PLUMLINES EXHIBITION - SATURDAY 19 NOVEMBER 2016, AT NATIONAL TRUST CROOME
Plum Lines is a co-produced community arts project, which culminated in an immersive exhibition created by professional artist Su Blackwell. Family memories of women in wartime Worcestershire (WWI) were collected through poetry workshops with Brenda Read-Brown (Poet Laurate of Gloucestershire) and Heather Wastie (Poet Laureate of Worcestershire). Aspects of Croome’s history, and that of the Coventry family, during the Great War link with the project: fruit-growing (particularly plums) and food production became vital to the country’s survival, and although the 9th
Earl’s jam factory at Pershore had failed prior to the war, the building was brought back into use as one of many pulping stations from which the local pulped fruit was taken to factories elsewhere to be made into jam – a vital food-source for the troops abroad, and on the home front at a time of increasing food shortages.
The 9th Earl, Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire, and his wife Blanche set an example for public support for charities and exemplified patriotism and duty. Their daughter-in-law, Viscountess Deerhurst, found her own role by involving herself with women’s causes such as agricultural work and the Land Army, and with Pershore Women’s Institute (formed in 1916). But, the lives of so many women in the county, coping with changing circumstances, enforced work, loss and bereavement, remain unrecorded, any memories of them fading with each new generation.
Plumlines takes its inspiration from the role that Viscountess Deerhurst and the 9th Earl of Coventry played in the development of the first WI in Pershore; on the 21 November 1916, the Earl and Viscountess mobilized 100 women to form the WI.
Plumlines opened on the 19 November 2016, 2 days before the centenary of this first meeting and will close on the 19 November 2017. At the opening event attended by over 400 people, Poet Laureate, Dame Carol Ann Duffy, read from her collection of poems, supported by John Sampson who contributed by playing a selection of period musical instruments. One of the many highlights of the day, was the first performance by the Oriel Singers of ‘A Song for Croome’, words written by poet, Brenda Read-Brown, put to music by Freya Ireland, an eighteen-year old musician from Cheltenham. The Oriel Singers (2005 Choir of the Year winners) under the Musical Directorship of Ben Sawyer gave a spine tingling performance. Freya’s work was made possible by a Croome legacy donation to support new talent, helping young artists like Freya get a first foot on the ladder of success.
Another delightful addition to the event was ‘Jamfest’, supported by The Festival of Humanities, created by Professor Maggie Andrews, Worcester University; some of her students demonstrated what life was like during those times to combat wartime food shortages. Visitors to the event were offered samples of scones made from mashed potato topped with Pershore plum jam. Other recipes reminded us of the scarcity of sugar and eggs, and the response to provide servicemen with the three thousand calories they needed daily, in the form of Pershore Plum Jam. The tin containers were re-used and turned into hand grenades by the servicemen.
During World War One food production had fallen dramatically. Agricultural labourers had been recruited into military service leaving farms devastated by the conflict, so the government encouraged food production in people’s back gardens. Women began to form voluntary organisations designed to identify opportunities as part of the war effort. The first Women’s Institute (WI) in Britain was set up in 1915, formed to encourage countrywomen to revitalise rural communities and become more involved in the production of food. During this time, they played an important part on the Home Front. Pershore Women’s Institute (WI) was the fourth Institute in the country to be formed and is celebrating 100 years. Members of the Federation of Women’s Institute, during the First World War put all their energy into producing as much food as possible, to help feed the war-torn country.
They listened to talks on vital subjects such as food production and food values. They grew vegetables, made preserves from fruit grown in their gardens and orchards. They shared recipes and exchanged cooking tips and they kept poultry and sent eggs to Military hospitals at home and abroad. Nationally 41 million eggs were distributed under a National Egg Collection scheme. They demonstrated the ability to ‘cope’.
Plumlines is an emotional experience, including the poetry of 188 people from Worcestershire whose female relative’s lives and sacrifices in WWI are featured on small paper sculptures in the shape of saplings that appear to grow through the floor from individual Pershore plum stones. A poem written by Brenda and Heather tells the story of Plumlines making connections between the many women featured and the Coventry family.
Report by Peggy Booth
Queenhill & District WI/ Hot Peppers WI