Sunday, 25 November 2012


Here is a Georgian Quaker knitted silk pincushion - I found this little treasure last week. (Well, another antique-hunter found it and agreed to sell it to me if I would only get up off my knees. "So undignified!")
These small pincushions (1.5 inches in diameter) are quite rare and were knitted by Quaker girls and women on fine steel needles called "makkin wires". They were often sold to raise funds for worthy causes. 
Some examples were made to help the anti-slavery movement.

Girls at the famous Ackworth Quaker School in West Yorkshire knitted them in sombre colours, rather like mine. Theirs are always bound with a loop of silk ribbon...

..but mine is from York, dated 1818 and bound with a knitted band, which adds much to its poignant story.

Around the band are the words, "A Trifle from the Retreat 1818." Below is a similar piece from York Museum which says, " The Retreat near York".

Founded in 1792 by a Quaker tea merchant William Tuke, The Retreat opened in 1796 and was a new kind of establishment for the mentally ill, a hospital which treated the patients with great kindness and with minimal use of cruel restraint. It is thought that these pincushions may have been made by patients as a kind of occupational therapy.

The Retreat, York.

Here is a petition signed by the servants working at The Retreat in 1827. They demanded that the committee should allow only the purchase of tea from East India, harvested by free men, and not tea from the West Indies because of the great oppression of the slave trade.


Monday, 19 November 2012


One Sunday afternoon, a couple of years ago, I was painting the landing (F&B Pavilion Gray) and listening to a very good BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (still on my "to read list" I'm ashamed to say) when the narrator said something that struck me to the core:
"Like so many Americans she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops."
"How true!" I thought, "That may well be what we do. Are we so sad and are our lives so empty?"
Then, as I brushed the walls, I decided that in fact it is a very basic human (or even animal) instinct to collect, to decorate, to furnish, to feather a nest. Then I didn't feel so bad. 

Here, above, an early settler has surrounded himself with comforting clutter and mementoes, as well as the necessities of life. He probably would have felt quite at home in the manly room pictured below, suit-cases at the ready, trophies on the wall.

I was reminded of this Vonnegut quotation by a link on Ben Pentreath's excellent blog. This link is not for the those who faint away at the sight of the "f" word for it leads you to a website cheekily making fun of all the desirable bits and pieces that make up our hearts' desires and which clutter our houses with all kinds of old tat. Mr Pentreath is a leading figure in the London design world, an architect who has worked for the Duchy of Cornwall and the owner of the poshest gift shop in the country. Here is his new book, a feast for all who love decorating...

...and reassuring for we purveyors of stuff, for, as far as we can tell, human beings are still acquiring and collecting knick-knackery of all kinds with which to adorn their homes. 


and here,

Then they go home to do this


and this.

So it goes.

Saturday, 10 November 2012


September 22nd 1915 - here you see my great aunt Liena on her wedding day. The groom is Eric Montesole, on leave, briefly, for their marriage. Eric looks  jaunty but Liena is sad: behind her is my grandfather, his face grave, knowing he will soon be joining up. Their mother is veiled - a widow, she has already lost two sons and will lose one more, in March 1918.
After a brief honeymoon Eric rejoined his regiment, but was fortunate to be able to spend Christmas 1915 with Liena, later referring to this as "THE WEEK I SPENT IN PARADISE". He died in action 2 months later. Here is his father's tribute to him.


Liena never remarried. In middle age she developed a taste for travelling in Eastern Europe, home of her husband's ancestors - here she is dining in Budapest in the 1930s. She was known to be a "loner" - sometimes I like to imagine that she might have been a spy.

The little thatched summer house is all that remains now of that late summer day in 1915. It may not be be very long before this story is forgotten, lost forever... 

                                                        photo by Eric Hill


Monday, 5 November 2012


Last week we were down in Sussex for a fix of fresh sea air - and, of course, the never-ending antiques hunt, at Ardingly and all places East and West this time.

Eastbourne and its Victorian pier (last visited in 1963).

Bexhill-on-Sea and the 1930s De La Warr Pavilion...

... though we prefer something a little more down-market.

Here we are at The Sovereign Light Cafe, immortalised by rock band Keane on their last album, Strangeland. Lovely "seasidey" decor and excellent cod and chips, according to Mr N.


 Sea breezes aside, Sussex was in the full flush of Autumn, here at Standen,

and over the border in Kent... Sizzlinghurst, home of Vera Sackcloth-Vest - oops, I've been listening to Sue Limb's hilarious "Gloomsbury" on Radio 4 (though Mr N insists that he coined the name "Sizzlinghurst" first.)

We were at Sissinghurst Castle of course, home of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson.

What would she have thought of the rabble sticking their lowbred noses into her writing room in the tower?

Mind you, I don't believe that Vita went this far to keep her hedges trim - she approved of a little wildness and disorder.