1 – Miss Grime and her art school friends

1913

Miss Grime had little interest in talk about Germany preparing for war. At art school classes, Jack Handley had spoken about what he saw coming and why he had joined the Territorial Force, but at 23, Miss Gladys Grime had her eyes set on becoming an artist and didn’t want to think of her dream being ruined because of a war. Anyway, it was now summer holidays, and she had more interest in her social life. 

The young men with whom she was friendly were away for the summer. A postcard picturing Robert Burns came from Jim touring Scotland. Gladys peered at the poet’s portrait. She wondered what message Jim was sending when words from a Burns poem came to her mind, 

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose, 

That’s newly sprung in June: 

O my Luve’s like the melodie, 

That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

A week later another postcard from Jim arrived, from Aberystwyth in Wales. Gladys had been there and recognised the beach with the boats hauled up above the high-tide mark. She could make out the familiar ‘Belle Vue Hotel’ on the sea-front. I wouldn’t mind walking along that beach with Jim right now.

From Paris, J. Norton wrote, “Dear Gladys, The Opera House here is the most beautiful in the world. The lowest price is 7/6, so they make you pay.” She had not been to Paris, the art-lovers place-to-be. I’d love to visit Paris one day. The photograph showed Le Grand Foyer with its chandeliers, pillars and ornate ceiling — Gladys continued to day-dream.

A few days later, two cards from J. Norton arrived on the same day. One was picture of Chillon Castle on Lac Lemain in Switzerland saying, “The 40 miles sail on the lake is great on a sunny day. With a good friend on board, it is like being in Paradise.” I wish I was that good friend on board enjoying such a view. The other card said, “Geneva is a very interesting place. I must apologise for the shakiness of my handwriting, it is not through drinking too much. I could stay here forever, it is so fine.” On the picture, Gladys saw the lake, the bridge Pont du Mont Blanc, and its name-sake mountain in the background.

She was amazed when her father handed her a postcard from Canada. It was from her friend Frank Redmond who wrote, “No doubt you will be surprised to receive this, but you see, I have not forgotten you, and hope this card finds you quite well. I have a berth as a draughtsman in a large company here and am doing well. Remember me to your Father & Mother. Hope you are doing big things with your drawing. Yours very sincerely, Frank Redmond. PS A postcard would be very acceptable.” 

“Who’s in Canada, love?”, Father asked.

Gladys looked at the picture of a street in Toronto with tall buildings, and then turned the card over. “It’s from Frank. He’s taken up a job there. I had no idea he was leaving Liverpool. I am surprised. He sends his regards,” Gladys replied, thinking, Well, I won’t be seeing much more of him, certainly not if he can’t tell me he’s leaving. I’ll write back to cease our friendship in a satisfactory way.

Before long another card from Frank arrived. “Dear Gladys, Hearty thanks for your kindness in sending me your two post-cards. I was delighted to hear from you, and of your success at the school. Yes, I like Toronto, but I cannot say better than Liverpool, for I left all dear to me behind, when I sailed out of the Mersey. I wish I could have seen you before leaving to wish you and your parents farewell, but it’s too late to talk now. Hoping this finds you quite well and kindest regards to Father & Mother, yours sincerely — Frank Redmond.”

That was the rounding off Gladys had expected.

During the summer, Gladys and her parents had time to go on holiday. They could afford to travel. As a postman, Father had a well-paid, stable job. Mother supplemented their income with her tobacco and sweet shop. She kept the shop open 7 days a week, throughout the year. That meant that Mother and Father took turns going away on holiday, so Gladys did well, having a holiday with each parent. In 1913 her father took her on the ferry from Liverpool to the Isle of Man, a popular holiday resort for Liverpudlians who could afford to make the journey. Father hired a car and they enjoyed the thrill of driving around the island. They stopped in Peel to walk along the quay where fishermen were unloading their sailing-boats and tidying up for the day. In the warm afternoon sun they walked to Peel Castle which stood strong, commandeering the harbour entrance and bay.  

On a convenient wall in the sun, they sat down to enjoy the view out to sea. Father started a conversation, “How are you finding art school, Gladys?”

“I’m truly enjoying it. Now that I’ve started day classes it’s even better. It’s more relaxed during the day because there isn’t the hurry to get home before dark. There’s more time to converse with others,” Gladys replied.

“How do you see things progressing in the future?” Father asked.

“I’d like to do Industrial Design this Autumn. It’s creative but also needs to be practical. That appeals to me,’ she answered.

“That sounds good. I was asking more about the longer term. What sort of life do you envisage for yourself later?” Father probed.

“Of course I’d like to have family, a small family, just a couple of children. But I also want to be a recognised artist. Art is not just a pastime for me. I want to take it seriously. I’m not sure how though,” Gladys admitted.

“Well, now’s the time to concentrate on your art lessons, before staring a family. I noticed you’d had quite a few cards from men folk. How are you doing on that front?”, Father reluctantly asked, not wanting to be too pokey.

“There are one or two I’m really friendly with, but none have stolen my heart. Perhaps I’m not ready yet, I’m so occupied with school and homework,’ Gladys confessed.

After arriving back home, Father took over managing the shop to allow Mother and Gladys and Mother to take the steam train to Bakewell in the Peak District. Gladys wrote to Father saying, “Arrived quite safely, also luggage. It is glorious here.”

During the summer, her friend, Christina Lamont, encouraged Gladys to follow a day class besides evening classes, saying “You’re so good at drawing, you really should follow more lessons.”

“I’m finding it difficult to make time for my evening class homework, so I don’t know how I’ll manage if I also spend a day at class. My mother needs my help in the shop, you know,” Gladys replied, with a frown.

“But if you want to become an artist by profession, you need to concentrate more on studying. Otherwise it’ll take too long, and before you know it, you’ll be married with children and not have any time for art lessons,” Christina remarked.

“You’re right, as usual. I’ll talk to Mother about my days in the shop,”  Gladys declared, while pushing up her sleeves. “I liked what you did in the Industrial Design class, so I’m inclined to do that too.”

Mother and Gladys re-organised their week so that she could do the day class. Gladys knew she needed to spend more time on homework at weekends.

In September, friends came back from their travels and art classes started again. On holiday, they had taken their sketch pads, pencils and pens with them. Some carried an easel and did quick portraits or landscapes to earn some money. Seaside resorts were popular because that’s where holidaymakers were willing to spend money. Holidaying men wore light summer trousers, blue jackets and boater-hats. Women wore long, summer dresses, magnificent hats and carried sun-shades. They stood around the artist and watched him sketch or paint before buying a souvenir. 

Back in Liverpool, Jim invited Gladys to accompany him to the newly opened Crane’s Music Hall, where they saw an amateur drama group perform Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Mr Norton went for a more professional performance, taking Gladys to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic to listen to Elgar’s romantic music. She enjoyed these evenings out and other contacts with her boy friends, but kept her distance, not fancying to consider a closer relationship with one of them. She preferred spending time with her female friends, particularly Christina and the Cubbin sisters, who were also art students. They discussed their homework, commented on each other’s work, and went out together.

One such outing was to see King George V and Queen Mary arrive for a visit to Liverpool, accompanied by their son, the Prince of Wales.The streets in the city centre were decorated with Union Jack’s, crowns and the letters G and M. Thousands of people lined the streets as the royals inspected a parade and visited the docks. It was an uplifting day and made the city proud.

At Liverpool School of Art there was much debate about the new Post­ Impressionism, especially as several teachers had left the school to work for a new art school set up by the progressive Sandon Studios Society. The Society wanted to change the landscape of art in Liverpool to stimulate creativity and innovation, rather than take the restrictive approach of the municipal art schools.

Gladys and her friends had seen the Post­ Impressionist works of Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse and Cézanne. The way they used colour and sought the essence in a painting was appealing to Gladys although she preferred to stick to her more figurative style as it was more suited to design in manufacturing which was her main stiel.

A frequent topic amongst Gladys and her friends was women’s rights. It was a tumultuous time. All over England women demanded rights, especially the right to vote in elections. Gladys and her mother followed these developments closely. Mother firmly believed women were equal to men, should develop themselves and be independent. It was one of her reasons for starting her shop. She had sent Gladys to the Rathbone School, founded by the rich Rathbone family. Mrs Rathbone was the leading woman in the Liverpool Women Suffrage Society and had a strong influence on the school and the development of the girls.  

The suffragette movement was generally militant. Women broke windows, set buildings on fire, let off bombs and did their best to harass men with political influence. The police imprisoned many, bringing the women to go on hunger strike. In Liverpool, Eleanor Rathbone led the local women’s suffrage movement, and she took a less militant approach which appealed to Gladys. She and her mother attended several suffragette meetings. Gladys had grown up with women’s equality clearly in her mind, and she now saw the potential of being free to develop as a professional artist and earn an income.

“Christina, shall we go to the LWSS march on Saturday?” Gladys asked.

“I think the suffragettes are far too sensational and aggressive. I don’t want to be arrested. They treat Suffragettes terribly in gaol,” Christina replied.

“Some parts of the movement are belligerent, but the LWSS isn’t. They dress up in colourful clothes, wave banners and get women to sign petitions. They’re like that to attract public attention and to make their point,”  Gladys explained. “At least we can go and watch.” 

“Alright, but I’m not going to take part, just watch,” Christina said, thinking, I can always disappear if I feel uncomfortable.

“They’re marching all the way to London, from all over the country. Our group is starting from St George’s Hall, so we can wave them out from there,” Gladys said enthusiastically. “Some art students have helped design the banners, so they’ll probably be there too.” 

On the Saturday, Gladys and Christina went to the centre of town where they met the Cubbin sisters. Together they made their way to the steps of St George’s Hall, nodding to those they knew and greeting other students. Gladys had brought along sashes which she dealt out to the other three — green, white and red sashes with the words “Votes for Women”. Christina declined to wear one, not feeling sure about what people would think of her, but when Gladys said, “It’s only a sash”, she put her head through. 

Being artists, they dressed unconventionally, wanting more freedom of dress, less boring and drab, more colours, fewer frills and flounces, more natural, less emphasis on the breasts and more on the waistline. For the event, Gladys dressed to stand out without looking aggressive. To match her soft complexion and light brown hair, she wore a simple light green jacket and a red beret to attract attention, and in the colours of the movement. Her dress was short enough to show her brown leather shoes with a bow of leather strip.

From where they stood, they saw the marchers preparing to depart. Most had small banners, squares of dark red cloth, bearing the words “Law-Abiding Suffragists”. They wore the same sashes, and from their other shoulder dangled a small canvas bag and which contained leaflets to hand out. The leaders, including Eleanor Rathbone, had large banners with artistic designs. Christina remarked that quite a few men were present and wore “Votes for Women” buttons. Gladys pointed to a group of women, carrying sun-shades with the words, “No Votes, No Taxes”. One banner tried to appeal to men, quoting Tennyson, “The woman’s cause is man’s: they rise together, dwarfed or godlike, bound or free”.

The crowd looked a happy mix of women from all parts of society — rich, poor, plebeian, patrician. They appeared to be looking forward to the long march to London and gathering more supporters along the way. Christina pointed to a woman wearing flowing gipsy-like garments and sandals, a little child at her side, and “Wives of England’s Unemployed” on her banner. Eleanor Rathbone held a speech, carefully explaining the case for women’s right to vote, which was listened to quietly. She clearly worded the arguments the marchers should use along the way to convert both women and men to the cause. There was loud applause and banner waving, and the march started. The speech had convinced Christina of the cause, so she gladly joined Gladys and the Cubbins to follow along with the marching women to the outskirts of Liverpool.

The mass of women marched through the streets on their way to London, singing their song:

“Shout, shout, up with your song!

Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking;

March, march, swing you along,

Wide blows our banner, and hope is waking.

Song with its story, dreams with their glory.

Lo! they call, and glad is their word!

Forward, hark how it swells,

Thunder of freedom, the voice of the Lord!”

As they moved along with the crowd, Gladys said, “The time for us women is coming, I can feel it. Our world is going to be much better than that of our mothers and grandmothers.”

They later read in the newspapers that the march to London had been a magnificent success with thousands of women, from all over the land, arriving in Hyde Park for a grand, peaceful demonstration. Unfortunately, the day after, a militant group met at Trafalgar Square. Miss Sylvia Pankhurst spoke, “We have come here to hold a council of war. The time for argument is past. Our motto is ‘Deeds, not Words’, and we will act.” The gathered crowd attempted to march to Downing Street to pass a petition to the Prime Minister, but a strong cordon of foot and mounted police blocked their way. They arrested Miss Pankhurst amidst a scuffle between the police and men and women with sticks and umbrellas endeavouring to get their leader free. The Prime Minister was more concerned with tensions in the Balkan, and the positioning of France and Russia against Germany.

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1 Comment

  1. You’ve captured a young girls life and views, fashion and local history of the time effortlessly. A couple of repeat words near the beginning, which you’ll pick up with a re-read, but a smooth rewrite with a realistic last sentence.

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