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Companions' Days


A group of around 30 Companions, Guild staff and friends gathered in Bewdley on 16thJune for a delightful day. A handful of people had the opportunity to take the stairs to the top of Bewdley Museum where the Ruskin Library books are shelved. Meticulously catalogued and looked after by Companion Jeanette Lock, the more than 450 books and related items were a gift to the Guild from Companion and Director Anthony Page, and are available for study and loan to anyone who asks; Jeanette would love to see the books used more. See the online catalogue here.

After the full group had gathered at St George’s Hall, we set off, led by our Pied Piper Jenny Robbins, to see the magnificent Ruskin Land oak bridge recently built and unveiled in Bewdley’s Riverside North Park, as part of a new accessible walk around the park. The bridge’s handrail is carved with Ruskin’s name and his words ‘Beautiful, Peaceful, Fruitful’, taken from his original manifesto for the Guild’s land in the Wyre Forest:  “We will try to take some small piece of English ground, beautiful, peaceful and fruitful. We will have no steam-engines upon it, and no railroads; we will have no untended or unthought-of creatures on it; none wretched, but the sick; none idle, but the dead.”

Next, by car or on foot, we headed to the village of Ribbesford to see the fine window by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Originally an early-Norman church, it was badly damaged in a storm in 1878, and we should be glad that Ruskin’s advice, to leave it as a picturesque ruin, was ignored and the church extensively rebuilt. The fine west window, installed only three year earlier, survived the storm; it was made by William Morris to designs by Edward Burne-Jones, and is dedicated to Burne-Jones’s mother-in-law.

Up near the top of the churchyard lies the grave of William Graham. As many readers will know, Graham was an early follower of Ruskin and he established the first smallholding at what was then known as the St George’s Guild Bewdley Estate. In 1880 he drew a plan for an orchard of 180 or so fruit trees, a mixture of varieties of plum, damson, apple, pear and cherry. We were lucky enough to see this beautiful plan later in the day, when John Iles was talking about the revived and replanted orchards at Uncllys Farm. Graham’s grave is due to be cleaned and repaired and a new commemorative plaque installed acknowledging his significance to the Guild. We were all enchanted by the sleek grey cat that came to lounge on the grave and insist on our attention. >Lunch was eaten at Uncllys in the beautiful Ruskin Studio building and offered the chance for Companions and friends to sit, talk and share what brought each of them to the Guild and to Ruskin.

After lunch, we were taken on a tour of the oak woods where both John Iles and Tim Selman, Managing Director of the Wyre Community Land Trust, spoke to us about the changing stewardship of the woods, opening up space and introducing a wider variety of species. More than 1000 tonnes of oak has been taken out and sold, and the resulting open space, and increase in light, allows for new growth from the forest floor and encourages a far greater diversity of wildlife. As if to illustrate this, we suddenly noticed, while Tim was talking, a hawk sitting surveying us from a nearby branch. It was explained how relatively valueless the oak is when first extracted (in relation to the cost of extraction), and how the value per tonne increases exponentially the more it can be worked on site, for example being dried and sawn for use as a building and making material.

We therefore headed finally to St George’s Farm, to see the investment in the sawmill and improvements to buildings, so that the harvest of the woods can generate both more income and more work, as well as making beautiful things. It was inspiring to hear about the new jobs and activities that are becoming possible, and we saw the preparations taking place to host this year’s Studio in the Woods project, where up to 60 people come to live on the Farm and work with architects and designers to realise full-scale projects using the materials around them.

Tim then explained the Masterplan for the future stages of development on the farm, for which fundraising is an on-going challenge, before we returned to Uncllys Farm through the orchard for a restorative cup of tea and excellent cake, before the group began to disperse.

The evening before, some of the Board and the Guild’s staff team met for a sumptuous dinner of local venison at Uncllys Farm, and we were delighted to be joined by local Companions and friends and from New York, American Companions R. Dyke Benjamin and his wife Marianne. After Clive Wilmer’s warm words of welcome, both made delightful informal speeches, Dyke referencing the fact that having been a keen Ruskin collector for many decades, he couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that he has gone from being a rather lonely Ruskin enthusiast with a seemingly esoteric interest, to one of a growing host of people world-wide who care very deeply about Ruskin. Having been a champion runner as a younger man, Dyke listed his three heroes as his wife, John Ruskin and Sir Roger Bannister, perhaps the first time Ruskin and Bannister have shared top billing.

Our thanks to Jenny and John for creating such a relaxed and welcoming environment, to Tim Selman for his important contribution on behalf of the Wyre Community Land Trust, and to Jeanette Lock for her tour of the Anthony Page Ruskin library in Bewdley Museum.



Westmill Village Hall (left) and the Village Tea Rooms (right)

We were delighted to fill the small Village Hall in the beautiful Hertfordshire village of Westmill, with our Companions’ Day on 24 June 2017. Guild Companions and residents of the village came together, including some of the tenants who live in the Guild’s properties there. The seven cottages, and one commercial property run as the village Tea Rooms, were given to the Guild by Companion Mary Hope Greg (1850-1949), the subject of a fascinating and entertaining talk on the day by Liz Mitchell. (Copies of Liz’s lecture are available from the Guild’s Shop.) Mrs Greg also created the Greg Trust to look after other amenities and properties in the village, and representatives of the Trust, and other helpers, contributed massively to the success of the day, especially Michael McRae who got things off to a great start with a short welcome and presentation on the Trust and the history of the village. This was followed by a presentation about the Guild by the Master, Clive Wilmer.

Inside Westmill Village Hall.

Lunch was served in a marquee in a nearby area of the village owned by the Greg Trust, and dedicated as a Children’s Playground. This was followed by a short presentation back at the Hall on Companion Charles Spooner, an Arts & Crafts architect who was friends with the Gregs and lived in the village. The speaker was Alec Hamilton, Spooner’s biographer, who then led a short walking tour of the village which included an impromptu visit to Dial House whose staircase is one of the notable architectural features of the village. The tour ended in St Mary Church, the Gregs’ and Spooners’ final resting place, where the churchwardens had mounted a small exhibition.

Thank you to everyone who joined us and for helping to make it an enjoyable and memorable occasion.

Many thanks to John Iles for all Westmill pics.

1100 Arrival. Parking has been made available on the field adjacent to the Church.
1130 Introductions by Guild of St George and T & M Greg Trust.
1200 A talk by Liz Mitchell (see below).
1300 Lunch (for a discretionary donation) served at the Children's Playground marquee.
1400 A short talk on architect and Companion Charles Spooner (1862-1938) by his biographer Alec Hamilton, followed by a village tour, including a visit to the Greg memorials at Westmill Church.

Treasuring things of the least’: Mary Hope Greg of Westmill
A talk by Liz Mitchell

Mary Hope Greg (1850-1949) was a lifelong follower of John Ruskin, and a Companion of Ruskin's Guild of St George.

She was a passionate supporter of museums during the early 20th century, giving collections of domestic crafts and children’s toys to Manchester City Art Galleries and London’s Bethnal Green Museum. She established her own museum in the Hertfordshire village of Westmill as a memorial to her late husband, fellow collector and local landowner Thomas Tylston Greg. She later set up the T&M Greg Trust to preserve land and property in the village for future generations. She was also a keen amateur naturalist and watercolour painter, recording the changing seasons of the Hertfordshire countryside in her nature diaries, now in the collections of the Guild. She did most of this between the ages of 70 and 99.

Until recently, however, little was really known about her life. In this talk, Liz Mitchell shares the latest findings of her PhD research into Mrs Greg. She provides fascinating insights into the development of Mrs Greg's dedication to Ruskin from her early life in Liverpool as a member of a family of wealthy philanthropists, through to the diverse achievements of her old age.

Click on the image (left) for full-size poster.

You can read an article about Mary Greg which Liz wrote for a past issue of The Companion.

*   *   *

Friday June 10th — Saturday June 11th.

2016 marked the 80th anniversary of the gift by Margaret Knight of St George’s Field, a wildflower meadow in the Gloucestershire village of Sheepscombe.

The visit will start on Friday, June 10th. It will include a short talk about the history of the field, a guided walk with Companion Professor David Ingram and Natural England’s Kate Gamez. This will culminate in the unveiling of a new sign to commemorate 80 years of the field being in the Guild’s care. Commissioned by the Guild, it has been made of Wyre oak by carpenter Mac Wassell, with lettering by Robert Cox.  Companions are invited to a buffet dinner that evening at the Ruskin Studio at Uncllys Farm on Ruskin Land near Bewdley in the Wyre Forest.

On Saturday, June 11th we will take a tour of Beaucastle, the Gothic mansion built by the Guild’s patron and second Master, George Baker. The day will also include a visit to St George’s Farm, where Companions can see the newly-planted orchard of 150 trees, and hear an update on research and plans for forthcoming events on Ruskin Land from Companions Neil Sinden and Lynne Roberts.

As always we thank Director John Iles and his team for their hospitality.
(Car-parking is available at each location.)


Visit to Sheepscombe
Friday June 10th

12.15 Arrival. Park at the Ebworth Centre (National Trust) The Ebworth Centre is located on the B4070 road between Birdlip and Stroud, and is signposted from this road near the Foston's Ash pub. The postcode is GL6 7ES.

12.30 Lunch at the Ebworth Centre (£7.50 pp).
This will be followed by a short presentation about the history of the Field.

13.30 ½ mile walk to St George’s Field for a tour guided by Companion, plant scientist Professor David Ingram, author of Gardens of Brantwood, and Kate Gamez of Natural England.

15.00 Unveiling of the new sign to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the gift of the wildflower meadow to the Guild. Made of Wyre oak by Mac Wassell with lettering by Robert Cox.

15.15 Return to the Ebworth Centre for tea & cake and closing remarks.

16.00 Departure.

19.00 Buffet dinner in the Ruskin Studio, Uncllys Farm (£20pp)
(Uncllys Farm, Tanners Hill, Ruskin Land, Bewdley, Worcs, DY12 2LR.)

NB. Can anyone with mobility difficulties please let us know when booking so that we can arrange transport from the Ebworth Centre to St George’s Field..

Visit to Bewdley
Saturday June 11th

10.45 Arrival at Beaucastle for coffee and welcome.
(Beaucastle, Longbank, Bewdley, Worcestershire, DY12 2QS.)

11.00 Beaucastle’s owners, Dale and Alex Parmeter, will lead a guided tour of the property.There will be an opportunity to see the carvings by sculptor and early Companion,  Benjamin Creswick, and to learn more about George Baker who commissioned Beaucastle and donated land to the Guild in the Wyre Forest.

13.00 Lunch at the Ruskin Studio, Uncllys Farm (£7.50pp).
(Uncllys Farm, Tanners Hill, Ruskin Land, Bewdley, Worcs, DY12 2LR.)

14.00 Short walk to St George's Farm to see the property and progress on the planting of the new orchard of 150 trees. The visit will include updates from Companions Neil Sinden (on research into the early Wyre Companions) and Lynne Roberts (on the development of a Ruskin Land cultural programme)

15.30 Return to the Ruskin Studio for tea and cake, closing remarks and departure.

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