Godalming: Two Women of their Time – Earle and Jekyll

The two women of the title are Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) and a contemporary of hers, but seven years older, Mrs C. W. Earle (1836 – 1925).

Jekyll was buried in Busbridge churchyard, where the inscription on her tomb reads Gertrude Jekyll – artist, gardener, craftswoman. Earle was a horticulturist, gardener and also wrote books. In the library we have books by Gertrude Jekyll and two by Earle. Last year there was a reprint of Earles first book, printed in 1897, Pot-Pourri From A Surrey Garden, the classic diary of a Victorian lady.

Earle and Jekyll both attended the South Kensington School of Art, had an interest in interior decoration and then in gardening. They were both patrons of The College for Lady Gardeners at Glynde, founded by Frances Wolseley (1872-1936) and established c.1901. This opened up professional training for gardening and horticultural careers to women. These first-generation students were often involved in suffragette politics.

Jekyll and Earle both had an association with the Womens Suffrage movement. Earle was the wife of Charles William Earle (hence the Mrs C. W. by which she is known) but was born Maria Theresa Villiers. She was aunt to Lady Constance Georgina Lytton (1869-1923), a suffragette, who, in her Prisons and Prisoners – some personal experience (1914), wrote that she had helped to type her aunts book. Constance Lytton is remembered for using the name Jane Warton to prevent her being arrested and to avoid being subject to special treatment because of her social position as daughter of Edith Villiers and Lord Lytton of Knebworth, a former Viceroy of India. She had joined the Womens Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1909 and described in a letter to her aunt a WPSU demonstration in Downing Street in 1910. Constances tragic life ended when she was arrested and refused to eat. She became paralysed in 1912 following a heart attack and stroke. She wrote to her aunt later, I am happy to die.

In May, 1908, The Surrey Advertiser reported the Suffragettes on Tour, with Lively times at Godalming. The meeting ended with the ladies having to flee through the back door of Thorns Restaurant in Church Street and escape by means of ladders over a high wall into the Deanery House garden. They went to the railway station , but were ordered out, then made their way to the Burys and Bridge Street. Here they took shelter in the police station for an hour before going back to their van. Jekyll designed a banner, now on display in the Jekyll & Lutyens Gallery in the Museum, for the Godalming Branch of the Association of Womens Suffrage Societies. In July, 1913, there was a Suffrage Pilgrimage, a great non-militant march from Portsmouth to London, stopping at Petersfield, Haslemere and Guildford on the way. A photograph of Jekylls banner being paraded through Guildford, from the Guildford Institute Scrapbook, is on display in the Museum .

Earles other niece was Constance Lyttons sister, Lady Emily Lytton. She wrote to her Aunt, in 1909, expressing the suffering the family felt as a result of Constances behaviour. Lady Emily married Edwin Lutyens, so forming another link between Earle and Jekyll. Lutyens and Jekyll had a long working association together. In 1896 Lutyens was designing Munstead Wood for Jekyll and, in the company of Barbara Webb of Milford House, he met Emily Lytton. While visiting the Webbs, Lutyens introduced Emily to Jekyll. Emily and Edwin were married in 1897. It was Lady Emily Lutyens who presented the Tate Gallery with the 1920 oil painting by Nicholson of Miss Jekylls boots. The boots in question, on loan from Guildford Museum, are on display in Godalming Museum.

Both Earle and Jekyll had nicknames. Friends and family knew Earle as Aunt T while Lutyens nickname for Jekyll, Bumps, was taken up by his children, who referred to her as Aunt Bumps. Emily wrote, Bumps was a very good name; she is very fat and stumpy, dresses rather like a man, little tiny eyes, very nearly blind, and big spectacles.

Earle lived in London, but spent time in her Surrey home and two acre garden at Woodlands, in Cobham, on which her books are based. Jekyll lived at Munstead Wood and had a 15 acre garden. Jekyll was richer than Earle, keeping 11 gardeners to Earles one and a boy. Earle was an amateur and, in her book of 1897, mentions that Jekyll sold her surplus plants, so suggesting that she was no amateur.

Earles book, Pot-Pourri From A Surrey Garden, was said at the time to have made gardens and nature fashionable. It included recipes, garden tips, country life and nature. It ran to many editions, finishing as a trilogy with More Pot-Pourri From a Surrey Garden (1899) and Third Pot-Pourri (1903). In her book, Earle commended Jekylls series of articles in The Guardian: I trust that before long these articles will be republished in book form, for every word in them deserves attention and consideration. Two years later, Jekylls book Wood and Garden: Notes and thoughts, practical and critical of a working amateur (1899) refers to the many valuable suggestions in Mrs Earles delightful book and states, in her foreword, that a portion of the contents (one third) had appeared during 1896-7 in the pages of The Guardian as Notes from Garden and Woodland.

Earle and Jekyll became friends, but there is a suggestion that there was gentle rivalry between them and even criticism by Earle of Jekyll. Also, that there was a cross-fertilization, the two women making achievements at the same time in the same field. The latest edition of the Dictionary of National Biography (2004) even suggests that Earles book of 1897 was an instant success, had good reviews in the press, was bought by those in fashionable society because of her social connections and, as a consequence, formed the model for the first books of Gertrude Jekyll a few years later. However Jekyll had been publishing articles for 16 years prior to Earles book.

The year 1897 saw the publication of Earles first book, the death of her husband just after its publication and the marriage of Emily Lytton and Lutyens at Knebworth. The same year, Jekyll received the Royal Horticultural Societys Victoria Medal of Honour, only the second woman among 60 men to receive this award, moved into Munstead Wood and began to sell plants.

In a final coincidence, the two women, whose lives had run so much in parallel, both died at the age of 89.

Postscript: Lady Heald of Chilworth, who died last year, was born Daphne Constance Price. Mrs C. W. Earle was her great-aunt, as was Edith, Countess Lytton (mother of Emily Lytton, who married Edwin Lutyens, and of Constance Georgina Lytton)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *