A Sussex Postcard Collector

A Homewood postcard of the Post Office at Battle in Sussex
A Homewood postcard of the Post Office at Battle in Sussex

The Brian Stevens Postcard Collection provides a remarkable insight into the topography and social history of the county of Sussex.

The collection reflects Brian’s fascination with the postcards published by Arthur H. Homewood. Arthur Homewood ran his successful stationers business in Burgess Hill between 1885 and 1919.

A Homewood postcard of Victoria Gardens, Burgess Hill

The belle époque of postcard sending was between 1899 and 1914. At the height of this craze, a reported average of more than 723,000 postcards were sent every day. Each card was delivered the following day and all for a halfpenny a time. As people posted cards they also started to collect them. With an estimated 264 million postcards delivered in a year, it is no surprise that photographers and publishers popped up in towns and villages across the British Isles to cash in on this boom.

Due to Post Office regulations, postcards started out smaller than the familiar size most of us would recognise today. These ‘court-size’ postcards were only allowed to have the address on one side, so any message would have to be shared with the publisher’s image. In 1902 the Post Office changed their rules, allowing for the more traditional postcard size. At the same time a dividing line was introduced on the reverse, allowing space for the address and, for the first time, a message too, freeing up the entire front for a pictorial design.

A Homewood postcard of Glynde Station in Sussex

Homewood was a keen photographer and businessman and quickly realised the opportunities of the booming demand for postcards. Brian says “Between 1903 and 1918 Arthur Homewood published a large range of topographical picture postcards. Apart from a few depicting the Kent and Surrey borders the rest were of Sussex.”

Homewood visited Amberley, Findon, Billingshurst and the villages around Horsham but he seems to have concentrated on the towns and villages in mid-Sussex and East Sussex. Brian explains “He would meet with competition from other local photographers which would decide whether or not it would be viable for him to stay or move on to the next village.”

A Homewood postcard of Gardeners at Parkyn’s Manor in Hurstpierpoint

Homewood published printed and photographic postcards. His photographic postcards provide an accurate and unedited view of our country’s past – familiar scenes, now changed, and social history a century ago. Take for example the scene of the Post Office at Battle beside Hunt’s tea room, the watch makers and the George Hotel, or the gardeners mowing the lawn at Pakyns Manor at Hurstpierpoint.

Postcard collector, Brian Stevens
Postcard collector, Brian Stevens

The Brian Stevens Collection of Homewood postcards reflects this remarkable collector’s specialist knowledge and passion for his subject. It will be offered for sale by auction at Toovey’s, Spring Gardens, Washington, West Sussex, RH20 3BS on Tuesday 10th July 2018.

If you would like more information on the Brian Stevens auction or advice on postcard collecting you can contact Nicholas Toovey by telephoning 01903 891955 or emailing auctions@tooveys.com.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Arts and Crafts Chair inspired by Sussex

A pair of late 19th Century ebonized Ash Sussex armchairs by Morris & Co, with turned spindle backs above rush seats, on turned legs
A pair of late 19th Century ebonized Ash Sussex armchairs by Morris & Co, with turned spindle backs above rush seats, on turned legs

Sussex has many links to the Arts & Crafts Movement including the famous Sussex chair.

The Arts and Crafts Movement was named after the Arts and Crafts Exhibition of 1882 but its origins date back to the mid-1850s and are commonly attributed to the architect, Philip Webb, the writer, John Ruskin, and William Morris who famously said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

The movement was deeply informed by the romantic socialism of John Ruskin and William Morris. John Ruskin’s writings inspired the principles of the movement. In response to the often harsh realities of 19th century industrialised work, he advocated a return to an age of ‘free’ craftsmen. The movement stood for traditional craftsmanship and simple forms.

William Rowsell with a Liberty & Co Arts and Crafts earthenware vase

As I admire a set of Sussex chairs Toovey’s Arts and Crafts specialist, William Rowsell, explains “These chairs were named after a country chair found in Sussex. Philip Webb designed this model for Morris & Co but other firms like Liberty & Co and Heals also produced their own versions.” I comment on how they bear such a similarity to late 18th and early 19th century chairs in the English vernacular tradition and William agrees.

William tells me “William Morris and his wife Jane had Sussex chairs in their first home, Red House in Bexley Heath in the 1860s, and at their later London home, Kelmscott House in Hammersmith.”

Toovey’s next specialist Arts and Crafts auction will be held on Friday 7th September and a set of eight Art and Crafts Sussex chairs have already been entered. As I sit in one of the armchairs it holds me perfectly. The influential writer and designer, Robert Edis was right when he described these chairs as ‘excellent, comfortable and artistic’. They appealed to artists too like the Pre-Raphaelite, Edward Burne-Jones who had Sussex armchairs in his studio.

William Rowsell describes how Morris & Co introduced the Sussex range in about 1864 “The armchairs and single chairs reflected the restrained design. On the strength of their success they introduced corner chairs, children’s chairs and settles. People loved the fact that they were made from English stained Ash.”

In the 1912 Liberty catalogue a single armchair was priced at 9s 9d (49p) but today it would realise hundreds of pounds, testament to the design’s enduring appeal.

William Rowsell is passionate about his subject and is often found in the company of collectors offering advice to buyers and sellers. Entries for Toovey’s next specialist auction of Arts and Crafts Furniture and Works of Art are still being accepted. William can be contacted by telephoning 01903 891955.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Volunteers Celebrated at Amberley Museum

Some of the outstanding volunteers at The Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre outside the Fairmile Café © Pete Edgeler, Used with permission.

Last week I was invited to present a series of awards to some of the outstanding volunteers at the Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre to coincide with National Volunteers’ week.

As I walked towards the stationary steam engines I came across Dave Ballantyne and a row of gentlemen seated in their boiler suits enjoying their picnic lunches in the sun. Over our heads the beautiful sound of the Goodwood Spitfire’s Merlin engine reverberated in the lee of the Downs. As I looked up Dave said “We often see that here.”

As you walk around the museum you often hear the enthusiastic voices of volunteers before discovering them at their work. The museum is beautifully kept, constantly improving and changing thanks to this dedicated group of people. One of the latest projects is the restoration of the West Sussex County Council steam road roller and the museum is seeking to raise £2000 to finish the job.

The awards were being given in recognition of outstanding dedication and commitment. I met up with the volunteers at the Fairmile Café. The Director of the Museum, Leanne Clements, paid tribute to the diversity of volunteers and thanked them for all that they do.

Award winner Tony Turley with Rupert Toovey amongst the tool displays at Amberley © Peter Edgeler, 2018

One of the volunteers receiving an award was Peter Edgeler who, together with his fellow members of the photo group, is creating an important visual archive of the museum’s life and history. Recording history is important to our understanding of not only the past but our present and future too. Another of the award winners was Tony Turley. He was keen to show me the Tools and Trades History Society displays.

I asked Tony how his fascination with tools began. He replied “Twenty years ago I returned home with a box of tools I bought at auction. Cleaning and restoring them gave me a real sense of satisfaction and my interest began.”

Tony’s knowledge and enthusiasm for tools is infectious. I am fascinated by how often collecting objects leads to a rich path of learning and understanding.

The tools at Amberley Museum are displayed in and behind a series of glazed, bow front windows, each representing a different trade. These include carpentry, leatherworking, and agricultural tools. Tony explains “The Worshipful Company of Carpenters gave us a grant and we designed and constructed the building ourselves. When I was visiting London I saw these bow windows which had been made by their students to be marked. I asked if I could have them rather than break them up and they had five delivered to Amberley with the doors. By constructing a corridor of shop fronts it has allowed us to have the tools on display even when it’s not manned.”

The Worshipful Company of Carpenters and The Tools and Trades Association has blessed the museum which now has an additional display space and a workshop.

Tony reflects that he commonly hears visitors saying “I used to have one of these” prompting family stories and memories.
I can empathise. Objects are vital to our understanding of history as individuals and as a nation and Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre brings our social, economic and industrial history to life in a unique and exciting way.

Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre welcomes volunteers of all ages and if you would like to join in go to www.amberleymuseum.co.uk/volunteering or telephone Catherine Hawkins on 01798 831370.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Virginia Woolf’s writings are an inspiration

Dame Laura Knight, The Dark Pool (1908–1918), Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle © Reproduced with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE, RA, 2018. All Rights Reserved

This summer’s must see exhibition in Sussex has just opened at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. It is titled ‘Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings’.

Inspired by the writing of Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), it explores women’s suffrage and the metaphors of landscape, the room and still lives; bringing together more than eighty works by leading Modern British and Contemporary women artists. The exhibition is born out of a partnership between Tate St Ives, Pallant House Gallery and The Fitzwilliam.

This visually stunning, light-filled show is beautifully curated and hung. The domestic scale of many of the paintings and objects are brought to life at Pallant House as the narrative of the exhibition cleverly unfolds in a series of rooms.
Although this is not a biographical exhibition it illustrates how Virginia Woolf constantly drew on her relationships and experiences in her writing to articulate a sense of self and place.

In her early childhood she spent every summer at Talland House in St Ives. She would recall how formative these early recollections were in A Sketch of the Past: ‘…lying half-asleep, half awake, in bed in the nursery of St Ives…hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind.’ Laura Knight’s oil painting, The Dark Pool similarly captures a fascination with the sea as a young woman stands on the rocks beside a shore looking reflectively into the pool’s depths, free in her thoughts. For Woolf the Landscape would often become a metaphor for a new freedom and power for women. In contrast through the metaphor of the room she would express the ambiguity in a place of potential autonomy and liberation which also symbolised societal restraint over women at the time.

Vanessa Bell, View of the Pond at Charleston, East Sussex, c.1919, oil on canvas, Museums Sheffield © Estate of Vanessa Bell / Henrietta Garnett

Vanessa Bell’s outward facing, liberated oil of the Pond at Charleston in Sussex is filled with light, movement and hope. It combines the landscape, room and still life.

Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell were sisters and throughout their lives they inspired and influenced each other’s work. They gathered around them a circle of influential Modern British women artists, many of whom are represented in the show.

Sussex, like Cornwall, played a significant part in Woolf’s life and work. Indeed Vanessa Bell only moved to Charleston in 1916 on her sister’s recommendation. The house would become a meeting place for the Bloomsbury Group.

In 1919 Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard bought Monk’s House in the village of Rodmell in East Sussex where she would live until her suicide in 1941. This 17th century cottage allowed her to write in the tranquillity of the Sussex Downs near to her elder sister Vanessa Bell who was extremely important to Woolf’s sense of her own self and wellbeing. Woolf loved to discuss art with her sister. This desire to learn was both personal and intellectual. It brought her closer to her sister and artistic friends who included Dora Carrington, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry and the author Vita Sackville-West.

I am delighted that Toovey’s, together with De’Longhi and Irwin Mitchell, are amongst the headline sponsors and supporters of this exceptional exhibition. ‘Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings’ runs at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester throughout the summer until 16th September 2018.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.