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A Fabulous Research Contribution!

A big thanks to Dr Stuart Eagle who got in touch following the Guild of St George post.  Our subsequent email correspondence has revealed some new leads for our research and provided us with some fantastic contacts with The Guild and The Ruskin Review who we hope will help publicise our project.  Stuart is about to publish his doctoral thesis “After Ruskin: the social and political legacies of a Victorian Prophet”  and was kind enough to forward us his chapter on Ruskin and the Companions of the Guild of St George.  He also brought to our attention an article by Mary B  Rose “Diversification of Investment by the Greg Family 1800 – 1914” which provides us with background information on the Greg family’s finances. This gives us some insight into Mary’s financial status which of course provided the means to fund her collecting.

Stuart has also recently been to Westmill and forwarded me some images of the church and Mary’s tombstone and memorial tablet which I post here for you to see.  This wonderful sharing of knoiwledge is what the project is all about, so if  anybody else out there  has anything to contribute please do get in touch.  Sharon

The church at Westmill, Buntingford, Hertfordshire

Mary and Thomas Tylston Greg Tombstone

Mary and Thomas Tylston Greg Memorial Tablet

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

Twelve Things to Remember

November 29, 2009 Mary Greg, The Letters 1 Comment
Mary Greg's Maxims

Mary Greg's Maxims

This is the printed card which encouraged me into the letterpress room at Manchester School of Art (or MMU as some know it).

I am unsure if Mary Greg wrote them, but I remember something in her letters about printing cards to hand out. These ring true for us all now,especially the last one.


Mary’s Nature Note Books

October 17, 2009 Mary Greg Comments Off on Mary’s Nature Note Books

We had a fantastically productive day at Sheffield. The nature diaries are fabulous, not only revealing Mary’s accomplished drawing skills but also a keen eye for detail and a diligence and commitment to collecting that is abundantly evident through her Bygones collection (I wish I could post some images but we still need to receive copyright permission). Here she is collecting information about the flora and fauna of the Westmill area in Hertfordshire, but particularly in and around the garden at Coles, the family residence.

Coles residence, the site of the nature diaries

Coles residence, the main site of the nature diaries

Dating from the early 1900’s every page is a delight with a number of comprehensive drawings in a variety of media (she was very good at bugs and spiders) and handwritten notes which are both analytically incisive and heart felt. Writing of these books to the Guild of St George (to whom she donated the note books in 1940) she says “..I have two nature note books done at various times… They are…amateurish, I had no lessons. I tried to paint little things which I thought of interest or beauty – this Ruskin had taught me to aim at.…”. The drawings are very much in the Ruskin tradition.

One of my favourite inclusions is a series of rubbings taken from a rough pole across a stile at Church Stretton. These show the galleries produced by the female beetles and larvae of scolytid beetles and demonstrate her attention to detail and genuine curiosity for the world around her. The books are also full of little anecdotes such as the mole that Hazel mentions “…found in the potting shed. Sorry to say (I/we?) killed it fearing its ravages in the garden“. But she drew it afterwards so all not lost then! She sometimes tried to save things too, like the baby chaffinch that fell out of the nest whilst she was taking tea, she gave it a meal of chopped egg!

Perhaps the notebooks also reveal the origin of one of the objects in the Bygones collection! In November 1917 she wrote “… I’ve found a group of the smallest funghi I have ever seen. I looked at a piece of this plank and looked at them through a microscope…”. There is a microscope in one of the cupboards at Queen’s Park. I wonder if it was the one she used?

Also stuck into one of the books is a wonderful photograph showing “the artist at work“. Mary is sat at a table full of drawing equipment in the garden at Coles (if only the microscope had been there!).

These notebooks are packed full of the most delightful, charming and meticulous information and deserve to be published in their own right. They are certainly as good if not better than anything else published of this ilk. One is currently on display at the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield. If you get the chance go and have a look, you won’t be disappointed! Sharon

A trip to Sheffield

October 4, 2009 Mary Greg Comments Off on A trip to Sheffield
Sheffield Archive

Sheffield Archive

Mary Greg is leading us to many places. Sharon and I joined Alex in Sheffield last Wednesday to visit the Graves Art Gallery and see Mary’s Nature Diarys. (Awaiting permission to add photos). She had painted some wonderful bugs and made very detailed notes of the weather and animals. Lovely stories of finding moles in the potting shed. Alex has also arranged for us to go to the Archive where another bundle of Mary’s letters were waiting for us to see.

Visitor Numbers

September 23, 2009 Mary Greg 3 Comments

I’ve been going through the file of stuff that Melanie compiled for us and came across the visitor numbers again.  Did Mary have any objects in or connection with Heaton Hall prior to 1922?  It’s just that in 1921 the visitor numbers were 14,818 but in 1922 (the year Mary’s objects were accessioned) that figure rose to 125,688.  That’s an increase of 110,810 visitors in just one year! (Incidentally the visitor numbers thereafter are regularly over the 150,000 mark, peaking in 1933 at 181,017)   What was the cause of this extraordinary turn around?  Was it Mary’s involvement? A local cultural revolution?  Or is it a misprint?  It would be good to clarify this as it could be significant.  Sharon

Curiosity Shop

September 5, 2009 Mary Greg 3 Comments

As I was walking through town the other day I was struck by the window display in All Saints. The windows are decorated floor to ceiling with sewing machines. I thought it was a bit Mary Greg-esque and promptly took some photos.


Sewing Machines

All Saints, Manchester

All Saints, Manchester

 The thing I found most interesting was that people were stopping to look at them much in the same way they would a museum display case, they didn’t go in the shop but were intrigued by its exterior.


Some Pretty Diagrams

September 1, 2009 Mary Greg, The Letters Comments Off on Some Pretty Diagrams

Family tree of sorts

I’ve made a diagram of all the people mentioned in the letters 1920-1949. It’s available as a pdf download below.

Download the Mary Greg Map

Hope Family Tree

And I got to grips with Mary’s family tree too, you can see a pdf version via the download below.

Download the Hope Family Tree


Along with the map and family tree there’s some useful information that Alex and I got from Bridget Yates, who came to visit the gallery as she was interested in a postcard of Ashwell Museum for her Phd. on volunteer-run museums. She was really helpful and gave us a bit more of an insight into the people of Buntingford that Mary knew so well. I’m quite attached to the photocopier/pdf. maker (as you can see!) so I thought it would be easiest to collate this info in a diagram, with colours!

Download Information from Bridget Yates


Well Travelled Objects and Badges at the British Museum

September 1, 2009 Mary Greg, The Letters Comments Off on Well Travelled Objects and Badges at the British Museum
Well Travelled Objects and Badges at the British Museum

I was quite curious about the journeys of Mary’s objects. Sharon asked me to research ‘five Roman bronze needles found in Lincoln by James Smith of Whitechaple’ mentioned in a list of things sent to Manchester in April 1926. I couldn’t find these in the collection and had assumed they were deaccessioned or disposed of. However in my recent correspondance with Liverpool museums, the note written in 1929 by the Deputy Chief Librarian, ‘Donations by Mrs. M. Greg and Miss Hope’ mentions ‘Roman pins found in London’ I believe these could be the same objects. As there may have been some mistake between Lincoln and London and the man who found them lived in Whitechaple. (I have assumed this to be London as there are no places near Lincoln with the same name.) Although the Roman needles were given to Liverpool they did not keep them as they are not on the list of items in their stores today.

Pilgrim Badge in the British Museum 1921.0216.64 donated by Mary

Pilgrim Badge in the British Museum donated by Mary. (1921.0216.64)

This made me curious as to whether the needles were moved on or disposed of, so I decided to look at a few museum databases and search their collections. The British Museum has 108 results for Roman bronze needles and many of them have no further information other than an acquisition number. An unfortunate dead end perhaps. I typed in Mary Greg to their database anyway to see what I would find… I was pleasantly surprised to find some different objects!

Another item Sharon asked me to research were ‘lead badges found in Tortosa’ that were mentioned in a letter dated 26 October 1924. they were sent to the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge. When I contacted the museum they told me they did have a variety of objects donated by Mrs Greg but not the ones I enquired about. On the British Museum’s database I found that Mary had donated a number of lead pilgrim badges. Although these could not have been the ones mentioned in her letter as these were accessioned in 1921. They are perhaps similar.

The lead badges mentioned in 1924 were found in Tortosa. This was a place involved in the Crusades in Syria – today it is called Tartus. In 1123 the crusaders built a church there called Our Lady of Tortosa which was known for its pilgrims. I think these could be linked.

It is an interesting notion of journeys and pilgrimmages that these objects emit. I think that Mary herself went on journeys with the objects. She met so many interesting people because of them and had contacts in all parts of the country. Her letters are a document of the emotional journeys she went on as well as the physical ones of her objects.


Mary’s Links with Liverpool: Samuel Hope

August 26, 2009 Mary Greg 11 Comments

You may remember I mentioned Mary’s grandfather Samuel Hope, who was a prominent banker, after who Hope St. in Liverpool was named. Well I’ve found out a little more about him.

Hope Street was not named after Samuel but his father- Mary’s great-grandfather, William Hope who was a mercer and draper. He was the first to build a house on that street where the Philharmonic now stands. Samuel Hope started a partnership with George Holt called Samuel Hope & Co. They were cotton brokers, however they decided to become bankers as well. In 1823 they dissolved this partnership and the businesses were divided.

Samuel Hope who had originated the cotton business, became banker solely , and George Holt to whom it is said that the initiation of the banking business was due, became cotton broker solely.

John Hughes, Liverpool Banks and Bankers 1760-1837: a history of the circumstances which gave rise to the industry, and the men who founded and developed it, H. Young & Sons, 1906, p.208

Samuel still used the name Hope & Co. with Edward Burrell. They were very wealthy and converted the private bank into a joint-stock company under the title of the Liverpool Borough Bank with a capital of £500,000 in £10 shares. They had lots of support as 32,000 out of the 50,000 shares were appropriated before public issue.

Unfortunately after Samuel died in 1837 the bank went to ruin, when ‘much imprudent business was done.’ This escalated in 1847 because of ‘excessive railway speculations’ unfortunately the Bank of England had to intervene and then ten years later universal distrust in America caused all major banks to panic, this had a knock on effect in England. 

On 27th October 1857 the Borough Bank closed its doors. On examination of affairs it was found that its bad debts were exceedingly large. Some £600,000 to £700,000, previously taken as good, were now found to be almost valueless. They had £3,500,000 bills in London with the endorsement of the bank, and this amount some £700,000 to £1,000,000 “had no negotiable validity at all except that endorsement.” The whole total loss was estimated at £940,000 the whole capital of the bank being thus swept away.

Hughes, pp.213-4

That would be a lot of money lost today, but back then it must have been unfathomable. I wonder if this had an effect on Samuel’s family or whether they divorced themselves from the bank after Samuel had died. John Hughes book, Liverpool Banks and Bankers 1760-1837, also gives an insight into Samuel himself. He lived in Everton after purchasing houses there in 1828 which he knocked down and built a ‘spacious and elegant mansion’. So the Hopes were clearly a respectable and wealthy family. Samuel Hope was described…

To the poor and uneducated he has been, and still continues to be, a fervent, active, and sincere friend.

Syers, History of Everton, Liverpool, 1830 in Hughes, p.207

Hughes describes Samuel as well, I think the likenesses between him and Mary are quite prominent…

He was a man of considerable strength of character, and had pronounced Liberal views. In philanthropic endeavours he was ever to the fore, and he was earnest in his promotion of educational improvement.

Hughes, p.212

It seems he was also quite political and had strong views.

He identified himself strongly with the anti-slavery movement, and was an influential speaker at public meetings… A sturdy Nonconformist Mr. Hope took the chair on two occasions in 1837 when the question of the abolition of church rates occupied public attention.

Hughes, p.212

Sorry lots of information there, but hope you find it interesting!