Peggy Angus part four

Peggy Angus at furlongs by Hugh Dunford-Wood

At the age of 67 Peggy retired as Head of Art at North London Collegiate School, enjoying her teaching long after retirement age.

Having received some money from lifelong friend Ishbel MacDonald, Peggy took a holiday in Pakistan with young artist and former pupil Gaby Moore  (gabymoore.co.uk).  Gaby was 14 when she first met Peggy on Boxing Day 1963, when her brother took her to spend a few days at Furlongs.

Following an obligatory walk Gaby recalled: “Returning to the cottage for tea and ginger cake we were once again entertained by more enthralling tales from Peggy. As darkness fell we lit fires and lamps in the kitchen and after another rustled-up Peggy supper, the contents of which we couldn’t quite make out but it was nevertheless filling and tasty enough, we all retired to a cosy sitting room with a blazing coal fire.”

Gaby is writing a brilliant account of her travels with Peggy, working towards a book. Here one of her opening paragraphs: Peggy had previously travelled to Indonesia on a sabbatical when teaching at North London Collegiate School, where she made friends with a lady called Theja Gunawardena who from 1975 was the Sri Lankan ambassador in Lahore, Pakistan, and had invited Peggy to come and stay. As I had recently been diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis and Theja laid claims to being a faith healer, Peggy proposed that I should accompany her to Pakistan as a young travel companion / minder and to see if she could do anything about my condition.’

Peggy had divided her time between London and Sussex since 1933 when she first sub-let Furlongs cottage from tenant farmer Dick Freeman. Peggy and Dick outside Furlongs. Sketch of Dick by Peggy. Letter to Patience Gray re Dick.

On her return from Pakistan Peggy threw her energies into making wallpaper. Years earlier Peggy’s daughter Victoria had suggested decorating 122 Adelaide Road with block-printed paper. When artist Kenneth Rowntree saw these designs he commissioned Peggy to produce wallpapers for his home, having moved to Chiswick from Great Bardfield.

Peggy went on to develop something of a cottage industry, producing handmade wallpapers designed in response to commissions. Peggy’s process was simple but arduous, indeed laborious.  She would carve the design into a block of lino, then paint a long roll of lining paper in one colour using ordinary emulsion paint, and hand print the wallpaper design using a second colour until the roll was complete. Peggy used her ex-pupils, students and friends to help her print the unwieldy wallpapers.

Wallpapers by Peggy Angus including the popular ‘Sun and Moon’ design

Peggy continued to print wallpapers to commission through to the end of her career, making wallpaper for her ‘patrons’ and friends, and friends of friends. She would design hundreds of wallpapers over her career, sometimes simple repeats, sometimes with figurative vignettes incorporated into them. Some of her wallpapers are still in production today, though machine printed, the reproductions looking just like the originals.

Victoria, also involved in the design of wallpapers, had married architect Richard Gibson and in the early 1960’s they moved to Shetland where Victoria designed knitwear. Tragically, Peggy’s son Angus, who suffered from epilepsy, suffered a fit during the night in 1959, and died at the age of nineteen.

Peggy Angus. Angus & Victoria at Breakfast

Peggy was still spending time at her rented Furlongs cottage in the South Downs, and amongst the many friends visiting was Patience Gray. Peggy met Patience in Hampstead in the 1950s through architect Alexander Gibson.

In the late ‘50s Patience started the Observer women’s page, much later writing what has been described as “the best book about food that will ever be written”, Honey from a Weed. Patience’s earlier book Plats Du Jour was published in 1957 selling 50,000 copies in its first year.

Nick Gray playfully comments: ‘In a recent edition of Lifo Magazine, my mother Patience Gray at Furlongs, perhaps about to set light to a witch !’ Photo by Monica Pidgeon.

For Peggy, Furlongs was a creative refuge, and the like-minded Patience also found solace and inspiration amongst the Downs. One summer solstice evening in 1958 Flemish sculptor Norman Mommens appeared over the brow of a nearby hill, having walked the seven miles from his home at Grange Farm, shared with his potter wife Ursula.

The chance meeting sparked a friendship, and eventually a romance, with Norman regularly visiting Patience in Hampstead until finally, in Spring 1962, they set off together for Carrara in Tuscany, Norman on a quest for marble to carve.

There they stayed – apart from brief periods in Provence, Catalonia and Greece – until in 1970 they bought a ruined sheep farm in the Salento, the remote tip of the heel of Italy. Their 30 years together at Spigolizzi were to be remarkably harmonious and creative, Norman producing an extraordinary body of work that he did little to launch into the art world, and Patience making jewellery, researching local cuisine, and honing Honey from a Weed for publication.  Norman died in 2000 and Patience 5 years later.

Two watercolours of Barra from Peggy’s sketchbook. Peggy and Robin Ravilious (James’ wife) at Higgins’ House. From an old photo album, an invitation to the 70th birthday party of Peggy’s sister Nancy Wilson Angus,

In the early ‘60s Peggy too had acquired a ruined property. Camping holidays had previously taken her and the children to the Western Isles. On Barra they took shelter in a half-ruined crofter’s cottage overlooking the beach. The cottage, Higgins’ House, had been empty for some years, but Peggy decided to buy it for the asking price of £150. Maintenance was a big problem, but Peggy drew on the help of brothers John and James Ravilious. As at Furlongs, parties were enjoyed with Peggy’s punch made from pouring whatever drinks her guests brought into a large pot. Peggy made a banner for the local Presbyterian Church illustrated with fish and seabirds. The banner was, however, removed, the locals horrified by the semi-naked mermaids included in the design !

The painting of grey pebbles gathered from the beach became another cottage industry, depicting Pictish and Celtic art forms.

Peggy’s house at Adelaide Road had been condemned for some years and it was finally demolished. Peggy now moved into a purpose-built studio in Camden Street, Camden Town. This became her permanent home thanks to the generosity of old friend American sculptor Alexander Calder. A maquette that Calder gave Peggy sold for a high price at auction enabling her to buy the studio from the local council. At Furlongs an amusing hand-shaped loo-roll holder had been fashioned from a wire coat hanger by Calder.

Camden Studios

The orange coloured lino-cut above was made by Gabrielle Moore.

The final months at Adelaide Road are recalled by Patience Gray’s son Nick: “As an errant teenager I lodged with Peggy in London after expulsion from school at Christ’s Hospital. That was in 1959 when I was 18.  There wasn’t really anywhere in Patience’s Victorian billiard-room home in Hampstead so Peggy offered me a snoring box above the entrance hallway at 122 Adelaide Rd.  I worked for a neighbouring transvestite who sent mostly resting actors out to the suburbs as housewives’ helps.  The following summer I did the season as a stagehand at Glyndebourne but don’t remember popping over the hill to Furlongs.”

“Come 1972 I rolled up at Camden Town with a pair of narrowboats and a half load of coal for retail sale.  My then wife and mother of my two children, Corinna, toddled up the road to Swiss Cottage to help Peggy manually mass-produce her rolls of handprinted wallpaper. My sister Miranda Armour-Brown also worked as one of Peggy’s wall-printing slaves.”

In a letter to Patience and Norman dated 1974 (photo here) Peggy wrote, “What fun it was last Christmas with Nicolas and Corinna in their barge at Camden Lock !”

Section of a letter to Patience and Norman dated 5th January 1974

In between wallpaper production Peggy took trips to Barra and to Shetland to visit Victoria’s family. Her heart, however, still belonged to Furlongs and she carried on paying the rent in her final years – exactly the same amount as back in 1933 !

An old pupil from North London Collegiate School, Janet Kennedy, and her husband Tyl moved into a cottage just down the lane from Furlongs, and Ursula Mommens was still on the other side of the hill at Grange Farm.

One evening Janet had a worried phone call from Ursula as Peggy had set off to walk over the hill but hadn’t arrived. Tyl rushed off on his motorbike and as darkness fell found Peggy stuck in the mud in a ploughed field unable to move.

Peggy’s granddaughter Emma visited Furlongs to help out as did Tirzah’s daughter Anne Ullmann and husband Louis. There was still no electricity at Furlongs, Peggy’s son-in-law Richard (Victoria’s husband) had installed a shower. Peggy, however, refused to use it, preferring to plunge into cold water.

The many visitors to Furlongs shared treasured memories of the Midsummer dewpond parties held on the summit of Beddingham Hill where the guests drank and sang around a summer solstice bonfire.

An early dewpond party featured The Blue Goddess created by Norman Mommens with probably help from John and James Ravilious.

‘The Blue Goddess’ by Peggy Angus. Photo: “Furlongs. the blue goddess dressed in parachute silk walked across the downs from South Heighton. John Ravilious ignites one of his hot air balloons. present are Norman and Ursula Mommens, Heywood Hill, Olive Cook. Photograph by Edwin Smith” Photo detail: Peggy, Norman & his much younger sister Ruscha at the Furlongs dewpond party: 

Now entering her eighties Peggy relied on granddaughter Emma to organise the dewpond parties. 

The door to Furlongs remained unlocked so that people could drop in day and night. Gaby Moore recalls, “She never complained about money and would tell visitors to use as much coal and paraffin as you like.”

Nick’s ex-wife Corinna took Peggy on her last trip to Barra, remembering that in spite of her health problems she remained extraordinarily bright and cheerful. Peggy died of pneumonia in 1993 at the age of 89.

One final party was held up at the dewpond. Janet Kennedy build a bright red papier-mâché bull and placed Peggy’s ashes inside together with those of her son Angus, which Peggy had kept under the bed all those years. The bull was carried up the hill and duly set on fire. Peggy would have approved !

A few of Peggy’s Furlongs paintings

This May I came across an empty Furlongs and sneaked a photo of the many mosaics hidden in every corner of the cottage exterior.

Graham Bennison August 2021. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist Many thanks go to Nick Gray for his superb help with this blog. Also thanks to Gabrielle Moore for her much appreciated help.

Notes:

Sadly…. Janet Kennedy (née Eady), died peacefully at home on Thursday 8th July 2021. An artist, Janet was a leading designer for Clothkits from 1971 to 1988. Much loved by all of her family, Janet was the wife of Tyl Kennedy, mother to Sasha, Patrick, Lucy and Jason, and an adored grandmother to ten children.

Please follow Facebook page…..Eric Ravilious and Friends….. https://www.facebook.com/groups/488249232182567

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