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Last autumn, under the title, Something A Little Different: Furrowed Middlebrow Books , I wrote about a commission I had been given to write forewords to several novels by Rachel Ferguson and Winifred Peck, reprinted by Dean Street Press.
It was a pleasure to be invited back by the publishers to write a foreword introducing six novels by Elizabeth Fair, an author who, after achieving a degree of popularity in the 1950s, had become all but unknown. I very much enjoyed uncovering something of the author and reading her novels, well-written, charming, and redolent of a world that has most certainly past.
I love the detective work involved and was very fortunate that, having read the author’s will, I was able to make contact with someone who had known her well. On a cold, wet day in January I went to Cambridge (fortuitously combining this research visit with taking possession of some items I had just bought at a Cambridge auction house) and had a most interesting conversation about Elizabeth Fair. Moreover, I was shown the author’s diary dating from around the time her first novel was first published which gave a brief glimpse into her life and, incidentally, revealed something of the way that tyro authors were treated by publishers in those days – rather well was my conclusion. The diary revealed that Hutchinson, her publisher, had booked her a session with Angus McBean, a most highly regarded portrait photographer and it is his photograph that appears on the dustwrappers of the original editions of her books. My hostess had inherited furniture and pictures from Elizabeth Fair and these went some way to furnish in my mind the homes that she had lived in.
The novels have been given very stylish covers – five of them are based on Eric Ravilious illustrations, but one, The Native Heath, uses the artwork that appeared on the dustwrapper of the original edition – early work of a very young Shirley Hughes.
You can find details of all Elizabeth Fair’s novels, with my Introduction, here.
This image (courtesy of The Women’s Library@LSE) will appear, among 100 or so others, in my new book, Art and Suffrage: a biographical dictionary of suffrage artists, to be published by Francis Boutle Publishers in June 2017.
The artist of this lovely card was previously unknown, but I have managed to identify her, which pleases me immensely as I have loved this image for many years – ever since I once, and only once, found – and sold – it in the form of a calendar for 1913 issued by the Artists’ Suffrage League.
The typescript is all ready to go to the publisher when the world reawakens on Tuesday 3 January 2017. It’s not too early to let me know if you would be interested in buying a copy of the published work. I can start taking orders now!
Back in the summer I was delighted to receive a commission from a small reprint publisher, the Dean Street Press, to write an introduction to three novels by Rachel Ferguson that they were planning to reissue. I guessed why they had asked me… I had written the entry on her in the New Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. But I was especially pleased to have the opportunity to set out more about her life and to tease out links with the novels because she had spent her early years in Teddington, the suburb adjoining Twickenham, where I had spent my youth, and the road where she had lived was familiar to me. Two of the reissued novels, Evenfield and a
Harp in Lowndes Square, in whole or in part conjure up life in late-Victorian Teddington as seen through her idiosyncratic eyes and, knowing from her autobiographies, that Rachel Ferguson was somewhat haunted by memories of her childhood, as I read the novels I could add another wraith, my teenaged self, to those wandering the path from the station or walking over the bridge to the more sophisticated Kingston shops. Needless to say this solipsistic reading is mine only.
The third of the reissued Ferguson novels is
A Footman for a Peacock, a fantastical tale set in the early years of the Second World War.
After I had delivered the Ferguson Introduction Dean Street then asked me to write one for another novel in this tranche of reissues, Winifred Peck’s Bewildering Cares.
I had read the author’s autobiographies some years ago and, as it happens, had very recently read a biography of her niece, Penelope Fitzgerald, which includes good background information on Winifred’s family – the Knoxes. Growing up, alongside her decidedly idiosyncratic brothers, in a clerical household, provided Winifred with plenty of material for her novels and, again, I was able to make links between her life and her fiction. Bewildering Cares covers a week in the life of a vicar’s wife in the early stages of the Second World War.
These novels are only three of nine that Dean Street Press have released this month (October 2016) under the ‘Furrowed Middlebrow’ imprint. Isn’t that a great name? It comes from the eponymous blog conducted by Scott, a Californian enthusiast for novels by British women writers (particularly those from the 20th-c inter-war years). Do have a read of the blog – click here. His enthusiasm convinced Dean Street Press to reissue his chosen titles – and more Furrowed Middlebrow reissues are planned.
I love the covers of all the new ‘Furrowed Middlebrow’ titles – and am delighted to be associated, even in this most distant way, with Eric Ravilious. They are all available in paperback – for details (and a view of all the other covers) – click here. They can be ordered direct from the publisher, or from Amazon, or the Book Depository, or from any bookshop. They are all also available as ebooks.
For some unfathomable reason this series of reprints has been the target of a rather ridiculously vindictive Amazon reviewer who has spent a good deal of time in constantly rewriting the ill-conceived ‘thoughts’ that accompany her award of ‘one-star’ to all the ‘Furrowed Middlebrow’ books, which she clearly hasn’t even bothered to read. One blogger, ‘Stuck in a Book’, has called (click here to read his call to arms) for the sensible and interested to do what they can by asking readers of the books to give their own Amazon review (of course most readers would probably normally never think of doing any such thing) so that, if they like the books, they can improve the star rating. Such is Amazon nonsense.
Just before Christmas last year I visited an excellent exhibition – ‘The Fallen Woman’ – at the Foundling Museum in Coram Fields in Bloomsbury. I have now been alerted to a short film based on the exhibition made by Lily Ford, a recent PhD graduate from Birkbeck, and thought my ‘followers’ might find it of interest.
This is the description that accompanies the film:
‘Little is known about the unmarried mothers who had their babies taken in by London’s Foundling Hospital in the nineteenth century. This short film explores the predicament of these ‘blank mothers’, drawing on documents and images from ‘The Fallen Woman’, a recent exhibition at the Foundling Museum curated by Birkbeck’s Professor Lynda Nead. Using views of the historic interiors of the museum, contemporary accounts and the words of the mothers that were recorded by the Hospital committee, it seeks to reimagine the experience of these women. The film was made by Lily Ford during an AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellowship at Birkbeck.’
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.
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.
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.
I originally gave this paper at the Women’s History Network Conference, Southampton, September 2005
‘Painting Days at School of Art are perfect bliss: the manuscript diary (1892-1914) of Sarah Madeleine Martineau, art student and craft worker’.
This paper is based on the manuscript diary of Sarah Madeleine Martineau, the first entry in which is for 1 January 1892 and the last for 25 January 1914. I bought the diaries a few years ago, at the time giving them merely a cursory glance and registering only that the world they depicted was one that appealed. At odd intervals I have undertaken some research into the life and work of Sarah Madeleine Martineau and now think that what the diaries reveal is of some general interest.
She was born in London at 4 South Road (later 122 King’s Avenue), Clapham Park, on 2 May 1872, the final child in the family of David Martineau, the senior partner in a firm of sugar refiners and a leading Clapham Liberal. David Martineau’s grandfather was a brother to the father of Harriet Martineau and Dr James Martineau. In 1856 David and his wife, Sarah, settled in South Road, in leafy Clapham Park. The Martineaus’ house and its immediate neighbours have been demolished, making way for tower blocks, but it was then quite new, was large, double-fronted and detached, set well back from the road, with stabling, and grounds ample enough to include a tennis court.
The Martineaus were Unitarians and with another South London family, the Nettlefolds of Streatham Grove, Norwood, were pillars of the Unitarian church in Effra Road, Brixton. The Martineau family comprised four sons and four daughters, the eldest child, Daisy, being 16 years older than Madeleine. Of the Martineaus’ sons, two married Nettlefold sisters; Unitarians tended to stick together. Although enjoying an active social life the younger Martineau daughters do not seem to have attended many formal parties or dances. Of the daughters only Daisy married; Lillie, Lucy and Lena (such were the diminutives by which they were known) probably lived together in the family home, certainly until the 1940s, and then either together, or near each other, in south London, for the rest of their long lives. At the 1891 census besides members of the immediate family there were also living in the house a cook, a parlour maid, two house maids and a 20-year old cousin, Charles Worthington. Lena possibly had a tenderesse for Charlie; she always mentions any little attention she received from him, but in 1895 he died suddenly – the relevant entry reads: ‘Charlie, the sweetest man that ever lived is dead. He died on Christmas day..’
David Martineau’s sister, Mary, who lived close by with their mother, can be spotted as a member of many of the women’s causes of the day, for instance signing the 1889 Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage. Lena Martineau and her sister Lucy, who was three years older, had been boarders at Roedean school in Sussex, which, recently founded, was much favoured by the daughters of the wealthy non-conformist middle class. When Lena begins her diary in an exercise book in January 1892 one of the first entries relates that Barbara Shore Smith, who had been a contemporary at Roedean, had come to stay and in May 1892 Lena and Lucy went to visit Barbara, then at Girton, staying in lodgings near the college. Lena must have been well aware of all the feminist causes of the day, but, although writing her diary through the years of the main suffrage activity, makes no comment whatsoever on any aspect of the woman question. It must also be mentioned that in the entire 22 years covered by the diary she only mentions one book. On 23 February 1893 she wrote, ‘Have been reading a book called ‘Mona Maclean, medical student’, & think it splendid.’
Perhaps Lena was uninterested in the written word but her free-thinking, prosperous, well-educated family set great store by art. Lucy and Lena were clearly given every encouragement to practise any aspect of art in which they were interested. Thus apart from visiting friends, playing tennis, taking what seem exceptionally long walks and bicycle rides, and helping with bazaars and garden parties, Lena seems to have been fully occupied with attending art classes and visiting galleries. There were prominent role models very close to home. The two daughters of Dr James Martineau, Gertrude and Edith, together with their sister-in-law, Clara Martineau, were all working artists, exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy and at the Dudley Gallery. Their work now sells well – a watercolour by Edith Martineau sold for over £3,500 in 2005. The Martineaus were committed visitors to art galleries. For instance in the diary’s first year, on 22 April, Lena wrote, ‘Lucy and I met Papa at the private view of the Old Water Colours. It was very hot and full, but a good many very nice pictures.’ I am afraid that Lena’s criticism of the art that she took such care to see rarely rises above this level of comment.
In her new diary on Friday 8 January 1892 Lena Martineau wrote: ‘Art School began again on Monday, but we did not go till Tues. I have a side view of the girl so shall soon have done it..’ The Art School that she and Lucy attended was Clapham Art School, in Vernon Road, Clapham High Street, which had been founded in 1885 and was associated with the Government Schools at South Kensington – students were expected to take the Government examinations. In January 1892 Lena was taking drawing and painting classes, which she very much enjoyed, writing on 3 February ‘Joy! Mr Nightingale [the headmaster] told me that I am to begin painting my next head’ and on 21 February the entry that gave this paper its title ‘Painting days at School of Art are perfect bliss!’. In May she sat exams in the Life and Antique – ‘Given the choice of faun or the discobolus, we did the latter’. In July she heard that she had passed the exams, both 2nd class.
After a summer break, some of which was spent sketching in Wales, Lena returned in October to Clapham Art School. Her entry adds, ‘Found that Miss Pemberton is working there now’.
From the context it would appear that Lena already knew Sophie Pemberton, a Canadian artist, just three years older, who had already studied in Paris at the Academie Julien. Her father was the first surveyor general for Vancouver Island and Sophie was living in Alexandra House in Kensington, which had been built to house women music and art students and to where she often invited Lena for tea. It was – and remains, though much altered – a rather glamorous hostel, replete with terracotta panels and intricate Doulton tiles and picture panels.
In May Lena took Life and Still-life exams. Of the latter she wrote ‘the group was a top hat and two oranges on green baize!. Got home in time for some tennis’. On the 29th there was the recurrence of a problem that plagued the art school, ‘I went to the Art School but finding no model returned – & had my hair cut.’ I suspect that Clapham School of Art did not meet Sophie Pemberton’s standards because she instigated a move to Westminster School of Art in Tufton Street, Dean’s Yard, where, by October, she, Lucy and Lena were enrolled. As with the Clapham School, Westminster followed the South Kensington regime. It is worth noting that Lena chose to attend such a school, where the syllabus was geared to an examination system, rather than one of the many art schools established to cater for the ‘ladies’ market.
Of Mr Loudan, the principal instructor at Westminster and a portrait and genre painter, Lena remarked ‘Very squashing, makes me scrape out but does not say much’. On 7 December she wrote ‘Today Mr Loudan was very crushing to me’. However she persevered happily, the following March reporting that ‘Our new model on Monday was a boy and on Thursday Mr Loudan praised me for better colouring and came twice to me’. That May she again sat the Life and Antique exam. All this intermingled with much gallery visiting; Venetian pictures at the New Gallery, a visit to Herkomer’s studio to see the work of some of his Bushey students (‘Very good some of them’.), and to the Guildhall (‘splendid exhibition’). She returned to Westminster Art School in October and on the 4th recorded ‘Lucy and I went to town today for the summer sketch criticisms at school of art. Mr Loudan presented me with £3, as third prize for the year’s composition sketches. Delightful surprise..’
In the autumn of 1897 Lena and Lucy travelled over to Park Walk, Chelsea, to visit the complex of the Stanley Studios, where Sophie Pemberton was based. Sophie’s star was on the ascendant; that year she had exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy summer exhibition. Unfortunately there was no studio available there, and with Ethel Le Rossignol, a school friend with whom they proposed to share and who much later became a practitioner of spirit-channeled art, Lucy and Lena embarked on a search. By the end of November they had found a studio, at a rent of £35 a year – and were very pleased with it. They had fun arranging to move in, buying things with which to decorate, including a new stove and oriental rugs. Lena hired models and also arranged for family and friends to sit for her. The studio gave the sisters an opportunity to invite round their friends, in a way they probably did not do at home. On 6 March ‘Barbara Nightingale came to tea at studio yesterday’. [Barbara Nightingale was the same person as Barbara Shore-Smith – there had been a change of family name.] In April Lucy had a picture accepted by the Royal Academy, Lena describes the subject as being 3 parrots; the exhibition catalogue gives it the title ‘Red, White and Blue’. The picture was sold to a Captain B for 7 guineas.
In 1899 and 1900 Lena continued working from the studio, concentrating on pictures to submit to the Royal Academy. However they were all rejected or crowded out. In the summers, with Lucy and Ethel Le Rossignol, she took sketching lessons from professional artists, the first year in Mayfield in Sussex and the next summer at Brockham Green in Surrey. In November 1900 she returned to the Westminster Art School, taking lessons in modelling from life.
She also began to learn metal repoussé, possibly at the Westminster School – her diary is not entirely clear on the point. Lena was following the spirit of the times. There had in the last five years been a definite upsurge of interest in craft work. Lena, however, quickly gave up this class in order to attend a modelling design class at St John’s School of Art and Science at New Cross, where a Mr Miller and a Miss Jean Milne, who had been fellow students at Westminster, were master and assistant mistress. Lena placed the receipt for the course (10/- for the term ending 12 April) between the pages of her diary and began modelling a door knocker.
However, for whatever reason, at the end of the term she did not continue at New Cross, but went over to Chelsea to investigate the modelling class at the South West Polytechnic in Manresa Road. She duly joined that class and ‘settled to join the handicraft studio for metal repousse on Tuesday afternoons’. In May she sat a Modelling Design exam, which she passed 1st class, and a Life exam and was awarded a book prize in the National Competition work at South Kensington for her ‘head of Papa’. The National Competition was run by the Science and Art Department of the Committee of the Council on Education and several thousand students from art schools around the country competed for the prizes.
In October Lena began classes again, taking a modelling life class at the Manresa Road Polytechnic and one in modelling design at St John’s. She was also doing metal work, perhaps at the polytechnic. I think she must have given up her studio some time before this and in November (1902) when she decided to make a commitment to metal work and bought a muffle furnace, she made her workshop at home in the harness room. In December she went over to Whitechapel to the Sir John Cass Institute ‘as I think of going there for metal work and design after Christmas’. The Sir John Cass Institute had only opened the previous June so Lena was obviously well aware of developments in the field of craft education. She then left the St John School of Art at New Cross and in January 1903 ‘started work at the Sir John Cass Technical Institute’. The head of the Arts and Crafts Department was Richard Llewellyn Rathbone, Harold Stabler was teacher of drawing and design, Gilbert Bayes was teacher of modelling, and there were also teachers of jewellery and enamelling.
Lena took the enamelling class on Tuesday evenings, jewellery on Wednesdays and design on Fridays. During the day on Tuesdays she still attended modelling classes at the Polytechnic.
She continued with these classes until the end of the summer term and then went to Walberswick with Lucy to take sketching lessons from Bertram Priestman. She returned to the Cass in October and found that Jean Milne was also now working there. Among her fellow students were Violet and Frances Ramsay and Thalia How. She attended the Cass for all three terms that year and returned to Walberswick in September for two more weeks of sketching with Bertram Priestman.
When she returned to the Cass in October 1904 she learned that she had received a book prize for a figure she had sent up to the National Competition. She once again rented a studio, this time in Tachbrook Street. Lena was now established in her jewellery making; a pendant she had made was given to Barbara Nightingale as a wedding present as she embarked for India to marry ‘a Mr Stephens’. In her studio she began modelling a bust of her father and began another happy round of studio teas; Jean Milne and Thalia Howe were among the guests. She continued at the Cass throughout 1905, receiving a prize for metal work at the end of the year.
In January 1906 she had at least two pendants accepted for the Arts and Crafts Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries. One of her pieces was described in the Exhibition catalogue as a necklace and enamel pendant and was priced at £2 12s 6d. There was increasing organization in her area of the art world and in April she notes the first meeting of the Sir John Cass Arts and Crafts Society and in May that she had ‘applied to join a new club called the United Arts Club.’ The Studio reported that as ‘it is hoped the club will become a recognised medium for effecting sales, it was of importance to establish at the outset the standard of work which will entitle members to the privilege of having their work included in the quarterly exhibitions’. Lena was accepted as a member.
In June the Sir John Cass Arts and Crafts Society held its first exhibition and Lena noted in her diary ‘One of mine is to be photoed for the Art Journal’. In fact the December 1906 issue of the Art Journal includes both a silver necklace and a copper and enamel candlestick by Madeleine Martineau. Among the other pieces photographed were a copper tea caddy by Jean Milne, a pendant each by Thalia How and Violet Ramsay and a brooch and a necklace by Harold Stabler.
In November 1907 at the Cass annual show Lena exhibited two jewel cases and a metal fruit dish with a figure pedestal. In December she received a prize from the Cass Institute, the book selected being a copy of Lewis Day’s Enamelling. In May 1908 she ‘took up a case of jewellery to agents for Liverpool exhibition’, in November she was exhibiting at the Sir John Cass society show and also sent a case of jewellery to a show in Cambridge. At the end of the month she ‘took a case of jewellery to the United Arts Club and another to the Lyceum Club’. From the Cambridge show she received a first class certificate.
She does not mention if any items were sold from these exhibitions. In February 1906 she had noted that a ‘pendant I sent to show at Alderley Edge has 2nd prize and is sold to Katherine Greg’ and that from the Cass show in November 1907 ‘one thing of mine was bought, a copper clasp’. In February 1909 came her first commission. The relevant entry reads ‘I have been to Club today to meet lady who wishes for a gold medal to be made for the poets club to award the best poem’. The lady was a Mrs Higginbotham and the Club was the United Arts. Lena began the medal on 11 April and delivered it two months later. She had not been working at it all this time; she had enjoyed a two-week holiday in Italy. However on 20 July she received ‘ a rude letter from Mrs Higginbothom this morning refusing to take the medal, and saying it is not worth more than 15/- to a guinea!. Tho all 18ct gold with pearls and enamel.’ Lena reported the matter to the Club who arranged for her to make an appointment to speak to Mrs Higginbotham in person.
However Harold Stabler advised her not to go but to write. The matter ended with Mrs Higginbotham returning the medal to her. There is no mention of her ever receiving another commission. She kept busy in the autumn, exhibiting jewellery at an exhibition in Dresden and at the Cass society’s annual show.
In January 1910 she took a case of jewellery and an epergne to the New Gallery for display at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition and two cases of jewellery to the Society of Women Artists. She is noted as an exhibitor in the catalogues of both exhibitions. Her work shown at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition included a gold pendant and chain, entitled ‘ St Cecilia’; a gold necklace, a gold enamelled pendant and a gold necklace with tourmalines. For what it is worth it so happens that in the copy of the catalogue held by the British Library Lena Martineau’s pieces have been annotated in the margin in pencil. There are very few other markings – Cobden Sanderson’s books are so marked – and the impression is that the holder of the catalogue walking around the exhibition had approved of her pieces. There is no indication, however, of whom this visitor was.
In February 1911 she won 1st prize in the competition organised by the Studio for the design for a necklace pendant . The prize was 3 guineas – and, of course, her name was published in the magazine. In June when the Studio reported on an exhibition organised by the Sir John Cass Arts and Crafts Society it mentioned that ‘the jewellery included a dainty gold necklace by Miss Martineau’. Then on 24 November her father died. For whatever reason after this she made very few diary entries and the diary ends, at the bottom of the final page of the book, on 19 March 1914. I do not know if she carried on with her diary beyond the final 1914 entry. Until November 1911 entries had been made quite regularly and contain far more detail than I have been able to include in this paper.
Moreover, in the few 1913 and 1914 entries she makes no mention of any artistic endeavour. However, a (February, I think) 1914 article in the Studio ,‘Some Examples of Modern English Jewellery’, is illustrated with what the magazine says is ‘a small selection of recent work by artists whose productions are familiar to exhibition visitors’. Among the artists so recognized was S. Madeleine Martineau, with an ‘enamelled gold pendant with four pears, wreath and bird repousse’.
As the Studio describes the work illustrated in the article as ‘recent’ it is likely that this piece was less than three years old, – that it was in fact made in the period after the last mention in her diary of her jewellery work. However, when the next Arts and Crafts Exhibition was held in 1916 Lena Martineau was not an exhibitor, although Violet and Frances Ramsay, Jean Milne and Thalia How all were. This would seem to be reasonably definite proof that she was by then no longer part of the arts and crafts scene.
But life has odd quirks. It was because the bird piece had been photographed for the Studio that when it was bought c. 1973, as part of a collection, by a dealer specialising in art nouveau jewellery, he was able to identify its maker. As Lena Martineau only died in 1972 – aged over 100 – my surmise is that the piece, along with others in the same collection, had remained with her all her life and had formed part of her estate. Once the dealer was able to identify this piece, others in the same collection were attributed to her.
Around the same time, interest in arts and crafts and art nouveau jewellery was developing, and two books by Vivienne Becker, Art Nouveau Jewelry and Antique and Twentieth Jewellery: a guide for collectors, drew on this art nouveau dealer’s stock of photographs for illustrations. A few facts about Lena Martineau’s life were surmised, mostly incorrectly.
It is not my contention that Lena was a feminist icon, a forgotten heroine. What is interesting about the life revealed in the diary is its very ordinariness. She had no struggle to receive her art education; her family backed her in her attendance at classes, in renting studios, and by sitting for her. Her diary reveals how much freedom a young woman – 20 when it opens – had in following her inclinations in this direction. There is nothing in her diary to suggest that she felt thwarted or discontented in any way. Moreover, whether or not she deserves the accolade, Sarah Madeleine Martineau has now entered the canon as an arts and crafts jeweller, the presumption being, merely because she is included, that her work was exceptional. However, in reality it is only because it has been possible to identify a little of her work – although that certainly is because she was considered by her contemporaries (except for Mrs Higginbotham) as being more than competent – that she has received this measure of recognition. Her diary gives a fascinating glimpse into the life behind the pendants.
Sarah Madeleine’s Manuscript Diary is now held in the collection of The Women’s Library@LSE.
On 7 August 2014 ITV will publish an e-book, Kate Parry Frye: The Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette. Based on her prodigious diary, this is my account of Kate Frye’s life and is a tie-in with the forthcoming ITV series ‘The Great War: The People’s Story’.
To discover more about the entirety of Kate’s life – her upbringing, her involvement with the suffrage movement, her marriage, her London flats, her life in a Buckinghamshire hamlet, her love of the theatre, her times as an actress, her efforts as a writer, her life on the Home Front during two world wars, her involvement with politics – and her view of the world from the 1890s until October 1958 – download the e-book – £4.99 – from iTunes – : http://bit.ly/PSeBKPFITVal. or £4.99 from Amazon.
As a lead-up to publication I thought I’d share with you some entries from Kate’s diary from the month before the outbreak of war. Through her day-to-day experience we can see how the war stole up on one Everywoman. Kate was at this time 36 years old, living in a room at 49 Claverton Street in Pimlico and working in the Knightsbridge headquarters of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. It was now nine years since she had become engaged to (minor) actor John Collins. Her father died in March 1914 and her mother and sister, Agnes, now all but penniless, are living in rented rooms in Worthing. For the previous few weeks Kate’s fiancé, John Collins, had been renting a room in another house in Claverton Street but he has now left for the West Country, to take up a position with a touring repertory company. Kate is feeling rather bereft.
Wednesday July 29th 1914
A busy morning of packing and cleaning and washing. I had ordered a chop so had my meal in – and [went] out at 3. Took a coat and skirt to try and sell but no one would have it – so had to take it to the Office. Gladys was there – very important and bad tempered. How she snapped at me. Mrs Chapman came in and she was discussing the grave crisis of the War. The area is spreading. She is going to Austria – and Alexandra and Gladys too – to the Tyrol – but they will never get there if things develop.
Had tea and said good-bye to Miss Burnaby who is leaving the staff as she had a very good appointment elsewhere – and good-bye to Miss Simeon and Gladys. It seems so final somehow. I could wish I wasn’t going back. I have grown so sick of the work. In saying good-bye to Gladys she said to me ‘Please don’t make a speech’ in such a rude, aggressive manner. I tried to turn it off by saying if I were doing so it was because I had had so much practice lately, and she said ‘Oh, Yes. Mr McKillop has been in today singing your praises – saying how well you speak that you ought to be made to speak, and what a splendid organiser you are, and what a wonderful person altogether.’ So I suppose that was the trouble. I got my salary and holiday cheque and made off.
Bus to Whiteleys and shopped, tried to get rid of coat and skirt – bus to Oxford Street and strolled all round the British Museum as I remembered a shop buying off me once. No good – so I enjoyed the curio and picture shops. Walked down to the Strand – had a vile meal at Slaters there – walked to Trafalgar Square and got my 24 Pimlico bus back at 9 o’clock. I wonder when I shall stroll about London again. Finished my packing and then to bed.
How Kate must have disliked lugging an old coat and skirt around London all day – in the vain hope of selling them for a shilling or two. Especially having listened to others in the Office making plans for the kind of continental holiday she had once enjoyed – and never would again.
Kate had already had considerable experience of selling garments belonging to members of her family to a variety of ‘old clo” women – usually around Kensington – as well as jewellery – and even her parents’ old false teeth – so I imagine she had become rather inured to the associated humiliation. By ‘strolled around the British Museum’ she means, of course, the streets around the BM, rather than the Museum itself. Bloomsbury was then a centre for curio shops, second-hand bookshops and picture dealers and picture framers. It still is, to a certain extent, if one blanks out the tatty souvenir shops.
And the number 24 is still the bus that runs from Trafalgar Square to Pimlico.