The Garretts of Gower Street – an adventure story for girls

No 2 Gower Street

No 2 Gower Street

Behind this door between the 1870s to the 1930s, four women of one remarkable family were making their mark upon the world though only one, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, is named on the plaque. So how did it begin?

Apparently, her mother Louisa told this story of how two of her daughters decided upon their careers.  One evening at the family home in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, Elizabeth and Milly and Elizabeth’s friend Emily were brushing their hair by the fire, discussing the inequalities facing women and what they might do to advance women’s cause. Emily (aged 29) said women needed an education and she would open the universities to women, Elizabeth (aged 23) argued that women also needed an income so she would open up the professions, starting with medicine, and Milly (aged 13) was allocated the task of winning the Parliamentary vote.  (Emily Davies co-founded  Girton College Cambridge.)

Millicent Garrett Fawcett, who did indeed go on to lead the constitutional campaign for women’s suffrage, has long been one of my heroes.  Her peaceful and persistent campaigning for women to get the vote began almost fifty years earlier than the direct violent action of the Women’s Political and Social Union (WSPU) so graphically depicted in last autumn’s film Suffragette. The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), of which Millicent became President, continued to campaign for gender equality in different guises and, now as The Fawcett Society, celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

 

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital  – now part of Unison  Euston Road

Millicent’s older sister Elizabeth Garrett Anderson didn’t live in Gower Street but she did open up the medical profession. Elizabeth Garrett, became the first woman to qualify as a physician in Britain.  She went on to found the New Hospital for Women (later the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital), was Dean of the London School of Medicine for Women and the first woman in Britain to be elected Mayor when she was elected Mayor of Aldeburgh, Suffolk in 1908.

Part of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital building is now incorporated into the offices of the trade union Unison and houses the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery

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London School of Medicine for Women

Elizabeth’s daughter, Louisa Garrett Anderson, trained as a doctor at the London School of Medicine for Women and in 1915 established the Endell Street Military Hospital with her companion Dr Flora Murray.

From the 1870s, long before Millicent moved in, No 2 Gower Street was the home and workplace of the firm of A&R Garrett House Decorators.  A&R  were the architectural decorators Agnes and Rhoda , (sister and cousin of Millicent and Elizabeth) and strictly speaking, the neat brass plate on the door that advertised their business contravened the terms of their Bedford Estate lease.

After a formal apprenticeship with the architect John McKean Brydon (who designed the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and the London School of Medicine for Women) the two cousins became the first women  professional house decorators, They designed carpets, textiles, furniture and wallpaper, exhibited in Paris and published a design book that ran to several editions.   The composer Sir Hubert Parry employed them and they successfully tendered for interior design of the New Hospital for Women.

A&R Garrett Laburnum Wallpaper

Garrett ‘Laburnum’ Wallpaper

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Fireplace by Agnes Garrett

Millicent moved in with her sister Agnes in the 1880s after the death of her husband, the academic and Liberal MP Henry Fawcett and their cousin Rhoda.  Millicent’s daughter Phillippa Fawcett lived here and from here set off for Newnham College (of which her mother had been one of the founders) where she made history and newspaper headlines with her success in the mathematics finals, when she was placed “above the senior wrangler”.  In plain English, she was better than any of the men!

If you would like to find out more why not join my Garretts of Gower Street walk on Saturday afternoon 10th December.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From Black Dwarf to Spare Rib

Why not join me on Saturday afternoon to stroll through Clerkenwell?

The old Borough of Finsbury has a strong history  of print and publishing and many fictional links too. Bank notes; three national newspapers; periodicals from Edward Cave’s The Gentleman (the first ever magazine) through Lenin’s ISKRA to feminist Spare Rib in the 1980s.  Of these had their home within a short walk of our starting point at Farringdon Station.

For George Gissing it was the Nether World. Charles Dickens used the area widely in his novels and we will see where Oliver first encountered Mr Brownlow and the square where the ‘real’ Miss Haversham lived.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/from-black-dwarf-to-spare-rib-finsbury-in-print-tickets-26626104395

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Charity Weekend – Reading, Revels & Royalty — Clerkenwell and Islington Guides

Clerkenwell and Islington Guides are marking the Queen’s official birthday with a weekend of walks across the Borough. Walks take place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday 10th – 12th June from Angel, Farringdon, Highbury, Old Street and Upper Holloway Each walk costs are £10 and proceeds will go to The Reading Agency, the Islington-based…

via Charity Weekend – Reading, Revels & Royalty — Clerkenwell and Islington Guides

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The flower pot on the windowsill

London Flower lovers badge etc

Despite recent heavy winds my polypropylene and tubular aluminium “grow house” has been remarkably resilient providing shelter to plants before their move onto the allotment and giving vegetable and herb seedlings a chance to toughen up enough to stand a chance against the slugs.  This morning however, my complacency (And neglect to secure said structure to the fence as advised!) was shattered.  Rain had succeeded where wind alone failed,  and I woke to discover my grow house face down on top of a jumble of plants and seedlings.

On closer, and wet, inspection the damage wasn’t as bad as it first looked but it took me back with a jolt to a windy summer day in the early 1960s when I awoke to my first horticultural disaster.  The clay pot of nasturtiums I had been painstakingly tending on my second floor bedroom windowsill lay shattered far below in the basement ‘area’ of the printers shop above which we lived .

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In the days when I was a pupil there, William Tyndale Junior School in Islington wasn’t known for its imaginative  curriculum (Though it had its moments later in the more radical 1970s.), so the advent of the London Flower Lovers’ League bulbs and seeds in Spring and Summer was really quite exciting.

The summer seeds were nasturtiums and candytuft.  My mother complained that the nasturtiums got blackly, but I preferred their bright colours and trailing flowers to the more sedate pink candytuft and always hoped that my small brown envelope would have nasturtium seeds in it.  Oddly, I don’t remember growing the bulbs (always daffodils) though I proudly pasted this  certificate into my scrapbook!

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Some time ago, I looked up the London Flower Lovers League and was delighted to see that  it still exists, though since 1974 it has been called The London Children’s Flower Society. I read the 2014 Annual Report online and was pleased to note that my old primary school still takes part and earned a Silver Medal Award in the daffodil and hyacinth class.

Alice K Street, whose printed signature appeared on all the certificates, founded the Society in 1945 in order to provide London children with an opportunity for gardening in the grey post-war years. She ran the League from her own home in Orpington until her death in 1966, and started with the very modest idea of a daffodil competition, open to all the school children of London.  The bulbs would be grown in pots, if necessary on a window ledge, as mine were, or standing in any space available where there was enough light. The bulbs, and later seeds, were accompanied by short, simply-worded instructions for growing them.

The bulb competition still exists, but now the Society offers a wider range of seeds – flower and vegetable – in standard sized packets – no more tiny brown envelopes containing only ten or 12 seeds. It also has categories for perennial plants and whole school gardens with prizes as well as certificates.  Alice K Street’s name lives on in trophies awarded to schools, but surely she should be better known?

London Flower lovers badge etc

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The man behind the Mallard, but not a duck in sight

 

img_0674-2King’s Cross was quiet yesterday morning as I waited for the York train to become ready to board. Had it not been, I probably would have missed the recent addition of a statue honouring the engineer Sir Nigel Gresley by Hazel Reeves.  The bronze of the statue blends in with the bronze of the brickwork that forms its backdrop. The statue was unveiled on April 5th, the 75th anniversary of  Gresley’s death and is sited a few yards from the Kings Cross office in which he worked for London & North Eastern Railway (LNER).

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No plaque is yet in place and a typed sheet of A4 in a plastic wallet stuck to the wall nearby is the only written acknowledgement of the locomotive engineer who gave us those famous steam locomotives the Flying Scotsman and the Mallard. 

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The Closest reference to a duck!

Reeves original conception was for Sir Nigel to be accompanied by a duck – a reference both to the fastest steam locomotive in the world (Mallard achieved 126 mph) and his hobby of breeding water fowl in the moat of Salisbury Hall, his Hertfordshire home. Sadly, this witty and human touch didn’t meet with universal acclaim. Two of Sir Nigel’s grandsons felt that the addition of a duck would be “demeaning” and the dispute split the trustees of the Gresley Society Trust, three of whom resigned.
According to press reports, when the statue was unveiled last week by members of the Gresley family and Network Rail Chair, Sir Peter Hendy, there was a protest by the pro-duck lobby with several yellow rubber ducks in evidence. No ducks remained yesterday. No doubt they have decamped to the nearby Regent’s Canal or perhaps they caught the eye of Trim, Matthew Flinders’ statuary cat, from nearby Euston Station!

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Some London Cats

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Laura Ford Cats 1 & 2

I recently stumbled across Camden-based, Laura Ford’s 2012 work Cats 1&2.  Situated at the end of Bishopsgate, appropriately close to the junction of Leadenhall Street with Whittington Avenue, these two anxious and distracted larger-than-life size cats are part of a series called Days of Judgement. Ford was inspired by Masaccio’s fresco, The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, but instead of Adam and Eve, she gives us these tall, thin, distracted and abject creatures.

I started to think about the other London cat statues I know, all of whom serve either to emphasise their human companion’s humanity or serve as a memorial to the humans with whom they are connected.

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Image ©PAUL FARMER and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Hodge, Dr Johnson’s  “very fine cat indeed”, portrayed in Jon Bickley’s 1997 statue with one of the oysters he favoured, gazes out in a very proprietorially feline attitude across Gough Square from his position on a copy of Johnson’s famous dictionary. He is also at good height for visitors to the Square to stroke or drape an arm round.

IMG_1531Trim, Matthew Flinders seagoing”close companion” looks as though he has his own interests but seems content to stay close by in the busyness of the Euston Station concourse.

 

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Image by By Jim Linwood (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image by By Jim Linwood (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

These two Bloomsbury cats were indeed real and local. Humphry, on top, used to live in Queen Square (the statue, that is) but was relocated to the Alf Barrett children’s playground in nearby Old Gloucester Street.  Humphrey, the real cat, lived at the Mary Ward Adult Education Centre the Square. He was named after Humphry Ward, husband of the centre’s founder Mary Augusta (Mrs Humphry) Ward, the Victorian social reformer and novelist.  Humphry is the first and only sculpture completed by Marcia Solway who attended sculpture classes at the Centre and lived nearby. Sadly, Marcia died of epilepsy aged only 34 in 1992. The statue was donated by her mother Carole Solway.

Sam, portrayed jumping down from a wall in a corner of Queen Square, lived with a active local resident Patricia Penn (Penny).  Penny was a nurse,  actively engaged in the local residents association and a campaigner for the preservation of the area’s historic buildings.  The sculpture by John Fuller, was erected in 2002 and funded by local people to commemorate Penny’s life.  The current version is mark two as the original was stolen in 2007. However, Sam won’t be able to jump down from the wall this time as the new sculpture is fixed to the brickwork with steel rods!

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Image by Stephen Craven [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The cat in the Salter family grouping at Bermondsey returned  to the embankment wall in 2014 after a spell in protective custody with Southwark Council. Although daughter Joyce and her pet cat were unharmed, the statue of her father, local GP and Labour MP, Dr Alfred Salter was stolen in 2011.  Happily, a fundraising campaign meant that sculptor Diane Gorvin, who created the original trio in 1991, was able to make a new statue of Alfred and  to complete the family grouping with a statue of Ada Salter.  Ada, who had been omitted from the original commission was the first Labour woman mayor in Britain and the  first female mayor in London. An ethical socialist, she successfully campaigned for improved housing and the greening of London through Deptford’s Beautification Committee.

You may like to read more about Trim and Matthew Flinders

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A visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden

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I enjoyed the best of the Easter Monday weather with a trip to the Chelsea Physic Garden yesterday afternoon.  After I don’t know how many years of good intentions, I finally got there and was rewarded with a gloriously sunny afternoon.  Many of the more tender plants were still warmly wrapped up in their winter layers of protective bubblewrap, but there were spring bulbs and green shoots poking through the bare earth.

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As children played hide-and-seek among the beds and glasshouses and adults enjoyed tea and very fine cakes from the cafe, it would have been easy to forget that this Garden is more than four hundred years old and not recreational.  The Chelsea Physic Garden was founded by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in 1673 to train their apprentices to recognise and understand the healing properties of the medicinal plants that would be used in their professional lives.

As I walked around, I stopped to read an information board about Carl Linnaeus and the naming of plants when my eye was caught by the paragraph at the end.

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I remembered that Elizabeth Garrett (later Elizabeth Garrett Anderson) had obtained her licence to practice medicine in England through the Society of Apothecaries. In 1815, the Society of Apothecaries was granted the power to conduct examinations, licence and regulate medical practitioners – John Keats, the poet, had been one of the first to qualify in 1816.  So confident were the Society that no woman would seek a medical qualification that, unlike the other bodies able to grant medical qualifications, they did not even specify that women were to be excluded.  Instead of referring only to ‘men’, the regulations of the Society of Apothecaries referred to ‘persons’ and it was this provision that allowed Elizabeth Garrett to gain her licence in 1865. (A loophole that was closed a couple of years later on Valentine’s Day 1867!)

Elizabeth Garrett had been inspired to become a doctor by Elizabeth Blackwell, an English women who qualified as a doctor in America. So I was intrigued to learn of an earlier Elizabeth Blackwell, a Scottish artist and engraver who used the Chelsea Physic Garden to produce A Curious Herbal between 1737 and 1739.

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Scottish Elizabeth had trained as an artist and formed a love match with her cousin Alexander. Alexander and Elizabeth fled to London when it was discovered that he had been practising medicine under a bogus license. In London, Alexander re-invented himself as a printer; again ignoring the regulatory niceties that, for his new profession, required him to have served an apprenticeship and belong to a Guild. Faced by heavy fines and having spent all of Elizabeth’s dowry, Alexander ended up in debtors’ prison and Elizabeth needed to earn enough to support herself and her family.

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Illustration from A Curious Herbal

Learning that a new Herbal was required to describe plants being brought in from the New World, Elizabeth decided to combine her own artistic skills with her husband’s botanical knowledge. She moved to be closer to the Chelsea Physic Garden and set out to provide the illustrations for her Herbal, taking her drawings to Alexander in prison so that he could supply the correct names in Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and German.

Revenue from the first two editions of the book provided enough to secure Alexander’s release, but not to match his spending habits. Alexander ran away again. This time to Sweden where he got himself involved in a conspiracy at the Swedish Court which resulted in his being hanged in 1747 before his wife could join him. Elizabeth lived for another ten years and is buried in All Saints Church, Chelsea.

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