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The mystery of the missing letters

1922.534 Alphabet counters

ABC counters

Our resident photographer, Alan Seabright, has just spent the morning taking lovely photographs of the ABC counters (1922.534) currently on display (or at least they will be once I have put them back) in the Gallery of Craft & Design.  These are going to be used by Jonathan Hitchen, who is the Programme Leader for Graphic Design at MMU in some sort of  Mary Greg typeface creation that we’re getting very excited about.  The process of taking photos revealed something mysterious upon which I would like to muse for a while…

Which letters are missing from the series?  6 of them, no less.

A, D, E, N, S, Y

As a crossword fiend, I noticed that this is an anagram for “And yes!” or, “Yes, and?” which made me chuckle.  I then typed the letters into a special anagram site online and came up with the following  – totally senseless – but there’s something a bit ‘Da Vinci’ code and eccentric about it all which makes me think of Mary.  What can it mean?

Ad Yens
And Yes
Sand Ye
Sad Yen
Ads Yen
Days En
Day Ens
An Dyes
Nays Ed
Any Eds
Nay Eds
As Deny
Say End
Say Den
Ay Send
Ay Ends
Ay Dens
Ya Send
Ya Ends
Ya Dens

The letters also nearly spell ‘Denys’ – who was both my supervisor at university and a few centuries before that, a mystical theologian who wrote all sorts of things which perhaps are or perhaps are not relevant to Mary.  But that’s another story…


Ghosts in the attic: Platt Hall

Ghosts in the attic: Platt Hall
Shoes including two pairs from Mary's collection

Box of shoes at Platt Hall

Today I saw some of Mary’s collection of costume, textiles and shoes for the first time.  It felt so ghostly: up in the attic at Platt Hall surrounded with boxes and boxes of clothes which were once full of life, real people, playing children, sleeping babies.  But now they are laid to rest in boxes, no more life, just memories that we can only guess at.  Dead.  But it was one of the most evocative days I’ve spent rummaging about.  Was the bonnet one that Mary herself had worn?  Did she really wear the beautiful dresses, the ivy leaf embroidered wedding dress?  Perhaps not, but it really felt like she was in that collection.  A fabulous collection of shoes, both highly decorative (not Mary Greg 1922) but also the humble plain leather children’s shoes (very definitely Mary), with cracks and crevices where someone’s tiny feet moved as they walked, danced, played.
Wedding dress with embroidered ivy leaves

Wedding dress with embroidered ivy leaves

And so many ideas about how we might exhibit some of these things in this amazing space (especially following our visit to Enchanted Palace at Kensington Palace, and the Concise Dictionary of Dress at Blythe House).  A giant dolls’ house in itself…  Where will these thoughts take us?  We shared some interesting comments with Miles too about whether Mary’s collection only came into the gallery because of a desire to have the ‘grander, more important’ ceramics collection of her husband.  Miles always refers to Mary as ‘Mrs Greg’.  I like that.  I wonder if there is a difference in the generalised contrast between the ‘scientific’ collecting of men (e.g. the costumes of Mr Cunnington who apparently could have been a ceramics collector had ceramics been more affordable – instead he looked to something affordable and other – e.g. costume – that he could catalogue, collect specimens and almost finalise) and that of women – Mary who collected what she loved because it was beautifully crafted, domestic, just a lovely thing that she wanted to share with others, particularly children.

So many ideas.  So much that we still haven’t seen.

In the meantime, look here on Flickr for further pictures I took today…


Books And Learning

June 5, 2010 The Collection Comments Off on Books And Learning

Besides the objects in the collection there is also a wonderful collection of children’s books.  Some of these were on display at Heaton Hall, certainly during the mid 1930’s.  Batho writes to Mary in July that year saying

…Darlington showed me some very nice wall cases that had been made to hold the large-sized children’s books.  He turns the pages over daily so that the children from the summer camp in the park have an opportunity of reading something new everyday.

The educational remit of the collection was a strong driving factor in it’s initial assembling.  I have amassed further evidence of this which I am currently trying to unravel and will post more at a later date.  Sharon

Box tray of miniature books

Bertie's Indestructible Horn Books

Inside Bertie's Horn Book

Pages from the children's book collection

Alphabet Fan Book

Mary out in the world.

April 10, 2010 The Collection 1 Comment

This might seem a little trivial but I thought of Mary yesterday whilst shopping. I saw a necklace with lots of miss- matched keys as pendants. One even says Hope on the side of it. Something about it reminded me of her chatelaines too. I wonder what she’d think of her collection used as bling!  


Packing Artefacts

November 29, 2009 The Collection Comments Off on Packing Artefacts
Selection of Mary Greg's collection packed ready for transport to MAG.

Selection of Mary Greg's collection packed ready for transport to MAG.

This is a picture of the art of Museum packing,as done by Linda, an art in itself.

I have found working with all the staff at Manchester Art Gallery to be a real pleasure and a huge education. It is a very rare privilege to be invited behind closed doors of any institution and to be able to work with and talk about the Mary Greg collection over time with them has been a very rewarding experience. Just being able to watch the care and attention given to the collection was beautiful. The broken birthday candle wrapped in bubble wrap and gently cushioned in huge pillows of tissue was afforded the same care as a priceless roman artefact. Once an object gains a museum accession number it is a treasure, and so it should be.


Monkey on a Stick

September 30, 2009 The Collection Comments Off on Monkey on a Stick

Whilst I was researching objects, Sharon asked me to find out about a strange item: Monkey on a stick, handmade by a Mr. Carrington of Oldham and given to the gallery by Mary as a gift. At first I couldn’t find it but I found it just by chance today. (Always the case, you never find it when you’re looking for it!) However their appears to be two ‘monkey on stick’ toys, it was clearly popular. I have found two photos the second looks more home made so I think it could be this one that was made by Mr. Carrington.

Monkey on a stick made by Mr. Carrington of Oldham

Monkey on a stick 1922.542


Monkey on a stick M104155

Also I think I found the miniature school bought from Debenham and Freebody’s Antique Galleries that was mentioned in a letter dated 26th January 1928. However it was accessioned in 1922 so it might not be relevant
MelanieAn old schoolroom 1922.93


September 14, 2009 The Collection Comments Off on Matches


Thinking along the same lines as the spoon.

This is the reason why I love the Mary Greg collection,alongside wonderful expensive artifacts (dolls houses and a beautiful Noahs Ark stuffed with animals) are the banal objects that bring history back to the everyday. The matches are slightly different from the ones we use..but different enough. Most were throw away..tossed in the fire they lit..but here we have some examples….The large ones look hand made. I tried breaking some thin wood from an orange crate into spills and its an art. Also note the museum accession number, it rather overwhelms the matches.


August 28, 2009 The Collection 1 Comment

I have so many things to put on the blog that I’ve found; its been a busy week! But I will try and get everything on today.

Anyway, a few weeks ago Sharon mentioned that Mary sent some objects to Timaru, New Zealand. Unfortunately the letters don’t specify where in Timaru so I emailed their local museum, South Canterbury Museum to see if they had ever heard of Mary. My first response was that nothing came up in the database under the name Mary Greg. As the museum was set up in the 1940’s I thought it might be too late for Mary’s objects anyway.

However, I received an email this morning telling me that museum staff believe Mary was a donor to the Hope Collection! Which was donated to the museum in 1954. It belonged to Arthur Hope, Mary’s brother; who moved to New Zealand in 1878. He was a farmer in South Canterbury. The collection has over 200 items. Lots of textiles and other artefacts, including a framed embroidered picture worked in wool, by Mary Hope and Mrs. T. Greg. The collection was exhibited in 2006 and my contact, Davina Davies researched the objects as much as possible but could not find out anything about Mary Greg because she had assumed she had lived in New Zealand.

Davina mentions that some of the objects are rare and unusual and many are in poor condition. I have asked for a catalogue of the exhibition and a picture of Mary’s embroidered picture.

How exciting!


Mary Greg, Mr. Sabin and Bethnal Green Museum

I emailed Bethnal Green Museum last week to find out about some of the objects Mary sent and whether they knew much about Mary Greg. I was pleased to find a reply commenting on how important Mary had been to the formation and development of their collections. I was sent an article: Anthony Burton and Caroline Goodfellow, ‘Arthur Sabin, Mrs. Greg and the Queen.’ V&A Album, no.4, 1986 pp.354-366. The article details the objects that Mary sent to Bethnal Green and her involvement with some of the objects creation. Although the article focuses on their curator, Sabin, Mary was an integral part of the success of the Museum of Childhood.

Their story began in 1922…

Mrs. Greg was living at the family property at Coles, Buntingford, Hertfordshire, when she was put in touch with Sabin by ‘a lady known as Sister Frances, who devotes her life to the well-being of the children of East London’. Calling at the museum in December 1922, Mrs. Greg offered to donate a dolls’ house, and Sabin persuaded her to commission for the children an architectural model of a cottage ‘such as would not be beyond their dreams of possessing some day for themselves, furnished beautifully and simply, so as to inspire them and give them a sound ideal for the material side of their home’. This, designed by Charles Spooner FRIBA [Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects] was eventually delivered in 1924.

Burton and Goodfellow, p.355

Spooner is mentioned in the letters I thought he was just a friend of Mary’s but he had a far more active role.  This must have been the encouragement that Mary got from making her own objects, such as the shops and the firescreen.

Milliner's shop. Given to Bethnal Green by Mary in 1925

Milliner's shop. Given to Bethnal Green by Mary in 1925

 She gave the shop above along with a greengrocer and a fishmonger and it is thought she had a hand in making them.

English doll with a solid wax head, representing an old woman. Given by Mary in 1926.

English doll with a solid wax head, representing an old woman. Given by Mary in 1926.

This doll was submitted through the V&A textile department. The head is said to be remarkable because it has the wrinkled face of an old woman, sensitively modelled. It is most unusual for a doll to have the face of an elderly adult, especially an adult who belonged to the lower classes as the dress suggests. Burton and Goodfellow believe it to be ‘a special commission, perhaps a portrait of an actual person – a servant or nanny.’ It was made in the early years of the nineteenth century.

Eventually in 1930, Mary’s donations became less and less and her position as a chief donator for children gave way to Queen Mary who was equally enthralled by dolls and dolls houses. Also at this time, other museums began to pick up on Sabin’s work and the importance of introducing children to museums. This was such a change from the the early years when the things that Mary gave were not considered valuable.

In view of the ultimate destination intended for these interesting, but rather trivial, little toys, I recommend their acceptance.

A.J. Koop, Burton and Goodfellow, p.365

Sabin was very determined in his quest to bring museums to children and wrote in the preface to Mary’s catalogue of Heaton Hall, The Greg Collection of Dolls and Dolls Houses in 1923…

Man cannot live by bread alone; and from the beginning of civilisation, when he made the first domed hut as a needed shelter for his wife and child, he has moved in all his best labour by devotion to others. And in particular those things that have been done for children, the payment of which has been in no earthly coin, embody the noblest qualities of men’s labour, because of the innocence of their motive and the love that inspired them. So in their turn thee children’s things become and inspiration.

Arthur Sabin, Burton and Goodfellow, p.365-6

My  favourite part of the article is quoted below…

A phrase which Sabin must have used to good effect was: ‘the children hungry for beautiful things to look at.’ It was quoted back at him in a letter of 8 July 1923 by one of his principal fairy godmothers, Mrs. T.T. Greg.

Burton and Goodfellow, p.355

I just love the image of Mary Greg as a fairy godmother!


Mary’s links with Liverpool

A while ago Sharon asked me to find out about a dolls house offered to Mr. Arthur G. Quigley, curator at the Liverpool Museum in February 1929. So I emailed National Museums Liverpool and they did indeed take the dolls house, its accession number is 30.112, but before this gift she sent a whole range of items in 1929. Including…

Sarah Thrifty, Pedlar doll; Elizabethan brass spoon; Silver case scissors; Seal and Chatelaine;

Mary did like those chatelaines! There are too many items to list here but I could email it to anyone who is interested. As well as the objects there is a revealing note from the deputy chief librarian…

Mrs. M. Greg is the grand-daughter of Samuel Hope, Banker, of Liverpool – after whom Hope Street is named. She is over 80 years of age, and, as she put it, “I am anxious to do something for the children of my native city.”

The Hope famly must have been a prominent family of the city, no wonder they partied with the Rathbones and married into the Greg’s. I’m going to do a bit more research on Samuel today. The librarian then goes on to describe the dolls house…

The house which Mrs. Greg offers was made by Hummerston, of London. It is about 3’6″ by 2’6″ high, with the front hinged. It is early Victorian in architecture, and the furnishing of the apartments are of the period 1830-50, showing in complete deatail the mode of life of its inhabitants.

I can’t find a Hummerston’s of London but perhaps it has something to do with Mr Hummerstone of Westmill? He also mentions that Miss Hope, Mary’s sister gives objects to the museum…

Miss Hope, who lives in the same block of flats as Mrs. Greg, offers a model of a Swiss Kitchen – an excellent exhibit, in a glass case about 15″ square.

Deputy Chief Librarian, Donations by Mrs. M. Greg and Miss Hope, 6th June, 1929