Saturday, April 07, 2007


Antique bust of Richard Jefferies presented to the Jefferies Museum by Salisbury’s Mayor

On 2nd April, Sheila Warrander, the Mayor of Salisbury District Councillor and Cllr. Justin Tomlinson, Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for leisure, culture and recreation unveiled an antique bust of Richard Jefferies [1] at the Jefferies Museum at Coate[2] that has graced the committee room in Salisbury for over 80 years.

The white alabaster bust is a replica of the marble statue sculpted by Margaret Thomas that was unveiled in Salisbury Cathedral in 1892. It is believed that Miss Thomas made about five plaster replicas and it appears that this copy was once owned by Jefferies' Biographer Walter Besant, from whom it passed to the Association of Authors in London. The bust was offered for sale to Salisbury City Council, who declined it at first but then Alderman Frederick Sutton the renowned local confectioner and later Mayor of Salisbury bought the bust and presented it to the council in 1925. This particular copy of the cathedral bust appears to be the only one remaining apart from a version made for London’s National Portrait Gallery.

John Price, Chairman of the Richard Jefferies Society said:

“We are most grateful to Salisbury District Council for this rare and most welcome honour. The sculptress, Margaret Thomas, had but a few pictures of the writer on which to base her work. Jefferies had recently died, in 1887, aged only 37. Miss Thomas spoke to family and friends of the writer and mainly used a photo taken when Jefferies was 30 years old. We have given the statue pride of place on display in the large bay window of Jefferies’ sitting room”.

Mrs Sheila Warrander, the Mayor of Salisbury said:

“We have recently started to refurbish and extend our offices in Salisbury and, in knowledge that the Jefferies Museum is expanding its collection, it seemed appropriate to lend the statue to the museum where it can be appreciated by more visitors. We are delighted to find this perfect home for the sculpture. It is a charming museum”.

The Mayor was accompanied by Steve Milton, Salisbury District Council’s Principal Democratic Services Manager whose great grandfather was a friend of the author [3], along with Ruth Davies from the same department. Councillor Justin Tomlinson was accompanied by Paul Blacker, Director of leisure, culture and recreation for Swindon Borough Council. John Price, John Webb and Jean Saunders attended on behalf of the Richard Jefferies Society.
The Jefferies Museum is next open on Wednesday 11th April from 10am to 4pm. Admission is free and there is a creative writers’ group workshop running at the same time that visitors can join.


Editors notes:

[1] Richard Jefferies was born at Coate Farm near Swindon on 6th of November 1848. The author spent his childhood exploring Coate Water and the local fields and woods, observing wildlife and nature. The area around his home at Coate has been known for years as “Jefferies Land”. It has become a place of pilgrimage for generations of readers.
Jefferies had a great exhilaration for life although he died from tuberculosis at the age of 37 and spent his last ten years in extreme pain. None the less he wrote over 20 novels and hundreds of essays many of them based on his life at Coate and his observations of nature and rural life. He has been described as a “many sided genius”. Historians cite him as an authority on agriculture in Victorian England. Major studies of mysticism have anthologised his work and discussed his ideas. He wrote one of the great novels for boys, Bevis, the Story of a Boy as well as several highly original novels for adult readers. He is recognised as one of the greatest nature writers in the language and he topped a Guardian 2005 poll for Britain’s favourite country writers.

[2] The Richard Jefferies Museum is situated between the Sun Inn at Coate and Day House Lane opposite the petrol station on the Marlborough Road. The old farm was purchased by Swindon Corporation in 1926 and it is still owned by Swindon Borough Council. The museum was opened to the public on a limited basis in the 1960’s. The Richard Jefferies Society, founded in 1950, has supplied the majority of the exhibits in the museum and for the last twenty years has provided volunteers to open the museum on the first and third Sundays of the month from May to September between 2-5pm and the second Wednesday of the month throughout the year from 10am to 4pm. Admittance to the house and grounds is free.

[3] Steve Milton is the great grandson of John William North ARA RWS the well known Victorian painter and friend of Richard Jefferies. Jefferies stayed with North in Somerset during his research for Red Deer and Wild Life in a Southern County. North had visited Jefferies on several occasions and was present on the day he died. North took in Jefferies' widow Jessie and his children to live with him in Somerset, he raised a fund to assist the family that raised around £1,300 in donations and he helped secure a pension from Parliament to assist them. North was on the committee that erected the bust in Salisbury Cathedral.