• March of the Women

Mary Elizabeth Turner (1854-1907)

Embroiderer and supporter of women’s suffrage

Mary Powell (known as May), was one of Thomas Wilde Powell’s daughters. She married the architect Hugh Thackeray Turner at St Nicholas Church, Guildford, in 1888 and the couple set up house at 20 Gower Street, London, where they lived for 12 years. Throughout the 1890s the Thackeray Turners spent a lot of time in the Guildford and Gomshall where they maintained a weekend home in the area. The couple had three daughters: Marjorie May (b.1889), Ruth (b.1892, who married the mountaineer George Herbert Leigh Mallory, 29 July 1914), and Mildred (b.1893); all were educated at Priors Field School, Godalming.

Image of Westbrook from a set of Sale particulars dated 1988, held at Surrey History Centre, ref SP/2641

Sale particulars for Westbrook, 1988 (SHC ref SP/2641)

During the late 1890s Hugh was working on his designs for a new family house for Mary and his daughters in Godalming, called “Westbrook”. The site was located on the banks of the River Wey with views to Charterhouse School across the valley to the north. The Turners commissioned garden expert Gertrude Jekyll to help with the garden design. Gertrude Jekyll was a neighbour of Mary’s sister, Theodora Powell, and May would also have known Gertrude through her involvement in the local women’s suffrage movement.

Image of an OS map for Godalming showing Westbrook, 1916, Sheet XXXI.15 (Surrey History Centre)

OS map for Godalming showing Westbrook, 1916, Sheet XXXI.15
(Surrey History Centre). Click on the image to see a larger version.

Image of a Plan of the Turner's Westbrook Estate, Godalming, 1901 showing areas purchased by Turner and areas conveyed to the Countess of Meath (SHC ref 7099/6/16 (3)

Plan of the Turner’s Westbrook Estate, Godalming, 1901 showing areas purchased by Turner and areas conveyed to the Countess of Meath
(SHC ref 7099/6/16 (3). Click on the image to see a larger version.

Mary was a talented embroiderer who exhibited her work at the 1890 exposition of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. The three pieces exhibited were embroidered with Morris & Co. crewels, or silks, on Russian linen or Assam silk, and she was assisted by Mrs C W (Agnes) Dixon (her sister-in-law) and Miss L R Longridge. Theodora Wilde Powell was also a skilled embroiderer and exhibited a piece of embroidery she had worked that had been designed by Mary. Mary’s essay ‘Of Modern Embroidery’ was published in Arts and Crafts Essays; Rivington (Percival and Co, edited by William Morris) in 1893. Other contributors to this volume included Walter Crane, May Morris, W R Lethaby, Reginald Blomfield and Halsey Ricardo.

Like her friend May Morris, and her sister Christiana Herringham, it seems probable that, as a talented needlewoman, she may have helped with embroidering Mary Lowndes’ designs for suffrage banners.

Mary’s husband, Hugh Thackeray Turner, was a colleague of William Morris, and was the first secretary of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), from 1885-1911. Mary shared her husband’s concern regarding the threat to the local landscape and historic buildings and in 1905 she was a major contributor £500 to the fund to purchase the Devil’s Punchbowl for the National Trust. Mary was independent financially due her father’s decision to settle funds on each of his daughters. She supported the project to preserve Eashing Bridge contributing £17 of the £70 raised; Gertrude Jekyll contributed £2 and George Bernard Shaw £1 1s (he was at the time a tenant of Mary’s sister Christiana Herringham’s at Piccards Cottage).

Image of a conveyance dated 23 Jan 1906 showing land and property owned by Mary Elizabeth Turner, including an area of Witley Common.

Mary was of independent means and owned land and property in her own right, including an area of Witley Common, shown here in a conveyance dated 23 Jan 1906
(SHC ref G162/65). Click on the image to see a larger version.

Close-up of Mary’s name on a conveyance dated 23 Jan 1906 showing land and property she owned, including an area of Witley Common.

Close-up of Mary’s name on a conveyance dated 23 Jan 1906 showing land and property she owned, including an area of Witley Common.
(SHC ref G162/65) Click on the image to see a larger version.

In 1907 Mary was co-founder with May Morris of the Women’s Guild of Arts, established for female artists who worked on an independent basis in arts and crafts because the Art Worker’s Guild did not admit women. The first president was May Morris, the Hon. Secretary was Mary Annie Sloane, watercolourist and engraver. Other members included many that were also active in the suffrage movement including Agnes Garrett, Mary Lowndes, and the embroiderer Mary J Newill (sister of Rev. Edward Joseph Newill, vicar of All Saints, Witley Surrey).

Sadly, later in 1907 Mary fell ill with pneumonia and died. The executors of Mary’s will were her husband and her brother, Charles Marten Powell; she left a staggering sum of £71,249 1s 11d.

In 1911 following the Titanic disaster, Hugh Thackeray Turner was commissioned by Godalming Town Council Ladies Committee (comprising Mary Watts, Iona Davey, Margery Horne and Gertrude Jekyll), to design the memorial and cloister for the Jack Phillips Memorial in Godalming. The suffragist and artistic connections of his wife may well have helped him in securing the commission.

Contributed by Miriam Farr, ‘The March of the Women’ project volunteer.

Sources

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online https://www.oxforddnb.com/
Gradidge, Roderick, The Surrey Style, Historic Buildings Trust, 1991
Stannard, Robin, The life and work of Hugh Thackeray Turner; dissertation, University of Reading, 2007
Prescott-Walker, Robert, ‘Hugh Thackeray Turner, professional architect amateur china painter’, in Decorative Arts Society Journal, no 27, 2003 (held at Godalming Museum Local Studies Library)
Mason, Anna & Marsh, Jan, et al, May Morris: arts and crafts designer, V&A, Thames Hudson, 2017
Jekyll, Gertrude and Weaver, Lawrence, Gardens for Small Country Houses, London (Country Life), 1911, chap. IV- Westbrook, Godalming
Holme, Geoffrey and Wainwright, Shirley B. (ed), ‘Modern Gardens, British and Foreign’, The Studio, 1926-1927
Aslet, Clive, The Arts and Crafts Country House, Country Life, 2011
For our Exploring Surrey’s past page on Hugh Thackeray Turner and artefacts at Godalming Museum, see https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/people/architects/hugh_thackeray_turner/
For the Women’s Guild of Arts see https://www.artbiogs.co.uk/2/societies/womens-guild-arts
For Historic England’s listing for Westbrook see https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001671

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