The Land Girl

This is from an artical in the Countryman in 1941. I thought it was a refreshing perspective on the Women’s land army. It also features an illustration by Mary Fedden.

It is no use expecting impossibilities of these land girls of whom Mr. Hudson is hoping to see 30,000 on the farms, Their pluck, patriotism and good humour are not in question, but spirited, diligent and sturdy though many of them are, and doath though their employers would be to lose them, the unremitting and efficient work of the regular working women on the farms in Scotland and in some parts of England is nothing fo go by. These women are brought up to the job. They have strength, they know how to take care of their health, they have acquired skill, and they are part of the community in which they live. We believe in women workers and in the Land Army – without it, it will be impossible to get the work done that has to be done – but it will do no harm to print the following letters.

Mary Fedden – As we hope we look | As we generally do look.

Few people realize the extreme arduousness of the agricultural labourer’s life. The billeting question is very difficult too, especially where a land girl is only earning the minimum of 28s a week. I do not know how girls can manage away from their homes on even the highest wage (34s in Sussex) when they have to find board and lodgings, underwear, soap, shoe repairs, etc. In the other women’s services they are ‘all found’ and the rest is pocket money. Also in other services there is a hope of promotion for the hard-working and intelligent girl. You have to be a country fanatic, like me, to stodge on month after month with no prospect of advancement. I think it highly unlikely that many ordinary town girls will become like this. The farm labourer, male and female, is brought up to it.

Another thing – in other services you join and are sure of your living. In the Land Army you may get a job or you may get stood off in bad weather and have to wait for the dole, which means a lot of fiddling about. Again in sickness you have to struggle for yourself, and if you have an accident the compensation money (which is much less than your lost wages) comes about two months after you are up and doing again! That has been my experience. Unless a girl has some savings to tide her over these accidents, etc., I don’t see how she can manage in the Land Army. I expect the various committee members have plenty to do and I don’t know whether they are paid or not, but so far as I can see round here there is no attempt made to visit places of work and see whether the girls are getting a fair deal or not. The girls I have met and questioned are invariably keen on their work and most of them seem hopelessly and foolishly enthusiastic in that they work far longer hours than they should and will. They become fed up and overtired. I’m afraid I sound very much against the farmer, but it is only human nature to work a willing horse too much.

All the girls I have met round here seem to have settled down well and are stones heavier! A few gave up last winter because jobs weren’t forthcoming after training and they couldn’t afford to wait around. Others chucked it after coming to a real dirty farm after training at a posh agricultural college.

Personally I should think the only solution would be a State-subsidized Land Army which would provide security for the girls without worrying the farmers to death. That, to my mind, is the worst drawback of all, for, although no one joins with the idea of earning good money, yet it is a nightmare to be faced with lost wages in bad weather or no care in sickness. Another point is that unless care is taken to stop enthusiastic girls overdoing it we shall have a lot of female invalids later on due to lifting heavy sacks of potatoes, etc.

I have been working for sixteen months now and enjoy the life but have lived at home and make extra money b writing. However, I think that for the average girl the life is extremely hard and boring, as few of them are interested in nature-study or country pursuits, and the occasional rallies and polite pattings on the back from gracious ladies do not make up for their usual amusements, etc. Many girls are quite misled by the recruiting talk and think they will be with lots of other girls and spend their time dashing about on a tractor, and are fed up when they end up hoeing a beet field for about a month and never see a soul.

Of course a lot of farmers are appreciative and the girls get on well; also an intelligent interested girl can do a lot to stir up some of the stick-in-the-muds. At the same time farmers and workers have to learn to pull together a bit more; I know farmers who are still out to do the worker in the eye, and the workers, in return, just slack off. For instance, when daylight-saving makes a loss of working hours in the dark mornings the farmers suggest that the labourers shall forfeit their weekly half-day. It is true that the workers have an actual hour less work every day, but you can’t do anything with that bit of dark morning, while you can do your shopping or gardening on a Saturday afternoon, The worker would rather give up part of the dinner hour every day and put a spurt on if there was some definite amount of work to get through. There is too much domination of hours and rights on all sides. I think the farmers are a bit grinding and many workers are lazy toads. I know I can get through a lot more than many men in a day but not so much as the really old honourable men. You should see how some men gossip and smoke! One last word, the need for going to bed early is absolutely vital.

There is a general misconception that the Land Army girls are recruited largely from the urban population. Of sixteen who were training with me at the Henry Ford Institute five or six were farmers’ daughters and half the others were country bred. The very heavy mortality of the early days of the Land Army was, it is true, largely among the town-bred ex-shop assistant, typist, factory-worker type, who had not in the least realized what the job meant and were not physically up to it and in some cases too squeamish to face cleaning stables or burying dead lambs. It was the fault of the recruiters who were so anxious to show spectacular numbers that they did not warn recruits that they were committing themselves to long hours, dirt, outdoor work in wet weather and, very frequently, to a seven-day week. I think present recruitment is much better and the percentage of failure will be less.

Hours are a problem. The original stipulation was a 48-hour week, but it has proved quite impossible for farmers to work the girls different hours from the men, and men’s hours vary from 48 to 54 without overtime or Sunday work. In hay harvest a 14-hour day is quite normal (7 a.m. till 9 p.m.), and 12 or 13 hours in corn harvest. It isn’t possible to let the girls off earlier because a full team is always necessary to keep the balance even between field and stack.

What women workers in India are able to do. Put up by hand, no folks used.

Loneliness is a real trouble where girls are working singly on small farms, What they want is not mass entertainment but individual invitations to Sunday lunch, tennis, or even family evenings. Most of the L.A. seem to come from homes more educated than those of the cottagers (or even the farmers) with whom they are working and they miss the more intelligent (or intellectual) conversation of their homes and previous friends, The loan of books would also be much valued by many.

Several farmers round here have had very good girls for some time. One farmer has three from Birmingham who are first class, he says. It really depends on the farmer as much as on the girls. The most urgent thing is milking and care of stock. In these there is no doubt that a great many women excel.

Many of the girls know as little, of course, of the realities of rural life and farm life as most townees. And much of the work they gallantly essay is physically beyond them. They do it slowly and imperfectly. And when the first excitement has worn off, they are sometimes dispirited by their inefficiency, When they are thrown back on themselves, their opportunities of marriage having been diminished by the War, they are heart-sore. Land work, even though to sustain the Home Front, can seldom seem as exhilarating and satisfying as the life in the Services that their men friends are leading. Also, unlike the soldiers, sailors and airmen, the girls are not ordinarily working with a large company of comrades. It must often happen that they are almost alone, with very little social life, recreation or entertainment. If they are not in some measure self-sufficing as readers or students, and have no special devotion to the countryside, the life must seem to many of them dull and toilsome.

It is not backache only that is the matter. Many girls at work in towns are underfed. Even if in the country they have not to put up with chancy fare but have satisfying meals, there are those among them with a stupid fear of putting more flesh on their bones than the women of the films or cheap fashion papers seem to manage with. Again, these newcomers to the country seldom realize that early rising and hard work day by day on the land means early to bed. What with one thing and another, many a well-meaning land girl has sometimes in her early days been not far from hysterics. She feels lonely, incompetent and fatigued. In the result, the employer is as dissatisfied with her as she is dissatisfied with herself. Often a sensible farmer or farmer’s wife or some understanding soul in the village gets matters on a better footing before dismissal comes about; but it is not seldom for employer and employed to part company without regret. Nothing can be done with a silly girl, and it cannot be expected that there will not be some very ordinary young persons among the recruits to the Land Army as to the Army itself, but by taking thought, much more can be done than is perhaps being done with some of the apparent failures. Because of the national extremity, it is vital that the best wits

of the countryside shall be brought to bear on a human problem. Cannot some of the girls be given sounder notions of hygiene?

In August 1918 a survey was taken of 12,637 Land Army members (writes Dame Meriel Talbot in the Times’). The returns included 5,734 milkers, 293 tractor-drivers, 3,971 field workers, 635 carters, 260 ploughmen, 84 thatchers, 21 shepherds. Can we doubt that with the extension of physical fitness, the development of motor-driving and every kind of outdoor sport, members of the present Women’s Land Army are capable of surpassing the pioneers?

On my farm I have five land girls, and on the whole we are pleased with them, one with cows, one with poultry and three on the arable. We have had to get rid of one,a good girl, from the dairy, because she wouldn’t go to bed at a reasonable time, and couldn’t get up early. There is a camp too near the farm! There are bound to be misfits and faults and shortcomings on both sides, and I doubt if you can do anything about it, except leave it for time to solve. You can’t put ‘gumption’ where there isn’t any. You can’t make an unhandy man or woman handy, and literacy and good manners don’t mix with their opposites.

I think we on the land have to do the best we can, and, in this machine-age, if we are left a certain minimum of skilled key men we can rub along with second-rate labour, male or female. And I’d sooner have girls than second-rate men, if they will try.

Women farm-workers often have to pit their strength against men. Everything is made men’s size – the heavy tools, the thickness of sole necessary to keep out the ‘glaur’, the size of the enormous straw bunches and hay-bales. Now if a woman is given work within her strength she can go on all day, but five minutes of lifting heavy bales, with the best will in the world, will tire her out for an afternoon (between four and five hours) – bales that a boy could lift (there must be some anatomical difference). If she is strong-minded she can often save herself; for instance, in fanning corn, she may be told to fill the fanner by lifting the grain up in a heavy basket the height of her brow – if she uses a pail instead she can equally well keep the fanner going, but ‘it is not done’ the others will say (this happened to me only this week). But what does the land girl get out of her new life besides ‘rude health’ and a good deal of fatigue? It must be remembered that people on farms are still merry – such merriment, whistling and jokes as in time of War you find only among soldiers, sailors and others engaged in active service. The older labourers are still interested in their craft for its own sake, apart from production of food. This gives a steadying background.

The definiteness and richness of the country character with his telegrammatic (or poetical) way of putting everything appeals to every girl. He makes ‘story’ for her. She is delighted with a clear outlook that you now so rarely find in towns (compare the weather talk of the stable before yoking time in the morning with the glib repetitions of shop girls). The newcomers are allowed to melt into the communal life in a most kindly and welcoming way (I find it hard to get an evening to myself) – there are dances in local granaries and all the excitements of human happenings: births, deaths, removals, marriages and miscarriages.

I am working in the poultry now. A Japanese ‘sexer’ comes every week the day after we have hatched to divide the boys from the girls. The girls we sell as day-old pullets. Imagine my horror when I was asked to take and drown all the boys. I felt like Herod. Did it just once, but have said never again.

How many English people know the word? The dictionary definition is, ‘A cottar bound to render certain services to a farmer’. To-day a cottar is a farm servant who occupies a cottage on the farm as part of his wages. The word recalls the time when both men and women were serfs. It has now come to mean women workers only. The picturesque costume, with differences in the colour of the skirt, and in some places the wearing of a sunbonnet instead of a wide-brimmed straw hat, as described by ‘Scottish Home and Country’, from which the illustration is borrowed, is one of the few female national costumes surviving in Great Britain. The skirt is of stout orange and black drugget, requiring three yards of material, and has thirty-eight pleats. The binding is done with a bright-coloured braid. The gay apron is worn of course after work is done. The garibaldi is of bright print, buttoned down the front. Over the hair a kerchief – a square of print folded in a triangle – is worn, with the two ends tied under the chin, giving a nun-like effect. What is not shown in the photograph is a small brightly-coloured or tartan-fringed shawl which is pinned closely to the neck, the two ends thrown over the shoulders to fall down the back. In wet weather the bondagers are ‘breekit’. They pin their voluminous skirts together at the knees and wear a coarse apron or brat. Straw ropes are wound round the legs to protect them from the wet and mud.

It isn’t Bloomsbury

James Radley Young, trained as a painter and modeller at Sheffield School of Art and went to work in Poole in 1893 for Carters Pottery, (later Carter Stabler and Adams, and then Poole Pottery), following his half brother Edwin Page Turner, who was head of design at that time. At this time one of of Young’s main jobs was having to scale large mural designs that Carters were known for making. With Young’s skills as an artist and learning about glazes in the pottery, many of the designs Carters made became more elaborate and could adorne buildings without the damage painted works receive.

Tiles for the The Tangier pub, Portsmouth, built in 1912. The design by James Radley Young in 1911.

Having left Carters in 1901 Young set up his own pottery called Hammer Pottery in Haslemere, Surrey. There he designed a series of garden pots for Liberty’s, known as the Celtic range. Other designs in the series were by Alfred Knox. However the pottery failed in 1911 and he returned to work for Carters.

The recession during the War enabled him to develop his interests in Spanish and Portuguese pottery, leading a team of the otherwise unemployed women modellers. The designs were very much in the spirit of the Arts and Crafts Movement, whereby individual pieces were handmade, following centuries of tradition, and were intended to be useful as well as decorative.

These works made during the First World War by Young, looked very much like the style of the Bloomsbury Group at the same time, due to the simple nature of the brushwork. The Bloomsbury Omega studios opened in 1913 and they must have been influenced by Young as much as he would have been by them. They also both shared an interest in Egyptology.

The style developed from simple unglazed ware into glazed pieces decorated with sprigs or bold stripes. The sprig design was to become a theme echoed in Poole pottery for the next half century.

The designs of the decoration where not the only impact that Young had on Carters, as having run his own pottery, Young took to having a more, handmade look to the pieces and they were thrown on a pottery wheel.

Derbyshire Pictures for Schools

Vera Sherman – Venice

Here are a few of the pictures I acquired at auction from the Derbyshire Pictures for Schools collection. It’s about half of the bounty. I don’t know what is thrusting my collection sometimes, and with schemes like this, I tend to try to buy works that are significant and historically interesting. You can also find my bounty from other collections such as Hertfordshire, Cambridge (and I need to do one for Nottingham).

The Pictures For Schools Collections were started by Nan Youngman in 1947, when she was working under the Cambridgeshire Head of Education, Henry Morris, they were looking for a way to brighten up classrooms when paint was still a luxury after the war. Youngman was a student of painting at the Slade from 1924-1927 and had a wide social circle. The idea of art in the classroom was in part as a reaction to the brutalities of the war and the hope that modern works of art might improve the minds of young children. Cambridge was leading the way with the scheme but later on was joined by Wales, Hertfordshire, Nottingham and Derbyshire. Each area having a different set of administrators selecting images. Derbyshire’s was run by the Director of Education J Longland, but the real brains and passion was his assistant, Barbara Winstanley.

Run by Museum Organiser Barbara Winstanley under the Derbyshire Director of Education, J. Longland. In the post-war period, artworks were chosen with the assistance of Philip James, who was involved with the Arts Council and its predecessor CEMA (The Committee for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts), artist Mary Hoad, and artist and educator Evelyn Gibbs.

I am apt to using the word utopian a lot, but personally I believe projects like these were important in rebuilding Britain after the war. Not just bringing art into the home, but taking it to the public spaces; from the windows in Coventry Cathedral to the Festival of Britain, there was a manufacturing ‘brave new world’ of Britain and they used the artists as part of the team, maybe from champions of design like Robin Darwin at the Royal College of Art and exhibitions like Britain Can Make It in 1946.

Anyway this is part of the collection. Some prints, some paintings and most interestingly, textiles – the real forgotten area of British Art.

Sydney Earnshaw Greenwood – Boats at the Jetty, 1959
John Henn – Petrellen, 1968
Colin King – Steam Engine
Toni Pattern
Rosemary Lowndes and Claude Kailer 
C. Brooke
Vera Sherman – Cockerel
Rosemary Lowndes and Claude Kailer 
Harris. (Pencilled on the back is ‘given by Lucy Carrington Wertheim’)
Jenny Boam – Tasmanian Landscape, 1966
Alan Francis Clutton-Brock
Margaret Green – Dragon


For my birthday I was gifted Muriel Rose’s, Artist Potters in England. It was ex-libris from Helen Blair (1907–1997) the painter, but the real delight was you can see two pieces owned by Charlotte Bawden.

Oval Earthenware Dish by Michael Cardew. Bright Golden Brown with Yellow Slipware.

Charlotte Bawden (1902-1970)
Painter, potter and teacher. She was born Charlotte Epton and met her future husband, the artist Edward Bawden, at Royal College of Art, marrying him in 1932. After the RCA she went into education, teaching art at the Cheltenham Ladies College. Being so close to Winchcombe, she met the potter Michael Cardew in 1928. As a customer of the pottery Charlotte became inspired enough the following year to work at the St Ives Pottery under Bernard Leach, becoming his secretary and his pupil. She had success at the pottery and exhibited in craft shows until 1931 when a fire at the pottery destroyed some of her work. It was around this time she became engaged to Bawden. She moved to London and worked for Muriel Rose at her shop The Little Gallery. After this she married Edward and they lived in Great Bardfield together. Bawden’s father was able to acquire Brick House in 1932 for five hundred pounds, as a wedding present for Edward and Charlotte.

Earthenware Jug by Michael Cardew

In 1932 Charlotte Epton married Edward Bawden and moved to their newly acquired home, Brick House in Great Bardfield, where they had been lodging together with Eric Ravilious and his wife Tirzah Garwood. Edward and Charlotte have two children, Richard and Joanna Bawden.

After her marriage, Charlotte helped found Denman College, the Women’s Institute establishment, where there is now a room named after her. In the 1950s Charlotte started to throw pots again, working with Joanna Constantinidis (who had just started teaching pottery at Cheltenham Girls College). The Victoria & Albert Museum hold Charlotte’s work.

Muriel Rose’s biography includes opening The Little Gallery, working for the craft council with Bernard Leach and being an author.

The other loan below, was by Gwyn Lloyd Thomas, Charlotte’s friend from Cheltenham College and the WI.

Stoneware Bowl by Shoji Hamada

Mary Gwyneth Lloyd Thomas (1899-1978)
A curious orbiter of the world of Great Bardfield was Gwyneth Lloyd Thomas. Born at Liscard, Cheshire, she was the daughter of a vicar and a headmistress (Alice Evans). Gwyneth attended Nottingham High School and then the King Edward VI High School in Birmingham. After this she read English at Somerville College, Oxford. She then taught at Birkenhead and then at the Cheltenham Ladies College from 1924-28, this is where she met Charlotte Epton, a Royal College of Art student from Lincolnshire. Charlotte was to become a great friend of Gwyneth and they stayed in touch. Charlotte was also training at Winchcombe Pottery under Michael Cardew and this this is how the Cheltenham college acquired some Winchcombe pieces. When Charlotte went to work for Bernard Leach at St Ives pottery, Gwyneth went to visit and bought a pot by Shoji Hamada made in 1930. It was featured in Muriel Rose’s Artist Potters in England. Charlotte would marry the artist Edward Bawden and this would bring Gwyneth into contact with many artists. At the end of 1928 Gwyneth became a lecturer in English at Girton College, Cambridge, a role she kept until 1952 when she was made a Life-Fellow of Girton. Being closer to Great Bardfield while at Cambridge would mean Gwyneth would be a guest of both the Bawden’s and of John and Lucie Aldridge. In the Garwood memoir, Tirzah recalls Gwyneth having an affair with a married doctor called Joe, who was married and believed in free love. In 1933 Gwyneth helped name Edward Bawden’s paintings for an exhibition at the Zwemmer Gallery, the works were named with lines of poems such as: “I often blotted what I had begunne; this was not quick enough, and that was dead. Nothing could seem to rich to clothe the sunne”, or “If I a fancy take, to black and blue, that fancy doth it beauty make.” In 1938 when J M Richards and Eric Ravilious were stuck for a name for their book, it was Gwyneth who suggested High Street. During the Second World War she worked in the Nursing Auxiliary Reserve unit. In 1946 Gwyneth would also work with Bawden when he illustrated a selection of poems she chose and edited in Travellers’ Verse.

After her work at Girton she became headmistress of Channing School, Highgate, 1952-64. She published works on John Dryden, Andrew Marvell and Gerard Manley Hopkins under M. G. Lloyd Thomas. She died in 1978.

Roland Pym Obituary

This is the Obituary for Roland Pym by Alan Powers. I post it because he is mostly forgotten now.

Roland Pym, artist: born Cheveley, Cambridgeshire 12 June 1910; died Edenbridge, Kent 12 January 2006.

Roland Pym was a painter, illustrator and theatrical designer whose work was redolent of the lyrical and romantic mood of the 1920s and 1930s in England. He had a slight acquaintance with Rex Whistler (five years his senior), and after the Second World War was one of the artists able to supply a similar type of evocative trompe l’oeil decoration. “I suppose Rex Whistler gave me the lead that you could do old things in new ways,” he said in a interview for Country Life in 1999, “but I never consciously imitated him, I would naturally draw like that too.”

Born in 1910 at Banstead Manor, outside Newmarket, Pym moved at the age of four to the family home, Foxwold, near Brasted in Kent, when his father, the future Sir Charles Pym, inherited it. Later he made his home in the nursery wing (lovingly attended by his sister Elizabeth), while his brother, the architect John Pym, occupied the main part of the house.

After education at Ludgrove and Eton, he studied at the Slade School and specialised in theatre design, with Osbert Lancaster (two years his senior) as one of his fellow students. Like Lancaster, Pym had an excellent eye for drawing architecture and landscape, but his vision was sweeter, and he peopled his nostalgic landscapes with dashing beaux and doe-eyed belles straight from a Frederick Ashton ballet.

Pym’s mural painting began with a decoration for the Refreshment Room at Lord’s, somewhat in the Doris Zinkeisen manner, won in competition. He painted a bathroom decoration of Victorian Cromer at 39 Cloth Fair, commissioned by the architect Paul Paget for his father, the retired Bishop of Chester.

One of his pre-war commissions, for figures in blank windows at Biddesden House, Wiltshire, was the beginning of a long friendship with Bryan Guinness (later Lord Moyne) and members of his family, in England and Ireland, for whom many murals and illustrations were produced down the years – the books including The Story of Johnny and Jemima (1936), The Children in the Desert (1947) and The Story of Catriona and the Grasshopper (1958), all with Bryan Guinness, and, with his daughter Mirabel Guinness, Biddesden Cookery (1987).

During the war, Pym enlisted in the 16th Regiment of the Royal Artillery as a private soldier, and endured some taunting as a fish out of water. However, when he swore back at one of the chefs in the food line, he received a round of applause from the whole canteen. They arrived at Basra in December 1941 and he fought at Tobruk and El Alamein, remaining in the field until 1944. Throughout he kept an illustrated diary, initially in Greek and later in French, for security purposes.

Back in London, he enjoyed his heyday in the theatre, commissioned by Binkie Beaumont of H.M. Tennant to create sets and costumes for ballets and plays, including Oranges and Lemons and Pay the Piper at the Globe Theatre and A Master of the Arts by William Douglas-Home at the Aldwych Theatre. He designed Lohengrin at Covent Garden and Eugene Onegin in Paris.

This style of theatre went out of fashion, but Pym could fall back on murals. For the Coronation in 1953, he decorated the Queen’s Retiring Room at Westminster Abbey, and a sequence of domestic commissions, restaurants and hotels followed, with an altarpiece in an icon style at St Mark, Biggin Hill, in 1959. The Saloon at Woburn Abbey, 1971-75, in typical tones of blue and pink, was his largest single work, commissioned after he told the Duke of Bedford, on first encounter, that to paint this room was a life’s ambition. He never retired from murals, and, despite the frailties of age, recently completed a set of four classical figures for Ivry, Lady Freyberg in London.

His greatest achievement as a book illustrator (with a total of 60 books to his name) came late in life when Joe Whitlock Blundell at the Folio Society made the inspired move to commission illustrations for Nancy Mitford’s novels – The Pursuit of Love (1991) was followed by Love in a Cold Climate (1992). Pym did not need to research the Twenties and Thirties settings laboriously, as they were stored in his own excellent visual memory. When stuck for specific details, he could telephone one of the surviving Mitford sisters, and the Duchess of Devonshire commended him on the accurate portrayal of her father as Uncle Matthew, even though he had never met the original. He followed these books with Edith Sitwell’s English Eccentrics (1994) and Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1996).

Pym’s Indian summer continued, with drawing for the parish newsletter at Brasted, edited by his niece’s husband Edwin Taylor, and published in 2004 in book form as The Kentish Scene: pages from the Brasted Diary 1999-2004, with pages from his war diaries and a brief retrospective of other aspects of his work.

Roland Pym never married, although once he came close enough on one occasion for banns to be published. By mutual consent, the relationship ended, however, and he remained wedded to his art and comfortable in his familiar surroundings. As he wrote in The Kentish Scene, “Perhaps it is as beautiful a region as anywhere.”

Alan Powers

The Abbey

John Sebastian Marlowe Ward was a religious and spiritualist who set up a commune for the second coming of Christ at 89 Park Road, New Barnet. He had acquired the large property and land, and in 1934 he opened the Abbey Folk Park which by 1937 comprised 46 buildings, included historic shop fronts and a 17th-century smithy saved when East Barnet village was redeveloped and five old cottages relocated from Hadley Green. The park closed in 1940 and did not reopen as Ward sold it and moved his community to Cyprus in 1946 following legal difficulties in England that he had enchanted a young lady away from her family. The case went to court and the damages of £500 against Ward meant he had to sell the Folk Park. In looking for money he sold one of the cottages (said to have once belonged to a witch) on the estate to Gerald Gardner, a sensationalist Pagan. The cottage was exchanged for some land in Cyprus where the commune then moved.

The rest of the land and buildings was bought by William Ohly, a Jewish art dealer who had fled the Nazi persecution in Germany. Ohly was an art dealer who ran the Berkeley Galleries in Davies Street, London. His galleries dealt with mostly non-European art and ethnographic items. He set up the Abbey Arts Centre in 1946 at the Abbey. The Arts Centre consisted of one large three-storey building and a cottage set in about three acres of landscaped garden and orchard.

William Ohly turned the folk museum into one for ethnography in 1952 and it was opened by the director of the Arts Council. His “Primitive Art” exhibitions attracted collectors, socialites, and artists such as Jacob Epstein, Lucian Freud, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. He also housed many expatriate artists during the post war years 1947–1951. It became an early base of operations for artists, trying to gain a foothold in London’s contemporary art industry but unable to afford the cities rents.

Other artists who visited the centre include the Scottish painter Alan Davie, the Irish painter Gerard Dilon, the English painter Phillip Martin, and Helen Grunewald and Inge Neufeld from Austria and Germany respectively. Animation pioneer Lotte Reiniger and her husband Carl Koch (director) lived and worked at the centre for about 25 years.

William died in 1955 and his son Ernest inherited his love of art, but was a more reserved character.

Ernest Ohly’s death provoked a ripple of excitement at the lucrative top end of the ethnographic art world. He was rumoured to have an extensive collection. His statues from Polynesia and masks from West Africa were auctioned in 2011 and 2013. And that, dealers assumed, was that.

But his children knew otherwise. In old age, he had told them he had one more sculpture. It was in a Barclays safe box and not to be sold, he specified, unless there was another Holocaust. In 2016 matters were taken out of the children’s hands. Barclays on Park Lane was closing its safe boxes; it told customers to collect their belongings.

Inside the box was this genuine Benin Bronze head. It was sold for 10 million pounds to a collector with the help of dealer, Lance Entwistle.

Inexpensive Playlist: May

Pyramid of Skulls

Paul Cezanne laboured at his skull paintings for around fifteen years, some pleased him but he seemed unhappy with the pyramid of skulls, trying hard to get some realism. In the last ten years of his life he worked upon the topic over and over again. It was a period in time where many of the props he used in his paintings were used. Apples, pears, a curtain from his Paris studio, books, a brass candlestick and napkins.

Most people see the skull in Cezanne’s late work as a sign of mortality coming in, showing a man in the final years and looking at memento mori.


Still Life with Skull

Still Life with Skull, 1885

Still Life with Skull, study, 1885

Still Life with Skull, 1902–04

Still Life with Skull, 1902–04


Still Life with Skull

Still Life with Skull


Nigel Henderson

From the late 1940s to the mid 1950s Nigel Henderson worked and lived in East London. He looked to be keeping up and extending the ideas of Mass Observation in his own way, . Included in this selection is an extensive series of images of the East End of London which Henderson shot between the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Nigel, Judith and Drusilla ‘Jo’ Henderson in the garden of 46 Chisenhale Road, Bethnal Green, 1952

Nigel Henderson’s parents divorced when he was young. His mother, Wyn Henderson, creatively inspired him to pursue a career in art though her friends and connections. At the beginning of her career Wyn managed ‘The Hours Press’ for Nancy Cunard (the first person to publish Samuel Beckett) in Paris and found herself mixing with Surrealist artist and poets. After a quarrel with Cunard, Wyn returned to London to live in Gordon Square, the heart of the Bloomsbury Set. The young Nigel saw an early performance of Virginia Woolf’s Freshwater in Vanessa Bell’s studio and stayed with Bell and Duncan Grant at Charleston.

Nigel Henderson – Wig Stall, Petticoat Lane, 1952

Nigel was able to meet Max Ernst on a trip to the south of France in 1932, Ernst inspired him to become a full time artist. At this time in 1938, Wyn was managing Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery ‘Guggenheim Jeune’ at  30 Cork Street, London. Peggy Guggenheim was an airess of the mining
Guggenheim family and her father had died on the RMS Titanic. The
gallery links helped Nigel meet Marcel Duchamp as well as Jean Cocteau
and Wassily Kandinsky.

Nigel studied biology at Chelsea Polytechnic in London from 1935–1936. He then worked as an assistant to Helmut Ruhemann from 1936–1939 restoring old master paintings. In the late 1930s Henderson developed paintings inspired by Yves Tanguy, another of Guggenheim’s artists. Nigel displayed two of his collages at the gallery. Peggy Guggenheim closed Guggenheim Jeune with a farewell party on 22 June 1939 having made a loss of £600 in the first year.

Nigel Henderson, Shop Front, Bethnal Green, 1949-1953.

Henderson put his passion for art aside to join the war effort as a pilot in Coastal Command. In 1943, he married Judith Stephen, daughter of Adrian and Karin Stephen. The niece of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, Judith had graduated from Cambridge when she met Nigel. She was stationed in Bethnal Green as part of a social anthropology project.

Judith’s access to the working class and poorer parts of London inspired Nigel to go out and photograph the nearby people and shops. He also continued to experiment with collages and the physicality of photography, he achieved abnormal effects by using various techniques such as altering negatives and placing images on light-sensitive paper to create Photograms.

As a biologist, Henderson was fascinated by the universe revealed by the microscope. As a pilot, he was familiar with landscape perceived from the air. His experiments with cameras, enlargers and developing combine the
two perspectives. What looks like a study of cellular structures turns out to be a photograph composed of bomb debris.

He enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. At Slade he befriended Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull. With Paolozzi, he formed The Independent Group in 1952. The Independent Group’s other main members were Lawrence Alloway, Richard Hamilton, John McHale and Alison & Peter Smithson. They had their meetings at the Institute of
Contemporary Arts in London.

Following the suicide of Judith’s mother Karin Stephen in 1953, the couple moved into Judith’s Landermere family home in 1954 and bounced between there and London for the rest of their lives. Paolozzi moved across to the road at Gull Cottage in 1955.

From 1965–1968 and from 1972–1982 he headed the photography department at Norwich School of Art while working on independent projects.

Although part of the Independent Group and using ‘found objects’ to make art, Henderson’s photography and design was also more old fashioned and documentary styled than the Pop Art of Paolozzi.

Some photos