Category Archives: Essays

Edwardian Encounters: ‘A Fancy Dress Dinner Party’ by Charles Ricketts

'A Fancy Dress Dinner Party' by Charles Ricketts, c.1904

‘A Fancy Dress Dinner Party’ by Charles Ricketts, c.1904

A small canvas in the Tullie House Gallery, Carlisle, offers a fascinating insight into the social life of a small group of Edwardian artists. The painting, by the multi-talented Charles Ricketts, depicts seven guests assembled at 11-13 Lansdowne Road, Holland Park, the house of Sir Edmund and Lady Mary Davis, on the 10th December 1904.

The Australian-born Edmund Davis was a highly successful businessman, who made most of his money in various South African ventures; not least gold and diamond mining. In 1889 he moved to London and married the talented Mary Halford, who encouraged his interest in art, which the couple started collecting in the late 1890s. Their tastes ranged widely, incorporating Old Master paintings, eighteenth century sculpture and contemporary works by the likes of Rodin (it is said that Edmund ‘liked to exercise surrounded by Rodin statues’). Continue reading

Edwardian Encounters: The Caravaners


[Jennifer Walker, the author of this post, has just published “Elizabeth of the German Garden – A Literary Journey”]

THE CARAVANERS, by the author of “Elizabeth and her German Garden” (now known as Elizabeth von Arnim), first published in 1909 by Smith & Elder.

When Mary Beauchamp married the Count von Arnim in 1891, she had no idea that her newly-acquired German nationality would divide her life and her family for generations to come.  She had been swept off her feet by the widowed Prussian Count, some fifteen years her senior, finding at last that she was valued by him as a musically gifted and intelligent young woman.  For, on their engagement, the Count von Arnim-Schlagenthin took her straight to Bayreuth where Mary could perform Bach on the organ in the presence of Cosima Wagner.  But maybe the Count got more than her bargained for.  Mary was gifted, not only in music, but also in words, and it was by means of her writing that she managed to escape from the life proscribed for her; that of the wife of a member of the Prussian aristocracy in the latter years of the nineteenth century.

Writing as ‘Elizabeth’, she immediately established a literary reputation with her first best-selling novel, Elizabeth and her German Garden (published anonymously in 1898).  Continue reading

Edwardian Encounters: Spade House

spade house

Calling a Heart a Spade: Wells and Voysey’s Kentish Utopia

The Wells House Nursing Home stands on a hilltop in Sandgate – a prosperous and attractive seaside village on the borders of Folkestone in Kent – with fine views over the village and the coastline. Wells House – previously Spade House – was built in 1899-1900 to the designs of two men: C.F.A. Voysey, the house’s architect, and Voysey’s client, H.G. Wells.

Wells came to be in Sandgate, and to commission Voysey, as a result of a combination of illness and literary friendship. In 1896 Wells had befriended the ailing novelist George Gissing, and, when Wells’s own chronic kidney condition led to his collapse during a cycling holiday along the south coast in 1898, it was Gissing’s childhood friend, Dr Henry Hick, who became Wells’s personal physician. Continue reading

Some Challenges of an Edwardian Parlour Band

'Ida Sweet as Apple Cider' by Eddie Munson, 1916

‘Ida Sweet as Apple Cider’ by Eddie Munson, 1916 edition

[The following article was written by Patricia Hammond, a researcher and performer of Edwardian ragtime-parlour music.]

I have a band called Ragtime Parlour. We perform Edwardian music: songs to sing along to, songs to dance to, songs to listen to. As far as I know, we’re the only Edwardian band in London.

This is our biggest strength, and our biggest liability.

“Is it jazz?” the bookers ask.
“Not really. We can improvise,” I tell them, “And it’s a style that informed jazz, led to it.”
“But if it isn’t jazz, is it classical?”
“Classical music lovers always adore it,” I answer, truthfully.
“Yes but what can we call it?”
“But nobody knows what that is.” Continue reading

The Edwardian Ford


The latest volume of International Ford Madox Ford Studies is titled ‘The Edwardian Ford Madox Ford’. According to the publishers the volume ‘focuses on Ford’s work from the Edwardian decade and a half before the First World War. It contains Michael Schmidt’s Ford Madox Ford Lecture, and fourteen other essays by British, American, French and German experts, both leading authorities and younger scholars. Chapters on Ford’s fiction, poetry, criticism of literature and painting, writing about England, and dealings on the Edwardian literary scene as editor and with publishers, bring out his versatility and ingenuity throughout his first major creative phase’. For more information see the publisher’s pages.

For more on Ford Madox Ford see the Ford Madox Ford Society.

Edwardian Encounters: ‘Saddleback from the South-West’ by Charles Holmes (1911)

'Saddleback from the South-West' by C. J. Holmes, 1911 [Ashmolean Museum, Oxford]

‘Saddleback from the South-West’ by C. J. Holmes, 1911 [Ashmolean Museum, Oxford]

A standard art-historical reaction to an artwork (especially one by a modern British artist) is to make it out as little more than the sum of its influences. This might be expressed in terms of a mathematical equation: a + a + a + b ÷ c = d, where a = another work of art/artist, b = subject represented, c = the sensibility of the artist/wider artistic context and d = the original art work. In the case of Charles Holmes’s painting, Saddleback from the South-West, we could flesh that out as follows:

(a)  Constable and English landscape painting + (a) Hokusai, Korin and Japanese prints + (a) Gauguin and Post-Impressionism + (b) The Lake District ÷ (c) Charles Holmes in 1911 = (d) Saddleback from the South-West.

Or, in visual form: Continue reading

Edwardian Encounters: ‘Happy Houses’ by Mary Ansell

Mary Ansell

Mary Ansell

Mary Ansell, Happy Houses (1912)

Mary Ansell (1868-1950) published three books in her lifetime: The Happy Garden and Happy Houses, both in 1912; and Dogs and Men in 1924. The former two were written three years after she had left her writer-husband, J.M. Barrie, for Gilbert Cannan, an up-and-coming novelist fifteen years her junior.  The adventure was not, in the end, a happy one: Gilbert left her in 1916 for nineteen year-old Gwen Wilson, and she was granted a judicial separation in 1918. But 1912 found Ansell in the midst of beginning the world anew, and her publications of this year express this sense of self-regeneration.

The Happy Garden and Happy Houses are repetitive and (to the critically minded) self-indulgent, yet there is much in them to interest and engage. The former is a tour of her garden at Black Lake Cottage in Surrey, given to a fictional friend who she advises on how best to appoint a country garden. The latter extends this advice to home decoration, and introduces a fuller background of fictional characters and episodes: so much so that the book approached the condition of a novel. Continue reading