Peasant Arts Industries
"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."
Haslemere Peasant Arts Industries
Towards the end of the 19th century, several well-known and influential artists, poets, writers and craftsmen, including Alfred Lord Tennyson, had made their home in Haslemere. Perhaps attracted by the growing population of likeminded people moving out of London, both Joseph and Maude King and Godfrey and Ethel Blount made the move to Haslemere within two years of each other. Having been inspired by those peasant communities in Europe, that still maintained flourishing 'Peasant Arts' industries, the Kings and the Blounts developed a number of different craft workshops in Haslemere. These became known as the Haslemere Peasant Industries.
Workshops set up by Joseph and Maude King
In 1897, Joseph and Maude King set up the Haslemere Weaving Industry, which was situated in the Weaving House at Foundry Meadow (known today as Kings Road), Haslemere. Here, local girls were employed for 8 shillings a week to produce linen, cotton and silk for dresses, curtains and tablecloths. In addition, women and girls could also be given lessons in these skills for a modest fee. At the Wheel and Spindle Club, held at Joseph and Ethel's residence 'Sandhouse' in Witley, students were taught by Maude King and Catherine Hird Jones to make rugs, jerseys and gloves.
Workshops set up by Godfrey and Ethel Blount
In 1896, Godfrey and Ethel Blount set up the Tapestry House in Foundry Meadow where they produced embroidered appliqué work popularly called "peasant tapestries". Each was designed by Godfrey and featured on hangings, bedspreads and banners. The John Ruskin School and the St. Cross School of Handicraft followed this, both founded by Godfrey and Ethel in 1902. The John Ruskin School produced "Welfare Talismans"; religious emblems that were hand printed and coloured as Christmas and Easter cards. The St. Cross School of Handicraft on Weydown Road, Haslemere, produced children's toys. Godfrey intended that students live at the school sharing the costs until he could afford to pay wages.
Pottery was sold by the Society in Haslemere High Street from 1907. It was bought in from Germany and Switzerland, as they believed no true peasant potters still worked in England.' The cheerful European dishes with their colourful designs of deer, horses and flowers were sold alongside the Haslemere produced goods. From 1897 the society had an outlet in London, first in Bayswater Road and later moving to Duke Street, Manchester Square W1. The Blounts did not emphasise the commercial aspects of the venture, instead seeing it as 'a thing that one person can do for another for love, a thing to add joy to labour, another thing to make life sacramental'. This was an idealistic philosophy but financial success was crucial to the survival of the industries and work was priced at commercial values when on sale in the shops. The leaders of the movement often had to cope with the serious deficit in trade out of their own pockets.
There were many other workshops also in the Haslemere area forming part of the Peasant Arts Industries including:
(i) The Green Bushes Weaving Houses (founded by Mr Luther Hooper in 1901 and discontinued in 1908) produced silk and cotton damasks, brocades, velvets, woven embroideries, tapestries and carpets.
(ii) Hammer Pottery (founded by Radley Young in 1901 and discontinued in 1911) produced decorative ceramics, Haslemere Ware, Art Tiles, decorative and architectural Faience and terracotta encaustic tiling for ecclesiastical purposes.
(iii) Woodworking Industry (founded by A. Romney Green) at Foundry Meadow made shovel-board tables, dressers in English Oak and Walnut, inlaid cabinets of various foreign woods, chairs, cradles, bedroom furniture and all manner of wood work.
(iv) S. Edmundsbury Weaving Works (founded in 1902 by Mr Edmund Hunter) in College Hill made altar frontals, vestments, wall hangings, curtains and dress fabrics, gold and other metal brocades.
The Demise of the Peasant Arts Industries in Haslemere
Most of these craft industries flourished until 1914 and the outbreak of the First World War. However, after the war they never gained momentum again and eventually The Peasant Arts Society was disbanded in 1933 following the deaths of several of the founder members. The Weaving Industry closed in 1927 following the death of Maude King.