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“You know you are only allowed ONE egg, dear”

April 12, 2010 Mary Greg 3 Comments

Through our links with Dr Stuart Eagles, Sharon has just forwarded some pages copied from the fantastic book by Sheila Ormerod, ‘The Gregs of Westmill’ (Buntingford, 1996).  A few more clues about Mary emerge…

She was remembered as an overly frugal housekeeper who would not allow her husband to have two eggs for breakfast and was much impressed by a lecturer who declared that margarine was better than butter for domestic staff. (p.18)

And as if by way of an afterthought, the paragraph continues…

However, she was generous to the village.

So, beneficent to the world, but alas, not to poor Thomas!

The article also points out that at 8 years older than Thomas, Mary would not have married until she was 45.  Perhaps this is a reason for their lack of children?

Alongside this reading, I have been busy pursuing links with the Guild of St George, and have contacted the former Master, Dr James Dearden who is an authority on Mary Greg, as well as Robert Wilson who is the Director of Westmill interests, so I’m eagerly anticipating further information…

Hazel and I also met this morning to plan our session at this year’s Association of Art Historians Conference in Glasgow on Friday morning.  More to follow after the event.


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

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

Escaping to the seaside.

August 13, 2009 The Letters Comments Off on Escaping to the seaside.

I like the fact that much like in Eastenders where everyone goes to either Manchester or Spain. In Mary Greg’s world everyone goes to Colwyn Bay for a quick recovery or rejeuvenation!


Some Wise Words

July 23, 2009 The Letters 1 Comment

‘We owe it to those who have preceded us and have left us those specimens of their painstaking and beautiful work and to those who will come after us to do likewise, to treasure good work and produce something into which we have put our best, our love, our intelligence, our power.’

Mary Greg, Preface to Catalogue, October 1922 

I like the poignancy of Mary’s words and I suspect that many museum professionals had this sort of ideal in mind when they decided they wanted to work in museums.


in her 100th year

June 24, 2009 Mary Greg 4 Comments

I have been photocopying the correspondence to send to Sally for transcribing.
I got a bit emotional yesterday when I came to this…
Mary was still corresponding with the gallery up to her death.

Moving to London

June 15, 2009 The Letters 2 Comments

I have reached 1927 in the correspondence between Mary and Mr Batho, the Assistant Curator at the Gallery. Now in her 70s she is just leaving Coles, her marital home in the Hertfordshire Countryside, and moving to a newly built flat in Kensington High Street, London. St Mary Abbots Court

I checked and yes the mansion block of flats is still there. Seven storeys high, and purpose built. It puts me in mind of Howards End, and the new flats being built in Edwardian London just before this.

What a change in Mary’s life, but as she says in reference to her old and new homes:

I had for some time found living there too much of a burden & so lonely that I could not face another minute.