, continued…

I have just found out that Samuel Crompton had a grandson who lived in Manchester, who was in correspondence with his grandfather’s most influential biographer. So it’s just possible our bits of string could be genuine! Am in touch with curators at Bolton Museum to pursue further… who was the lady from Lancashire?