Cecily Sidgwick biography - Chapter 14 - The 'Leader' comic newsletter
Of all the losses suffered by the art colony in Lamorna during the War, the death of Benji Leader was, without doubt, felt the most. Writing at the time of his father’s death in 1923, Stanhope Forbes commented,
"There is one thing in which the late B.W.Leader R.A. took, perhaps, more pride than any honour or distinction which he ever won in the course of his long and successful career - his son. Benjamin Eastlake, who adopted his father’s profession and, indeed, became a painter of great charm and very considerable ability, was one of those who volunteered for active service on the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. After serving for a year or two with distinction in France and Flanders, he fell in action. In West Cornwall, where he lived and painted, the memory of this brave and gallant young English gentleman... is treasured and deeply revered by all who were privileged to count him as a friend and comrade."
Forbes’ tribute is made more poignant given the loss of his own son, Alec, of whom he was equally proud. Benji’s widow, Bell, commissioned Ella Naper to produce a tasteful memorial tablet, which can be seen in St Buryan Church. On a pewter panel, edged with a band of roses and entwining leaves, it reads, "In Loving Memory of Benjamin Eastlake Leader, Captain Queen’s Regiment, who fell in action on The Somme October 12th 1916 Aged 39 years" . To this was added a couplet from Robert Laurence Binyon’s poem, For the Fallen, written in 1914 on the cliffs at Polzeath.
"There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears".
Bell not only lost her great love, but was left with two very young children to bring up, for her son, Benjamin John Leader, had been born on 7th June 1914, and her daughter, Alison Mary Leader, had been born on 1st June 1916, just a few months before her father’s death. Here again, the fact that Cecily was her nearest neighbour was such a help - she was a shoulder to cry on, and someone who would love to look after the children for a while so that Bell could have some space. She was, after all, still an attractive young woman. In Cecily’s album, there is a card from Bell, which she has produced herself. It shows five people holding hands - herself in the middle, flanked by her two kids, and at one end her maid and at the other a woman, who must be Cecily. They have all been gardening, and Cecily is holding a large saw. The Sidgwicks will have become very close to Bell and her children at this stage and, as already seen, they were part of the group that accompanied the Sidgwicks to Sennen. In fact, as Cecily suggested in her novels, the Leaders, the Napers and the Sidgwicks may well have referred to themselves at this juncture as ‘the family’ - a single unit.
By far the most interesting piece in Cecily’s album is a nine page comic newsletter headed ‘Leader’, which, from the information contained therein, can be dated to a snowy November 1919. This seems to be a joint production of ‘the family’, involving Bell Leader, Ella Naper and the Sidgwicks. Crosbie Garstin was also involved. The newsletter is hand-written and John Branfield is certain that the distinctive large, splodgy handwriting is that of Cecily, but the references to her in the newsletter and the sharpness of some of the comments do not suggest that she was solely responsible for the contents. Alfred Sidgwick is stated to be the Editor, but clearly he did not write the Editorial and is again the subject of various comments unlikely to have been penned by himself. The illustrated page of the newsletter is called ‘Our Picture Page’ and this has a feature ‘Our Pets’, showing ‘Mrs Napper’s Bloodhound ‘Minchi-Foo’ ’ and ‘Mrs Leader’s Laughing Jackass ‘Cronje’ ‘. Accordingly, Bell Leader and Ella Naper were intimately involved, and, in view of the title selected - ‘Leader’ - , which would subsequently have a double meaning, it seems that Bell Leader probably played a pivotal role in the whole project. Certainly, various corrections to the text in black ink have been identified as being in her handwriting. Whilst Bell had had some art training, the style of illustration is far more assured than that on her card, Greetings from Rosemerrin, the only known example of her work. As the Sidgwicks had no artistic talent at all and as Ella Naper, who worked in a very different style, is unlikely to have called her beloved Pekinese a bloodhound or mispelt both her own name and that of her dog, then there seems little doubt that the illustrations were provided by Crosbie Garstin, despite the fact that the principal image is of Garstin himself droning on for so long, that the Sidgwicks are falling asleep. Certainly, on the back of another copy of ‘Our Picture Page’ is a portrait caricature, in the same style, of Garstin, as Lieutenant in King Edward’s Horse, which would seem to be a self portrait. The ability to laugh at himself was, accordingly, another endearing characteristic of Garstin.
The Editorial states,
"Finding the interest of the outside world too keen to be satisfied by ordinary correspondence, WE have decided to issue a weekly chronicle from time to time unfolding in plain but unostentatious language the simple annals of this sequestered vale of the Cornish Siberia. The Editor - whose initials are the same as those of Albert Shevalier [sic] and who, in the logic business, has friend Socrates up a gum tree (though he says it himself, so shouldn’t) - wishes to remain anonymous. Contributions both literary and financial will be gratefully accepted, especially the latter. Annual subscription undetermined at present but you cannot send too much. If you have no money, don’t worry, send us the wife’s tiara. If the missus has swallowed it, don’t let that deter you, send us the wife - we will make her cough it up. Anyhow, for heaven’s sake, send us something, send it now and keep on sending."
One suspects that the newsletter was the result of a spell of boredom caused by a cold snap that left the valley unusually blanketed in snow, and which resulted in the water supply being turned off. One caption on the Picture Page, ‘Snow Scene at Oakhill’, is under a blank white space, whilst another image is of ‘Mr Collins announcing that the water is off’. Furthermore, the newsletter contains the comments, "Coal - situation not so black as we should like to see it" and "Water - situation rotten. The shortage has however been somewhat relieved by the appearance of half a dozen Bass at Mons Juré’s establishment."! Accordingly, a beer delivery to Mr Jory at The Wink has lifted the mood somewhat.
Various headings were used throughout the newsletter, but the following are particularly interesting snippets about members of the artistic community.
"That Major Alf Munnings A.R.A., O.B.E., V.C. of Konody’s Horse and Beaverbrook’s Light Infantry intends spending an hold fashioned Xmas in the hancestral ‘all of the De Manningses, surrounded by the De Knights, the O’Crockers, the McWilkes and the Marchese de Peanuts.
That Major Alf Munnings’ two celebrated monologues ‘ ‘Ow I won the ruddy war, goreblimey’ and ‘Me ‘n the Dook’ filled delighted houses in Lamorna night after night during the all too brief week of his stay."
Given that Munnings rarely returned to Lamorna after his Canadian commissions, it is fascinating to read about this hitherto unrecorded visit. Clearly, he was on typical form and was welcomed by all and sundry. The reference to ‘the Dook’ might be to the Earl of Athlone, the brother of Queen Mary, whose portrait Munnings was commissioned to paint as a result of his successful portrait of General Sealy of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. It was Munnings’ big breakthrough. It is also interesting to hear of the Christmas gathering at the home of the Manning Sanders at Sennen. The O’Crockers will be the family of Phyllis Vipond Crocker, who was one of Laura Knight’s models, but the identity of the McWilkes (or Wilkes) and the Marchese de Peanuts are not yet known.
‘Seal’ Weatherby, who was always known for having an eye for the ladies gets a ribbing, perhaps from someone who has experienced going out with him!
"That Mr R.C.Weatherby is again open to offers of matrimony. Nobody over 17 need apply. Candidates must be ready to pose for portraits, canine or equine studies (the hind legs of a horse for instance, or the tail of a pug), cook, sew, knit, wash brushes, stretch canvases and stroke master’s hair, when he is downcast."
Weatherby had just painted a portrait of Jessie Jory, the daughter of the landlord of The Wink, who was about to get married at the age of 18, and during the sittings, suggested that she should get married to him instead!
The Hugheses are the subject of a couple of comments, albeit the writer seems to think that Robert’s forename was Albert, which is perhaps understandable if he was always known as ‘Bertie’.
"A steady stream of oil and water in the form of landscapes has been flowing from the Birch, Napper [sic]and Weatherby ateliers. Mr Albert Hughes (‘Bertie’) having become ambi-dextrous through a severe attack of Pelmanism [a card game] is now committing 4 Pictures A Day!!!!, whereby leading by several lengths and creating a record for this or any other land."
"That Mr Albert Hughes (‘Bertie’) and Mrs Hughes (‘Gertie’) are meditating a trip to the gay metropolis. As there is only three shiilings and four pence in the larder, they do not expect to be away more than three weeks - during which period Mons Juré’s establishment will be closed."
The final comment presumably suggests that, without Bertie’s custom, there was little point in The Wink staying open!
John Birch gets off lightly
"That Mr S.J.Lamorna Birch is digging up his garden in the hope of discovering a vein of electric light."
The writers in the valley also get a mention.
"Prof. Alf Sidgwick, the eminent brain specialist, is hard at work on Kant’s celebrated problem ‘When is a door not a door’ and is expected to arrive at some sort of conclusion early in 1923. Talking of jars - have you read Mrs Alf’s latest The Purple Patch? (Hutchinson, 6/8). If you haven’t, you should - its the pure juice, the real ripe ginger."
One suspects, from Cecily’s description of her husband in None-Go-By that Alfred’s conundrum was a somewhat elongated timber DIY project. However, the question ‘When is a door not a door’ is also a joke with the punchline, ‘When it’s ajar" and Cecily’s book was The Purple Jar (1919).
Crosbie Garstin, who was in the Valley working with Cecily Sidgwick on The Black Knight, is featured on the Picture Page. He is shown spouting forth after 1 a.m., with his female companion (Cecily) already asleep and his male companion (Alfred) stifling a yawn. There is also the following interesting comment about his character,
"Mr Crosbie Garstin has nearly finished his new novel which will be called ‘Chaps - or Pants from the Wooly West’. The hero, a strong, silent man, is not unlike the gloomy and taciturn author, whose next work will be a spelling manual for use in Girls’ Schools (with glossary)."
The latter comment may be related to a story in The Black Knight, when the hero, based on Garstin, is upbraided for failing to be able to pack a rack properly whilst harvesting, "Don’t you know what gee and ha means? It means right and left. Where was you brought up, at a girls’ school?" Alternatively, it might be related to the fact that one of Cecily’s next projects was a Collins Schoolgirls’ Annual.
Under the title ‘Music’, there is a reference to the highly regarded violinist, Mrs Wilmet Rose Beckett, who, as already seen, took part in a number of the local entertainments and now lived with Joan Coulson at ‘Oakhill’. She came from a military background and had been born in India. She was the daughter of Colonel Lumley Scobell Peyton, formerly of 14th Bengal Lancers, who had been born in 'Nancealverne', Madron - his mother being a Scobell. Wilmet had married Captain (later Lt-Commander) Douglas Beckett in Winchester Cathedral in 1915, but he had been killed accidentally in 1918 in Salonika.
"Owing to the absence of Wilmet à Beckett (the cat-gut specialist) on a pilgrimage to the tomb of her ancestor (him of Canterbury), Mrs Leader’s sackbut and psaltery services are off."
There are included in the newsletter standard types of notices. Under ‘Births’ is recorded, ‘Nil (owing to frost)’, but under ‘Deaths’ is noted Filbert Coulson of Oakhill, of ptomaine poisoning. This seems to have been Joan Coulson’s dog, who had clearly eaten something nasty. There is also a marriage to record - that of Margaret Evelyn Hicks, the daughter of the bread man, W.H.Hicks of Newlyn, to Basil Stallybrass F.R.I.B.A. at St Peter’s Newlyn on 5th inst. There is also a note saying that "Our coloured supplement depicting Mr W.H.Hicks (with his bread cart) will not be given away this week owing to a shortage of vermillion"! Evelyn had worked at Cliff House Hotel and modelled for Laura Knight and Alfred Munnings.
Under ‘Divorces’, there is the comment "Ahem! Watch our next issue", and it is clear from an ‘Agony Column’ later on that this is a reference to Algernon Newton, who had separated from his wife, for it contains the couplet, "Algy, Come back! Come back! the children cry for thee", to which the response is "Napoo! I have found a richard life." This perhaps suggests that Newton was having issues with his sexuality.
Under ‘Political’, there is the comment, "Situation easier owing to the retreat of the Red Forces to the Cafe Royal". This is probably a reference to W.H.Davies, the poet who had achieved notoriety with his book The Autobiography of a Super Tramp, whom the Knights had met in the Cafe Royal and brought down to Cornwall with them that year. His ignorance of nature and his naive poetry had not made much impression.
There is also a ‘Wanted’ section, which reveals the natural tribulations of Bell Leader as a single mother.
"WANTED. An intelligent Irish terrier in exchange for two charming, well-behaved babes
Apply Mrs L., Rosemerrin, to which there is an immediate response from Mr and Mrs A.S. (the Sidgwicks) saying "Done with you! Sending Irish terror up at once."
This is then followed by
"EXCHANGE. Affectionate Irish terror for anything dead and quiet (fish for instance) Mrs L.
SELL OR GIVE AWAY. Two uttterly fascinating babes. Mr and Mrs A.S."
Finally, Colonel Paynter does not get left out.
"That Col Paynter (and decorator) has at length achieved his darling desire and built a church at Lamorna Gate which may be used as a waiting room for Grey Maria on work days - a happy example of how business may be combined with pleasure. Orders will be taken for cut flowers and early potatoes after the collection."
The image of the church on the Picture Page makes it look like a small hut, with the only congregation likely to be a dog. The comment is likely to relate to Colonel Paynter’s insistence on closing the road to Boleigh each Sunday at Lamorna Gate, so as to assert his rights of ownership over the road.
Glued on to the page opposite the 'Leader' in Cecily’s album is a spoof advertisement, in Bell Leader’s handwriting, which, in tone, fits in with the comic newsletter. It is for ‘Leader and Garstin - Builders and Contractors’, stating ‘Huts a Specialty’. Despite a slogan, which reads, "We are no play boys. We are on the spot", the only possible combination of Leader and Garstin at this, or any other, juncture, is Crosbie Garstin and Bell Leader, given that Crosbie did not return from Africa until after Benjamin Leader had enlisted. References are provided by Sir Alfred Crosbie, the Rhodesian magnate, (i.e Crosbie Garstin himself) and Lady Rose of ‘Merrin Castle’ (i.e. Bell Leader of ‘Rosemerrin’). "Lady Rose wishes to thank Messrs Leader and Garstin for the promptitude with which they have erected the charming and artistic stable and coach-house. They are much admired. The foreman is a pearl." The last sentence perhaps suggests that it was the pearl-wearing Leader that was the foreman; accordingly, it will have been Garstin doing the building work, possibly to Bell’s design.
Despite the fact that the purple ink of the newsletter and the picture page would indicate that it had been copied and circulated, no-one else writing about the Lamorna artists has mentioned it, albeit David Evans has confirmed that a copy of the picture page had found its way to his father, Gilbert, probably whilst home on leave from Nigeria, who had stuck it into his scrap book.