Furlongs cottage is situated in the South Downs near to West Firle. I visited the cottage in May 2018.
Artist Peggy Angus found the cottage in 1933 and rented one end of the building. Eric Ravilious first visited Furlong’s at Peggy’s invitation in February 1934 spending four days there before returning home to Brick House, Great Bardfield, Essex, He was full of ideas for watercolours he wanted to paint amongst the Downs. Furlongs was somewhat ‘Spartan’ – downstairs a dining room, a sitting room and a scullery and two bedrooms upstairs.
Eric returned with wife Tirzah in the spring of 1934. Tirzah remarked: “To fetch water we had to wind a well handle in the well house across the farmyard 95 times because the well was 90-odd feet deep. When the bucket eventually came up, it was leaking very fast so you had to pour it quickly into the pails before it had all run away again….” Despite the discomforts Eric and Tirzah fell in love with the place.
Peggy and Eric shared many painting trips around the locality and that winter one day, with Peggy painting a view back down the road to Furlongs cottage, Eric painted ‘The Downs in Winter.’
The two also painted a number of paintings of the nearby Asham Cement Works.
‘Dolly Engine’. Eric Ravilious. ‘Asham cement Works’. Peggy Angus.
Eric and Peggy would regularly disappear together up the hill towards the Works as noted by Tirzah’s father Colonel Garwood who referred to Peggy as a ‘Bolshie woman’ and ‘the Red Angus’ in his diary.
It was also in 1934 that another visitor to Furlongs, Helen Binyon started a close friendship with Eric. She and Eric fell very much in love. and Eric would visit Furlongs to stay with Helen and Peggy.
Helen Binyon described the route to Furlongs:“They continued, along a narrowing tree-lined lane, until they reached an open field, with the swelling slopes of the chalk Downs beyond P, their rounded tops bare against the sky. They turned to the right, along a deeply rutted track, past a little copse, over which towered the wheel of a creaking wind pump; on its vane the mysterious word ‘DANDO’. Ahead and still some way off, they saw the cottage.”
Helen Binyon and Eric Ravilious by Peggy Angus. 1934 at Furlongs.
Artist Percy Horton was yet another regular visitor to Furlongs. He and Eric were both musical as was Peggy and the evenings would be full of songs singing around the sitting room fire made with sticks and branches gathered from the local wood. With no electricity an oil lamp would light the proceedings.
Eric and Tirzah moved from Great Bardfield in 1934 to Castle Hedingham in Essex and the following June 1934 Tirzah’s baby John was born. Eric’s trips to Furlong continued however, and his love affair with Helen continued until 1937 when the affair cooled as Helen commenced an affair with artist John Nash. Meanwhile Tirzah had fallen in love with artist John Aldridge! A final meeting between Helen and Eric was seven weeks before Eric’s tragic posting to Iceland in 1942.
Four of Ravilious’ best known paintings were produced during this period. A pre-war visit to Furlongs in 1939 resulted in the water-colour ‘Tea at Furlongs’.
Peggy had married Jim Richards in 1936 and in 1939 found herself at Furlongs with one baby and pregnant with another. Eric was there to help while Tirzah was in Eastbourne herself pregnant with James. In the dead of a summer’s night Peggy felt the baby coming and dispatched Eric to bring Mrs Spikes, a mother of five camping in the nearby field. Eric then had to go to the phone box in Glynde to call the local doctor who knowing the cottage well refused to come. The doctor advised Eric to take Peggy to a nursing home in Lewes but Eric couldn’t drive and there was no car. Eric aroused Mr Lusted of the Trevor Arms and he agreed under protest to transport them both to the hospital in Eastbourne where Angus was born.
Peggy Angus. The Cart Track to Furlongs. Angus and Victoria at breakfast. The Three Bears. Portrait of Jim Richards.
Following the war Peggy divorced then living in Camden during her teaching years. She returned to Furlongs dividing her time between the cottage and London. She died in 1993 aged 89 and the cottage returned to the Glynde Estate.
Graham Bennison. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist