Archive for category The Garretts and their Circle

Suffrage Stories and The Garretts and their Circle: Millicent Garrett Fawcett: Selected Writings – Zoom Talk

Here is a link to the recording of the Zoom Book Launch of Millicent Garrett Fawcett: Selected Writings.

My co-editor, Prof Melissa Terras, and I discuss, in some detail, Millicent Fawcett’s life, work, and writings – and the importance of the digital to the archival as a means of undertaking this act of feminist interpretation and exposition. There are pictures!

We are in conversation with Prof Fiona Mackay (University of Edinburgh School of Political Science), the event hosted by the University of Edinburgh Centre for Data, Culture and Society.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett: Selected Writings is published by UCL Press and is available to download, with free open access, or to buy in hard copy – for details see here.

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The Garretts And Their Circle: Quite A Week: ‘Millicent Fawcett: Selected Writings’ And Two Plaques For Fanny Wilkinson

It’s been quite a week for members of the Garrett Circle – a week that included the 186th birthday of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson on 9 June and the 175th birthday of Millicent Garrett Fawcett on the 11th.

In addition, on Thursday 9 June 2022 a plaque to Fanny Wilkinson was unveiled in the Walled Garden at Middlethorpe Hall, which had once been her home and where she first, as she said, began to take a practical interest in gardening. This plaque was sponsored by both York Civic Trust and the National Trust and was unveiled by York’s Sheriff and heralded by the ringing tones of the York Town Crier – and his bell. As you can see, the plaque is placed in the idyllic surroundings of Middlethorpe Hall’s Walled Garden

As part of the launch event I was delighted to be invited to give a talk about Fanny and her work and then we – a large party – all enjoyed, courtesy of the Middlethorpe Hall team, a sumptuous tea – which I can’t resist showing

This was, in fact, the second plaque in remembrance of Fanny Wilkinson to be unveiled this week – for on Tuesday, 7 June, an English Heritage Blue Plaque was ‘launched’ on the building in Bloomsbury – now 239/241 Shaftesbury Avenue – where she once lived.

The hoarding you can see in this picture hides the work-in-progress now underway to transform a rather forlorn patch into what promises to be a rejuvenated green space, known as the Northern Triangle. Mind you, in her day, when gardener to the Metropolitan Gardens Association, Fanny, too, attempted to make this little area more attractive. It is likely she was responsible for the trees planted there, but the benches she added had soon to be removed – because they quickly become a trysting place for ‘ladies of the night’. Fanny also reordered an even smaller patch of land down the road, now known as the Southern Triangle, one that Camden Council are also at the moment in the midst of improving. For details of both these works see here.

And, to crown this really remarkable few days, on 9 June, as a slightly early birthday present to her, UCL Press published Millicent Garrett Fawcett: Selected Writings – edited by Prof Melissa Terras and myself. The book comprises 35 of Fawcett’s speeches and articles revealing, in her own words, her contribution to modern society over a span of 61 years. The topics she covered centred upon the campaign for the Vote for Women, but also the provision of education for women; feminist history; her love of literature (and her own attempt at fiction); purity and temperance; the campaign against employment of children; the British Army’s approach to the South African War; the Unionist cause against Home Rule for Ireland; and the role of suffrage organisations during the First World War. Each article has been fully annotated in order to provide the modern reader with easy access to Fawcett’s world view. Alongside the words, 22 artworks and photographs, fully identified and dated, depict Fawcett at various stages of her career. This is the first full-length scholarly study of Millicent Fawcett since the publication of David Rubinstein’s excellent 1991 biography and we hope it will give intellectual substance to the bronze representation of her now standing in Parliament Square. And, by the way, we fully explain the context of ‘Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere’, the aphorism with which now Fawcett is now most closely associated.

The 476-page book is ‘Open Access’ – free to read or download online – although paperback and hardback print copies are also available to buy. For full details see here .

You can read much more about all members of the Garrett Circle in Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle. (And buy a copy from me, if you so wish.)

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The Garretts And Their Circle: Millicent’s Writings (soon to be published) And Agnes’ Furnishings (work in progress)

This International Women’s Day I would like to celebrate, once again, the work of the women of the Garrett family.

In a couple of months’ time UCL Press will be publishing Millicent Garrett Fawcett: Selected Writings on which I have had the pleasure of working, alongside the lead editor, Prof Melissa Terras. In the volume, which will be open access as one of the publishing options, 35 texts and 22 images are contextualised and linked to contemporary news coverage, as well as to historical and literary references. This is the first opportunity to study in one volume Millicent Fawcett’s thinking on a range of topics concerning the advancement of women, of which the women’s suffrage campaign is only one.

In the photograph we chose as the cover for the book you see Millicent Fawcett seated at her desk in a corner of the first-floor front drawing-room of her home at 2 Gower Street, Bloomsbury. It may be the very same desk as that of which we catch a glimpse, to the right of the fireplace in the illustration below, taken from Suggestions for House Decoration (1876) by Rhoda and Agnes Garrett. Many years ago, after visiting 2 Gower Street when researching Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle, I came to the conclusion that the illustrations in House Decoration were taken directly from real life, that is they were pictures of the rooms in 2 Gower Street, as arranged by Rhoda and Agnes. Recently I have been delighted to have my educated guess vindicated by discovering that Lady Maude Parry, a friend of the Garretts, stated in an obituary article on Rhoda, published in Every Girls’ Annual 1884, that in Suggestions for House Decoration ‘are illustrations of their house in Gower Street’.

Rhoda died in 1882, but Agnes carried on the business of ‘R & A Garrett’, house decorators, until 1905, although in 1899 the lease on the firm’s warehouse in Morwell Street came to an end, necessitating the sale of its contents and, presumably, a reduction in the work undertaken. Incidentally the Morwell Street building and its neighbours has recently, 2022, been approved for demolition, to be replaced by a 6-storey building. When I first noted it c 2000, the Garrett’s ‘warehouse’ retained its original façade (illustrated in Enterprising Women), which has subsequently been altered – now another Garrett link will be utterly obliterated. However, that furniture sale, held at Phillips, Son and Neale on 27 July 1899, has provided me with considerable scope for research – allowing me to identify a number of individuals keen to buy furniture and house accoutrements that had the Garrett seal of approval – in that they had passed through Agnes’ hands – and to muse a little on the state of the ‘house furnishing’ market at the end of the 19th century. That research will appear in a subsequent post on this website.


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The Garretts And Their Circle: A Talk on Fanny Wilkinson

In January 2020 I gave a talk on Fanny Wilkinson, Britain’s first professional woman landscape gardener, to FOLAR (Friends of the Landscape Archive at Reading Unviersity).

The talk is now available to view online here.



Lock-Down Reviews: The Lives And Work Of Two Garrett Cousins: ‘Endell Street’ and ‘Margery Spring Rice’

Serendipitously, lock-down has given me the opportunity of making closer acquaintance with two cousins, products of that ever-interesting family – the Garretts.

Louisa Garrett Anderson and Margery Spring Rice, members of the generation that came after the pioneering Garrett sisters Elizabeth, Millicent and Agnes, are each the central figure in new books spotlighting aspects of ‘women’s work’ that, although not forgotten, have hitherto not received detailed attention. The books differ in concept in that one is a study of an enterprise and the other is a straight biography, but central to both is evidence of a steely Garrett determination.

Endell Street by Wendy Moore is a study of the military hospital opened in London during the First World War by Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson and her companion, Dr Flora Murray. The hospital was exceptional in that it was the first in which women doctors were able to treat male patients. In fact, the entire staff (with the exception of a few orderlies) consisted entirely of women. Although Dr Murray recounted the work of the hospital in Women as Army Surgeons, published in the immediate aftermath of the war, it is certainly time, a hundred years later, to look at it with fresh eyes.

Louisa Garrett Anderson (1873-1943), daughter of Britain’s pioneer doctor, Elizabeth Garrett, and Flora Murray (1869-1923), daughter of a retired Scottish naval commander, had both studied at the London School of Medicine for Women, with Murray finalising her degree at Durham University. At the turn of the 20th century women doctors still faced considerable difficulty in advancing their careers and Garrett Anderson and Murray, denied positions in general hospitals, were restricted to treating women and children. The professional difficulties with which they had to contend forced them away from the constitutional suffrage movement, led by Louisa’s aunt Millicent, and into Mrs Pankhurst’s  militant WSPU. Garrett Anderson even spent time in prison after taking part in a 1912 protest.

Medal issued by the Women’s Hospital Corps. For sale 0 see item 512 in my Catalogue 202 Part 2 

The outbreak of war in August 1914 offered an opportunity to escape the medical cage, an opportunity seized by Garrett Anderson and Murray with both hands. Their offer to help in the war effort having been repudiated by the authorities, they struck out on their own. travelling to France in September 1914 to tend wounded soldiers in hospitals they set up themselves, first in Paris and then in Wimereux. They named their outfit the Women’s Hospital Corps and It was the success of these first, small, French-based operations that led them in 1915 to be invited by the War Office to run a military hospital in London. They opened it in an old workhouse in Endell Street, Covent Garden, convenient for the trains bringing the wounded back from France. All involved with the Endell Street hospital were aware that they were operating on sufferance and that any lapse of standards would damage the professional chances of future women doctors

The author has researched diligently, enlisting the aid of diaries, letters and family memories of both staff and patients to paint a more inclusive picture of the hospital and its occupants than that depicted by Dr Murray. These reveal how demanding the work was of all the women. Stretcher bearers and surgeons alike tackled situations they had never previously encountered. Louisa Garrett Anderson was the hospital’s main surgeon and Flora Murray its anaesthetist. Obviously neither they, nor the other women doctors on the staff, had any previous experience of the types of wounds – and patients – they were now treating, but proved very competent in developing the necessary skills. From mid-1916 the hospital trialled  the use of a new antiseptic paste, known as BIPP, which proved very successful when used on men sent back to them from the Somme battlefield.

As neither Garrett Anderson nor Murray left direct descendants or private papers it is difficult to get close to them. The image they presented is the one that survives and suggests that both were reserved, with Murray the more resolutely aloof and Garrett Anderson slightly more approachable. These characteristics, while perhaps natural, were also necessary in giving the women the credibility with which to operate such an establishment. Yet it is clear they were greatly appreciated by both staff and patients. Endell Street appears to have been comfortable and sociable, the male patients soon becoming entirely at ease with the idea of being treated by women.

Although it is perhaps difficult to bring the principals to life, Endell Street is characterised by the more personal stories of young women who, travelling from all parts of Britain, Australia, Canada and the US, had the foresight to record their experiences. These are enlivened by the revelations of all-too-human work-centred discontents. The novelists Beatrice Harraden and Elizabeth Robins clearly managed to wring a good deal of drama out of running the hospital library.

Endell Street was decommissioned in the autumn of 1919. During its final year the hospital treated victims of the three waves of the ‘flu pandemic, in February 1919 experiencing more deaths than it had in any month during the war. These deaths included a significant number of staff members.

But, as the author comments, as far as women in medicine were concerned, ‘The war had changed everything, and nothing’. After the war, while some professions were opened up to women for the first time, it was once again made very difficult for women doctors to build a hospital career and young women were again barred from many medical schools. Sadly, after a brief effort, Murray and Garrett Anderson were unable to continue running the hospital for children that they had founded before the war. In the final chapter the author assuages our curiosity and details the ‘afterlives’ of Garrett Anderson and the other women with whom we’ve kept company during the war years in Endell Street.

In the summer of 2017 I very much enjoyed taking part in a a performance of ‘Deeds Not Words’, an immersive drama staged by Digital Drama in the Swiss Church in Endell Street, opposite the site of the hospital. Belief was suspended, and I really felt myself walking through the hospital wards, encountering staff and patients. You can watch a Digital Drama film about the Endell Street hospital here. This is based on some of the material used by Wendy Moore in Endell Street.

See also a post on this website  Women and the First World War: the work of women doctors

Apparently Louisa Garrett Anderson’s one venture into print, a biography of her mother, was prompted by learning  that a cousin, Margery Spring Rice (1887-1970), was considering Elizabeth Garrett Anderson as a suitable subject for just such a work. Now Margery, in her turn, has had her life placed under the spotlight-  by Lucy Pollard, a grand-daughter. And what a rewarding subject she is. Here all is drama – love, death, affairs, court cases, divorce, blighted lives – set alongside the achievements of a life spent working to improve the lot of working-class women.

Margery Garrett was the daughter of Sam Garrett, a favourite brother of Elizabeth and Millicent. He seems to have been easy going; his daughter was rather more volatile. She was educated at Girton, married in 1911 and had three children before her husband was killed on the Somme in 1916. A disastrous second marriage produced two more children. Equipped with an abundance of energy Margery Spring Rice, as she now was, chanced on the cause of birth control as the subject of her life’s work. This was a subject shunned by the medical profession but one which she recognised as an imperative if poor women were to retain their health and any ability to care properly for the children they did bear.

In 1924, with two friends, she founded a ‘contraception clinic’ in north Kensington, a notoriously impoverished area, retiring only in 1957. It proved very successful with Margery ‘wholeheartedly encouraging and supporting the liberal attitude prevalent among its staff’. In 1939 she wrote Working-Class Wives: their health and conditions (Penguin) which has become a classic, re-published by Virago in 1981.

Margery Spring Rice is a delight to read. Well-written and Impeccably referenced, this is no hagiography, Lucy Pollard making clear that Margery Spring Rice was a difficult woman ‘not much given to self-reflection or self-doubt’, ‘full of contradictions’, and, to my mind, all the more interesting for it. She spent much of her life in Suffolk and for a time was close to Benjamin Britten, although, rather poignantly did find herself dropped in later years. I love the cover illustration showing ‘Margery pushing a young friend along the Crag Path in Aldeburgh, New Year 1968’ (Christopher Ellis).

Wendy Moore, Endell Street: the trailblazing women who ran World War One’s most remarkable military hospital, Atlantic Books, 2020, £17.99.

Lucy Pollard, Margery Spring Rice: pioneer of women’s health in the early twentieth century, Open Books Publishers, 2020.

Free download: 

Hardback: £29.95

Paperback: £19.95

For full details see here


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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The Garretts And Their Circle: Fanny Wilkinson And Middlethorpe Hall


Middlethorpe Hall, York

As part of Bloom! – a festival celebrating horticulture and flowers in York – I was invited give a talk yesterday about Fanny Wilkinson, Britain’s first professional woman landscape gardener, in Middlethorpe Hall, the home of her youth.

Middlethorpe Hall, now owned by the National Trust and run by the Historic House Hotels, is utterly lovely – from its panelled interiors, delicious food, kind staff –  to its interesting and well-kept – and extensive – grounds. It retains an appealingly domestic atmosphere and it wasn’t difficult to think of Fanny Wilkinson living there in the 1880s with her mother and sisters.

Yet Fanny was not content with being a ‘daughter-at-home’ and enjoying these beautiful surroundings (although letters show she was delighted to return to Middlethorpe for short breaks) and it was while living here that she developed the ambition of becoming a landscape gardener. Wasting no time, she set off for London and enrolled at the Crystal Palace School of Gardening, run by Edward Milner who had been a pupil of Joseph Paxton. She was the only woman student- and an upper-middle class woman at that. All the others were male artisans – for whom the School was intended.

If you are interested in discovering just how many of London’s open spaces were designed by this one determined woman, you can read all about Fanny Wilkinson’s extremely successful career – and discover how it was intertwined with those of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Millicent Fawcett and Agnes Garrett, in Enterprising Women:the Garretts and their circle see


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.



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The Garretts And Their Circle: What Should The Practical Medical Student Wear?


Millais: ‘Trust Me’

As she embarked on her novel medical career Elizabeth Garrett gave some thought as to how she should dress. In September 1860, while working as a nurse at the Middlesex Hospital, she wrote to Emily Davies:

Experience is modifying my notions about the most suitable style of dress for me to wear at the hospital. I feel confident now that one is helped rather than hindered by being as much like a lady as lies in one’s power. When my student life begins, I shall try to get very serviceable, rich, whole-coloured dressed that will do without trimmings and not require renewing often.’

Three years later, still trying to piece together her medical training, she spent the autumn of 1863 fulfilling the ‘clinical practice’ requirement for the London Society of Apothecaries’ qualification, by attending clinics at the London Dispensary in Spitalfields.  As Jo Manton writes in her biography of Elizabeth, the London Dispensary was ‘charity at its bleakest’, 2000 outpatients from the surrounding slums passing through its doors each year. Thanks to the following brief comment in a letter to Harriet Cook, 23 December 1863, we, too, can picture Elizabeth Garrett as she travelled through sordid Whitechapel from her lodgings at 8 Philpot Street and then helped to treat patients in the Dispensary at 21 Church Street, Spitalfields (now 27 Fournier Street). Had she seen the Millais painting and thought ‘That is just the effect a tyro female doctor must create’?

I think your critical eyes would be satisfied if they could see me in my working dress. I was fortunate enough to find a delightful gown of bright pre-Raphaelite brown which has stood 9 weeks of hard and constant wear without losing its colour or freshness of look. So you can fancy me in it. The colour resembles that in Millais’ “Trust Me” tho’ the material is less magnificent than that was.’

27 Fournier Street, Spitalfields, formerly the London Dispensary


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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The Garretts And Their Circle: More Radio/TV Exposure for Elizabeth Garrett Anderson And Millicent Fawcett


This weekend – 6-8 October 2017, Aldeburgh has been commemorating the life of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson.

For the occasion I recorded a radio interview that you can listen to here


and a clip from a filmed interview with me about Millicent Fawcett can be seen here . The EGA/MGF package begins at 46.45 mins. Aldeburgh looks lovely – but please do overlook the fact that while the voiceover discusses EGA and her hospital the BBC showed footage of the massive columned and pedimented University College…with the implication that this was the hospital. Nothing to do with me!

And, of course, if you want to discover much, much more about the sisters and their energetic friends and acquaintances do read Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle 

Enterprising Women

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Suffrage Stories: House Decorating and Suffrage: Annie Atherton, Kate Thornbury, And The Society of Artists

In Suffrage Stories: ‘Home Art Decorator’ To The Queen – And The ‘Human Letter’ – I told the story of Charlotte Robinson, her sister, Epsey McClelland, and her niece, Elspeth McClelland. I have now been alerted to the existence of another of Charlotte’s sisters, Mrs Anne Atherton, who also worked in the art world – as the co-founder of the Society of Artists. In my rummaging around I had come across mention of this ‘Society’, which operated from premises in New Bond Street, London, but had not made the connection to Charlotte Robinson and Epsey McClelland.

Anne Elizabeth Robinson was born in Settle, Yorkshire, in 1849. Known as ‘Annie’, she was the fourth child of Henry Robinson and his wife, Elspet, two years younger than Epsey and nearly ten years older than Charlotte. I can discover nothing of her life before her marriage in 1870 to Francis Henry Atherton. The son of a solicitor, he had been born in Wiltshire in 1840 and was, therefore, about ten years her elder. I presume that until her marriage Anne had lived at home in Yorkshire, but after their marriage the couple disappear. I cannot find them on the 1871 census and have only caught up again with Annie Atherton in 1881 when she was living at 103 Warwick Road, Paddington, with her sister Epsey McClelland, her brother-in-law (John McClelland, an accountant) and a visitor, Kate Thornbury. Epsey and Anne are each described as ‘Artist (Painter)’ and Kate Thornbury is ‘Secretary’. In fact Kate Thornbury was secretary to the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage from 1877-c. April 1881.

I don’t know when the Atherton marriage broke down. From later evidence I know that Francis Atherton was a mining prospector and it may be that he and Anne were living abroad in 1871, hence their absence from the census. But at some point Annie Atherton returned to England (if she had indeed been away) and entered into a close friendship with Kate Thornbury that was to last the rest of their lives.

According to Annie Atherton’s obituary (The Suffragette, 28 November 1913), she and Kate Thornbury had founded the Society of Artists thirty-two years earlier –that is, in 1881 – perhaps around the time that Kate left her position as secretary to the suffrage society. However in 1887 (in a letter published in the Pall Mall Gazette – see below) Kate dated the formation of the Society to 1883 and it would, perhaps, be sensible to accept this as the correct date. The couple took premises for the business at a very good Mayfair address – 53 New Bond Street – and remained there – and then at no. 52  -until 1914. No. 53 is now occupied by Dolce and Gabbana – and, from the look of it, the façade of the building may well be much the same now as it was in the 1880s. In 1886 Kate Thornbury was also working as secretary to the Froebel Society from no. 53.

It is difficult to discover the exact nature of the Society of Artists. It doesn’t appear to have been a Society in the sense of having members, rather it offered premises in which artists could exhibit. All the reports of exhibitions that I can find are of work by women. Moreover the ‘work’ was usually of a ‘craft’ nature, not fine art. It would also appear that the Society of Artists operated, at some level, as a house decorating business, competing in the same field as Annie’s sisters, Charlotte Robinson and Epsey McClelland.

I sense that the relationship between the two establishments, the Society of Artists and that of Charlotte Robinson, was, for a time at least, not entirely harmonious – for the 27 December 1887 issue of the Pall Mall Gazette carries a letter from Kate Thornbury in response to ‘Ladies as Shopkeepers’, the article by Emily Faithfull that had appeared in the previous week’s issue (for more on this article see Suffrage Stories: ‘Home Art Decorator’ To The Queen – And The ‘Human Letter‘). Kate Thornbury expresses her ’great astonishment [that she found in this article] no mention whatever of Miss Robinson’s elder sister Mrs Atherton, who, as Miss Faithfull is well aware, had started a large business under her own superintendence in New Bond Street, London, under the title of the Society of Artists, for the sale of all kinds of artistic work, house decoration &, in the year 1883. Mrs Atherton it was who first braved ‘that bugbear which terrifies most women – the loss of social status’ and the great success which attended (and still attends) her venue induced Miss Robinson twelve months afterwards to open a similar business in Manchester, under the same name. In Miss Faithfull’s zeal for the prestige of the younger sister with whose success she is identified , she has shown a strange forgetfulness of Mrs Atherton’s claim as the originator of the movement which finds such merit in Miss Faithfull’s eyes.’

Armed with the information that Charlotte Robinson’s business in Manchester traded, at least initially, under the name the ‘Society of Artists’, I have now found corroboration in the form of a report (Manchester Courier, 30 March 1886) which, when referring to the fact that Charlotte Robinson was setting up a type-writing office in the city, mentions that she was ‘well known in connection with the Society of Artists’. One would have thought that there must have been some agreement with Annie Atherton and Kate Thornbury that allowed Charlotte to use their business name, but, three years or so later, the letter betrays a distinct note of rancour, aimed perhaps more at Emily Faithfull than at Annie’s younger sister.

Descriptions of the actual work exhibited by the Society of Artists are rather scant. This, from The St James’ Gazette, 7 April 1898, is one of the more forthcoming, describing how poker-work photograph frames ‘in straight bands of vivid colours – red, yellow and green – set amidst the dark poker-work..and beaten pewter and copper frames make much pleasanter Easter gifts than the usual flimsy eccentricities sold for such. The society has also the most delightful green ware to match its green furniture. It’s very pleasant to house one’s frocks, one’s candles, one’s flowers and plants all in the same harmonious tone of green.’ Well, there’s not much to choose between this artless prose and that of today’s house magazines (which, incidentally, I love, while laughing at their writing style). A report of an exhibition organised by the Society of Artists in Aberdeen in 1888 described their wares as ‘decorative novelties’, which seems a fair summary.

I have found only two clear indications that the Society of Artists was involved in house decoration. In its issue of 19 December 1904 the Derby Daily Telegraph mentioned that Elspeth McClelland was, most unusually for a young woman, studying architecture at the Polytechnic in London and that ‘she has occupied a post as a designer at a large firm of decorators, known as the Society of Artists.’ So, any rancour that may have existed between the Robinson sisters in the 1880s had long since been forgotten and in the new century the Society of Artists had welcomed Annie Atherton’s niece, Elspeth, as a member of its team.

The second reference comes nine years later when the Pall Mall Gazette (10 November 1913) reported that ‘a well-known Princess who is fitting up a “lordly pleasure-house” for herself in the neighbourhood of the Bois de Boulogne, has given the internal decoration into the hands of the Society of Artists. The society has an excellent habit of collecting ancient beams and panelling, and the Princess’s Parisian mansion is being transformed into an old English manor-house, after the fashion of Haddon House. In the Princess’s house there are to be great open fireplaces, panelled walls, and an entirely new wooden staircase is being put in.’ The next paragraph refers to the work of a woman architect, Mrs Elspeth Spencer (née McClelland), this juxtaposition making me wonder if she could have been involved with the Parisian project. Annie Atherton had just died and Kate Thornbury was 65 years old – was the younger generation now directing the work of the Society of Artists?

For years Annie and Kate had a London address, 12 Horbury Crescent, Kensington, and for a time had a country cottage at Peaslake in Surrey – the 1891 census found them living there in the quaintly named ‘Jottel [??] Hutte’. Annie Atherton is ‘head of household, Kate is ‘Friend’ and they had a young local girl as a servant.  However by 1901 they had left arts-and-craftsy Peaslake  for a house in Shire Lane, Chorleywood. This house was, rather charmingly, named ‘Chums’, which might speak something of how they saw their relationship. In the 1901 census Anne is given as ‘head of household’ and Kate as ‘joint owner’, while they are both described as ‘artists’.  Their next-door-but- one neighbour on one side was Charles Voysey, who lived until 1906 in ‘The Orchard’, the arts-and-crafts house that he had built in 1899 for his family, while on their other side lived another architect, Charles Simmonds. At the very least Annie and Kate must have known Voysey on a social level but I wonder if their ‘decorative novelties’, while ‘craft’, would have appealed to his spare ‘Arts and Crafts’ sensibility.

In 1911 both Annie and Kate boycotted the census. The Registrar completed their form, recording their relationship as ‘sisters’ and knowing enough to describe Annie’s occupation as ‘Society of Artists’. Across the form is written ‘No Votes No Census. When women become citizens they will fulfill the duties of citizens.’

On the 1881 and 1891 censuses Annie Atherton gives her status as ‘married’ and by 1901 as ‘widowed’. However on her death in 1913 the Probate Register describes her as ‘wife of Frank Atherton’ – and that seems to have been her true status for there is no evidence that she was divorced. In fact Francis Henry Atherton appears on the 1911 census, aged 70, mining prospector, living with his ‘wife’ , Julia, and five of the seven children born to them, at Langhurst, Witley, Surrey. [Incidentally, for more about the house, which Atherton presumably leased from the publisher Edward Arnold who had built it in 1908, see here.] The children, who had all been born in Queensland, Australia, ranged in age from 19 to 10 and Atherton stated on the form that he and Julia had been married for 25 years. In fact this was an untruth twice over. Not only was he, apparently, still married to Annie Atherton, but a marriage ceremony between him and Julia had taken place at St Pauls, Covent Garden as recently as 10 September 1907. It seems inconceivable that Annie Atherton did not know that her husband and his family were living in Surrey and that, as it appears, he had committed bigamy. One can read on-line the oath he swore that there was no legal impediment to this marriage and, incidentally, that his bride, Julia Walford, was a widow. This, again, was another untruth as ‘Walford’ was her maiden name; their Australian-born children were registered with Francis Atherton as their father and Julia Walford as their mother. Perhaps it was felt that back in England propriety demanded that the liaison  should appear more regular. Had he asked Annie Atherton for a divorce and been refused? I wonder if any reader of this post will know the answer.

When Annie died in 1913 the executor of her will was, naturally enough, Kate Thornbury. Kate died in 1920 (incidentally leaving £100 to the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship) having appointed Clara Garrett her executor. The latter was the wife of Samuel Garrett, brother of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Millicent Fawcett, and Agnes Garrett – and, guess what, I’ve just put two and two together and realised that Clara was Kate’s sister. Of course it’s a small world but I wonder if this overlap between the Robinson and Garrett family circles extended to an overlap in house decorating taste. Could Annie Atherton and Kate Thornbury have initially been inspired by the example set by the firm of R & A Garrett?  Clara Thornbury drew her sister into the Garrett Circle when she married Samuel in 1882. Could conversations with Agnes and Rhoda have given Kate and Annie the idea of launching the Society of Artists a year later? At the very least the two couples must have had many interests in common – suffrage and applied art being the most obvious. Were Annie and Kate entertained at 2 Gower Street by Rhoda and Agnes and, later, by Agnes and Millicent? Were their decorating tastes similar? Did they visit each other’s shops? Buy each other’s wares? Who knows.

It is a pity that for a post concerned with the visual I have no illustrations to use. I know of no likenesses of Annie Atherton or Kate Thornbury, have no images of rooms they decorated, or the goods they sold. Despite the longevity of their business they seem to have left a fainter mark on history than Charlotte Robinson, who had Emily Faithful as her promoter.

I am most grateful to Thamar McIver who is researching suffragettes in Pinner (where Elspeth McClelland lived) and first brought Anne Atherton to my attention. The rest is –  a sort – of history.


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Suffrage Stories: Portcullis House, Millicent Fawcett And The 19th-c Suffrage Movement


Those of you who might happen to be passing through the Atrium of Parliament’s Portcullis House between now and early November can view a compact display that I have curated there. The subject is Millicent Garrett Fawcett and the Early Women’s Suffrage Movement: 1867-1897.

There is also an online version of the exhibition – which you can view here.



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Suffrage Stories: Fawcett Society Wreath-Laying Service for Millicent Garrett Fawcett, St George’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey, 2 July 2016

Each year on 2 July the Fawcett Society holds a short service and lays a red, white, and green wreath in remembrance of Millicent Fawcett in St George’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey.

For it is in this small chapel, which now also holds the Coronation Chair, that the joint memorial to Henry and Millicent Fawcett is sited.

It was originally erected in 1887 in memory of Henry Fawcett, who had died in 1884, and was the work of the sculptor Alfred Gilbert. Ironically Gilbert’s daughter, Caprina Fahey, was later a very active member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, rather than of Mrs Fawcett’s National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. For after Millicent Fawcett’s death a commemoration of her life and work was in 1932 added to her husband’s memorial – in the shape of two roundels, one of which contains the insignia of the NUWSS.

Fawcett Memorial in St George's Chapel, Westminster Abbey

Fawcett Memorial in St George’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey

This year I was honoured to have been asked to speak a few words about Millicent Fawcett during the Service – and below is the text of my address.


I imagine I’ve been asked to give the address today because over the last 20 years I’ve researched and written about the various enterprises and campaigns that Millicent Fawcett – and her immediate circle – conducted through the second half of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th. But I first made direct physical contact – as it were – with Millicent Fawcett some years before I began my research –back  in the mid-1980s – when, as a book dealer – because I sell books about women as well as write them, I braved the closing-down sale of a Bloomsbury bookshop. I say ‘braved’ because it was owned by an elderly irascible gentlemen who barked at any potential customer ‘what do you want’? Well the joy of such bookshops is that you don’t know what you want until you find it – so after one such encounter I’d never been back. But closing down was different and customers were given the run of the shop.

Down in the cellar I found the floor covered with a heap of books – splayed open, piled on top of each other – and – serendipity – when I picked out one I found it to be a short popular biography of Henry Fawcett –not, actually, very interesting in itself – but – and my heart leapt – with Millicent Fawcett’s bookplate pasted inside the front cover. I believe this book had lain in the bookshop ever since Philippa Fawcett finally gave up the family home at 2 Gower Street to move to a more manageable flat just before the Second World War. It is only too likely that books surplus to her requirements had been sent to this nearby bookseller. There seemed a very thin veil separating me from the past when I held that book in my hand.

MGF bookplate

So this bookplate is the first of four images I want to recreate for you this evening. It probably dates from the 1880s – it has very much the flavour of the Aesthetic movement. Millicent’s full name – Millicent Garrett Fawcett – takes centre place. To the right is a woman in a loose fitting gown, with bare feet, head turned towards the rising sun. To the left rises a lily, so much of its period, and beneath the name are scattered books and an inkwell and quill pen. The caption is ‘Truth is the Light’.

‘Light’ – the image of the rising sun, of hope, of the New Dawn – was one that permeated all the campaigns for women’s rights – not just for the vote – but for emancipation in all spheres of life. ‘Truth’ was the leitmotif running through Millicent Fawcett’s life. In an article her cousin Edmund Garrett, a boy she had helped bring up after the early death of his parents, wrote: ‘More even than by her writings or her speeches, she has helped the cause by her influence, her tone, her personality. The impression which she has made upon public men who have come in contact with her has been, perhaps, her most valuable service to it. The one thing that she cannot be doing with is doubleness. Anything the least ‘shady’ in quite small matters of money or of conduct damns a man at once.’ Edmund Garrett goes on to mention the Ibsen-esque quality of Millicent’s novel Janet Doncaster which, as well as giving a delightful portrait of a thinly-disguised Aldeburgh, does, I think, reveal more of her character than she disclosed in her autobiography. It is well worth a read.

So – Millicent Fawcett was guided by her principles. These at times, especially in attempts to effect an equal moral standard between men and women, could put her at odds with other campaigners, even members of her family. For instance, she and her sister Elizabeth held opposite views as to whether the Contagious Diseases Acts should be repealed – Millicent for and Elizabeth against.

Millicent Fawcett - woman of principle

Millicent Fawcett – woman of principle

But strong principles – an adherence to Truth –and being true to oneself – don’t necessarily make for any easy life. My second image recreates a scene that is not one you’ll find in either Millicent’s autobiography or in Ray Strachey’s fond biography – it is very trivial, but I think, revealing. One summer afternoon Millicent was taking tea in Lady Maude Parry’s garden in Rustington in Sussex. Lady Maude was the wife of Hubert Parry, whose music has, of course, echoed so often within this Abbey –and it was Hubert, rather than his wife, who was a close friend of Agnes Garrett and Millicent Fawcett. Indeed he’d built a house in Rustington to be close to one that Agnes Garrett had rented there for years.

Anyway, as they were taking tea Lady Maude was stung by a wasp and that evening confided to her diary that Millicent hadn’t been very sympathetic – penning the immortal phrase ‘There’s something hard about the Garretts’. Perhaps I’m perverse but I like that comment. I think it is true – the Garretts were hard – in that they had enjoyed a robust upbringing – encouraged to think for themselves and be self-reliant – Lady Maude was very much more conventional – and although Lady Maude may have meant the comment pejoratively – we shouldn’t take it as such.  In her biography Ray Strachey felt compelled to dispute the notion that Millicent was ‘compounded only of “thrift, industry and self-control without any of the gentler virtues”’, stressing that it was Millicent’s great ability for practical friendship that made her such a popular and effective leader. She didn’t wear her heart on her sleeve, she didn’t waste time on emoting; she did things. I’m sure Millicent would have ensured that Maude was treated with a blue bag or whatever was the current remedy for a wasp sting, but wouldn’t have seen it as an occasion for high drama. As Edmund Garrettt wrote ‘She is, above everything, ‘sensible’. She never stickles for unessentials’.  The success of a principled, disciplined woman such as Millicent Fawcett was due to her ability to focus on what was important, dismissing the setbacks – the wasp stings –that punctuated all the various campaigns with which she was associated during a career of over 60 years.

Millicent Fawcett - NUWSS president

Millicent Fawcett – NUWSS president

Above all Millicent Fawcett was – in her conduct of the constitutional suffrage campaign – calm and diplomatic. As Ray Strachey wrote, ‘Her task was to provide convenient ladders down which opponents might climb, and to help them to save their faces while they changed their minds.’ It was this skill that finally allowed women over 30 to be given the vote in 1918. Although Millicent Fawcett recognised that this age discrimination was quite logically indefensible she knew that once they’d won this measure – full equality would follow. By letting anti-suffrage MPs appear to have retained some control, she had at last manoeuvred women onto the electoral register. As she said, ‘We should greatly prefer an imperfect scheme that can pass, to the most perfect scheme in the world that could not pass.

The third image takes us into Millicent’s home, 2 Gower Street. From standing in that Bloomsbury bookshop basement, holding a book that had once been on a shelf in the house, fast forward about 30 years to 2014 when I spent some happy hours with a colleague inside the house as we tried to work out how it was used when Millicent, her daughter Philippa, and her sister Agnes lived there. Agnes and her cousin Rhoda had taken on the lease in 1875 –running their pioneering interior design business from the house –Rhoda had died in 1882 and Millicent and Philippa had moved there after the death of Henry Fawcett in 1884. So Garretts had lived in 2 Gower Street for roughly 65 years. We know that Millicent conducted her campaigns from the first floor drawing room – which runs across the front overlooking Gower Street – sitting under a lovely ceiling, painted by Rhoda and Agnes – pale green, pink and yellow prettiness – featuring hummingbirds and swags and flowers, with portraits of four great artists in the corners. Do look up and give her a thought if you go past. The National Portrait Gallery holds a photograph of Millicent (see here) working at her desk in that room in 1910.

The desk, a tall bureau, is tucked into the alcove to the side of the fireplace and Millicent is sitting there working through a pile of letters, looking up for a moment to turn to the photographer. This domestic scene was the power house that fuelled the 20th-century constitutional suffrage campaign. In addition – from that desk Millicent Fawcett involved herself in a wide range of disparate, though interconnected campaigns – for instance, the international women’s suffrage campaign, the campaigns for opening up university education to women, for raising the age of consent, for opening up horticulture as an employment for women, for criminalising incest, for providing homes for middle-class working women,  and even for offering a new German ‘open-air treatment’ to men and women suffering from TB. This last was prompted by the fate of her cousin Edmund who had contracted the disease – but rather than wringing her hands Millicent, with her friend Dr Jane Walker, just went ahead and built a sanatorium in Suffolk where the new treatment might be carried out.

A corner of the former East Anglian Sanatorium

A corner of the former East Anglian Sanatorium

Sitting at that desk Millicent is neat in a tailored costume, but my last image is of her standing in the St John’s Wood studio of a very well-known photographer – Lena Connell – dressed for a more formal portrait. She is posing, but, as ever, conveys an air of subtle reticence. I think we can be pretty certain she didn’t make her appointment with Lena Connell because she wanted more photographs for her own album – but, rather, was prepared to endure the process for the sake of the Cause. For, thanks to a lucky discovery a few weeks ago – in a locked drawer in a Fawcett Society desk – we are now able to deconstruct that photograph and realise that she is presenting herself as the president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

MGF wearing pendantFor on her breast she is wearing a beautiful pendant given to her by the NUWSS in 1913. Presumably after Millicent’s death Philippa Fawcett had returned the pendant to the London Society for Women’s Service, the precursor of the Fawcett Society, and as time went by its existence and meaning had been forgotten.  But that photograph speaks to us now – for engraved on the reverse of the pendant are the words that sum up the values that her co-workers appreciated in Millicent Fawcett  – ‘Steadfastness and Courage’.

Brooch presented by the NUWSS to Millicent Fawcett in 1913 (image courtesy of the Fawcett Society)

Pendant presented by the NUWSS to Millicent Fawcett in 1913 (image courtesy of the Fawcett Society)


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.


The Garretts And Their Circle/Suffrage Stories: Millicent Fawcett And Salisbury

When we booked to stay for a few days at a Landmark Trust apartment (see here) at the top of a venerable building in The Close in Salisbury I was relishing a brief immersion in the world of Trollope and had entirely forgotten that even here I would be treading on the heels, as I do in London, of one of my heroines – Millicent Garrett Fawcett.

But I soon remembered that at the end of 2013 (a lot has happened in between) I had travelled down to Salisbury to give a talk on the Garretts to the Salisbury Local History Group. I had come and gone in the dark and had seen nothing of Salisbury. But now, in February 2016, armed with my research for that talk, I was able to follow a brief Garrett/Fawcett trail around the city.

27 The Close, Salisbury

27 The Close, Salisbury

For this is the house in which 23-year-old Millicent Fawcett was staying on the night of 2 April 1871. The census records her here, together with her husband, Henry, his sister, Sarah Maria, and her parents-in-law, William and Mary Fawcett. The household was supported by one 16-year-old housemaid. William Fawcett is described as ‘J.P. and Alderman’ and Henry as ‘Professor of Political Economy’; the women have no occupation. Millicent and Henry’s daughter, Philippa, who would have been nearly three years old, is not visiting her grandparents on this occasion. She had been left at home in London in the care of three servants.

Nor, ten years later, did she join her parents when, on 3 April 1881, Millicent and Henry are once again paying a visit to Salisbury and staying in this house with his parents. Philippa, now a 12-year-old schoolgirl, is back home at 51 The Lawn, Vauxhall. Henry is now ‘Postmaster General and MP’, Millicent is ‘Authoress’ and the elderly Fawcetts now have two servants.

Saisbury CathedralThese sightings on the census forms demonstrate that Millicent was no stranger to Salisbury and its Cathedral. The Close is a quiet world, dominated by the soaring building at its centre  – a building that would all too soon have a poignant association for her. For Henry did not live to feature in another census, dying in 1884.

Fawcett cathedral memorials

Here is the memorial tablet placed on the interior Cathedral wall, together with one to his sister, with whom Millicent was always on friendly terms.

William Fawcett

Henry’s parents did not long outlive him.

Fawcett statue

Besides his tablet inside the Cathedral Henry was given a very much more prominent memorial – a statue in Salisbury’s Market Place. It so happened that his back was at the centre of my view as I ate a celebratory meal at a restaurant in Ox Row overlooking the Market Place – clearly I am fated never to be far from the world of the Garretts. Rather oddly, however, Henry Fawcett is positioned on the edge of the large open space and appears to be addressing a crowd waiting at the bus stop outside Debenhams. One might have imagined that he could have been placed facing the other way, into the Market Place where crowds might have gathered to listen to him. But I did note that the elucidatory plaque at the foot of the statue (which is also written in Braille) does include mention of his wife, Millicent, as leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

HEnry Fawcett plaque

Another Garrett associate – the sculptor Ellen Rope – has a work in Salisbury Cathedral – although you’d be hard pressed to find it if you didn’t know it was there.

Moberley memorial

Here it is. Although they knew nothing of it by name, the Cathedral staff have access to a list of the building’s memorials and were very helpful in taking me to find it. The rectangular plaque is the work of Ellen Rope and is dedicated to the memory of Mrs Moberly, wife of George Moberly, bishop of Salisbury. As you see, it is hidden behind a cupboard (in the Vestry). I wonder if there are pieces by any other woman sculptor in the Cathedral? Is it just fate that it is a woman’s work that is hidden in this way?

You might also be interested in reading my book – Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle – for details see here.

Enterprising Women 1


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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The Garretts And Their Circle: A Talk At The Royal Society of Medicine To Celebrate The 150th Anniversary of Elizabeth Garrett’s Qualification As A Doctor

On 28 September 1865 Elizabeth Garrett succeded in qualifying as a doctor and as such is hailed as the first woman in Britain to do so. That is, she was first woman qua woman (ie not, as Miranda Barry, in the guise of a man) and she was the first woman to gain British medical qualifications (ie not, as her mentor Elizabeth Blackwell, by qualifying in the US).

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson when young

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson when young

To celebrate this auspicious event I was asked, along with Professor Neil McIntyre, to gave a talk at the Royal Society of Medicine. That there is still a great deal of interest in Elizabeth Garrett and her fellow pioneers was evident as we surveyed the packed house.

The video of my talk, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and her Hospital, is now available to view here. Professor McIntyre’s talk, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and her Medical Schools, can be viewed here.

For those interested in learning more about Elizabeth Garrett’s medical career do visit the ‘Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery at the UNISON Centre – for more details see here.

The main gallery

The main gallery

You might also be interested in reading my book – Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle – for details see here.

Enterprising Women 1


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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Suffrage Stories/The Garretts And Their Circle: The ‘Ascent Of Woman’ and Millicent Fawcett

In four programmes shown on BBC 2 Dr Amanda Foreman has roamed the globe and travelled through the millenia to uncover stories of women who have made and changed human history from 10,000 BC to the present day.

You can – for a short time – view all four programmes on the BBC iPlayer – click here.

ifawcet001p1Episode 4 – ‘Revolution’ – includes a section in which I talk to Amanda about Millicent Fawcett – highlighting her work as a champion of women’s education.

The filming was done in my drawing room – and it was an interesting and enjoyable way to spend a morning – talking about such an agreeable subject with someone so passionate and knowledgeable. Especially so as barely a month previously I had been lying on an operating theatre table. It was good to get back to ‘work’.

For much more about Millicent Fawcett – and all the other Garretts – see Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle.


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Caroline Crommelin and Florence Goring Thomas: 19thc Interior Decorators: Who Were They?

Caroline Anna de Cherois Crommelin (c 1854-1910) was born in Co Down, Ireland, one of the many children of Samuel  de la Cherois Crommelin of  Carrowdore Castle.

Carrowdore Castle

Carrowdore Castle

Although of gentle birth, the family had little money. Political unrest in Ulster forced a move to England and after their father’s death in 1885 Caroline Crommelin and her sisters found it necessary to work to support themselves.

May Crommelin

May Crommelin

Caroline’s elder sister, May, became a novelist and enjoyed a measure of popular success. In 1903 another sister, Constance, married John Masefield (who was very much her junior).

In 1886 another of the sisters, Florence, married a solicitor, Rhys Goring Thomas, and in the late 1880s with Caroline, who seems to have been the driving force, embarked on a career as a ‘lady decorator’. The pair were able to travel easily along the path blazed for them a decade earlier by Rhoda and Agnes Garrett.

Unlike the Garretts, Caroline and Florence do not appear to have had any specific training, although years later Caroline wrote that an apprenticeship was essential. Rather, they relied on what was assumed to be a natural taste absorbed from their early surroundings. In a later interview Caroline described how their father had given the two of them a room in Carrowdore Castle to do with as they wished and from painting and papering this room they had learned their trade. Whereas Rhoda and Agnes Garrett were happy to deal with drains and internal structures, I doubt that such practicalities fell within the Crommelin sisters’ remit.

It was ‘beautifying’ that was the word most often used to describe Caroline Crommelin’s work. An article by Mary Frances Billington in The Woman’s World, 1890, describes how in 1888 Caroline Crommelin  set up a depot at 12 Buckingham Palace Road for the ‘sale of distressed Irish ladies’ work’ and then ‘saw a wider market as a house-decorator, so she wrote ‘Art at Home’ on her door-plate, took into partnership her sister, Mrs Goring Thomas..and boldly set forth to hunt for old oak, rare Chippendale, beautiful Sheraton and Louis Seize furniture’. She attended auctions in all parts of the country and, in case there was any doubt as to the propriety of this involvement with trade, reported that she had no difficulty doing business with dealers, meeting only with civility.

Noting the popularity of old, carved oak, the sisters’ bought old plain oak pieces and then had them carved by their own craftsmen. There was always a stock of such pieces in their showroom.

The ‘Arts at Home Premises’ were opened in Victoria Street, London, in early 1891. I think their house was at 167a Victoria Street – certainly by 1898 this was Caroline Crommelin’s work premises, but it’s possible that in the late 1880s she was working from 143 Victoria Street. Of the ‘Arts at Home’ premises The Sheffield Telegraph (9 March 1891) described how’charmingly arranged rooms, stored with delightful old oak, Sheraton, and Chippendale furniture, quaint brass ornaments, old silver, beautiful tapestries, and old china were crowded all afternoon with the many friends of the clever hostesses.’..The oak room featured a delightful ‘cosy corner’ in dark oak with blue china arranged on the top ledge against the pink walls. May Billington’s article includes a line-drawing of a corner of the ‘Arts at Home’ showroom.

In its 23 November 1895 issue the York Herald commented of Caroline Crommelin that  ‘Her house in Victoria St is conspicuous to the passer by for the pretty arrangement of its curtains, and inside the artistic element is even more apparent. Miss Crommelin has been very successful as a house beautifier and her opinion has been much sought after and esteemed by those who like the home to be dainty and harmonious.’

In 1891 the sisters also displayed their wares at the Women’s Handicrafts Exhibition at Westminster Town Hall. The Manchester Times singled them (‘two of our cleverest art decorators’) out for praise.  ‘These ladies have shown that… old oak furniture need not be gloomy and dusty and that new furniture may be made to look as good as old, even if the old be Chippendale or Sheraton, Queen Anne or Dutch marqueterie.’

One of Caroline Crommelin’s first ‘beautifying’ commissions was carried out for Lord and Lady Dufferin on the British Embassy in Rome in 1890/1891. The Manchester Guardian (8 Oct 1889) reported that she redecorated the entire embassy. Doubtless this plum commission was not unconnected to the fact that the Dufferin estate in Co Down was a mere 10 miles from Carrowdore Castle; the families were presumably known to each other. Rather more surprising is the claim made in an interview with her in the Women’s Penny Paper, 23 Nov 1889,  that she had ‘supplied nearly all the furniture to Lord Cholmondeley’s old place at Houton [sic].  Houghton Hall was let to tenants during the 19th century so, perhaps, there is a kernel of truth buried in this statement – but I don’t think we need go looking at Houghton as it is today for evidence of Caroline Crommelin’s involvement in its decoration.

In interviews Caroline Crommelin also made clear that she  ‘undertakes, when required, to furnish  a whole or any part of a house, either going with the customer to different firms or selecting for them’ and ‘does not confine herself to decorative work alone, and will put up blinds or attend to the whitewashing of a ceiling with the most professional alacrity’.

Both Caroline and Florence were supporters of the campaign to give the vote to women householders and were keen to see women’s advancements in the professions – particularly as architects.

In 1895 Caroline Crommelin married Robert Barton Shaw, nephew of a former Recorder of Dublin, who in the 1901 census return is described as an estate agent. I wonder if his wife helped in ‘beautifying’ houses he had for sale? In 1901 they were living at 50 Morpeth Mansions, Morpeth Terrace. Caroline in this census return is described as an ’employer’. Florence lived close by -in 1891 at 3 Morpeth Terrace. However hers was to be a short-lived career – she died in 1895, aged only 37, a few months before her sister’s marriage. In the 1889 Penny Paper interview Florence was quoted as saying ‘I believe everybody is happier for working. It carries  one into a new life, and one does not have time to think of being ill’. In the light of her early death this has a certain poignancy, suggesting she may have had a chronic illness to overcome.

Caroline carried on the business on her own and in 1903 teamed up with her sister, May, to write a chapter on ‘Furniture and Decoration’ in Some Arts and Crafts (ed Ethel Mckenna), published in The Woman’s Library series by Chapman & Hall. In this they ran through the various periods of furniture and room design but did not bother to disguise their support for one style in particular. ‘Anyone of artistic feeling is sensible of a singular sense of well-being on entering a genuine Queen Anne sitting-room. If analysed, the sensation will be found to arise from an instantaneous inner perception that all is in just proportion. The height and size of the room obey accurate laws. Its ceiling is relieved by geometrical designs. The walls are half-wainscoted; the polished floor shows up the tapestry-like carpet in the centre. The ornaments of furniture and general decoration are neither profuse, grotesque, nor severe. In all, the fatal “too much” is avoided.’

Caroline Crommelin (or, rather, Mrs Barton Shaw)  died at 18 Albion Place, Ramsgate on 1 February 1910.


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Suffrage Stories: The 1866 Petition: The Aldeburgh Connection

In a previous post I recorded something of how the 1866 women’s suffrage petition came into being. Comprising 1499 names, it was presented to John Stuart Mill, MP for Westminster, by Emily Davies and Elizabeth Garrett.

Names on the printed form of the petition are listed in alphabetical order, usually accompanied by some form of geographical address. Reading through it one notes that, while some towns have mustered only one or two signatures, others have attracted many more.

That a clutch of signatories to the petition lived in Aldeburgh, a small coastal town (1991 inhabitants in 1871) in Suffolk, had everything to do with the fact that Elizabeth Garrett LSA was one of the principal organizers of the petition. Aldeburgh was home to her family, her father, Newson Garrett, a driving force in its development. 

Elizabeth Garrett c 1866 (courtesy of Wellcome Images)

Elizabeth Garrett c 1866 (courtesy of Wellcome Images)

Just a few months earlier Elizabeth Garrett had qualified as a doctor, the first woman to do so in Britain, and signed from her London home, 20 Upper Berkeley Street, the premises of her nascent practice and the headquarters of the petition committee. She ensured that the women of Aldeburgh, her home town, were canvassed.  It is likely that it was her younger sisters, Agnes and Millicent, both too young to sign, who took petition forms round to their neighbours.

Aldeburgh Town StepsI have extracted the Aldeburgh names from the petition and below give such details as can now be gleaned of these women, none of whom, as far as I can tell, ever again took part in any political protest.


Anna Eliza Begbie (courtesy of website)

Anna Eliza Begbie (courtesy of website)

She was Anna Eliza Begbie, née Swiney (1839-1915). She married Mars Hamilton Begbie in Cheltenham in 1858; despite his warlike name he had been ordained. By 1866 they were living in Aldeburgh where, according to the Cambridge Alumni List he was headmaster from 1865 to 1869 of ‘Aldborough School’ – a grammar school. They lived at Crespigny House, a late-18th-century mansion.

Although Anna Eliza Begbie doesn’t appear to have taken any further part in the suffrage campaign, it was surely a subject of discussion among her extended family after her brother, John, married in 1871. His wife, [Rosa] Frances Swiney, who lived in Cheltenham, was an influential campaigner for suffrage – and for Theosophy – in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


She was born Hannah Jane Spencer (1837 -1896) in Wrotham, Kent. She married Theodore Grant Cresy, a surgeon, in 1859 and by the time she signed the petition was the mother of 4 sons; another was born four months later. The family lived in Aldeburgh from 1860 – 1868. During their time in Aldeburgh (1860-1868) the family lived at The Uplands, the house that had been the Garretts’ first home after they returned from London when Elizabeth was a young girl.

Uplands House, which carries two blue plaques - one for Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and the other for Millicent Fawcett. One plaque can just be glimpsed in the photo

Uplands House, which carries two blue plaques – one for Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and the other for Millicent Fawcett. One plaque can just be glimpsed in the photo

Hannah Cresy’s mother-in-law, Eliza Cresy [or Cressy], who lived at Riverhead in Kent, and her sister-in-law, Mary Cresy, who lived in Norwood, also signed the petition, suggesting that the organizers had asked for names of family members likely to be sympathetic to the petition.


Probably a misreading of ‘Mrs Henry Calver’. She was Mary Anne (1819-?). who lived with her husband, a plumber, painter and glazier master, in the High Street.


Something of a mystery – I can’t find any trace of a Margaret Dance, whether in Aldeburgh or elsewhere. However the signature may have been that of Mary E Dance, daughter of James Dance, Aldeburgh’s parish clerk. It is entirely possible that her signature was mis-transcribed as ‘Margaret’ and she would have been just old enough to sign.


There is, however, no doubt about this signatory. She was Frances Harriett Emma Dowler (1812-1899), wife of Henry Turner Dowler, who for 35 years was Aldeburgh’s vicar.  The couple had married in 1838. In her autobiography Millicent Fawcett describes how Newson Garrett  frequently engaged in very public quarrels with Dowler who besides being vicar was also the town bailiff and a capital burgess. On these occasions Garrett would insist that his family attended church services at the dissenting chapel rather than at Dowler’s church. Relations with Mrs Dowler were unaffected by these rows.

In May 1867 the Rev Dowler performed the wedding service at marriage of Millicent Garrett and Henry Fawcett.


She was Mary Anne (née Knights) (1819-1870), wife of William Garrard, brewer, maltster and secretary to the Aldeburgh gas company – one of Newson Garrett’s pet projects. In the 1840s William Garrard had been known as ‘the Ipswich Chartist’ and was one of the founders of the Ipswich Working Men’s Association. In the 1860s the couple lived on Church Hill in Aldeburgh.


Louisa and Newson Garrett in old age

Louisa and Newson Garrett in old age

She was Louisa Garrett (nee Dunnell) ( 1814-1903), wife to Newson Garrett and mother to Louisa (later Smith), Elizabeth (later Garrett Anderson), Newson, Edmund, Alice (later Cowell), Agnes, Millicent (later Fawcett), Samuel, Josephine (later Salmon), and George (another son died in infancy). Although Louisa Garrett was of a far more conservative temperament than her husband she was always supportive of her daughters’ enterprises. She had initially opposed Elizabeth’s desire to become a doctor but, having come round to the idea, was the weekly recipient of letters telling of, at first, the difficulties encountered and later of the success in the medical world achieved as her daughter developed her practice and set up her hospital. Louisa would have signed the petition in the family home, Alde House.

 GARRETT, MRS E.  Snape Bridge

She was Gertrude Mary Littlewood (c1840-1924) who had married Elizabeth Garrett’s brother, Edmund, in 1862. Unlike his brother, Samuel, Edmund Garrett was not supportive of women’s advancement. In fact he opposed the suggestion that his sister Alice might work in the family business’s counting house. Edmund Garrett and his wife were then living in a house built by Newson Garret next to his maltings at Snape. At the moment (May 2015) it’s for sale – see here for details.

 GARRETT, MRS N.D. Calcutta

She was Kate Bruff, who in 1860 had married Elizabeth’s brother, Newson. He was the black sheep of the Garrett family – at this time he was serving with the army in India – a man whose enterprises (unlike those of his sisters) always went awry.  Kate’s father, Peter Bruff, was a civil engineer who was involved in several of Newson Garrett (senior)’s plans for improving Aldeburgh. Newson (junior’s) sisters were always rather sorry for Kate.

Despite being so close to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Millicent Fawcett, none of this  clutch of Aldeburgh-based Garrett women took any further part in the suffrage campaign.


She was probably Harriet Green (b 1824) a widow living at Beach Cottage.  She is listed in the 1869 Aldeburgh trade directory as being a lodging house keeper.


She was Florence, the daughter of the Rev Dowler, who in 1865 had married John Walter Hawkesworth.


She was Harriet Shute (1838-1907) who had married Nicholas Fenwick Hele in 1859. She gave birth to her third daughter, Ida, a couple of months after signing the petition. Her husband was a surgeon and the author of Notes and Jottings About Aldeburgh,  In 1866 the family lived in Aldeburgh’s High Street. Harriet continued to live in the town after her husband’s death in 1892 – but died in 1907 at St Johns, Newfoundland.


She could have been either Harriet Hunt (1806- 1884), wife of William Hunt, or Cecilia Hunt (1824- 1868), wife of Edward Hunt. Both men were boat builders. Perhaps the younger woman is the more likely candidate.


She was Caroline James, a widow by the time she signed the petition. She lived with several servants in a large late-18th-century house in Victoria Road – Wyndham House. She was the grandmother of M.R. James, the author of many Suffolk-based ghost stories.


Sarah Kersey (1811-1886) in 1865 had a lodging house in the High Street. Maria and Elizabeth were her younger sisters. All three were unmarried.


Sarah Mannall (1797-1869) was the wife of John Mannall. He had run the Crown and Castle Hotel in Orford for many years before eventually handing it over to his daughter and son-in-law


Crag Path, Aldeburgh. Brudenell Terrace, the row of tall houses on left, were built by Newson Garrett . Their red-brick gloom has now been transformed by pastel paints

Crag Path, Aldeburgh. Brudenell Terrace, the row of tall houses on left, were built by Newson Garrett . Their red-brick gloom has now been transformed by pastel paints

She was probably Mrs Mary Anne Martin, who in 1865 ran a ladies’ school in a house in Brudenell Terrace.


She was Henrietta Vernon-Wentworth who in 1859 had married Arthur Bethell Thellusson. She died in 1873 – on the same day as one of her young daughters. She had seven children and by the time she signed the petition she had already lost two infant daughters and was to lose another three months before her own death. The family lived at Thellusson Lodge. I seem to remember that Millicent Fawcett described the Thellussons as the ‘aristocracy of Aldeburgh’; for the local canvassers for the petition it must have been something of a coup to have Henrietta Thellusson’s signature on the petition.


Alas, I can find no clue at all  as to who this final Aldeburgh signatory to the petition could have been.

After having made this initial bid for emancipation it doesn’t appear that the women of Aldeburgh could be tempted to join the suffrage campaign that followed. During the remainder of the 19th century there is no record of a suffrage meeting being held in the town – described by one contemporary Suffolk author as lying in this ‘quiet, grave, sleepy, Conservative region’. 

You can read much more about Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Millicent Fawcett in Elizabeth Crawford, Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circlepublished by Francis Boutle.

Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a regional survey, published by Routledge, surveys the entire suffrage campaign in Suffolk – and in the rest of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.



All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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Mrs Hartley Brown And Miss Townshend -19th-c Interior Decorators: Who Were They?

Travels in S KensingtonIn a chapter on ‘Decorative Art in England (Travels in South Kensington, 1882) Moncure Conway commended Rhoda and Agnes Garrett for their ‘admirable treatment of the new female colleges connected with English Universities’. It has always been a niggle that neither I – or anyone else – as far as I know – has ever been able to find any evidence that the Garretts did work on the interior of any women’s college.

As one member of the Garrett family, Elizabeth, was a close friend and supporter of Emily Davies, founder of Girton, another, Millicent, was a founder of Newnham, and Rhoda and Agnes had received their training in the office of J.M. Brydon, sharing an office with Newnham’s architect, Basil Champneys, it would not have been at all surprising if they had been involved with the interior decoration of one or other of the colleges. But neither in  Garrett family letters nor in the press is there any mention of Rhoda and Agnes working on the interior of Newnham – or of Girton.

Merton Hall, Cambridge. (Photo courtesy of Cambridge 2000)

Merton Hall, Cambridge. (Photo courtesy of Cambridge 2000)

In fact the only mention of work being done by women interior decorators on a Cambridge women’s college relates to furnishings for an early incarnation of Newnham –  when, between October 1871 and 1874,  it was housed in an ancient, rambling house, Merton Hall. The house belonged (and still belongs) to St John’s College, whose Master was very sympathetic to the Lectures for Ladies’ scheme that had been instigated in Cambridge by Millicent Fawcett, Henry Sidgwick and Jemima Anne Clough.

Merton Hall is first mentioned by Moncure Conway in ‘Decorative Art and Architecture in England’, an article published in Harpers New Monthly Magazine, November 1874. In this, after discussing the work of Rhoda and Agnes Garrett, he tells us that Mrs Hartley Brown and Miss Townshend had set up in the same business as the Garretts, in premises at 12 Bulstrode Street. He then goes on to say that ‘These ladies, who have been employed to decorate the new ladies’ College (Merton) at Cambridge, have not only devised new stuffs for chairs, sofas and wall panels, but also for ladies’ dresses.’ The fact that he uses the past tense seems to indicate that the work was already complete.

A further allusion to this partnership is made by Emily Faithfull when discussing new trade opportunities that have been opening for women. In Three Visits to America (1884) she mentions that ‘Mrs Hartley Brown and Miss Townshend, soon after entering into partnership, were appropriately employed in decorating Merton College, and devised with much success some new stuffs for the chairs and sofas for the use of Cambridge girl graduates.’

That seems quite clear: Mrs Hartley Brown and Miss Townshend had been involved with furnishing Merton Hall (later Newnham) and neither Conway or Faithfull, although discussing the Garretts’ work, made any mention of the Garrtts being similarly employed.

However, when Moncure Conway came to publish Travels in South Kensington in 1882 the Garretts were going from strength to strength and, if the silence in the press is anything to go by, Mrs Hartley Brown and Miss Townshend had gone out of business. One construction might be that, while making no mention of the latter two, Conway lauds the success of the Garretts and, carelessly assigns to them the ‘admirable treatment of female Colleges’. It may be that only one firm of female interior decorators worked on the furnishings of a female college – and that was the partnership of Mrs Hartley Brown and Miss Townshend.

But who were Mrs Hartley Brown and Miss Townshend? I have to confess to drawing a blank on Mrs Hartley Brown – but can make an educated guess at the identity of Miss Townshend.

In his Harper’s 1874 article Conway (who, as we see was prone to getting things a bit muddled) mistakenly describes Mrs Hartley Brown as ‘a sister of Chambray Brown, Esq – a very distinguished architect’. In fact what he meant was that ‘Miss Townshend was a sister of Chambray Townshend…’. The latter was indeed an architect, although not even his wife – indeed particularly not his wife – would have called him distinguished. Unfortunately for us Chambray Townshend had eight sisters. And the question is ‘which one went into business as an interior decorator?’

Well three can be discounted, being in 1874 already married. Of the remaining five, very little is known of the lives of three, although Alicia, who didn’t marry until 1880, is known to have studied art at the Slade and is I suppose a possibility. However I suspect that the two strongest candidates of the five are Isabella (1847-1882) and Anne (1842-1929).

Anne certainly seems to have the most productive work record. According to family information she trained as a nurse at London’s Foundling Hospital and was later Matron at the Hospital for Hip Disease in Childhood (Queen’s Square). When and for how long she was engaged in nursing I don’t know. By 1882 she had moved into philanthropic administration and was secretary of the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants (MABYs).

Then in 1888 she became the first secretary of the Ladies’ Residential Chambers Co (the founders of which included Agnes Garrett and Millicent Fawcett) and remained involved with the company until 1910. In 1890, when the company was planning a new set of chambers in York Street, Marylebone, it was Anne Townshend who was deputed to consult with Thackeray Turner, the architect, over the company’s specifications for the new building. However nowhere in the minutes of the Ladies’ Residential Co is there any suggestion that she was ever involved with the interior design of either of the buildings.

Isabella Townshend is the more artistic candidate – and she does have a very clear Cambridge connection- being one of the Girton Pioneers. In 1869 she was one of the first five to join Emily Davies at her new college at Hitchin (it was not yet ‘Girton’). She left without taking a Tripos at Easter 1872. Could she then have gone into the interior decorating business?

In Girton College, Barbara Stephen comments that ‘Miss Townshend was not striking in either appearance or manner‘, while reporting Barbara Bodichon’s opinion that [Isabella’s] ‘interests were wide and her mind original’ Barbara Stephen was too young ever to have met Isabella; perhaps she made her rather harsh judgement on the basis of this photograph she included in her book

girton PioneersHowever, Isabella certainly made a very strong  impression on her fellow Pioneers  – particularly on Emily Gibson. When Isabella left Hitchin in the 1872 without taking a Tripos (perhaps it was this high-handed approach to all that Miss Davies had to offer that attracted Barbara Stephen’s disapproval) Emily followed suit and the following year married Isabella’s brother, Chambray Townshend.

In Some Memories for Her Friends., Emily wrote of Isabella: ‘She was more mature than many of us, and in quite a different stage of development, but the sort of position she held among us, the sort of influence she exercised over me was chiefly due to her having been swept over by a very early wave of that current of aestheticism which was then just beginning to gather force. The sort of doctrine she taught, or rather that she gave living expression to, was, that the most valuable means of culture was to be found in the enjoyment of the beautiful in nature and art, that a beautiful combination  of colours, a delicate bit of decorative work seen and cared for in a reverent and appreciative spirit, could do more for us in the way of training and development than much steady grinding away at mathematics and classics.’

‘She had considerable ability, indeed, many of us gave her credit for a touch of genius, yet she never accomplished much definite work of any kind.’..Isabel took the utmost pains to live from hand to mouth. She would work hard now and again when she felt the subject in hand to be worth working at, but she scorned to tie herself down to do things against inclination for the sake of obtaining some definite mundane good.’

Isabella Townshend, self-portrait, (c) Girton College, University of Cambridge. Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Isabella Townshend, self-portrait, (c) Girton College, University of Cambridge. Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Isabella Townshend was undoubtedly ‘artistic’. Isn’t this a wonderful self-portrait – bequeathed to Girton by Emily Townshend? It wouldn’t at all surprise me if Isabella had not ‘devised new stuff’ for her dress and designed it herself. But did she have the stamina to set up in business?  Emily Gibson mentions that in the period between leaving Cambridge and her marriage to Chambray Townshend, he and Isabella were particularly friendly with Walter and Lucy Crane – so she was certainly moving in art design circles.

There is no doubt that interior decorating ran in the family veins. In his Harper’s article Moncure Conway wrote  ‘I have become convinced by a visit to a beautiful house which Chambrey Townshend arranged at Wimbledon, that there can be nothing so suitable for somewhat dark corridors and staircases as a faint rose tint. In Mr Townshend’s house, however cold and cheerless the day may be, there is always a glow of morning light. This gentleman has shown that a sage-gray paper with simple small squares (such as Messrs Marshall & Morris make) furnishes a good dado to support the light tints upon walls not papered.’

The house may well have been the Townshend family home at 12 Ridgway Place, Wimbledon, where the unmarried sisters lived with their mother.

Unfortunately Chambray Townshend took the same laissez-faire approach to work as did Isabella. Of  him Emily, his wife, later wrote  ‘Chambrey Townshend had little push and no business ability to back up his remarkable artistic abilities.’ After his death she regretted she hadn’t devised some opening for his remarkable talent for house decoration ‘when architectural work was not forthcoming’.

If the interior decoration business was run by Mrs Hartley Brown and Isabella Townshend, it may be that Isabella soon lost interest. In the early 1880s she went to Italy to study painting and died in 1882. The Girton Register has it that she died in Italy, ‘of typhoid fever contracted at Capri’. It may well be that she became ill in Italy, but the Probate Register shows that she died on 20 July 1882 at Ealing and was buried at Perivale on 25 July 1882.

So, although Anne Townsend had the stamina and application to run a business, I’m inclined to think that it was Isabella Townshend who, for a brief period, was in partnership as an interior decorator with Mrs Hartley Brown and who provided the furnishings for Merton Hall, the early incarnation of Newnham.

For more about the interior decoration business run by Rhoda and Agnes Garrett see here.

Enterprising Women 1


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.











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Suffrage Stories: Millicent Fawcett’s Bookplate

Here is Millicent Fawcett’s bookplate

MGF bookplate
Rather lovely, I think.

New Dawn, Aesthetic Lilies, Aesthetic Dress (not that Millicent, unlike Rhoda and Agnes Garrett, ever favoured such a style in reality) and the tools of her trade, the Scales of Justice, Books, Pen and Ink

Artist unknown

For those who have not yet seen Millicent at work at her desk in the drawing room of 2 Gower Street, click here


The Garretts And Their Circle: Annie Swynnerton’s ‘Crossing The Stream’

'Crossing the Stream' by Annie Swynnerton. Manchester City Art Gallery Coleciton. Photo courtesy of MCAG and BBC Your Paintings with the Public Catalogue Foundation

‘Crossing the Stream’ by Annie Swynnerton. Manchester City Art Gallery Coleciton. Photo courtesy of MCAG and BBC Your Paintings with the Public Catalogue Foundation

Another of Annie Swynnerton’s paintings left to Manchester City Art Gallery by Louisa Garrett.

The way in which the Garrett circle did their best to ensure that Annie Swynnerton’s work was included in major public collections is discussed in my book –  Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle-  available online from Francis Boutle Publishers or from all good bookshops (in stock, for instance, at Foyles, Charing Cross Road).



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The Garretts And Their Circle: Annie Swynnerton’s ‘The Town of Siena’

'The Town of Siena' by Annie Swynnerton, Manchester City Art Gallery Collection, photo courtesy of MCAG, BBC Your Paintings and the Public Catalogue Foundation

‘The Town of Siena’ by Annie Swynnerton, Manchester City Art Gallery Collection, photo courtesy of MCAG, BBC Your Paintings and the Public Catalogue Foundation

This is another of Annie Swynnerton’s paintings left to Manchester City Art Gallery by Louisa Garrett.

The way in which the Garrett circle did their best to ensure that Annie Swynnerton’s work was included in major public collections is discussed in my book –  Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle-  available online from Francis Boutle Publishers or from all good bookshops (in stock, for instance, at Foyles, Charing Cross Road).


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The Garretts And Their Circle: Annie Swynnerton’s ‘Illusions’

'Illusions' by Annie Swynnerton, Collection Manchester City Galleries, courtesy of BBC Your Paingints & the Public Catalogue Foundation

‘Illusions’ by Annie Swynnerton, Collection Manchester City Galleries, courtesy of BBC Your Paintings  & the Public Catalogue Foundation

This painting was left to the City Art Gallery, Manchester, by Louisa Garrett (nee Wilkinson, sister-in-law to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Millicent Fawcett and Agnes Garrett.

‘Illusions’ would once have hung in Louisa’s home at Snape in Suffolk. Her house was named ‘Greenheys’ after the area of Manchester in which she and her sister, Fanny, grew up.

The way in which the Garrett circle did their best to ensure that Annie Swynnerton’s work was included in major public collections is discussed in my book –  Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle-  available online from Francis Boutle Publishers or from all good bookshops (in stock, for instance, at Foyles, Charing Cross Road).

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The Garretts and Their Circle: Annie Swynnerton’s ‘The Dreamer’

The Dreamer by Annie Swynnerton, 1887. (c) Manchester City Gallery - image courtesy of BBC Paintings and the Public Catalogue Foundation

The Dreamer by Annie Swynnerton, 1887. (c) Manchester City Gallery – image courtesy of BBC Paintings and the Public Catalogue Foundation

In yesterday’s post I drew attention to Annie Swynnerton’s portrait of Millicent Fawcett. It was hardly chance that brought that artist and that sitter together; both were central figures in what I term ‘the Garrett circle’.

Today’s painting by Annie Swynnerton, The Dreamer,  was originally owned by Millicent Fawcett’s sister-in-law, Louisa Garrett (nee Wilkinson) who for a while lived next-door-but-one to Millicent Fawcett and Agnes Garrett in Gower Street (the latter at no 2 and the Wilkinsons at no 6). The Dreamer was owned jointly by Louisa and her sister, Fanny, and may for a time have graced the walls of 6 Gower Street. Louisa only moved out of no 6 on her marriage to Millicent and Agnes’ youngest brother, George Garrett.

Fanny Wilkinson and Louisa Garrett did all in their power to ensure that, after their deaths, Annie Swynnerton was represented in public collections. In her will Louisa specifically left her share in this painting to Fanny and expressed ‘the desire that she will bequeath the said picture to the City Art Gallery, Manchester.’

Discover much more about the way in which the Garrett circle did their best to ensure Annie Swynnerton’s continuing reputation in my  Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle-  available online from Francis Boutle Publishers or from all good bookshops (in stock, for instance, at Foyles, Charing Cross Road).

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Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery At The UNISON Centre

The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery at the UNISON Centre tells the story of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, of the hospital she built, and of women’s struggle to achieve equality in the field of medicine.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson when young

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917) was determined to do something worthwhile with her life. In 1865 she qualified as a doctor. This was a landmark achievement.  She was the first woman to overcome the obstacles created by the medical establishment to ensure it remained the preserve of men.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson then helped other women into the medical profession, founding the New Hospital for Women where women patients were treated only by women doctors.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, by her example, demonstrated that a woman could be a wife and mother as well as having a professional career.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson worked to achieve equality for women, being especially active in the campaigns for higher education and ‘votes for women’.

In the early 1890s the New Hospital for Women (later renamed the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital) was built  on the Euston Road and continued to treat women until 2000. For some years this building then lay derelict until a campaign by ‘EGA for Women’ won it listed status. UNISON has now carefully restored the building, bringing it back to life as part of the UNISON Centre.

Two important rooms in the original 1890 hospital building have been dedicated to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery. One is the


of the hospital which has been carefully restored to its original form. Here you can study an album, compiled specially for the Gallery, telling the history of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in words and pictures, while, in the background you can listen to a soundscape evocative of hospital life. This is  interwoven with the reminiscences of hospital patients, snippets from the letters of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and sundry other sounds to stimulate your imagination.

The main gallery

The main gallery

The other Gallery room is what was known when the hospital opened as


This was a room, running along the front of the hospital, parallel to Euston Road, set aside for all women doctors, from all over the country, at a time when they were still barred from the British Medical Association. It was intended as a space in which they could meet, talk and keep up with the medical journals.

Here you can use a variety of media to follow the story of women, work and co-operation in the 19th and 20th centuries.


allowing you to see in words and pictures a quick overview of the life of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and of her hospital.



-named –  Ambition, Perseverance, Leadership, Equality, Power in Numbers and Making Our Voices Heard – allowing you to access more information about Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, about the social and political conditions that have shaped her world and ours, and about the building’s new occupant – UNISON..

Each monitor contains:


‘Elizabeth’s Story’. Follow the video from screen to screen. Often speaking her own words, the video uses images and voices to tell the story of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson’s life.

‘UNISON Now’ UNISON members tell you what the union means to them.

and four


‘Campaigns for Justice’ and ‘Changing Lives’.

 Touch the screen icons to discover how life in Britain has changed since the birth of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson.


Campaigns for justice

Victorian Britain: a society in flux

Victorian democracy: who could vote, and who couldn’t

Did a woman have rights?

Workers organised

Changing lives

The people’s lives in Victorian Britain

The medical profession before Elizabeth Garrett

Restricted lives, big ambitions: middle-class women in the Victorian era

Women workers in the first half of the 19th century


Campaigns for justice

The changing political landscape

Widening the franchise: can we trust the workers?

Women want to vote: the beginnings of a movement

Trade unions become trade unions

Changing lives

A new concept of active government: Victorian social reform

Women as nurses and carers

Living a life that’s never been lived before: women attempt to enter medicine

International pioneers: women study medicine abroad


Campaigns for justice

Contagious Diseases Acts

Trade unions broaden their vision

Women and education

Women trade unionists

Changing lives

The middle-class century

Working women in the second half of the 19th century

Social reform, philanthropy and paternalism

Women doctors for India


 Campaigns for justice

The women’s suffrage movement

The Taff Vale decision hampers the unions

The founding of the Labour party

The People’s Budget

Changing lives

Work and play

Marylebone and Somers Town

Did the working classes want a welfare state?

1901 – Who were the workers in the NewHospital for Women?


Campaigns for justice

The General Strike – 1926

The first Labour governments

Feminist campaigns between the wars

1901: The lives of working women in London

Changing lives

Work of women doctors in the First World War

Can we afford the doctor? Health services before the NHS

Wartime demand for social justice

The creation of the National Health Service 1945-1948


Campaigns for justice

Equality campaigns

Public sector unions before UNISON

UNISON brings public service workers together

Are trade unions still relevant?

Changing lives

The National Health Service becomes sacrosanct

Did the welfare state change the family?

Women’s equality today

Women in medicine now




 an interactive table containing short biographies of over 100 women renowned for their achievements in Britain in the 19th-21st centuries. Up to four visitors can use the table at any one time.  Drag a photograph towards the edge of the table to discover details of that individual’s life. Or search by name or vocation, using the alphabetical or subject lists.




show a changing display of pictures of the hospital as it was and of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and some of the other women whose stories the Gallery tells.



is designed in the style associated with the work of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson’s sister, the architectural decorator Agnes Garrett, who was in charge of the original interior decoration of the hospital in 1890. The Gallery’s fireplace is the only surviving example of Agnes Garrett’s work. Next to this hangs a length of wallpaper, ‘Garrett Laburnum’, re-created from one of her designs.

In the Garrett Corner a display case and a low table contain a small collection of objects relevant to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the hospital and early women doctors.

While here do sit down and browse the library of books. These relate to the history of women – in society, in medicine, in the workplace, and in trade unions  – and to the Somers Town area.


Plaque commemorating a substantial donation to the hospital by Henry Tate, industrialist and philanthropist

Plaque commemorating a substantial donation to the hospital by Henry Tate, industrialist and philanthropist


Decorative plaques that used to hang beside patients’ beds, each commemorating a donor’s generosity.

You can read in detail about the work of the Garrett family in the fields of medicine, education, interior design, landscape design, citizenship and material culture in Elizabeth Crawford, Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle, published by Francis Boutle Publishers, £25. The book can be bought direct from or click here to buy from the publisher


Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery at the UNISON Centre

130 Euston Road

London NW1 2AY

Telephone: 0800 0 857 857

Open Wednesday to Friday 9.00am to 6.00pm

and the third Saturday of every month 9.00am to 4.00pm 

Admission Free

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The Garretts And Their Circle: Ladies’ Residential Chambers And The Importance of Tiles

York Street Chambers

York Street Chambers – in York Street, Marylebone – was the second venture undertaken by the Ladies’ Residential Chambers Company, of which Agnes Garrett was a driving force. Its purpose was to provide purpose-built accommodation for ‘educated working women’.

The company had successfully launched the Ladies’ Residential Chambers in Chenies Street in 1889 – to a design by J.M. Brydon – and lost no time in commissioning Thackeray Turner, brother-in-law of Christiana Herringham, one of the company’s directors, to plan for another set of chambers, to be erected in York Street, just south of the Marylebone Road. Turner worked in partnership with Eustace Balfour, whose sister, Eleanor Sidgwick, was involved with Millicent Fawcett (Agnes Garrett’s sister) in the founding of Newnham College, Cambridge.

The York Street Chambers were twice as expensive to build as those in Chenies Street – and have not suffered the indignity of the Second World War bombing that destroyed much of the latter’s original detail. Today York Street Chambers still looks handsome – both  outside and inside.

Although it is unlikely that Agnes Garrett was responsible for the internal decoration (while, of course, assiduously attending committee meetings and doubtless supervising such matters) the green tiles that still line the corridors of York Street Chambers appear identical to the blue tiles commissioned from Powells of Whitefriars by Agnes for the corridors of the New Hospital for Women, her sister Elizabeth’s contemporary venture. Alas, we cannot compare them with those selected for Chenies St for it appears that, c 1990, Camden Council removed the corridor tiles before spraying the walls with a purple-fleck paint (they have since been given a rather less aggressive treatment).

Basement c. 2000- originally the communal dining room – of York Street Chambers

As in Chenies Street, so in York Street, the basement of the chambers housed a communal dining room. While this was supposed to make life easier for the residents by relieving them of the burden of cooking, committee minutes show that in both sets of chambers the dining room was the focus of a variety of bitter resentments. It makes quite entertaining reading when minuted (if you are that way inclined), but must have been very wearing on the patience of the  Company’s directors.  When I visited York Street Chambers – probably c 2000 – the basement was in the process of being renovated in order to house a School of Massage and I do not know whether the tiles with which the room was lined were retained. I was, however, very taken by the vigour and panache of the decoration and cannot believe that they would have been ripped out.

Tiles in the erstwhile dining room of the York Street Residential Chambers

When, in Enterprising Women, I described the similar space – by then divided into two flats – that had originally constituted the Chenies Street communal dining room I had no idea that underneath the bland decoration lay a similar riot of ‘Persian’ tiles. It was only a year or so after the book was published that the elderly owner (who had been so helpful in giving me access – and allowing me to photograph Ellen Rope’s ‘Hope’ hovering over his mantle piece) sold the flat to a young couple who undertook a full-scale renovation. Knowing that I had written about the Chambers – indeed ‘Hope’ was on its cover (see pic below) -they were kind enough to invite me round to see what they had uncovered. And, behold, the room was transformed – the light reflecting off the colourful  tiles with which the original dining room had been lined. This was closer to the effect experienced by the chambers’ earlier tenants as they dined – with Ellen Rope’s ‘Hope, Faith, Charity and Heavenly Wisdom’ for inspiration along the wall above them – than the rather claustrophobic gloom of the room as I had first encountered it.

A section of the (former) Chenies Street communal dining room. ‘Hope’ remains on the wall over the mantle piece (though not clear in this pic), while part of ‘Charity’ has survived in the alcove to the left of the fireplace. ‘Faith’ and ‘Heavenly Wisdom’ have disappeared, absorbed into a corridor and another flat. The four spandrels had originally been created to decorate the vestibule of the Woman’s Building at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and afterwards travelled back across the Atlantic to be incorporated in 1897 into the extended dining room of the Chenies Street Chambers. What an adventure.




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The Garretts and their Circle: Fanny Wilkinson And The Bloomsbury Triangle

Fanny Wilkinson's flat was on the first floor. Photo courtesy of understanding

Fanny Wilkinson’s flat was on the first floor. Photo courtesy of understanding

In early 1885 Fanny Wilkinson, a recently qualified landscape architect – indeed the first woman in Britain to undertake a professional training course – moved into a flat at 15 Bloomsbury Street, just south of what is now New Oxford Street. Ten years or so ago, when I first wrote about Fanny Wilkinson – in Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle –  I assumed that, as there was no trace now of that address,  the building had been swept away in the various redevelopments that have taken place in the area over the last 100 years or so. Anyway, the exact site of Fanny’s first London home was not particularly important in the context of that book.

However, three or four years ago I undertook a little more concentrated research on the subject and, realising that 15 Bloomsbury Street had, soon after Fanny’s arrival, been renamed 241 Shaftesbury Avenue, discovered that the building in which she had lived is still there. Moreover, because the bus routes I use most frequently – the 38 and 19 – have been diverted  (courtesy of CrossRail development at Tottenham Court Road) I now pass almost daily alongside Fanny Wilkinson’s former home.

The building – red-brick, with Queen Ann-ish windows and corner turret – faces onto an odd little triangle of land that had I long thought rather intriguing. The space is reminiscent of one of those Parisian squares (or triangles) that one may have seen  – or imagined. It is rather dark – even in the summer – with  lofty trees rising, close together, out of the pavement. In Paris one would add a cafe, waiters with long white aprons, an accordion etc. The London reality includes quantities of strutting pigeons and a peculiar raised concrete circle – ugly and serving no obviously useful purpose – probably something to do with underground systems of one kind or another – a useful shelf for discarded KFC packets, coca cola cans etc.

A little investigation revealed that the triangle had been formed when the final section of Shaftesbury Avenue was cut through St Giles Rookeries and that it was Fanny Wilkinson, in her capacity as landscape gardener to the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, who ensured that it was not built over. She recommended that trees – London plane trees, as it happened – should be planted and seats made available for the public.  The trees – although probably not the originals – are still there but the seats had only a short existence. They were removed c 1893 having attracted   ‘dirty tramps, who make them a sleeping place in the day time and by loose women at night.’

Had the journalist who interviewed Fanny Wilkinson for the Women’s Penny Paper in 1890  ‘at her charming flat in Bloomsbury’, had to pick her way past sleeping tramps? Anyway, if she did, she put a brave face on it and assured her readers that ‘[Miss Wilkinson’s]  rooms have a pleasant country air about them, and it would be difficult to imagine that one was in the heart of the big city in her pretty drawing room. It is the home of a lady, and instinctively one feels its owner must be a woman of refined taste.’ I do not know for certain, but would like to think that the drawing room ran across the first-floor, including the turret corner window, and that one would have looked down onto the leafy tops of the recently-planted trees.

Next door to the building is a pub – The Crown – which was there, under the same name, in Fanny’s day. It now  does something to bring an approximation to the Parisian look by setting out tables on its frontage on the triangle. As the smokers huddle there we can be certain that not one – if they gave any thought at all to their surrounding – would  imagine that the tiny section of urbanscape before them owed anything to decisions taken 125 years ago by a young Yorkshire woman. Nor, indeed, will the estate agents now attempting to lease the building in which she lived have any idea that what to them is merely so many square feet of office space was once the ‘pretty drawing room’ of a ‘woman of refined taste’. But now, as you walk up this section of Shaftesbury Avenue or inch past on the 38 or 19 (because the traffic is always jammed) – you, at least, will be aware of the layers of the past that hover around this odd little triangle.
For an article about Fanny Wilkinson and Bloomsbury click here

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What was hanging in the drawing-room of 6 Gower Street in 1898?

One day in 1898 Dr William Garnett, secretary to the Technical Board of the London County Council, called at 6 Gower Street, home of Louisa and Fanny Wilkinson, close friends of their next-door-but -one neighbours, Millicent Fawcett and Agnes Garrett.

Dr Garnett was there to assess whether Louisa Wilkinson could qualify as a professional bookbinder and, hence, be eligible to attend bookbinding classes at the recently-founded Central School of Arts and Crafts.

In theory, women were not barred from these classes, but as, so often, practical difficulties were put in their way. In this case, the powerful (male) bookbinding trade unions threatened to forbid their members to work at the School if women were allowed to undergo the training offered. They feared that the entry of women into the trade would drive down wages. The threat was sufficient; women were excluded.

Louisa Wilkinson, who had taken lessons from Douglas Cockerell and had exhibited two books bound by her at Goupil’s Gallery, had challenged the decision not to allow her entry to the bookbinding classes. If she could prove that she was a professional bookbinder, the School would find it rather more difficult to refuse her. Hence the purpose of Dr Garnett’s visit; he was there to discover, from observation of her surroundings, her status – whether professional or amateur.

Dr Garnett was kept waiting in the drawing room for Louisa to appear. He had time to make his judgment of the house, which he included in his report:. ‘Its appearance inside and out was that of a residence of a professional man with an income of not less than £1000 a year.’  In fact no man lived on the premises – 6 Gower Street was the home – and work place – of two women, although one, Fanny, was certainly a professional – a landscape gardener. Dr Garnett’s attention was particularly attracted to a portrait hanging in the room, so much so that he included mention of it in his report, noting that it appeared to him to be a ‘far above the average painting in oils.’ Once she had arrived, Louisa informed Dr Garnett that the painting was by Gainsborough. Perhaps the possession of such a painting was one more nail in the coffin of her hopes: could a woman who owned such an object be considered to be a trade worker?

This is the painting in question – a portrait of Mrs Sarah Walker  – in 1936 given by Fanny Wilkinson to the Tate Gallery, associating Louisa, who had recently died, with the gift. .Sarah Walker, who looks an interesting, perhaps rather sardonic and stubborn woman, was their mother’s great-grandmother; born in 1714 she had died in Manchester in 1789.  Sarah’s grandson, George Walker (1789-1838), apparently an ardent republican, had emigrated to the US, where, near Philadelphia, he had set up the first practical farm school in America. It may be that Fanny inherited her interest in horticulture from this grandfather, as surely she and her sister inherited something of their great-grandmother’s evidently strong character.

After George Walker’s death his daughter, [Letitia] Louisa, made the journey back to Manchester, where she  married a prominent local physician, Matthew Eason Wilkinson, becoming the mother of several children, including Fanny and Louisa,.  It is probable that the portrait of Mrs Sarah Walker had also criss-crossed.the Atlantic, to then spend 40 years or so gazing down on the company that assembled in 6 Gower Street – a company of female horticulturalists, educationalists and suffragists. Now, re-catalogued ‘in the manner of Thomas Gainsborough’ it forms part of the Tate Collection. Alas, there, Sarah Walker may well be confined to the darkness of a storeroom; I do not remember ever seeing her in the flesh, as it were. If so, she is in good company; the Annie Swynnerton’s portrait of Millicent Fawcett being another permanent fixture in the same store .

For more about Fanny and Louisa Wilkinson see Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle.

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Suffrage Stories: ‘Madame Mantalini’

Since 2009, when details of the 1911 census were released, I have (with, for a time, Dr Jill Liddington) been investigating how the women of the country responded to the call issued by the more militant suffrage societies to boycott the census. In the process I have discovered women of a suffrage inclination of whom, until now, suffrage history has known nothing.

One of these was a ‘Miss S. Marsden’, whose census form was delivered to her at 69 Church Street, Kensington, and who refused the enumerator any details about herself. However, Miss Marsden did not leave the form blank, writing on it one of the longest statements that I have so far encountered.  Although the right edge of the census form is badly damaged, creating gaps in her comments, I think we can get the gist.

‘I, Mdme Mantalini, a municipal voter and tax payer, refuse to fill in this census paper, as I have no intention of furnishing this government with information and thereby helping them to legislate for women without obtaining their consent or first consulting them in the [missing words] effective way possible & extending the franchise to duly qualified women. As a responsible, law-abiding citizen I have conducted my business for sixteen years; as an employer of labour I have [contributed?] to the wealth of the state and in return I have been taxed for the upkeep of no 10 Downing Street. No 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the prime minister, but converted by his wife into a show-room for a French [dress maker?] (free of all duty and taxation) to exhibit his Paris models and take orders from them to be executed in Paris. I [missing words] with very few exceptions the dressmaking establishments in England are all owned by women, & only women & [missing words] workers. It therefore comes to this, that the only way open to us to protest at ‘our trade’ being ruined in [missing words] our taxes, is to drive home to the government by every method available that women are determined [missing words – perhaps ‘not to be governed’] without their consent.’

Would that not whet any researcher’s appetite? Who was Miss Marsden/Mdme Mantalini? What had Margot Asquith been up to?

In fact the second question was the easier to answer. An inspection of The Times archive revealed that in May 1909 Margot Asquith had been called to task by drapers’ associations from around the country for inviting the Parisian designer Paul Poiret to show dresses in 10 Downing Street.

Poiret then was the epitome of chic – designing dresses that relied on draping, rather than tailoring – so much easier to wear – and promoting hobble skirts, harem pants and kimono coats – designs such as these.


In response to a letter of complaint from an MP,  Mrs Asquith explained,  ‘I received in my private rooms at tea from 20 to 25 of my personal friends and a well-known French costumier, whose models can be bought in any London shop, brought some specimens for the inspection of myself and my guests. It was a purely personal occasion.’ In fact, such was the rumpus, that henceforward Margot Asquith was obliged to patronize British costumiers, such as Lucile  although probably not, I fear, Madame Mantalini.

I thought at first that when Miss Marsden referred to herself on the census paper as ‘Mdme Mantalini’ it was merely as short-hand to describe her position as a dressmaker – that being the name of the dressmaking establishment at which, in Nicholas Nickleby, Kate Nickleby is apprenticed.  But, consulting my 1908 London street directory, I found that the shop at 69 Church Street (which is still there) was, indeed, that of ‘Mrs Sybil Mantalini’. It was then only a short step to establish that Mrs Mantalini was, in fact, Miss Sybil Marsden, who was on the London Electoral Register by dint of her occupation of those premises, and the question of’ ‘Who was Miss S. Marsden?’ was solved.

But now I was hooked. Who was Miss Sybil Marsden? Why was she such an outspoken dressmaker?

I discovered that she had 9 siblings and in 1911 was living at the family home, 82 RedcliffeGardens in South Kensington, with her mother and one unmarried sister. Her father, Algernon Moses Marsden, had been a fine art dealer but, by 1901, had been declared bankrupt several times. His background was most interesting; he had declined to enter the family’s successful clothing business, clearly preferring the more elevated association with ‘art’.

Algernon Moses Marsden by James Tissot

Algernon Moses Marsden by James Tissot

Marsden was by all accounts – mainly in the bankruptcy reports – an engaging fellow – as is evident in the portrait of him by James Tissot, painted in 1877, when Sybil was four-years-old. At that time Marsden was Tissot’s dealer, but gambling and high-living proved his downfall. It would appear that after his final bankruptcy in 1901 he removed himself to New York, where he died in 1920. I can now see that the choice of the name ‘Madame Mantalini’ may have been even more to the point than I first thought. In Nicholas Nickleby it is Mr Mantalini’s extravagance that resulted in the bankruptcy of his wife’s business – an awful warning to Sybil Marsden.  No wonder Algernon’s daughter had little faith in the ability of men to manage her affairs.


The cinéaste members of my family play the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game (whereby any named film actor has to be connected with fellow-actor KB by links covering no more than 6 films). I am hopeless at that – but think I might be a contender in Six Degrees of Garrett. This particular case is easy: Sybil Marsden, Algernon Marsden, James Tissot, J.M. Brydon, Agnes and Rhoda Garrett. As I discuss in Enterprising Women: the Garrets and their circle,  the two young women were undergoing their architectural training with Brydon in 1873, at a time when he was working on the design of a new studio for Tissot, attached to the artist’s St John’s Wood house. Did they go on a site visit? Had they perhaps even seen in the flesh, as it were, the tiger skin and the fashionable blue vase, that serve to emphasise Algenon Marsden’s exoticism and good taste.

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2 Gower Street – Royal Holloway College – and a Sense of Place

Number 2 Gower Street – just past the north-east corner of Bedford Square in Bloomsbury – was home to Agnes Garrett from 1874. She lived there first with her cousin and partner, Rhoda, and then with her widowed sister, Millicent Fawcett, and Millicent’s daughter, Philippa. Rhoda died in the house in 1882, as did Millicent in 1929 and Agnes in 1935. Philippa continued to live there alone for several more years. The Garretts, thus, had an association with this one house for well over 60 years. The fact that it was the home of Dame Millicent Fawcett, ‘pioneer of women’s suffrage’, is marked by the blue plaque on the front of the house.

2 Gower Street is now the central London campus of Royal Holloway College which was most generous in allowing me access when I was researching the work of Rhoda and Agnes Garrett. In addition, in January 2012 I had the pleasure of spending an evening there, giving a talk on the Garretts’ interior design business to members of the Camden History Society. Afterwards we all had a chance to wander around, spotting the elements of design that might be attributed to the Garretts. One of the best rooms is the first-floor back, the ceiling of which was painted by Rhoda and Agnes. Seen by lamplight on a dark wintery night it did look most attractive.

Although an effort has been made to make the interior of the house look a little less institutional than in the recent past, it did strike me how strange it was that there was not one visual reference to the long Garrett occupation. For instance, a series of etchings (I think) of what appeared to be northern European market towns, while being attractive, do nothing to give meaning to the rooms in which they are hung.

Coincidentally, a few days after that talk, I saw an advertisement for Royal Holloway’s MA in Creative Writing, one of the ‘pathways’ of which is ‘Environmental Writing’ (‘Place, Environment, Writing’). Looking at the website I saw that the accompanying photograph shows Prof Andrew Motion, the biographer of Keats, whose portrait the Garretts included in the ceiling next door, conducting a seminar in the Garretts’ drawing room. How ironic, I thought, that they should be discussing a sense of place in a place from which all sense of a past has been excluded.

I emailed Andrew Motion to make this point and received an immediate and very supportive reply – suggesting I write to his head of department. Well, I did so, but met with silence. I suppose universities have more pressing matters to attend to.

But how easy and inexpensive it would be to add a few pictures to that seminar room and show an awareness of its past history.

For instance, an enlargment of this – showing the same room in 1875 – as depicted in Rhoda and Agnes’s book, House Decoration.

And here is a photograph, held in the National Portrait Gallery, of Agnes attending to the grandfather clock in the corner just to the left of the fireplace. The portrait in the background is that of Philippa Fawcett by Harold Rathbone. And here is Millicent Fawcett conducting the women’s suffrage campaign from her desk in the corner on the fireplace’s right.

That is just a beginning – I could suggest many more illustrations – all inexpensive to access – of designs, people and occasions that would bring a sense of place back to the house that was the centre of so much activity during the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th.  How pleased I would be if Royal Holloway were to take my suggestion seriously.


For much more about Millicent Fawcett and Agnes Garrett see Elizabeth Crawford, Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle

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Music For Garrett Rooms: Hubert Parry’s ‘English Lyrics’

ParryThe most detailed account of Rhoda and Agnes Garrett at work as ‘house designers’  is, as far as I have been able to establish, recorded in the diary of the composer, Hubert Parry. He was their close friend and in May 1876 stayed with them for a fortnight in 2 Gower Street, afterwards writing in his diary:

’To live in their house is a very great deal of happiness in itself. The quiet and soothing colour of the walls and decoration and the admirable taste of all things acts upon the mind in the most comforting manner. I was quite excised of the vulgar idea that everything ought to be light & gaudy & covered with gilt in London. All these are a sure element of discomfort in a house, ones eye wants rest & nothing shows the dirt & dust of London so soon as light colours & gilding’.

Later in 1876 Rhoda and Agnes were commissioned to decorate Parry’s new house in Phillimore Place, Kensington.

In 1881 Parry chose to build his country house, Knights Croft, just across from the back garden of Rhoda and Agnes’s cottage in Rustington, Sussex.. There he provided members of the Garrett circle with many evenings of musical entertainment. In my first draft of Enterprising Women I included the suggestion that while reading Chapter 4 – that discussing Rhoda and Agnes’s careers as interior designers  – a background accompaniment of Parry’s Songs might be appropriate. This suggestion was excised by a (prosaic) editor and I did not have the gumption to remonstrate.

Here, however, I can now suggest you listen to some excerpts from ‘Parry’s English Lyrics’.

Don’t you think that they add another dimension to a study of the work of ‘R & A Garrett’?

Rhoda and Agnes Garrett's drawing room, 2 Gower Street, Bloomsbury

Rhoda and Agnes Garrett’s drawing room, 2 Gower Street, Bloomsbury

This music, so fluent, so English, was made to be played in the rooms that the cousins designed, composer and decorator each in their own way bringing comfort and harmony to the middle classes. The music also speaks of the patriotism and imperialism that was dear to the Garretts and their circle.

For more about Rhoda and Agnes Garrett and their work see:

Elizabeth Crawford, Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle, published by Francis Boutle 

Click here for details



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Mrs Millicent Vince: Pupil of Agnes Garrett And Interior Decorator


Vince BookIn the post ‘Garrett Laburnum’ I mentioned that I had come across a sliver of wallpaper designed by Rhoda and Agnes Garrett as a photo in a book by one of Agnes’ pupils, Millicent Vince. Being curious, I wondered what I could find out about Mrs Vince and her work.

I discovered that she had been born Emily Cohen in Birmingham in 1868, the daughter of Adolph Cohen, a Hamburg-born watchmaker and diamond dealer. There was clearly artistry in the family; one of Adolph’s watch case designs (1871) is held in the National Archives Design Register. Her mother, Juliana, was Scottish. Emily, who was known as ‘Millie’ or ‘Millicent’, had 3 sisters and a brother, the family living for many years at 27 Frederick Street, in the city’s Jewellery Quarter. Her brother, David, also became a diamond dealer, eventually moving out of Birmingham to live at The Old Stone Manor, Upper Oddington, Gloucestershire.

I would imagine that the family was Jewish, although it would seem doubtful that Millicent, at least, was observant. There is no hint of the sisters having any paid occupation until, after their father’s death, in the 1901 census the eldest sister, Jessie, is shown as running a typewriting agency. Emily is living at home.

However, in the 1911 census Jessie no longer has an occupation, while the 1908 London Directory that I happen to have to hand shows ‘Miss M. Cohen’ running her own business as an Interior Decorator from Oakley House (14,16,18 Bloomsbury Street).There is no trace of Emily Cohen in the 1911 census, either under her given name or her diminutives. She was at that time living at 68 Great Russell Street, just round the corner from her office, but is not listed in the enumerator’s book as being expected to be there on census night. I would not, however, jump to the conclusion that she is absent because she heeded the suffragette call to boycott the census. There is likely to be a more prosaic explanation – such as a holiday abroad.

So in 1908 Millicent Cohen was living just down the road from Agnes Garrett’s house at 2 Gower Street. Did her pupillage with Agnes Garrett occur after 1901? – perhaps between then and Agnes’ retirement in 1905? The fact that she chose to set up business so close by might indicate that she inherited the goodwill of Agnes’s business. She clearly was very fond of her, dedicating Decorating and Care of the Home to ‘Agnes Garrett Pioneer of Women House-Decorators My Teacher and Friend’ and writing of her in the feminist paper, The Woman’s Leader, in 1925.

Millicent’s training probably followed closely that which Rhoda and Agnes had enjoyed. In a footnote she reveals that as a student she made drawings of the woodwork – mantelpieces and panelling – from building such as Aston Hall, Juniper Hall and Kew Palace; Rhoda and Agnes had had entry for just such a purpose to many of the great houses of England.

On reading Decorating and Care of the Home  it is obvious that Millicent Vince shared many of the views on what constituted an ideal home as set out by Rhoda and Agnes Garrett nearly 50 years earlier in House Decoration (Macmillan, 1875). The emphasis is always on light and simplicity.

For instance, for country cottages Mrs Vince recommends the Swedish style – light-painted furniture, perhaps decorated with discreet stencils – thinking this preferable to the dark ‘country’ furniture usually thought suitable. This is a timeless look: today’s ‘country decorating’ magazines such as Country Living and Homes and Antiques usually feature at least one home dressed in such a style. In fact Mrs Vince clearly had a penchant for Sweden – leaving bequests in her will to two Swedish friends, one being the 1912 Olympic tennis player, Ebba Hay.

After setting up in business Miss Cohen soon made a name for herself, being quoted thus in article by Sarah Tooley, published in the Everywoman Encyclopaedia around 1910. ‘Are you not afraid of your workmen?” a lady asked Miss M. Cohen, one of our most accomplished designers and decorators. “Afraid of my workmen?” replied Miss Cohen. “Why, I count them all among my friends. They are willing, polite, and obliging, and it has done me good to know them.” This was very much the attitude to her workforce that Agnes Garrett had displayed throughout her working life.

Having probably not commenced in business until she was in her mid-30s, Millicent Cohen’s life took an interesting turn when, in 1915, she married Charles Vince. He was the son of a Cambridge fellow (and former headmaster of Mill HillSchool), had been educated in Birmingham and, when they married, was 28 to her 48. I am not sure whether or not she continued in business. After her marriage she no longer appears to have an office address, but the telephone directory lists ‘Mrs M. Vince’ rather than Charles. After the war he was in full-time employment as publicity secretary of the Royal Naval Lifeboat Institution and may not have needed the listing for professional purposes – while Millicent did. But that is perhaps a deduction too far.

After a brief sojourn in Hampstead Garden Suburb (Mrs Vince, while finding the Suburb’s cottages agreeably quaint on the outside, is a little scathing about their practicality), the couple lived in Brunswick Gardens, Kensington, first at 42 and, after 1936, at 27.

Inside Mrs Vince's hosueAlthough in her book Mrs Vince mentions in passing many decorating commissions that she had undertaken, all of them are anonymous. If it was difficult to identify Agnes Garrett’s clients, it seems impossible now to discover those to whom Mrs Vince brought the luxury of tranquil surroundings. For that was her aim. This photograph is taken from Decorating and Care of the Home and I rather think is of a room in her own apartment. The wallpaper looks very much like Morris’s ‘Willow Bough’, the paper she had selected for illustration alongside ‘Garrett Laburnum’.

Apart from her books, Millicent Vince’s will is the only document I have seen that gives any other clue to her personal life. In that she makes clear her affection for her husband and siblings and, among many bequests, are ones to the woman-run Lady Chichester Hospital at Hove and one of its doctors, Dr Helen Boyle, and to Kensington feminist designer and enameller, Mrs Ernestine Mills.

Mrs Vince’s other two books are Furnishing and Decorating Do’s and Don’ts, Methuen, 1925 and Practical Home Decorating: how to choose your decorations and how to carry them out yourself, Pitman, 1932. Here are details of the copy of Decorating and Care of the Home that I have for sale.

For more on Rhoda and Agnes Garrett ‘House Decorators’ see Elizabeth Crawford, Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle.

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‘Garrett Laburnum’

Garrett laburnum

One of the pleasures in working on the creation of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery was to be able to help bring back to life the only surviving wallpaper created by the firm of ‘Rhoda and Agnes Garrett Household Decorators’.

I first came across the design in the form of a small, rather indistinct, black and white photograph in Decoration and Care of the Home by Mrs Millicent Vince.

Vince BookThe book was published in 1923 and is dedicated to Agnes Garrett, with whom Millicent Vince had trained. The photograph labelled ‘Garrett Laburnum’ appears alongside one of ‘Willow Bough’, created by William Morris in 1887. ‘Garrett Laburnum’ is likely to date from around the same time..

Although we do not know exactly how the original wallpaper was coloured,  wallpaper artist Pip Hall did a wonderful job of re-creating ‘Garrett Laburnum’ using the soft greens and yellows that surviving comments indicate were predominant in Agnes Garrett’s palette.

Click here to see how ‘Garrett Laburnum’ is displayed in the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery.

For Pip Hall click here

For much more information about Rhoda and Agnes Garrett as the first women professional decorators see Elizabeth Crawford, Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle.

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