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Levens Local History Group

People in Levens

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Mrs Ann Gibson

From the Westmorland Gazette January 1900

Death of a Centenarian

We regret to announce that Mrs Ann Gibson of Levens died on Saturday at the advanced age of 101 years seven months, after a short illness of about ten days. She was born in Levens, at Cut Side, on 3rd June 1798, baptised at Heversham on the 24th of the same month, and was interred last Wednesday at Heversham. She was of the old yeoman stock. Her father was John Wilson of Levens, who married Ann Robinson of Shap, and they lived at Cut Side, then a thatched house. They had four daughters and one son, John Wilson. One of the daughters was accidentally shot when young. Mrs Gibson's other sisters became Mrs Mary Thexton and Mrs Margaret Walker. These four were living in the village at the same time, each over 80 years of age. Their mother died when comparatively a young woman. Mrs Gibson went to school to Peggy Poo [Powley], the village schoolmistress, and afterwards finished her education under a master at Helsington. When a young woman she was for a short time in service in Whitechapel, London, but she spent nearly the whole of her life in her native county. In appearance she was one of those well–built strong–looking individuals, walking very erect, with a firm step, and only indulged in the use of a walking-stick very late in life. A few years before her death – perhaps five or six – she had a fall in her own house, owing to an old shoe, when she remarked that she thought she was going to be lame all the [remaining] days of her life, and so it proved, for she could never walk without assistance afterwards. She retained her senses to the last. Her sight was getting rather dim, but her recollection was surprising, and her conversation on remote events happening in her lifetime was most interesting. For many years she carted and sold peats in Kendal, where she will no doubt be remembered well by some of the older inhabitants. She may be said to have never had a days sickness, and was unacquainted with doctors professionally, with one exception which she used to relate. This was when she went to Doctor Kitchen of Milnthorpe, to have a tooth extracted. She took to bed about ten days before her death, and peacefully passed away without pain. During this period a little stimulant was being administered, when she remarked that she did not want the nasty stuff; it would 'ruin her constitution'. The greater the distance in time the clearer seemed her recollection. She well remembered the making of the new road leading from Levens Bridge towards Whitbarrow, and then on towards Grange; also the full use of the old roads such as the one over Sizergh Fell, by the Old Causeway through Grindle Wood below the screes at Whitbarrow. She could also speak about the inclosure of the common and village green, previous to which a horse might wander as far as Crosthwaite. The war of Bonaparte had made considerable impression on her, and she related how she once went to the old 'Duke of York Inn', over Sizergh Fell, for yeast with a jug bearing a portrait of 'Boney', and some men threatened to break it. She had a vivid recollection of the great election contests between the 'yellows' and the 'blues', the Lowthers and Broughams of those days, and would relate stories in connection therewith. In her mode of living she was very simple. She cared little for luxuries. Her principal fare was porridge and milk, cheese and bread, and beer; she preferred home brewed. Tea in her early years was a great luxury, only indulged in on Sundays. She would tell of the 'Old Wife Hakes' when they had tea, and dancing on the village green. Her husband predeceased her by about 28 years. He it was who discovered on the Moss the beautiful bronze spear head, which was purchased by Canon Rogers Gandy, and presented to the Kendal Museum. Mrs Gibson was very fond of horses. She leaves two sons and one daughter, viz Mr George Gibson of Belfast, Mr John Gibson of Levens, and Mrs Shepherd of Staveley. One unmarried daughter died some years since.

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Harold Stabler

Harold Stabler, courtesy of Mrs H Cauldwell

Harold Stabler, who was born in Levens in 1872 and died in London in 1945, was the son of George Stabler the schoolmaster at Levens Boys School. George was a Yorkshire man, born about 1840 in Craike, who came to the school in about 1858 and married Sarah Wilson, a local girl, in 1869. George's sister Hannah was also a teacher, but at Levens Girls School. She had come with him to Levens when he was first appointed and, in 1861, is recorded as his housekeeper. In addition to Harold, George and Sarah had other children; Edgar, Bertha, and Oswald, who remained a 'village character' all his days . George died in 1910 and Hannah in 1917. George lived at South View, Levens, and is buried at Heversham, but Sarah, Hannah, Bertha and Oswald are buried at Levens. George and Sarah were not blessed with grandchildren.

On leaving Levens School Harold was apprenticed to Arthur Simpson, the famous Kendal wood turner, and trained in stone and wood carving at Kendal School of Art where he obtained his Teacher's Certificate. His skills were recognised early and he ran the Simpson's summer school at Gill Head, Windermere. At some time he became known to John Ruskin, and indeed made a sketch of Ruskin, whom he describes as frail and leaning on the arm of his housekeeper, Mrs Twelves, in the week before Ruskin died. In 1898 he came to the attention of Mrs Edith Rawnsley, the wife of Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust, who had founded and managed the Keswick School of Industrial Art.

Harold left Simpsons and became the School's first permanent Director. He stayed less than two years, but was highly influential in its metal work and designs, raising the public profile of the School, and continuing to promote it after he left. The Studio reported in 1905 that the School was still producing and selling Stabler designed pieces, notably jugs, ewers and screens.

In early 1900 he went to join Richard Llewellyn Rathbone at the metalwork department of the Liverpool School of Art, where he met his wife, Phoebe, the daughter of one of his pupils. He followed Rathbone to London in about 1902 and taught and became head of the Department of Arts and Crafts at the John Cass Technical Institute, London (1907-1937) and also at the Royal College of Art (1912-1926). Harold married Phoebe McCleish in 1906.

Phoebe McCleish came from an artistic family, her father had studied metalwork in Liverpool as a student of Harold's, and her sister was the textile and ceramic designer Minnie McCleish. She studied at Liverpool University and the Royal College of Arts. She was already a noted ceramic figure modeller when she married Harold. In 1912, they set up a business in their home, The Mall, Hammersmith. They were a very successful design partnership and worked together on many projects. Their leisure time was spent drawing at the zoo or studying older pieces in museums. Phoebe produced a series of colourful figure models, mainly of women and children, fired in their own kiln.

Whilst Harold's skill was, primarily, in working metals, including gold and silver; producing jewellery, sculptural presentation pieces, and cloisonné work, he was also a gifted modeller of figures, both human and animal, and of della Robbia plaques. Their pooled skills meant that they became one of the most prominent and important design partnerships of the early and mid twentieth century, but they also maintained their individual artistic applications. Among Harold's commissions were the Ascot Gold Cup and the gold plate for Government House, Delhi.

Phoebe appears to have dealt with the business aspects of their production. The moulds of figures that were produced by them were later sold to mass producers. For example, her design 'The Picardy Peasant' was licensed to Royal Doulton from 1911 to 1938 whilst being produced by Poole Pottery during part of this period. Again 'The Madonna of the Square' was licensed to Royal Doulton in 1913, and again to Poole Pottery in 1920, where it was named 'The Lavender Woman'. Her model, 'Shy', was simultaneously produced as a ceramic, and as a lead statue by the Bromsgrove Guild. She obtained similar agreements with the Ashtead and Royal Worcester potteries.

From 1906 they were regular exhibitors at the Royal Academy, the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society, the British Industries Fair, and similar exhibitions. As members of the Arts Workers Guild they attended the exhibition of British Arts & Crafts at the Louvre in 1914. Their work was widely reviewed in The Studio, The Studio Yearbook of Decorative Art and The Pottery and Glass Trade Review.

Harold did not lose his support for arts and crafts in Westmorland. In April 1909 he and Phoebe supported an exhibition and competition at Levens School. Phoebe displayed some small statuettes and a portrait bust of George Stabler, and Harold, described as 'head of art at the John Cass Institute', showed 'a fine little panel'. The Westmorland Gazette reported that the exhibition was primarily of woodwork by members of the Levens 'class'. George Dobson was the teacher and it is reasonable to suppose that arts and crafts lessons were taking place in the village, along the lines of Simpson's classes in Windermere. The exhibition was 'an object lesson ... of the great amount of talent and skill possessed by the people of an English village'. Other villagers' collections were also shown; Miss E Benson of Hyning exhibited her Sevres China, Mr Gudgeon showed a collection of 98 butterflies and moths, and Captain and Mrs Bagot showed an 18th century patchwork quilt. The exhibition raised 25 shillings for the Children's Penny Dinners.

In 1915, with Ambrose Heal (of Heal & Son), C H St John Hornby, (of W H Smith & Son), Ernest Jackson, W.B.Dalton (head of the Camberwell School of Arts) and others including Frank Pick (of London Transport), Harold co-founded the Design and Industries Association. The DIA put together a display of mass-produced objects at the 1916 Arts and Crafts Exhibition. It included stoneware jars by Crosse and Blackwell, Wedgwood pottery, and colourful machine-printed cottons by the Bolton firm of Charles Sixsmith set for export to Africa. Their aim was 'to improve the quality and fitness of goods on sale to the general public' and their slogan was 'fitness for use'. The DIA was based upon a German model, the Deutscher Werkbund, whose virtues it embraced, and was set up after an exhibition of the German work was held in London in 1915 under the auspices of the Board of Trade. Later, in 1919, the British Institute of Industrial Art, a government backed organisation was formed with Harold as a founder member. Involvement in these organisations undoubtedly added to Harold and Phoebe's network of influence, and, moreover, gave them access to the Victoria and Albert Museum where the BIIA's collection was held.

Additionally, Harold was a design consultant to many companies and public bodies. He was the first Designer for Industry [for 'Pottery, Enamelling &Silversmithing'], appointed by the Royal Society of Arts in 1936. [Royal Designer for Industry is a distinction established by the Royal Society of Arts to encourage a high standard of industrial design and enhance the status of designers. It is still awarded to people who have achieved "sustained excellence in aesthetic and efficient design for industry". Those who are British citizens take the letters RDI after their names, and everyone who holds the distinction is a Member of The Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry.]

In 1919 he was introduced to Charles Carter. Charles and his brother, Owen, had a very successful pottery business in Poole, but Owen, the designer, had recently died, and Harold was asked to recommend a new designer. His knowledge of who's who in the art world enabled him to introduce John Adams who joined Carter's firm. In 1921, Harold, John Adams and Cyril Carter, established a subsidiary company called "Carter, Stabler & Adams". Truda Adams, Phoebe Stabler and others, acted as additional designers. CSA became a highly successful business for the production of ornamental and domestic pottery and was later known as the 'Poole Pottery'. According to Phoebe's own account there had been many problems with the Hammersmith firings of her work, and this continued until the moulds were taken over by Carter at the Poole works. Harold and Phoebe designed architectural ceramics through the Carter Tile Works, most notably a series of War Memorials of which the largest is the Durban War Memorial for which Phoebe modelled the ceramic figures. Others include the Rugby School war memorial (1930).

In 1922, Frank Pick, commissioned Harold to design a rabbit mascot for the London General's country buses. His remit was expanded to develope large-scale architectural ceramics and Pick commissioned the production of tiles with moulded decoration for new underground stations for London Transport, including 18 heraldic designs representing the counties served by the Underground network. Examples of the tiles can be seen at St Paul's, Aldgate East, Bethnal Green, St. John's Wood and Swiss Cottage Underground stations.

Other commissions included an Art Deco Tile Panel for Rugby School, now in the Rugby Art Gallery Museum & Library; a range of octagonal-shaped, heat-resistant ovenware for the firm Chance [later Pyrex]; Old Hall stainless steel tea and coffee services for Firth Brown and many Della-Robbia plaques including one for the Mortuary Chapel at St. Mary Abbots Hospital.

Harold and Phoebe's work is now highly sought after and collectable. They are represented in most major art galleries and museums and in particular in the Victoria and Albert Museum and their place in design history is assured.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Jennifer Hawkins, The Poole Potteries, Barrie & Jenkins, 1980
Lucien Myers, Poole Pottery, The First 100 Years, Poole Pottery, 1973
Sara E Haslam, John Ruskin and the Lakeland Arts Revival, 1880-1920, Merton, 2004
Barrie & Wendy Armstrong, 'The Arts and Crafts Movement in the North West of England', Oblong, 2006

Collections of Harold Stabler's papers are deposited with the Glasgow School of Art Archive under reference GB/NNAF/P26927, the RIBA library under reference PeH/6/18, and the Victoria & Albert Museum under reference MA/1/S2994.

Harold Stabler
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