In the run up to the 10 Parishes Festival, the blog will feature various artists or craftspeople from the 10 Parishes area. Many of them have exhibitions and events throughout the year, so take a look at their websites to find out more – and please Tweet and post on Facebook about them, in celebration of the vibrant artistic talent in the area.
In this blog we look at well known Milverton personality Susan Lady Lethbridge (see her website details below).
From her mother to her grandmother and great-grandmother, Susan Lady Lethbridge inherited a love of needlework which blossomed into a lifelong involvement with fabric and a successful career in textiles and antiques.
Susan, of the Lethbridge baronetcy which occupied Sandhill Park in Bishops Lydeard from 1767 until 1913, is one of the niche and fascinating artists and craftspeople throwing open their homes to show their work to the public as part of this year’s 10 Parishes Festival in and around Wiveliscombe, from September 7 – 15.
Alongside her highly individual shop in a room of beautiful Devonia House (also a B & B) in Milverton – with everything from top designer fabrics to the tiny, delightful Alpaca dogs she has knitted – Susan will also hold a unique exhibition of family textiles, some in memory of Harriet Cresswell, a treasured granddaughter of the renowned Quaker prison and social reformer Elizabeth Fry (1780 – 1845).
“There is a most wonderful collection of about 20 christening robes and divine little bonnets. People at the 10 Parishes Festival love to see all the embroideries and textiles I have here, sewing groups and all sorts of people come – and it will be lovely to be able to show these old textiles,” says Susan.
They are a combination of her own family heirlooms and others just recently passed on to her from the Noel / Cresswell family into which she had married. She was delighted to receive a baby bonnet worn by Admiral Noel, a former Admiral of the Fleet, and a few beautiful taffeta dresses and clothes which had belonged to little Harriet Cresswell, born after five brothers in 1835 but who died at the age of seven.
“We have many wonderful things passed down through relations, but the most beautiful and poignant are Harriet’s two dresses, shoes, stockings and nightdress, and these will be on display with a marble bust of her plus an oil painting of her with two of her brothers. “Harriet was painted after her death, so she wears a long shroud. We have bundles of letters from saddened friends and relations. They are too fragile to be on display, but this little girl was mourned by all.”
Susan herself started working with antiques and textiles in 1960, restoring textiles, designing needlepoint (her company Susan Lethbridge Designs continues in new ownership). She bought and sold decorative antiques, designed for some of the best known London shops and designers, exhibited at London fairs and supplied shops around the world with tapestry kits and accessories.
For a girl who left school at 15 – “I loathed school, felt claustrophobic” – and with masses of animals to support, she just got on with supporting herself, them, and later her family with six children. Her adventurous life also included some years on Exmoor and a remote Scottish farm.
Throughout, antiques and textiles have remained her delight. “It’s been the happiest way of earning a living,” said Susan.