Posts Tagged metropolitan public gardens association

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Garretts and their Circle: 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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