Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft

Well, I’m pleased to report that I did manage to make the trip to Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, although not without getting lost near the M25 at Leatherhead. What a vile thing it is (the M25, not Leatherhead) but, sad to say, it’s very useful for getting round in the South East. Ditchling is a little village on the edge of the South Downs, about 8 miles outside Brighton. If any of you are familiar with Sussex you’ll know that, despite being so close to London and so heavily populated like almost everywhere in the South East, it remains gorgeously, sumptuously, beautiful. Ditchling, the village, is a little gem, full of delightful traditional English cottages, with hollyhocks and other cottage garden flowers adorning their sweet little gardens. I suspect, however, that the museum may not be an altogether good development for the village. The museum website points out that it has no parking, and suggests using the (free) village hall car park. When I got there at around 10.30 in the morning, the village hall car park was full. The village has charming but narrow lanes and parking is obviously a problem. This will presumably get to be an even bigger problem if the museum becomes more popular.

The museum is a lovely building comprising an extensive modern addition to an existing traditional building. As you can see in the photo below, it’s a modern interpretation of a traditional barn (at least I think that’s what it is).Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft

The day I visited was extremely hot, by English standards, but the building is cool and very pleasant inside. The collection on display is quite small, but that’s sometimes preferable to a massive and overwhelming show. I spent time going round it slowly, then went outside to sit in the shade, then back in for a second look. Various artists and craftspeople lived in and around Ditchling during the 20th century and the collection is of their work. The most famous artist, by far, associated with Ditchling is Eric Gill. Here’s a lovely piece of his work that’s on display:Eric Gill

Anyone who’s read the warts-and-all biography of Gill by Fiona MacCarthy will know that he was a decidedly odd and somewhat unsavoury character. However, the man was multi-talented and his best work is remarkable. But many less well-known artists are represented in the museum. I was especially struck by the work of Ethel Mairet who used natural dyes in her workshop in Ditchling. In 1915 she published a book: ‘Natural Dyes: Being a Book of Recipes and Other Information Useful to the Dyer’. This is, amazingly, still in print. One of the displays at the museum claims the book is available on Kindle but I can’t find it, so I’ve ordered a print copy. If it’s useful, I’ll let you know in a future post.

The other set of exhibits that really resonated with me was the painting by Louis Ginnett of his daughter as a little girl, and, most of all, the letters to that same daughter which he wrote from the front during the First World War. One or two of these are exhibited under glass, but in the museum’s library there’s a set of photocopies of the full set of letters. They are heart-rending. Fortunately, Ginnett survived the experience and went home to his family at the end of the war. Here’s the painting:Louis Ginnett

So, in summary, well worth a visit if you’re visiting Sussex. The staff are pleasant and helpful, there’s a high-quality shop although the range of objects for sale is quite small, and I had a really excellent cup of tea. The cakes looked good, but I don’t eat cake so can’t review that aspect.