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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.


Arthur Knowles Sabin

In searching for the relatives of the correspondents I’m discovering all sorts. Mr Sabin, Mary’s friend from Bethnal Green Museum, now the V&A Museum of Childhood was a poet! His works include The Death of Icarus. He also was an  early founder of the Samurai Press.



September 10, 2009 The Letters Comments Off on LISTS

One of Mary's lists

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 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!


The Letters

August 21, 2009 The Letters Comments Off on The Letters
The Letters
Letter from Mary Greg archive

Letter from Mary Greg archive

I’ve recently finished reading the letters and am struck by how much they reveal, both directly and between the lines.  I was delighted to find a lot of unexpected material.  About Manchester – the economic, political and social issues of the day.  About the Art Gallery (the wrangling of the proposed new build and the early developments of Platt, Heaton and Wythenshawe Halls).  About the weather  (I love knowing what the weather was doing on the 23rd November, 1925 “… dense fog prevailing for close on a fortnight…”) and the preoccupation with health (Mary suffered from numerous colds, shingles, chest complaints, influenza and even partial blindness towards the end of her life).

There is plenty to contribute real insight to a profile of Mary. Her progressive thinking and openness to new ideas through references to homeopathy and the Hay Diet.  Her political leanings and views on world affairs from commentary contained in the wartime letters.  And her reasons and passion for collecting of which there are scattered references throughout.  So these letters are a gold mine (I’m convinced there’s a Phd in there somewhere!).

I was particularly struck by the change in tone and flavour of the letters following the untimely death of William Batho (there was a true and genuine warmth there. Believe me!) and how that very sad event also left so many unfinished stories.  Whatever happened to poor Mrs Batho who always seemed to be at deaths door, but who eventually outlived her husband?  And did their daughters ever find suitable careers / husbands?

I’ve also been surprised by how much the letters have influenced my creative practice and thinking.  Partly because I’ve been so engrossed in them I have been distracted from the studio, but equally in how much they’ve instigated ideas, arising not only from my own discoveries but things that others have unearthed too (but more of that at a later date).  I am thoroughly enjoying the archival research and following the trails that are thrown up.  Sharon

Mesmer Discs

August 18, 2009 The Letters Comments Off on Mesmer Discs

I couldn’t find out what these were exactly. But I’m pretty certain they have something to do with Franz Mesmer (1734-1814). He was an eighteenth century physician that discovered animal magnetism, natural magnetism in the body. He would use magnets on patients to cure their illnesses which he believed were mostly in the mind. His theories played a large part in the development of hypnotherapy; which was first called ‘Mesmerism’ and is where we get the verb ‘mesmerise’ from.

Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1814)

Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1814)

I believe the discs Mary mentions are magnets used to control the natural animal magnetism in the body. Mesmerism had many critics like hypnotism does today but in her letters Mary is always praising alternative treatments (as well as a brief stop at Colwyn Bay). She was a fan of the Hay diet…

How I wish all invalids could throw off all doctors & try the very simplest way of eating!! You will perhaps have heard of  of the wonderful new discovery by an American doctor Hay by name – he says we eat the wrong mixtures and though we still eat the same food to a certain extent – we must not mix them – The results are wonderful.

Mary Greg, 23rd November 1936

She also promotes homeopathy…

I was very sorry that your eyes gave you trouble some time ago – have you tried homeopathy for them? It is so safe & wise in its treatment & help ones constitution so wonderfully.

Mary Greg to Dr. Tylecote, 9th January 1939

As Mary lived a remarkable long time in quite good health I think there’s something to be said for these alternatives!


Things Sent to Other Collections

I’m now up to 1935 in the letters and have found a few more things to add to the list of objects that Mary contributed to other collections.

She gave a patchwork to Salford and the Mesmer discs (anyone know what these were?) to Liverpool, Jan 23rd 1930.

In a letter dated 7th July, 1930, there is mention of a tobacco box being sent to Fletcher Moss Museum. Probably long since defunct or is it?  Apparently she “turned Mr Sabin (curator, Bethnal Green) away with a taxi nearly full of things…”, in Feb 1930.

Amazingly she also sent some things out to New Zealand (letter, 14th Oct 1931).  She writes

“- just lately we have been sending out pictures and many objects of the past to New Zealand for a museum at Timaru”.

No mention of who or how she is connected to that particular museum, but I wonder what we could find out. Batho’s response is lovely

“How splendid of you after doing all you have for galleries in the old world that you should now tackle galleries in the new world.”

In 1932 (July, 3rd) Mary mentions a small box of things for a Mr Gilbert Williams, curator at Stockport (museum or Art Gallery?).  He is mentioned again in 1933 along with Mr Maltby, curator at Salford. So more things sent then. And in a letter dated 8th July, 1934 there is a list of more things for Stockport including an “Egg boiler with ivory or bone uprights, The Pedlar Lady, small number of kitchen toys, 1 doll (1900 cent) and a travelling ink well” (ooh Hazel an ink well that travelled – where did it go?!).

She also gave more things to the Manchester Museum, two earthenware jars (Cypriot) and a dish (Egyptian) and an Ushabti (whatever that is) in July 8th, 1932.

We already know that Mary gave lots of things to “her Westmill Museum”.  The letters show that there was a catalogue for the Westmill collection ‘The History of Westmill’ by Guy Ewing.  Mary sent a number of these catalogues to Manchester and at least 24 were placed in Manchester branch libraries (including Stretford, Eccles, Walkden and Davyhulme). One was even sent to Cyril Fox, Director of the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff!  It would be fascinating to track one of these down, if they still exist, to see what was included.  We might come across some old friends!  Sharon

Mr Batho.

August 14, 2009 The Letters 1 Comment

In the archives I found a whole article on him. It seems he was a much loved character around the gallery.

It please me to write about Mr. William Batho – because Mr. William Batho pleases me. It is always a relief and a pleasure to go to Mosley Street and talk to him; he is ‘one of the best’ to a Pressman, I think, for he is usually both sympathetic and helpful.

The Watchman, ‘Looking after the Art gallery’ City News, 29.8.1931

Here is the man himself…

Mr. William Batho

Mr. William Batho

I think he seems camera shy! Here he is in action around the gallery…

Mr. Batho supervising paintings being unpacked for an upcoming exhibition

Mr. Batho supervising paintings being unpacked for an upcoming exhibition

Mr. Batho admiring the new exhibition

Mr. Batho admiring the new exhibition