Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4
(You are asked to excuse any lack of continuity within this series of the photographs, which gives an impression of even greater fluctuation within the British climate and seasons than is in fact the case! The collection is amalgamated from photos taken over several visits, then chosen for the quality of image they convey. The majority were taken by John Baker - but thanks are also to due to Peter L., Richard K. and Nick R. for the photos that they kindly contributed.)
This photo essay charts the rediscovery of ‘Millthorpe', Carpenter's home at Guildford, and the inaugural meeting of the Edward Carpenter Forum which took place there on Sunday 28th October 2007.
In the summer of 1922, Carpenter (then age 78) left Derbyshire and his beloved Millthorpe. He moved South with George Merrill to Mountside, Guildford and a villa at the top of the hill with fine views over the town, which they named ‘Millthorpe'. The exact reasons behind the move still remain something of a mystery, perhaps a combination of Carpenter's increasing frailty and the remoteness of the house in Derbyshire, the attraction of a warmer southern climate, the closeness of Guildford to family and friends, and the proximity both of London and of the Downs and Surrey countryside.
The exact location of Carpenter's house in Guildford had now also become something of a mystery. The address of "Millthorpe" on Mountside included no house number, and the house name itself has now disappeared - so a number of recent visitors have returned without finding the place for sure. So one bright Sunday morning in late September 2007, I also set out to search.
‘Mountside' rises up just five minutes walk from Guildford station, and the regular train service that can bring you to central London within 40 minutes; a steep residential road, quiet and suburban, that gives glimpses out over Guildford as you climb. I came armed with leaflets requesting any information that residents might be able to give - and also an old photograph from the Carpenter archives that seemed to be of Carpenter's Guildford house when it was first built. Yet search and stare as hard as I might, no house appeared to match.
At the top of Mountside you come to the wide open green swathe of ‘The Hog's Back', with its fine views out across Guildford to the Cathedral (built from 1936 and consecrated in1961), which joins the North Downs Way and the ancient Pilgrims Way.
Edward Carpenter & George Merrill's Grave
A left hand turn at the top of the road also leads to Mountside Cemetery where the shared grave of Edward Carpenter and George Merrill is to be found. Eager to pay my first visit to their grave, I found myself the only visitor in the quiet cemetery.
A group from the Carpenter Forum was planning to come to Guildford in a few weeks time, and knowing how great it would be if we could locate and visit Carpenter's ‘Millthorpe', I sat communing by the side of the grave and asked for a bit of guidance.
The Rediscovery and Identification of Carpenter's Mountside Home.Taking an alternative path back to Mountside road, I suddenly noticed a small side turning, a cutting that ran along the back of the houses that would give me a different angle of view. At the far end of this I finally saw a house where the pattern of sloping roves, chimneys and windows seemed to match that of the old photograph in my hand.
Excited now, I summoned up the courage to knock on the door.
I was welcomed inside by the occupants, who proved interested and surprised by the old photograph and my search. Yes it did appear to be their house - but as their grandchildren were due to arrive at any moment for Sunday lunch, we agreed that I would get back in touch.
A fortnight later I returned - but now with an additional photograph from the Carpenter Archive, taken during Carpenter's time at Guildford and presumably showing the inside of his house.
Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4
Here seemed to be near conclusive evidence; for the characteristic features of that room in the photograph, the bressemer fireplace and the little gothic windows, where still clearly to be seen, and my hosts were clear that these features were unique to their house and did not occur in any other within the road.
We went outside to view and compare the house from various angles, noting which parts were original and which were later extensions - and what remained of the back garden where Carpenter had erected his traditional hut (the original large plot of land had been subdivided and sold off since the 1920s to create plots for further buildings.)
As I left, it was very generously arranged that the Edward Carpenter Forum could come for coffee and to visit the house when they made their forthcoming trip to Guildford.
The Edward Carpenter Forum Comes to Guildford.After weeks of bright autumnal sunshine, Sunday October 28th , the day of our inaugural meeting, dawned grey with heavy rain. Nonetheless, twenty people climbed the steep slope of Mountside and were welcomed into the former ‘Millthorpe' of Edward Carpenter.
We were moved to be able to sit together in Carpenter's former sitting room, and read together recollections from a number of Carpenter's friends of visiting him there and of the life of the house.
Here we also met another important person within the story; the lady who lives in the nextdoor house. It turned out that local tradition, and even the Guildford Institute, had located, incorrectly it now seemed, Carpenter's home as the neighbouring house and not the one in which we now sat. It was this neighbour, herself a teacher of history and keen local historian who had kept Carpenter's memory alive on Mountside, and now confessed to us her great fondness for him. Whilst sad to beloosing her own special connection to him, with real generousity and with a true historian's heart, she had responded with great interest to our new discoveries. It was she who had over the previous fortnight undertaken additional research at the Surrey History Centre at Woking, consulting there ‘Kelly's directory' which sets out the house names along the old Mountside Road postal route, and who could now confirm that the house where we sat was indeed ‘Millthorpe'. We were also shown by our hosts the Land Registry documents for their house which indicate Edward Carpenter to have purchased land on 25 April 1922 from one William Turner. So ‘Millthorpe' had been found and the mystery solved!
During his 6 years in Guildford, Edward Carpenter in fact lived at three different addresses. Following George Merrill's death in January 1928, Carpenter, now too frail himself to manage the steep hill, took rooms for a short time at 17 Woodland Avenue, along with his companion and carer Ted Inigan. We also went to view this location, just a few minutes walk away at the lower end of Mountside.
Local historians at the Guildford Institute confirmed that the third location, the bungalow ‘Inglenook' on Joseph's Road, where Carpenter lived for the last months of his life and where he died, no longer existed, having been demolished during the 1930s in the creation of the town's bypass.
Visiting Carpenter and Merrill's grave, we sang together ‘England Arise!', listened to a reading of Carpenter's Farewell Message and left a planting of flowers.
Beyond GuildfordThose of us intrepid enough to brave the rain then set out across ‘the Hog's Back', where Carpenter loved to walk even when he had grown old and frail.
From there we followed the lovely country walk, taken by a number of Carpenter's original visitors, to the nearby village of Compton, that is now part of the North Downs Way.
The Watts Gallery
The ancient Pilgrim's Way emerges at Compton besides ‘the Watts Gallery', former home of the artist George Frederick Watts and his wife Mary and now housing a collection of Watts' paintings. Carpenter met the Watts earlier in his life (and Watts' painting ‘The Drama of Love and Life' is said to have inspired the title of Carpenter's book ‘the Drama of Love and Death') but Watts had died some time before Carpenter arrived at Guildford.
The Watts Chapel Further into the village of Compton is to be found the remarkable Watts Chapel - built as a gift to the village by the Watts and established as a memorial to G.F.Watts, who died in 1904 just prior to its completion. It also stands as a unique memorial to the Arts and Crafts movement - designed by Mary Seton Watts, herself a Slade trained artist and established potter, both the exterior and interior of the Chapel were decorated by villagers from Compton under her direction and tuition, the terracotta tiling and gesso plasterwork being made by her apprentice potters. Over seventy local people worked on the Chapel from 1895 until its completion in 1904, after which a number of these craftspeople were formed into the Compton Pottery, which continued until 1956, 20 years after Mary's death.
Our inaugural day concluded suitably at the Compton Tea Rooms, with slices of homemade cake large enough to refresh even the most weary of travellers!