Christiana Jane Herringham (1852-1929) artist and Women’s Suffrage campaigner
Christiana Jane Herringham (nèe Powell, later Lady Herringham) was the eldest of Thomas Wilde Powell’s daughters. Thomas was a stockbroker, art collector and philanthropist, with a belief that women should be financially independent. Even before the Married Woman’s Property Act of 1882 he had assigned large sums of money to each of his daughters for their exclusive use. By 1897 Christiana had a personal inheritance of £45,000 and his other daughters were similarly endowed. Christiana and her sisters, Mary Elizabeth Thackeray Turner (1854-1907), Agnes Margaret Dixon (1865-1918), and Theodora Wilde Powell (1871-1920), all became involved in the Women’s Suffrage campaign.
Following the death of his wife Mary Elizabeth, Thomas moved from Kent to Guildford and commissioned architect Richard Norman Shaw to design his new house ‘Piccards Rough’, with stables and two cottages in Sandy Lane, Artington, near Guildford. Sadly, the integrity of the design was destroyed when the central portion of the house was demolished in 1958.
On 21 September 1880, at St Nicolas’ Church, Guildford, Christiana married Wilmot Parker Herringham, then a medical student but later a physician (and later became Sir).
The Herringhams lived at 40 Wimpole Street, London. Christiana became part of a circle of friends that included members of the Garrett family. With Agnes Garrett she was one of the founding directors of the Ladies’ Residential Chambers Company, in 1888.
After the tragic death of her son Christopher, in 1893, Christiana wanted to live in the peace and quiet of the countryside and they lived at ‘Piccards Cottage’, near to her father, who was still residing at ‘Piccards Rough’.
Developing a keen interest in art, she published her translation of Cennino Cennini’s treatise Il libro dell’arte o trattato della pittura in 1890. She pursued her interest in this field, including the study of Italian tempera and in 1901 became a co-founder of the Society of Painters in Tempera.
In June 1903 Christiana became a founding member and only woman on the executive committee of the National Art Collections Fund (NACF). She offered £200 to help launch the Fund and help with the acquisition of art for the national collections. In 1905 the NACF raised the capital required to purchase the Rokeby ‘Venus’ for the National Gallery. Christiana tried to encourage the other members of the committee to accept four female nominees but the male members, D S McCall, Roger Fry and Claude Phillips, were not encouraging and she continued to push this with little success.
Christiana supported the women’s suffrage campaign and in 1906 was briefly managing director of the Women’s Tribune Company. The role of this body was to promote the activities of Clementina Black’s Women’s Franchise Declaration Committee. By 1907 Christiana had re-positioned her support in favour of a more militant approach and joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and she gave her support to the Artists’ Suffrage League (ASL). In 1907 she was a judge in the ASL’s first poster and postcard competition.
In 1908 the NUWSS set up a Procession Committee to appeal for funds to help in the organisation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) demonstration on 13 June 1908. Christiana Herringham and Mary Lowndes represented the Artists’ Suffrage League and Phillipa Strachey, the NUWSS organiser, was one of the representatives of the London Society. The procession was a propaganda success and the committee was so successful in raising funds that by the time expenses and rail fares had been paid profits stood at £350. Donations continued to pour in and the NUWSS Executive Committee decided to continue the appeal. There is a letter from Christiana to Philippa Strachey dated 22 June 1910 held in the archives at the LSE Women’s Library (LSE ref: 9/01/0805) in which Christiana requests a ticket for the Queen’s Hall meeting on the 28 June. She comments that her sisters, Mrs Dixon [Agnes Margaret] and Mrs Wills [Rosamond Emma] were going to refuse to divulge their incomes for the purposes of the “super-tax” as it was an infringement of the Married Woman’s Property Act. Christiana states that she was going to endeavour encourage her sisters in getting this refusal carried out.A talented needlewoman, Christiana helped with embroidering Mary Lowndes’ designs for suffrage banners, including “Alliance not Defiance” for the ASL, a banner for the Writers’ Suffrage League (WSL), and one for the NUWSS Surrey, Sussex and Hants Federation.
Together with Mary Lowndes, she represented the ASL on the NUWSS committee which organised the demonstration on the 13 June 1908. She co-authored, with Caroline Hodgson (founder of the Women’s Freedom League), a duologue: “Granny’s Decision” performed at a WFL Bazaar in the spring of 1908. In 1909 she and Bertha Newcombe collected the signatures of prominent men who supported women’s enfranchisement.
She was a generous donor to the cause, funding the making of the silver “Holloway” prison brooches in December 1908 and the launch of the Women’s League of Suffrage Societies new journal, Englishwoman in 1909.
In 1906 and in 1911 Christiana visited the caves at Ajanta in India. The object of the second visit was to make copies of the Buddhist wall paintings which were rapidly deteriorating. Unfortunately, she experienced a mental breakdown and suffered from delusions thereafter. (It is possible that E M Forster based his character, Mrs Moore, in Passage to India on Christiana’s experience).
Before being committed to a private asylum in July of 1911, Christiana asked her family to sell three valuable rugs and give the proceeds via Mary Lowndes to the suffrage movement. Christiana also arranged with her sister, Agnes Dixon, that items from her extensive art collection were to be loaned to Bedford College (now amalgamated with Royal Holloway) and Newnham College. Following her death she bequeathed these items to the colleges and the items remain part of their core collections. The Ajanta copies were bequeathed to the India Society.
Christiana died in 1929, having spent the rest of her life in private nursing homes. It is unclear if she was aware of the fact that women were given the right to vote in 1918 and 1928. She is commemorated by a headstone in Ditchling Churchyard, Sussex.
In 1915, Christiana’s brother, Herbert and his wife Elizabeth Powell, placed their house, “Piccard’s Rough,” at the disposal of the War Office. It provided 50 beds for sick and wounded soldiers with Mrs Powell as its Commandant and Mr Powell as Medical officer. Read more about his life and his art collection on Lizanne Lloyd’s blog “The British Water Colour Collection”.
Contributed by Miriam Farr, volunteer for The March of the Women project
Marriage register for St Nicolas’ Church, Guildford, containing entry for Christiana Powell and Wilmot Parker Herringham, 21 September 1880 (SHC ref GUN/3/4)
Oxford DNB online accessed via Surrey Libraries Online Reference Shelf at Surrey History Centre
Letter from Christiana to Philippa Strachey, 22 June 1910, LSE Women’s Library (LSE ref 9/01/0805)
Elizabeth Crawford, Art and Suffrage: a biographical dictionary of suffrage artists; Francis Boutle, 2018
Mary Lago, Christiana Herringham and the Edwardian Art Scene; University of Missouri, 1996
Andrew Sant, Richard Norman Shaw; Yale, 1976
Robin Stannard, The life and work of Hugh Thackeray Turner; dissertation, University of Reading, 2007
Lisa Tickner, The Spectacle of Women: imagery of the Suffrage Campaign 1907-1914; University of Chicago Press, 1988
In January 2019 Royal Holloway, University of London held an exhibition celebrating the life and work of Christiana Herringham, find out more at https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/about-us/news/royal-holloway-to-exhibit-the-rediscovered-works-of-christiana-herringham/
For more about Christiana Herringham’s importance in Indian Art see The Open University’s project Making Britain: Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950 http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/makingbritain/content/christiana-herringham
For a blog by Giovanni Mazzaferro on Christiana Herringham and her translation of Cennino Cennini’s Book of the Art, see http://letteraturaartistica.blogspot.com/2019/03/christiana-herringham.html#!/2019/03/christiana-herringham.html
See The March of the Women project biography page for Mary Elizabeth Thackeray Turner