Posts Tagged Garretts

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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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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