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Long Live Great Bardfield

by Tirzah Garwood
Persephone book no:

118 119 120

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781910263099

When Tirzah Garwood was 18 she went to Eastbourne School of Art and here she was taught by Eric Ravilious. Over the next four years she did many wood engravings and these were widely praised and several were displayed by the Society of Wood Engravers. Alas, after she and Eric were married in 1930 a large part of her time was spent on domestic chores. In 1935 she had the first of her three children. In 1942 – the year she was operated on for breast cancer – she wrote her autobiography (in the evening, after the children were in bed);  this has now been published with the title Long Live Great Bardfield: The Autobiography of Tirzah Garwood.

In The Wood Engravings of Tirzah Ravilious (1987) the novelist and designer Robert Harling wrote: ‘The manifold talents of Tirzah as wood engraver, artist and designer (especially of exquisite marbled papers) were well-known to her friends, but have been virtually extinguished by the steadily growing fame of Ravilious’s achievements. Tirzah was content for this to be so, for she was uncommonly and genuinely modest and a devoted wife and mother, but as far as her work was concerned, she certainly lost out.’

When she began her autobiography Tirzah wrote: ‘I hope, dear reader, that you may be one of my descendants, but as I write a German aeroplane has circled round above my head taking photographs of the damage that yesterday’s raiders have done, reminding me that there is no certainty of our survival. If you are not one of my descendants then all I ask of you is that you love the country as I do, and when you come into a room, discreetly observe its pictures and its furnishings, and sympathise with painters and craftsmen.’

And as her daughter Anne Ullmann observes in the Preface, writing was undoubtedly therapeutic, it enabled her to stand back and look at her life and helped her at a time of adversity to sort out a way forward.’ She concludes: ‘Time and the honesty of Tirzah’s words have made this an immensely important document and it is a valuable primary record of a woman who was at the centre of an important group of artists, and who was herself a very good artist in her own right.’


Taken from a decorative paper design, in engravers ink red, by Tirzah Garwood

Picture Caption

The Train Journey by Tirzah Garwood

Read What Readers Say

Rachel Cooke, 'The Observer’

I like everything about this book, from its confidential tone to its cast of characters… Most of all I love its author's attitude to life. Affectionately flexible in matters of the heart - she and Ravilious were both unfaithful, but continued to love each other all the same - she was never prone, even in the worst of times, to self-pity.

Charlotte Moore, 'The Oldie’

Tirzah's daughter Anne Ullmann has done an excellent job of shaping her large, sprawling memoir without losing the sponteaneity and looseness of style that is part of its charm; she has filled gaps with brief explanatory notes and extracts from letter, and illustrated it with family photographs and with Tirzah's rich, humorous, evocative woodcuts.

Adventures in reading, running and working from home (via Instagram)

‘Long Live Great Bardfield’, the autobiography of the wood engraver and painter Tirzah Garwood, wife of Eric Ravilious, has a lovely engaging tone that makes the pages fly by. It’s told in a rather flat, naive and artless style with many non-sequiturs which reminds me a bit of Dodie Smith, Barbara Comyns and Elizabeth Eliot, and is a charming and absorbing read, even though it’s quite a long book. Tirzah maintains this matter-of-fact tone throughout the book, from descriptions of early family rows and odd neighbours through domestic disasters to upsetting love affairs conducted by both her and Eric, but it’s curiously sweet and intimate. Her openness leads her to discuss her lovers and the complicated affairs of the group of friends but also her struggles with her periods, something not often discussed so openly. She’s relatively breezy and light-hearted on most subjects and is aware of this and not being “put out by misfortunes as much as most people” (p. 280): she puts this down to her ability to be absorbed in her art. A lot of artists and other characters come in and out of the narrative and are seen by Tirzah’s beady eye: she’s great at seeing the continuity in some- one’s behaviour through the years. A lovely book which would merit a re-read, and a great addition to my Persephone shelf.

Categories: Biography Childhood Country Life Family House and Garden Love Story

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