Friday, 15 December 2017

The Joys of Camping, 1930s Style

When I was at the open evening for the new school, I came across John Price, who told me about some interesting local history (he's the chap who was at the Cusop History Society evening, with the recording of the Ballad of Cusop Dingle).
I didn't have much chance to mention this before, because I like to report on events while they're still fresh in my mind - but now I've had a chance to sit down and enjoy the links that he sent me.

In 1933, May Morris and her companion Mary Lobb spent a month camping at Cockalofty, near Hay Bluff. May Morris was the daughter of William Morris, the author, designer, and leading socialist. She ran the embroidery department of Morris & Co from the age of 23, and was an artist in the Arts and Crafts movement in her own right. In 1907 she founded the Women's Guild of Arts, in an attempt to raise the professional status of the women who made their living from working in the arts and crafts, such as hand embroiderers. May was also prominent in the socialist movement, which brought her into contact with George Bernard Shaw. There were, it seems, passionate feelings on both sides, though May eventually married another socialist, Henry Sparling - though they separated four years later.

By the time she came to Hay, May was 70, and her companion Mary(who presumably did all the heavy lifting) was 55. Unusually for the 1930s, Mary Lobb always seemed to wear knickerbockers and tweed jackets. During the First World War, she campaigned for women to be allowed to do farm work and was one of the first to sign up to the Women's Land Army in 1917. The farm she worked on was quite close to Kelmscott Manor, home of the Morris family, and when she left the farm (under something of a cloud - it's not clear why she was dismissed) she went to work at Kelmscott as a gardener, and later became May's companion. George Bernard Shaw apparently thought she was terrifying, but she and May seemed to get on together very well, and stayed together until May's death in 1938. They even went to Iceland together - William Morris had been inspired by the scenery and the literature in his youth, and May wanted to see the places he had been to.

Camping holidays were still a little bit eccentric back in the 1930s - there were no organised camp sites, which is why the two ladies hired a field for a month to pitch their tent, and had their mail delivered to the nearby farmhouse. While they were there, they visited local farmhouses (praising the cider at Llangwathan!) and admiring the architecture. Details of their stay, from diaries, can be seen at Jan Marsh's blog starting with an entry in September and with more in November, including a not very complimentary review of the Hitchcock film Sabotage, which they went to see in 1937 in Llanidloes.
They came camping to Wales again in 1934, but this time close to the River Severn. They made winberry jam in the tent - but didn't manage to enjoy much of it. A sheepdog from the farm managed to get into the tent to get at the food, and they returned to find the jam all over the floor and the tent full of wasps!

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