Monday, September 23, 2013

Father Trevor Huddleston, the dauntless Anti-Apartheid Campaigner

This year celebrates 100 years since the birth of Ernest Urban Trevor Huddleston, who was born at 36 Chaucer Road, Bedford on 15th June 1913. Trevor’s father, Captain Sir Ernest Whiteside Huddleston, was the son of an Indian army officer and had been born in India, one of twelve children. He was educated at Bedford Modern School, and met his future wife, Elsie Barlow Smith in Bedford. They married in 1904 and had two children, Barbara in 1909 and Trevor in 1913. The family moved to Golders Green, London. Trevor later attended  Lancing College, a high Anglican public school chosen by his mother, and then went on to study history at Christ College Oxford, before training for the priesthood at Wells Theological College.  He spent two years as a curate at St Marks in Swindon, and then importantly joined the Community of the Resurrection (CR) at Mirfield, becoming a monk in 1941 at the age of 28. 

It was from here in 1943 that he was sent to on mission to Sophiatown in South Africa, where the Community had churches, schools and a college for the poor black residents. Huddleston himself thought that there was little of interest in his life prior to his time in South Africa, as an Anglican Priest and later Superintendant of St. Peter’s School in 1949, he helped to spread education and literacy in the community.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu at a commemorative service at Lancing College dedicated to Trevor Huddleston in 2007 told of his first meeting with Trevor Huddleston:
“I must have been about nine years of age or so, and I was standing with my domestic worker mother on the veranda of the hostel for black blind women for whom my mother was a cook, when a tall white man in a flowing cassock swept past … and doffed his black hat to my mother. Only much later did I discover that it had been Trevor Huddleston. What? A white man raising his hat to a black woman, and an uneducated domestic worker at that? Quite unheard of in race-obsessed South Africa. But for him it was quite natural, because the light he threw on the dank gloom of South Africa's racism declared that each person is of infinite worth, because each is created in the image of God … He sort of pierced the gloom of race-mad South Africa with the gentle light of the Gospel of God's love for us all.”

Father Trevor met many of the leaders of the anti-apartheid movement, such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Oliver Tambo and became a fierce critic of segregation.  Oliver Tambo applied as a Physics teacher during the early 1950’s at St. Peter’s School where Huddleston later became Superintendant and they became very close friends. 
Between 1930 and 1950 Sophiatown became a symbol of unity and diversity in what was an increasingly racially divided country. It was in this tiny suburb that South Africans of every group co-existed in a peaceful, if chaotic manner. It was particularly known as a centre of arts, literature, music and drama.

During the 1950's the government began a brutal campaign against so-called 'black spots' and racially integrated areas, such as Sophiatown, became a casualty of the government's new system of forced removals under the Group Areas Act. From February 1955 Sophiatown was systematically destroyed. Only four buildings survived the removals. Neighbours and families were moved to different areas according to skin colour. The community protests led by African leaders and Trevor Huddleston, extended to Britain, but were in vain. On the first day of removals on 9 February 1955, 2000 policemen ousted 100 families to Meadowlands. In all, 65,000 people of all races were affected. A new white suburb was built over the rubble, rather ironically, named Triomf.

In 1955 Trevor Huddleston wrote the book “Naught for your comfort” in response to the removals that he had witnessed. He used to publicise and speak out against the atrocities being committed in South Africa, calling for an end to apartheid. He witnessed the razing of black communities in the African townships, and the arrest of Nelson Mandela and 155 members of the ANC in 1956.  He appealed to the Community and the Anglican Church in England for help, but the Community of the Resurrection, fearing he would be expelled from South Africa, recalled him to England.  Before he returned to Mirfield, after being forced to leave South Africa, he toured the USA, meeting Martin Luther-King and other celebrities, doing all he could to promote the cause of the ANC and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. In 1959 Huddleston helped to found the Anti-Apartheid Movement in England, alongside Oliver Tambo who had also been expelled from South Africa.

Huddleston was elected President of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1981. He criticized white liberalism, arguing that it had "done so much to keep the apartheid structure in place . . . by its essential philosophy of evolutionary change." Some people regarded him as a radical and combative man, but Huddleston crucially led the move for economic sanctions against South Africa. In the Xhoza language, his nickname is "the dauntless one" and in his many campaign actions you can see why. He was a man of action and would get exasperated with the many speeches, saying with impatience, "Words, words, words - I am sick of words!"

Archbishop Trevor Huddleston's gave a speech at the 1990 Nelson Mandela: An International tribute to free South Africa concert held on the 16th April at Wembley stadium, London. This celebrated Nelson Mandela’s freedom after he was freed from prison on the 23rd February 1990 after 27 years.

Father Trevor Huddleston was able to celebrate the end of Apartheid with the elections of a new democratic South Africa on 27th April 1994, and saw Nelson Mandela become the first Black President of South Africa.  Trevor Huddleston died in 1998. He is remembered fondly both here and in South Africa for his great work. A memorial centre was set up in his memory in Sophiatown, which provides community facilities and projects, especially encouraging the education and development of young people.

The bust for Huddleston was sculpted by Ian Walters and was bought for Bedford in the early 1990’s after a local anti-apartheid group member, Steve Lowe, visited South Africa House and met Bishop Huddleston and the sculptor. Bishop Huddleston told Lowe the bust should be displayed in Bedford as he came from Bedford, as well as honouring the work of many people in Bedford who fought apartheid. In 1999 the bust was paid for by Chris Kilroy, High Sheriff plus contributions from hundreds of local people. The bust unveiled in 1999 was re-dedicated by Nelson Mandela during his visit to Bedford in 2000.

The plinth is engraved with Nelson Mandela’s own words “No white person has done more for South Africa than Trevor Huddleston”, is a worthy tribute to a great campaigner and a life spent serving, but also fighting for the freedom of others.
This year is the 100th anniversary of Sophiatown. The Trevor Huddleston CR Memorial Centre are launching the Sophiatown 100: Motswako celebration. Find out more at

For more information see:
Naught for Your Comfort, by Trevor Huddleston
Trevor Huddleston a Life, by Robin Denniston
Lancing College: Click here for the Full Sermon by Archibishop Desmond Tutu
There is a live Radio 4 interview with Archbishop Trevor Huddleston from 1988 talking about his life and work to that date see BBC Radio 4 interview

By Lydia Saul, Keeper of Social History

Friday, March 1, 2013

Flint Knapping and other Stone Age adventures.

Will Lord flint knapping at The Higgins, Bedford, February 2013

Our recent meeting with a skilled experimental archaeologist, Flint Knapper Will Lord, was one of the high points in our re-display programme for me. We had arranged with Will for him to come to Bedford so that we could film him making flint axes.

Born in 1970, Will Lord grew up on the English Heritage site of Grimes Graves, a prehistoric flint mine in Norfolk, where his parents were custodians for many years. With a strong family history of archaeology and flint knapping, he continued & progressed the tradition, becoming the leading expert in prehistoric survival skills. Will Lord says; “We can all benefit from reconnecting with the past and learning from our distant ancestors. Their secrets can help to ground us.' Will may look a little scary, but he has a unique ability to open up a window on what life was like for our stone age ancestors.

I was anxious to begin with because the weather was not brilliant, overcast with drizzle and so cold you could see your breath, and I had no idea if we would all get along with each other. My worries were totally unfounded, it was a brilliant experience and a real education.

Since we closed to the public a while ago we have all been working to a tight schedule. We packed up all of our collections, which included those in our stores as well as the items on display, we moved ourselves out of the building and set up temporary offices in the town centre. Once here we began to design the new displays, looking at different objects to display and new ways to interpret them. We then moved ourselves and the collections back into the museum building whilst continuing to work on producing the new displays for the numerous cases in the galleries. It is an exciting opportunity but it does seem a bit like being on a high speed train going on a long journey.

When I started to look at ways of displaying the items in the Stone Age case it became obvious that the ancient flint tools that we are familiar with today would have been very different when they were new. The hand axes we have in the collections are incredibly old for a start, 300,000 years old. They have been churned around in the gravel deposits of The River Great Ouse which means that if they are not broken they have been rubbed smooth. In some instances they have almost been transformed into unique pieces of art as they have become stained orange and yellow by minerals present in the gravel.

The broken Paleolithic hand axe on the left was found at Kempston. The surface of the flint is stained from minerals present in the sand and gravel. The black fresh looking hand axe on the right is the one made by Will Lord at about 12.40pm on Tuesday 26th February 2013.

Illustration of how a Paleolithic hand axe would have been held. When new the fresh, sharp edges would have easily cut through skin and flesh of large animals. The sharp point could also have been used as a very effective hammer to split bones and extract the marrow.

This illustration of a Paleolithic hand axe found at Kempston in September 1861 was hand drawn by Worthington George Smith. This illustration forms part of the Worthington G. Smith Collection held by Luton Culture, Wardown Park Museum, Old Bedford Rd, Luton, LU2 7HA. 

It has been very difficult to view these hand axes as state of the art lethally sharp tools once perfectly suited to defleshing and skinning mammoths, reindeer and a whole range of other now extinct large wild game once present around Bedford. But the instant Will sat down, put his protective hide pad across his knee, picked up a raw flint nodule and began to hit it with the antler hammer the super sharp qualities of flint became very apparent. Razor sharp flakes fell off the nodule around Wills’ feet and with every considered and well aimed hit of the flint nodule a “new” Palaeolithic hand axe emerged.

The finished axe that Will handed to me had very sharp edges and easily cut through a deer skin, I instantly appreciated what an essential tool to early humans this would have been. All of the axes that Will made whilst he was being filmed are very different in colour to the archaeological ones. The ancient hand axes have acquired the patina and staining of extreme age whilst the new ones are black from the natural colour of flint nodules.

The film of Will making flint axes will be shown in a case housing ancient examples to demonstrate the skill of not only early humans in producing a flint tool which enabled them to survive but also the experienced and skill of a modern day man, Will Lord.

by Liz Pieksma, Keeper of Archaeology, The Higgins, Bedford.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Learning Bedfordshire Lace

Last year, following the success of the Lace in Place project through BCA Gallery there was a resurgence in interest from local people to learn the skill of lacemaking.
Marilyn Two and Sandra King of the Aragon lacemakers were keen to encourage and teach people, in order to keep the craft going and create another generation of lacemakers.
I was perhaps approaching lacemaking from a different perspective, having documented a huge number of bobbins and added many thousands of lace patterns and pieces to the Museums database. Not really fully understanding what it was all about, I was inspired by the beauty of the Thomas Lester collection lace and fascinated to give it a go in my spare time. The Lace in Place project gave me the opportunity to get to know the Aragon lacemakers better and going forward the opportunity to learn Bedfordshire lace from our local experts in the field.
Lace in Place on display in St. Paul's Square until end of February 2013
I had only really started on the basics of ‘whole’ cloth stitch and ‘half stitch’ when a new project was afoot with the making of a lace commission for The Higgins new displays.
I suddenly found myself in at the deep end. I was quite familiar with the different bits of kit needed for lacemaking having seen much of it on display at the museum and in the store. The lace pillow used today is polysterene rather than the traditional straw filled round kind, although the bobbins are pretty much the same.

Example lace pillow from The Higgins Collections
There is a variety of bobbins in use today, the bone ones are less common, the wooden bobbins are popular being heavier and nicer to work. Then there are the plastic bobbins, which do the job but are very light, and as I found a bit slippery – they kept unwinding themselves, which was frustrating. The bobbins cotton thread stays in place by putting a ‘hitch’ (a type of slip knot) around the top of the bobbin, which experienced lacemakers make look sooooo easy, but when you are learning it is and essential skill that is really quite hard to get right – especially when you have eight or twelve bobbins to contend with.

Showing 'hitch' around the top of the bobbin
The heart design I had started with, with just four bobbins had seemed quite straight forward and only needed one stitch repeated. Bobbins are always worked in pairs, they are wound in pairs before starting work with pure cotton thread. The design for the pattern is taken from a printed pattern, cut out and backed with card at the same size.

Traditional 'pricking' or lace pattern, patterns were drawn by hand or traced onto vellum and later card. Today photocopied designs are cut out from paper and  backed to card using sticky-back plastic, but play the same function as earlier patterns. Holes are pricked into the material using a 'pricker'.
To seal the card and paper pattern together blue sticky back plastic is used (a modern addition) – which brought back memories from my youth of covering exercise books for school. You then use a tool called a ‘pricker’ (a sharp pointed skewer) to prick holes into the pattern – hence why the pattern is sometimes also called a pricking. The holes pricked into the pattern are for the pins to be placed in as you work along the rows with your bobbins making the stitch.

Picture of piece created for Aragon lacemakers community contribution to the new Higgins displays
The community project piece was more challenging needing the skills of both whole stitch and half stitch, learning what a ‘footside’ was in the lace and how to create this effect. The interior design was also challenging learning how to make ‘legs’ using half stitch, and to attach more bobbins for the central design by using a pin lifter to remove a pin, and then thread through the bobbins. I also learnt how to secure the legs together by criss-crossing the bobbins in a ‘Windmill’ Stitch. The ‘leaves’ or ‘petals’ were more difficult to master, as they require a weaving finesse of four bobbins one over the other – over under over under over, then moving the two outside bobbins out and then back in to make the leaf shape. It was very satisfying to get to the end of my first leaf, having undone and redone the leaf several times before mastering a shape that I was happy with. The next thing was to make four all look the same …quite tricky for a beginner I can tell you.

Annotated picture with stitches and parts demonstrated
I was very pleased once I got to the end of my piece for the community project – it took me around 18 hours, but was well worth it for the end result. 
I do now feel ready for my next challenge in Bedfordshire lace and can’t tell you what a privilege it is to have experienced lacemakers taking the time to teach us learners the basics of the craft. The hours of work in the preparation of the project, the support given to the Aragon lacemakers members to get involved and the development of people’s skills in Bedfordshire lace is to be applauded.
I would like to say a personal thankyou to Marilyn, Sandra and Pam for all their time and kind words of encouragement. Do come to see the finished display piece when the Higgins re-opens, I promise it will be well worth a look.

Lydia Saul,

Keeper of Social History

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Face from the Past - Tiles from Warden Abbey

This almost life size clay tile of a youngish, bearded man looking straight out at the world is rare survivor from the 14th century.

John Sell Cotman, Door to the Abbots
Hall, Rievaulx Abbey,
sepia wash
and black lead, 1803. Trustees of
the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery
The tile is part of a group of rare Picture tiles found at Warden Abbey.  The Abbey was founded in 1135 as a daughter house of Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire. Over time the Cistercian order at Warden became very wealthy and the buildings were extended and lavishly decorated, this is certainly seen by the two exceptionally high quality tiled pavements, one in the church and the other in the Abbots lodgings.

In 1537 the abbey was dissolved, the abbey buildings were destroyed the materials sold off and the land passed into the hands of the Gostwick family who built a new mansion on the site. Though much of this early brick built mansion was destroyed in 1790 the north east wing is still standing.

Luckily most of the tiled pavements were not removed during the dissolution and remained fairly intact under the soil. The tiles were excavated in 1974 and are on loan to The Higgins from Mr Samuel Whitbread and the Southill Estate. This and several other tiles will be featured in our new displays from Spring 2013.
The remains of the Abbey in early 20th century in a 'ruinous state'. Today it is in far
better condition, restored in 1974 by the Landmark Trust.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Great Bedfordians: Dora Carrington

Dora Carrington by David Litchfield 2012

Unrequited love and Dora Carrington unfortunately go hand in hand, and no I'm not talking about her relationship with the homosexual writer Lytton Stratchey, but about her relationship with Bedford and in particular me. 

I love Dora Carrington. There, I've said it. It's been like this for years. We went to the same school you see, spent time in the same art room, walked along the same corridors, admittedly at slightly different times, me in 1993 her in the 1903. But whilst I remained happily in Bedford she couldn't wait to get away.

The Carrington family moved to Bedford, like many others, for the good but inexpensive schools. Originally living on De Parys they moved to Rothsay Gardens and remained there until all five of the Carrington children were educated. Art was always appreciated in their house, Dora's mother would bring home illustrated catalogues from the Royal Academy and there were reproductions of Millais, Velazquez and Alma Tadema hanging on the walls. At school Dora excelled at drawing and when she was 17 her teachers recommended that as there was no art school in Bedford for her to continue her training she should apply to the Slade School of Art in London.

Entering the Slade in 1910 was the beginning of Carrington's life, on outward appearance the dutiful daughter of Victorians, inwardly was a different story. She had found living in Bedford repressive and unbearable and within her first year at the school she started to rebel against her upbringing. She cut her hair into a short crop and began to make her own clothes in the style of the artist Augustus Johns muse Dorelia. She also dropped her Christian name, saying she found it vulgar and sentimental. Forever more she would be known simply as Carrington.

This new Carrington did not fit in on her rare trips back to Bedford, having explained her cropped hair to her parents as being necessary for a fancy dress party she wrote of attending a dance 'where the village boys had quite forgotten me, and taken unto them new lasses. They gaze askance at my shorn locks - little did they realise who it was in their midst! No, sad it is to relate but I was not appreciated'.

Her fellow students at the Slade were to become some of the brightest stars of the British art world; Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, CRW Nevinson and Mark Gertler were all amongst her friends. But whilst they went on to have glittering careers, hers stalled after she graduated, and for a time she was known more for her associations with the group of artists and writers known as the Bloomsbury group, than for her work.

This was due to a number of reasons. The year Carrington entered the Slade was a year of great change in British art. The first Post-Impressionist exhibition was held in London, introducing the work of Van Gogh, Cezanne and Picasso to England for the first time. This new art was against everything that traditional art schools like the Slade believed in. Artists like Carrington whose talent for drawing perfectly suited the Slade’s ideal of what an artist should be, found themselves torn between the new style of art and what their tutors where asking of them. For Carrington this confusion in her talent was further entrenched when she approached the art critic Roger Fry, who had organised the Post Impressionism exhibition for advice about her work, and he discouraged her from a career as a serious artist.

This and a lack of confidence in her own work led her to being described ‘as the most neglected serious painter of her generation’.

These days her work is exhibited in all the major galleries, there has been a film of her life starring Emma Thompson, and sales of her work increase in value yearly. Nowhere is she more appreciated than in Bedford, the paintings The Higgins have in their collection are amongst the most requested and talks on her are always packed with people travelling long distances to hear about her work.

I like to think that although she left us as soon as she could, she would be pleased the town that where she was once not ‘appreciated’ now consider her as a Great Bedfordian.

Victoria Partridge
Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art

Thanks to: 
David Litchfield for his lovely illustration
Article reproduced from November issue of the Bedford Clanger newspaper

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Barbara Hepworth - The Hospital Drawings

Barbara Hepworth, Quartet – Arthroplasty, 1948. Oil and pencil on board.
Quartet – Arthroplasty, detail
At the centre of the frenzied lines and smeared paint of Quartet – Arthroplasty, is a remarkable stillness and sense of calm. The drawing, by Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975), shows a group of surgeons performing a complex operation to relieve the diseased joints of the arthritic patient, but there is no blood or gore to be seen. The focus is the beautifully drawn left hand of the surgeon in the centre. Where the scalpel connects with the patient the white of the ground shines brightly through with an almost religious glow - but here the miracle is science, the skill of the surgeons, and the calm coordination between. The last factor transfixed the artist and is emphasised by the title, which alludes to the harmonious and synchronised movements of the figures and intuitive understanding between them reminiscent of a musical quartet (though in fact there are six figures depicted). Barbara Hepworth later wrote of the experience of watching the surgery in her autobiography:

In 1947 it was suggested to me that I might be interested in watching an operation in a hospital. At first I was very scared but then I found there was such beauty in the coordinated human endeavour in the operating theatre that the whole composition-human in appearance-became abstract in shape. I became completely absorbed by two things: first the extraordinary beauty of purpose between human beings all dedicated to saving life; and secondly by the way this special grace (grace of mind and body) induced a spontaneous space composition, an articulated and animated kind of abstract sculpture very close to what I had been seeking in my own work.

Barbara Hepworth photographed in the early 1970s
The piece has come out of The Higgins store and travelled to The Hepworth Wakefield to feature in a new exhibition which runs from 27th October until 3rd February. Hepworth – The Hospital Drawings is the largest gathering of these powerful studies and reveals a very different side to an artist best known for the organic forms and highly finished surfaces of her sculptures such as The Higgins own Four Figures Waiting of 1968.

Quartet isn’t the only work out and about, the Dulwich Picture Gallery are currently borrowing two of our works by John Sell Cotman (1782-1842) for their exhibition Cotman in Normandy which continues until 13th January 2013.

Barbara Hepworth, Four Figures Waiting, 1968. Cast bronze.

Kristian Purcell 
Curatorial Assistant 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

China in the East

An exhibition showcasing spectacular Chinese collections at Epping Forest District Museum 7th July – 25th September 2012

Chinese Shoes

China in the East is an exhibition that has drawn together Chinese collections from several local museums in the Eastern region, including several artefacts from The Higgins Art Gallery & Museum, Bedford.
This exhibition is part of Eastern Exchanges, a major festival celebrating the culture and colour of the east to mark the London 2012 Games. Eastern Exchanges is an official part of London 2012 Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World which presents exciting new museum exhibitions across the UK, created by young people.

The exhibition tours the eastern region starting in Epping Forest District Museum and then going to Ipswich Town Hall, Hertford Museum and ending at Lowewood Museum in Hoddesdon

A bamboo hat
The artefacts that The Higgins has leant to the exhibition include a hair ornament, a bamboo hat, a pair of shoes and an opium pipe. We don’t know a huge amount about the objects, other then they are from China. The items originally formed part of the Bedford Modern School Museum which was founded in 1885. During the 1920’s and 1930’s the museum curator Rev P. G. Langdon was keen to promote both local archaeology and the collecting of objects from further a field. Many of the old boys were actively encouraged to bring back objects for the museum from their postings overseas to inspire the pupils to join the colonial service.
Beaded Hair Ornament
An Opium pipe

Volunteers have been instrumental in the long process of photographing and documenting many of these objects and they are also helping us to research their histories. We’ll hopefully have a guest post from one of our volunteers soon, detailing her findings. Watch this space...