The Peasant Cause

'restore true country life, its faith and its craft'

The Peasant Cause

The Peasant Art Society's aim was to 'restore true country life, its faith and its craft' and to encourage a 'love and knowledge of traditional design and use­ful hand work done under happy conditions and to sell the products to those who appreciate them'. Joseph King gave a lecture in which he asked his audience to 'face the fact that life was increasingly standardised, mechanical and commercialised'. King bemoaned England for 'driving its peasants to the factories' and wanted to rescue manual work from its lowly position in society. He favoured employment that 'used both brain and hand, followed old traditions and suited the real wants of the people'. A common definition of peasant art used by the Society was that it was made for 'love and not money'. The movement's purpose was to promote the cause through lectures, meetings and by maintaining handicraft industries. The Peasant Art Society was founded in 1897 and the Peasant Art Fellowship followed in 1911 with the aim of sending 'missionaries' to country schools to teach spinning, weaving and vegetable dyeing. In 1916 the two groups were combined to form the Peasant Art Guild.

Such dedication to an ideal in the face of increasing industrialisation left the group open to charges of naivety. The Guild has been seen as 'a belated and futile attempt to roll back the industrial revolution'. Life in a peasant community was much romanticised by the movement and Reverend Davies philosophised that with the arrival of machines the peasants were 'none the richer in intrinsic pence and they are poorer by that which made everything around them a bit of their own true life'. In their favour, the members did pay fair wages and took concern for those who were otherwise largely ignored by the intelligentsia of Haslemere and beyond. The peasant art cause was well supported by other prominent members of society. Sir Frank Dicksee, President of the Royal Academy of Art, was Vice Chairman of the Peasant Art Guild and the writer G. K. Chesterton was one of the Guild's patrons in 1925. In 1904 a writer recalling her time in Haslemere describes it as 'a charming little centre of crankdom'. She was invited into the Blount's home and found that meals seemed to 'largely consist of salads and beans eaten with horn spoons off heavy pottery plates'. The eccentricity she describes is in keeping with the philosophy of the group. Cushioned by wealth (King owned land around Haslemere) its members could pursue a nonconformist lifestyle.