The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Harlton.

Within cycling distance from my home is the church at Harlton.  The village is known now as the home of Gwen Raverat from 1925 to 1941, although she is buried with her family in Trumpington.

There are various monuments over the church, in windows and on plaques. Also over the church are bits of scratched graffiti as well as a large monument in alabaster and marble. However at the bottom of this post are a set of small statues that are a local secret and rather beautiful.

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The Fryer Monument

The first John Fryer, father of Thomas Fryer, the elder of the men commemorated on the monument, was born at Balsham and educated at Eton, King’s College Cambridge, and the University of Padua, then the greatest medical school in Europe. Although he was for a time a Lutheran, and was indeed imprisoned for heresy in the 1520s, by 1561 he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for Catholicism. He was released in 1563, but died of the plague in October of that year. 

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A scratched Elizabethan gravedigger with spade.

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Said to be a consecration mark this pattern can be found all over the country, in churches, barns, castles and on furniture. Most people call them Daisy Wheels or Hexfoils.

The root screen below is said to be Cambridgeshire’s only one made totally of stone.

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The rector of the church in 1908-1922 was William Ellison, it is guessed in the 1920s, his son Henry Ian Ellison was the carver of the twelve disciples in the reredos – in the style of Eric Gill. William on his plaque is listed as having eight children.

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Gwen Raverat in Colour

In a past post I wrote about the Cambridge Book of Poetry for Children, edited by Kenneth Grahame with 54 wood-engravings by Raverat. All of them black and white. This is a post about her colour wood engravings from The Bird Talisman.

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Gwen Raverat, the granddaughter of Charles Darwin, was an English wood engraver and author. Born and raised in Cambridge, England, she studied art at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1908 and studied under Frederick Brown and Henry Tonks. She was inspired by Thomas Bewick’s wood engravings but the Slade at that time gave no opportunities to study wood engraving. When she left the Slade she went to Paris to the Sorbonne where she met and married Jacques Pierre Raverat, a fellow student and draughtsman.

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These images come from The Bird Talisman is a story written by Raverat’s great uncle, Henry Allen Wedgwood, a London barrister. He originally published it with illustrations by the himself in The Family Tutor in 1852 and then later in book form in 1887.

Gwen took it upon herself to re-illustrate the book with her wood engravings.

She overcame her feeling of “sacrilege in tampering with a sacred work” and tried to illustrate it herself for Faber and Faber. It did not worry her that she had never visited India, where the story is set, for neither had her great uncle; and neither of them made any effort to be accurately Indian.

Her interest in colour printing, which had first appeared in the frontispiece to Four Tales from Hans Andersen, is here developed with rich effect in eight full-page colour plates. 

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She held off agreeing to a contract until she had experimented one of these and settled how to do the various cuts. She decided in each to undertake the main block herself, but to hand over to a blockmaker those that would carry the colour. When de la Mare arranged for these to be done in Vienna, Gwen objected, owing to the German occupation of Austria, and asked to estimate the cost of Austrian blocks, postage and insurance against the of using either English or French blockmakers as she was willing to pay the difference.

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In the end she used an English blockmaker she knew and trusted outlining for him the colour on the second block. She herself cut the plentiful smaller black-and-white engravings, in a variety of shapes and sizes, which help make this the most sumptuously decorated of all her books.It was contracted in February 1939 and due to be delivered in May of that year, but took longer, owing to the painstaking work involved.

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At one point the imminence of war cast doubt over the book’s production. “It’s now so nearly finished that I do hope it will get actually printed and bound, war or no war,” she wrote to Richard de la Mare in late August 1939, “that is I should hope this, if I could think about anything but war.” More positively, she wrote: “I hope you will like the colour plates; they are, at any rate, just what I intended them to be.” She threw further encouragement his way, reminding him that in the last war people had bought a lot of books, “especially if they were absolutely non-topical – quite away from war subjects, which this is. And there’s always Christmas for children even in war. However,” she ended, unable to stem her own despair, “nothing really matters much does it?”

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The book did, however, get published, though work on it was slow for by the time they started printing half the men at the Press had been called up. (This may have limited the number produced in 1939 and helps explain why a second edition was produced in 1945, soon after the return to peace.) †

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Gwen Raverat: Friends, Family and Affections by Frances Spalding, p357, 2001.

Gwen Raverat and all that

Gwen Raverat, the granddaughter of Charles Darwin, was an English wood engraver and author. Born and raised in Cambridge, England, she studied art at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1908 and studied under Frederick Brown and Henry Tonks.

She was inspired by Thomas Bewick’s wood engravings but the Slade at that time gave no opportunities to study wood engraving. When she left the Slade she went to Paris to the Sorbonne where she met and married Jacques Pierre Raverat, a fellow student and draughtsman.

She had some luck to obtain some instruction from her cousin Eleanor Monsell – Mrs Bernard Darwin – who had begun to cut and engrave wood blocks as early as 1898 but soon desisted owing to the pressure of other work. By 1914 Gwendolen Raverat had nearly sixty blocks to her credit. 

She was one of the founding members of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1920, alongside: Philip Hagreen, Robert Gibbings, Lucien Pissaro, and Eric Gill. The book below is a nice collection of styles of Raverat’s work, but it’s not her best work. It is a quaint throwback to when children would read a book of poetry.


The Cambridge Book of Poetry for Children, edited by Kenneth Grahame with 54 wood-engravings by Raverat, was published in 1932, printed from the original blocks.

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 Book cover and Boy Reading wood engraving.

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 The King of Spain’s Daughter.

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 The Wagon of Hay.

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 The Moon.

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 The Eve of Waterloo.

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 Winter Has Come.

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 The Boat.

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 Daffodils.

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 The Forsaken Marman.

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 Columbus.

† English Wood-Engraving 1900-1950 by Thomas Balston, 1951
A History of British Wood Engraving by Albert Garrett, 1978.
The Cambridge Book of Poetry for Children, edited by Kenneth Grahame, 1932