Posts Tagged Fanny Wilkinson

The Garretts And Their Circle: Annie Swynnerton: New Revelations

Millicent Garrett Fawcett by Annie Swynnerton. (Courtesy of The Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art)

Excellent News: Millicent Fawcett is entering Parliament. A portrait of Millicent Garrett Fawcett by Annie Swynnerton has been acquired by The Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art .

Last summer I noticed that this painting had appeared in an art dealer’s listing and immediately alerted Melanie Unwin, who until recently was Deputy Collector of the Palace of Westminster Collection – exclaiming, ‘Now, wouldn’t this be an excellent addition to the Parliamentary Collection?’ And – it has come to pass. The portrait is due to be ‘unveiled’ at the end of this month (March 2023). Public recognition of Millicent Fawcett is something in which I have taken a personal interest – for ten years ago I posted on this website a plea – ‘Make Millicent Fawcett Visible’. And – the veil has been lifted – she now has a statue in Westminster Square, her portrait, by Annie Swynnerton, is on show in the Tate,[i] and this other version will now hang in Parliament.

 This version, which presumably was painted around the same time (1910) as that bought for the Tate by the Chantrey Bequest in 1930 (the year after Fawcett’s death), remained, for whatever reason, in Annie Swynnerton’s studio and was sold in the February 1934 posthumous sale of her ‘Artistic Effects’. After that it passed through the auction rooms on several occasions but since the early 1970s has remained out of sight. However, thanks to the fact that the National Portrait Gallery archive holds a black-and-white photograph, Melissa Terras and I were able to include this image in Millicent Fawcett: selected writings.[ii]

In Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle I hazarded a guess that the Tate’s portrait might have been painted in a first-floor back room at Fawcett’s home, 2 Gower Street, Bloomsbury. However, I’ve now discovered, in a recently-digitised newspaper (the wonder of our age), that ‘Mrs Swynnerton told a Daily Herald representative that half of the portrait was painted in the garden of Dame Millicent’s house in Gower Street and the other half at her own home’.[iii]

Which leads me neatly to the bland, but intriguing, observation  that a narrative is shaped by the available information. Thus, in biography, an author takes ‘facts’ about a subject and turns them into a ‘life’. If the ‘facts’ comprise primary sources, such as letters, diaries, newspaper articles, society minutes, oral interviews etc, so much the better  – or, at least, easier. But if the subject has left no written trace, information must be wrung from whatever material comes to hand.

And, thus, I leap to the particular. For, in the case of the artist Annie Swynnerton (née Robinson), although there is very little documented information about her early life, serendipity – in the shape of a previously unrecorded collection of family portraits – has recently allowed me to focus the biographical lens on one connection made at the start of her career, that ran as a thread through its entirety, ensured her a place in the canon, and effected the link between the artist and the sitter of Parliament’s latest acquisition.

We know Annie Louisa Robinson was born in Manchester in 1844, the eldest of seven daughters. Her father, Francis Robinson (1814-89), the son of a Yorkshire carpenter,[iv] had risen from what one assumes were relatively humble beginnings, to become a solicitor, with  a practice in central Manchester. By the mid-1850s he was sufficiently successful to be able to move his growing family from inner Manchester to a newly-built, detached house in leafy Prestwich Park, 5 km north of the city.[v]  In fact Robinson was one of the first house-owners in this development which, guarded by two entrance lodges and with fine views, was intended to appeal to the burgeoning Manchester middle-class.[vi]  For some years Robinson involved himself in Manchester affairs; in 1863 he was vice-president of the Manchester Law Association and from at least 1861 was a councillor for St Ann’s Ward and by 1868 its chairman. However, in 1869 disaster struck; he was declared bankrupt. The effect on the family was momentous. In March the entire contents of the home – from a ‘Splendid Walnutwood Drawing-Room Suite, ‘’a sweet-toned cottage pianoforte’, ‘stuffed Australian birds under glass shade’ to a ‘patent coffee percolator’, ‘large brass preserving pans’, and ‘300 choice greenhouse and other plants’ – were all sold at auction.[vii] Stripped from the walls were oil paintings by, among others, Sam Bough, John Brandon Smith, and David Cox, and, from the bookshelves, about 500 volumes, among which were Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers.

In June 1869 the Robinsons’ house , with its drawing-room, two dining rooms, breakfast room, library, nine bedrooms, bathrooms, pantries, sculleries, and about half an acre of land, was sold.[viii] The family was then split up. The 1871 census shows Annie (27, Artist), living with her sisters Emily (26, Artist), Julia (24, Artist), Mary (Scholar 16) and Frances (Scholar, 14) in lodgings at 28 Upper Brook Street, back in central Manchester, while Sarah (22) and Adela (19) were visiting with Mrs Sarah Robinson, an elderly widowed relation, and their aunt Mary on the other side of the same street, at number 13.[ix] There is no trace of the Robinson parents in the census but, wherever they were, on census night at least, they were not living with any of their daughters. We must assume that the older sisters now had responsibility for the younger two, who were still at school.

We have no information as to where or how Annie and her sisters were educated. The 1861 Robinson household census does not include a governess, so we can probably conclude that the girls attended a school.[x] Published 30 years later, a brief biographical article in The Queen gives us a rare insight into the Robinson sisters’ early life.[xi]

Curiously enough, whilst neither parent had any taste in that direction, Mrs Swynnerton’s two sisters Emily and Julia, were, like herself, born artists, and are both practising their profession in Manchester. When of the tender age of from eleven to thirteen years, Miss Annie used to delight her playfellows, visitors to the house, and the servants with exhibitions of specimens of her very juvenile skill in the shape of water-colour drawings. These primitive works were produced without the advantage of any instruction, and were simply the spontaneous efforts of an inborn, absorbing love of art.’

The Queen commends Francis Robinson for recognising his eldest daughter’s talent and states that ‘she was early placed in the art school at her native city, Manchester’, making no mention of the family’s financial disaster that probably necessitated, or, at least, precipitated, this development. Bankruptcy was unlikely to have struck suddenly and Annie and her sisters may well have been aware of impending disaster. That may be why, from sometime from 1868, Emily, Annie and Julia  enrolled as students at the Manchester School of Art. Sensible young women knew a training was necessary if a living was to be earned. Certainly by 1870/1871, with the security they had once enjoyed swept away, the three oldest Robinson sisters were all attending classes at Manchester School of Art.[xii] Here Annie excelled and in 1873 was awarded one of the 10 national gold medals and a Princess of Wales scholarship worth £11 for ‘Group in oils’.[xiii] Julia was presented with a bronze medal and Emily a book prize.[xiv]

In tracing Annie’s developing career I will continue with the known facts and return later to suppositions. Thus, the narrative runs that in 1874 Annie Robinson travelled to Rome with her friend Isabel Dacre to study and paint, returning to Manchester in 1876. We do not know exactly when in 1874 they left Manchester, nor exactly when in 1876 they returned. But we do know that Annie exhibited a painting at the Manchester exhibition in March 1877.[xv]

Mrs Louisa Wilkinson by Annie Swynnerton (credit Kenneth Northover)

Annie was again successful the following March (1878) in having another painting selected to hang in the Manchester exhibition. Most importantly, this was the first of her works to which the name of the subject was attached, a name that was then included in the press reports. [xvi] The painting was a full-length portrait of Mrs Louisa Wilkinson and is the first, dated, evidence of Annie’s lifelong friendship with the Wilkinson family, about which I write in Enterprising Women. When researching and writing that book, I guessed that the Wilkinsons, a leading Manchester family, were likely to have been the conduit through whom Annie entered the Garrett Circle, but until recently I had no material proof of when the connection might first have been made.

Revelation struck in June 2022 on a particularly serendipitous occasion, held to mark the installation, on her one-time Bloomsbury apartment, of an English Heritage Blue Plaque to Fanny Wilkinson (1855-1951), Britain’s first professional woman landscape gardener. It was my research on Fanny, published in Enterprising Women, that directed attention to her work, and I was delighted to listen as a descendant of her youngest sister gave a talk about the Wilkinson family – and was astounded when a portrait of Fanny, by none other than Annie Swynnerton, appeared on the accompanying Powerpoint. During the reception that followed I was thrilled to discover that a South African branch of the family held other portraits of family members painted by Annie, both before and after her marriage. This cache of paintings, previously unknown to the art world, presents us with a key to unlock more information about Annie’s career.

For among these family portraits is the painting of Mrs Louisa Wilkinson (1823-89) that was exhibited in Manchester in 1878. Here she is, fashionably attired  in satin, lace, and jewels, her dress, with its swagging, rosettes, ruches, and train, affording Annie every opportunity of displaying a bravura technique.  The Wilkinsons were wealthy and philanthropic; there is no doubt that Annie would have been well paid for the portrait. In addition, by permitting her portrait to be exhibited and allowing herself to be named, Mrs Wilkinson was furthering Annie’s cause by advertising her skill. To attract clients from Manchester’s prosperous middle-class an artist had to be able to display their work. Were the Wilkinsons Annie Robinson’s first significant clients?

 It may be that Annie received similar portrait commissions at this time but, because they were not exhibited by name (or, indeed, have subsequently passed through the auction rooms with a name attached), they are now unknown. The one portrait by Annie that did receive attention in the late 1870s was that of the Rev. W. Gaskell, widower of the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, which was commissioned by the Portico Library. It was the Rev. Gaskell himself who in 1879 chose to be painted by Annie, remarking ‘My daughters tell me that she has painted a portrait which they like very much.’[xvii] Could it have been the portrait of Mrs Louisa Wilkinson to which they were referring?[xviii]

For the Gaskells and Wilkinsons must surely have known each other. Dr Matthew Eason Wilkinson (1813-78) was Manchester’s leading doctor and his wife, although born in the US, was descended from a radical Manchester family. The Wilkinsons took an interest in art; Fanny, the eldest, put an artistic ‘eye’ and practical ability to good use in forging a novel career, while both Louisa (1859-1936) and Gladys (1864-1957) studied art in London and had works exhibited.

But, to return to the portrait of Mrs Louisa Wilkinson. To have been exhibited in March 1878, this portrait must have been painted sometime earlier, which places Annie firmly in Manchester for at least some of 1877 and, probably, part of 1876. It so happens that the ‘manly, intellectual head’ of Mrs Wilkinson’s husband, Dr Matthew Eason Wilkinson, was, in the autumn of 1877, on display in the studio exhibition of a sculptor, Joseph Swynnerton.[xix] I think, therefore, we can be certain that, whether or not they had known each other previously (and surely they had), the artist and the sculptor must have encountered each other at this time, as they each immortalised Wilkinson père and mère, a pattern repeated the following year when they both produced portraits of the Rev. Gaskell, one in oils and one in marble.

As an addendum to the discussion of the portrait of Mrs Louisa Wilkinson, I will just mention here a rather intriguing comment made in the 1890 article about Annie that appeared in The Queen. In it the writer remarks that ‘An excellent picture, “Louise”, was placed on the line at the RA, this being succeeded by ”The Tryst”.’  It is difficult to interpret this remark. Although ‘The Factory Girl’s Tryst’ was shown at the RA in 1881, preceded in 1879 by ‘Portrait of a Lady’ and in 1880 by ‘Portrait of Miss S. Isabel Dacre’, Annie doesn’t appear ever to have exhibited any ‘Louise’ (or ‘Louisa’) at the RA. Unless, of course, the Queen journalist was told that the 1879 ‘Portrait of a Lady’ was that of a particular ‘Louise’ (or ‘Louisa’). In 1879 The Athenaeum’s reviewer described the portrait as of a ‘lady in a grey citron dress, standing against a grey background [which] shows profitable studies of old Italian portraiture with Dutch vraisemblance, and is the first-rate example of the harmonious treatment of low tints and tones in a manner that is not decorative ‘[xx] What do  you think? Could this accord with what you see in Mrs Louisa Wilkinson portrait? After Manchester in 1878, was she re-shown at the RA in 1879? Or was the portrait of another ‘Louise’ entirely?

Louisa Wilkinson – second daughter of the Wilkinson family (credit Kenneth Northover)

It was another eleven years before we can be certain that another portrait by Annie Swynnerton of a member of the Wilkinson family was exhibited – and that is this full-length portrait of Louisa Mary Wilkinson, shown at the New Gallery in April/May 1889. The change of style is remarkable. Louisa was described in the Pall Mall Gazette as ‘a slim figure with an old-fashioned face out of a Dutch picture standing among bluebells and clasping an illuminated missal,[xxi] while the Birmingham Daily Post considered it a ‘very original and unconventional portrait, which we found a great deal more human and interesting than the silk and satin gowns with long trains, the feather-fans ad bric-a-brac, with figure-heads attached’.[xxii]

It is now possible to insert a biographical ‘fact’ that may give a slight narrative depth to this picture. For when it was painted, 1888/9, although renting a studio at 6 The Avenue (76 Fulham Road), Annie and Joseph were actually living in Bedford Park, the ‘Queen Anne’, ‘Sweetness and Light’, suburb so popular with artists, their house, 18 St Anne’s Grove, having a purpose-built studio on the top floor.[xxiii]  At the same time, Mrs Louisa Wilkinson was also a resident of Bedford Park. Although Fanny was living in Bloomsbury, it’s likely and Louisa and her younger sisters lived, at least some of the time, with their mother.[xxiv] I don’t think it too fanciful to suggest that the younger Louisa Wilkinson may have been painted in Bedford Park – standing amongst bluebells (the image I reproduce is, perforce, cropped) either in the garden of Annie’s house or that of her mother.

A few years earlier Louisa had been recorded in the 1881 census as an art student, exhibited that year in the Dudley Gallery and in 1882 at the Walker Gallery, and later turned her hand to book binding. Thus, it’s fitting she’s depicted wearing Artistic Dress, her loose linen garment, with tucks, shoulder embroidery and bodice smocking, cinched by an embroidered belt,  hinting at an artist’s smock. She wears no necklace or earrings, the illuminated missal offering sufficient jewelled colours. Perhaps she had bound the missal herself.

In 1894 Annie exhibited the portrait again, including it in a Society of Lady Artists exhibition. Fortunately, the review in The Queen allows us to identify this as the same portrait, by including a description of ‘Portrait of Miss Louisa Wilkinson’: ‘a finely executed picture of a lady facing the spectator, holding, apparently, an illuminated missal in her hands. There is a strong sense of harmony in the scheme of colour, in which a reddish-brown costume plays a not inconspicuous part’. [xxv] The Manchester Evening News described the portrait as a ‘very “new English” full-length study’.[xxvi] Although Annie was not elected a member of the New English Art Club until 1909, she had long been responsive to works by such earlier members as George Clausen.

The two paintings, so different in style – that of Mrs Louisa Wilkinson exhibited in 1878 and her daughter, Louisa, in 1889 – are the only two of Annie’s Wilkinson portraits that were exhibited by name. But they are not the only family portraits by her still held by Wilkinson  descendants. As I’m keen to keep supposition separate from known facts, I’m now discussing these separately, rather than inserting them into the known Annie Robinson/Swynnerton chronology.

Jean (on the left) and Gladys Wilkinson (credit Kenneth Northover)

It is possible that the above portrait could have been the first that the Wilkinson family commissioned from Annie. The biographical article published in The Queen mentions that Annie’s ‘.. first picture was a profile picture of a girl’s head, and this she followed with a group, two half-length portraits, called “Gladys and Jean”, which was in the Manchester exhibition.’ 

Gladys and Jean were the youngest members of the Wilkinson family, born in 1863 and 1876. How old do you think they look in this painting? To me it doesn’t seem possible they could be older than 11 and 7 respectively and that, if so, the double portrait must have been painted no later than 1873/1874, before Annie’s departure abroad.[xxvii] Even in this imperfect photo, we can see that the girls’ satin and lace dresses – and the fashionable Japanese fan held by Gladys – have been lovingly detailed by Annie. It seems plausible that the Wilkinson parents would have commissioned a smaller portrait of their youngest daughters, as a test run, before incurring the expense of a full-length painting of their mother.   If The Queen journalist was correctly informed and the painting was indeed exhibited in Manchester, it could have been included in the 1875 Royal Manchester exhibition, the first for which ‘lady exhibitors’, of whom Annie was one, were eligible.[xxviii] Or could it even have been the ‘group in oils’ (which is an echo of  the term used of ‘Gladys and Jean’ in The Queen)for which Annie won her Princess of Wales scholarship in 1873? But that is probably too fanciful – and an illustration of how dangerous it is to view a ‘biography’ through a single  lens.

Fanny Wilkinson by Annie Swynnerton (credit Kenneth Northover)

Here, now, is the portrait of a demure Fanny Wilkinson that put me on the trail of the cache of ‘Wilkinson’ paintings. Although it probably does carry a date, that cannot be seen at the moment, and, although it’s possible to gauge the age of young children such as Gladys and Jean, it’s more difficult to do so for a young woman. Although I cannot decide whether it was painted before or after Annie’s stay in Rome (1874-6), I think we can be certain that the portrait was painted before the death of Dr Wilkinson in Autumn 1878 and the family’s consequent move from Manchester to Middlethorpe Hall in Yorkshire.

Fanny is depicted as decidedly ‘Artistic’, the sleeves of her dress bound in a quasi-medieval style, a lace fichu flowing  over the bodice, complementing the frothing cuffs. Although we cannot see the whole shape of her dress, it certainly appears more relaxed than her mother’s ruched and flounced costume.  The peacock feathers were, of course, the height of Aesthetic accessorizing. The accomplished painting of the yellow satin and the lace once again advertised the artist’s skill.  I wonder if the portrait was ever exhibited? I don’t think it can be the  ‘profile picture of a girl’s head’ mentioned in the 1890 Queen article – as it’s so much more than ‘a head’.

Louisa Wilkinson by Annie Swynnerton (credit Kenneth Northover)

This is the last of this batch of Wilkinson portraits – a sketch of Louisa in a sun bonnet. It is signed ‘A.L. Swynnerton’ and so can be dated to no earlier than 1883 – and her marriage to Joseph – but could perhaps be any time after 1887 (for in that year she was still signing paintings as ‘Robinson’) but before Louisa’s marriage to George Garrett in 1900 (because the  title on the frame refers to her as ‘Wilkinson’).[xxix]  

This marriage merely formalised the link between the Garrett and Wilkinson families, the women having already been bound for over two decades in friendship and shared enterprises, with Annie as their preferred portraitist. Besides the portraits noted above, I know she painted an earlier portrait of Louisa Wilkinson (the younger), probably dating from the late 1870s, but at the moment am unable to contact the owner in order to ask permission to reproduce the image of it that I have.It has even crossed my mind to wonder if this could be the portrait of ‘Louise’ that The Queen journalist was so sure had been exhibited at the RA. I also know Annie painted Louisa Garrett Anderson (daughter of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and niece of Millicent Fawcett) and Rhoda Garrett (cousin and partner of Agnes Garrett), although the whereabouts of these portraits is not now known. However, in the course of researching this article I think I have made one discovery.

Agnes Garrett? by Annie Swynnerton (courtesy of Lacy Scott and Knight)

For, on Jonathan Russell’s excellent ‘Annie Swynnerton’ website, under details of the paintings shown at the 1923 exhibition of Annie’s works,  I came across this painting– described as ‘Portrait of a lady standing by flowering ivy’, which, as I then saw from, had been sold twice, in quick succession, in 2014. I am certain that this is the portrait that Annie painted of Agnes Garrett – at Agnes’ holiday home in Rustington, in the summer of 1885. The subject not only looks like Agnes (wearing a dress with an apron front fashionable at that date) but I can see Sussex knapped flints in the wall behind her. This painting was included in the 1923 Manchester exhibition of Annie’s works – and I know that Agnes’ portrait was also there, although without her name attached. This must surely be it.

The Wilkinsons’ connection to Annie Swynnerton continued until her death. Louisa Garrett sent a wreath – and her sister, Fanny Wilkinson, was one of the few mourners named as attending her burial.

In Enterprising Women I describe in detail how the Wilkinsons, the Garretts, and other members of their circle did so much – through their ‘matronage’ – to ensure Annie Swynnerton’s presence on art gallery walls. And she, in turn, has ensured that her friends and associates, as they hang on the walls of family homes, are still known to their descendants.

You can find other posts about Annie Swynnerton on this website by putting ‘The Garretts and their Circle’ into the Searchbox.

For International Women’s Day 2023 the Pre-Raphaelite Society invited me to talk about Annie Swynnerton. You can find the resulting 2 podcasts here


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

[i] When, c. 2000, I was researching Enterprising Women:the Garretts and their circle (Francis Boutle, 2002) I had to visit the Tate storage facility in order to view the Swynnerton portrait of Millicent Fawcett. It was subsequently shown in Wales, at Bodelwydden Castle, but returned to London for the suffrage centenary in 2018.

[ii] M. Terras and E. Crawford (eds), Millicent Garrett Fawcett: selected writings, UCL Press. Free to download p 315.

[iii] Daily Herald, 7 May 1930, 1. Swynnerton’s home and studio in 1910 was 1a The Avenue, 76 Fulham Road, London W.

[iv] Information from Francis Robinson’s Articles of Clerkship, 1836 via Ancestry.

[v] I note that the two youngest Robinson daughters were both born in Prestwich. The elder, Mary, was baptised at St Mary’s, Prestwich, on 3 March 1856.

[vi] For something on the history of Prestwich Park see In the advertisement for the sale of the Robinsons’ household goods in the Manchester Courier, 6 March 1869, the house was described as ‘the second house from the Bottom Lodge, Prestwich Park.

[vii] Manchester Courier,6 March 1869.

[viii] Manchester Courier, 5 June 1869.

[ix] C. Allen and P. Morris, Annie Swynnerton: painter and pioneer, Sarsen Press, 2018, identifies the widowed relation as Francis Robinson’s stepmother

[x]  In 1861 Miss Hannah Dickinson’s Ladies’ College opened at Hill-side House, in Prestwich Park, close to the Robinsons’ home. Although Annie would have been then too old, it’s unlikely that even her younger sisters were pupils, as Its fees, even for day girls, were high, 16-20 guineas per annum. Miss Dickinson stressed that she had chosen Prestwich Park for its ‘beautiful scenery, its rural glens, its retired walks, and salubrious breezes – as well as ‘its kind-hearted inhabitants’. Miss Dickinson, Thoughts on Woman and Her Education, Longman Green, 1861, p2

[xi] The Queen, 15 March 1890.

[xii] No firm, primary, evidence has come to light as to when exactly the sisters – either individually or together – enrolled at the School of Art. However, Allen and Morris (p. 19) have established very persuasively that Emily ‘was certainly there from at least autumn 1868’ and that Annie, too, had probably been enrolled in 1868, and Julia certainly by 1869-70.

[xiii] Manchester Evening News, 20 August 1873.

[xiv] Manchester Courier, 13 July 1874.

[xv] It was only in 1875 that  9 ‘Lady exhibitors’ were elected for the first time – among whom were Annie Robinson and Isabel Dacre.

[xvi] ‘Miss Annie L. Robinson has a large full-length portrait of Mrs. Eason Wilkinson … and although defective in some respects, gives promise of better work in the future.’ (The Manchester Courier, and Lancashire General Advertiser, 8 March 1878.)

[xvii] Rev. Gaskell quoted in B. Brill, William Gaskell, 1805-84: a portrait, Manchester Literary and Philosophical Publications, 110-11.

[xviii] The portrait of the Rev. Gaskell now hangs in the Gaskells’ former home – see

[xix] Manchester Times, 6 October 1877. Dr Wilkinson was that year president of the British Medical Association, whose meeting had been held that summer in Manchester. The portrait bust may have been intended to mark this achievement. I have no knowledge of what has become of it. Swynnerton’s studio was at 35 Barton Arcade. In 1880 the address of the Manchester Society for Women Painters was 10 Barton House, Deansgate, which must have been close to the Arcade.

[xx]  The Atheneum, 5th and concluding notice of RA Summer Exhibition, 7 June 1879,734.

[xxi] Pall Mall Gazette, 1 May 1889. At this time both artist and sitter had moved from Manchester; Annie had a London base at the Avenue Studios, 76 Fulham Road, W. and Louisa Wilkinson was living, with her sister Fanny, at 15 Bloomsbury St, WC.

[xxii] Birmingham Daily Post, 18 May 1889.

[xxiii] Annie gave the St Anne’s Grove address when she submitted work in 1888 to the Society of Women Artists and the Swynnertons were still living there in 1891. However, it is only Annie’s name – and that of her Aunt Mary and their one servant – that appears on the census (as shown on Ancestry and Findmypast) because the previous page, which must include Joseph as the last entry, is missing – or has been missed when scanning. The page reference that shows Annie’s presence at 18 Queen Anne’s Grove is RG12/1038 folio 8 page 33 schedule 193. Information on the Swynnertons’ occupation of these addresses can be found in the London Electoral Register via Ancestry.

[xxiv] Mrs Wilkinson was living in Bedford Park from at least 1886 and died there in 1889. Her house is only referred to as ‘The Chestnuts’ and I have been unable to discover the exact address.

[xxv] The Queen, 28 April 1894.

[xxvi] Manchester Evening News, 21 April 1894.

[xxvii] The double portrait of ‘Gladys and Jean’ may be dated, but at the moment that information is not accessible.

[xxviii] Alas, I have not yet been able to consult the catalogue for this exhibition. If anyone does know if a portrait by Miss Robinson of two young girls was included do, please, let me know.

[xxix] For information about the change of signature see

[xxx] . Unfortunately, neither of the East Anglian auction houses which sold the painting holds records as far back as 2014 and I’ve been unable to discover any more information about the portrait, or its current whereabouts.

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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.



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: 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  & ArtUK

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 me, or Francis Boutle Publishers or from all good bookshops..

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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 ArtUK

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 me, or Francis Boutle Publishers or from all good bookshops..

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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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The Garretts And Their Circle: 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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