The art of flower arranging is both enjoyable and creative and possibly even therapeutic, but it is an ‘art ‘and like all disciplines it requires knowledge, skill and technique and is definitely not as easy as one would imagine. We are privileged, to have a band of talented volunteers who make up the Cathedral Flower Guild. They regularly transform the Cathedral’s pews, aisles, memorials and altars with their beautiful floral displays. Their work has given both joy and solace to congregations and visitors at the Cathedral for 93 years. I caught up with the Head of the Flower Guild, Ann Meardon, who kindly elaborated on the tradition and history of flower arranging at the Cathedral.
‘When you enter the Nave through the South West door, you will notice the large pedestal of flowers by the Font (once your eyes have moved away from the awesome architecture of course). You may be surprised to know that flowers have been displayed in the Cathedral for most of the last century and may well go back even further. The earliest record appears in 1919 when the Women’s Guild came into being for those ladies who gave help as Flower Arrangers, Guides, Sewing Ladies, Embroiderers, and Cleaners. To manage it, a committee of clergy wives was formed and Dean Henry Wace became President.
Unfortunately, no photos of the flowers can be found earlier than 1940. This was of course, a time of great austerity when cut flowers were not easily obtainable and arrangers made the best use of what was available in the hedgerows, gardens and allotments. The arrangements were simple, minimalist and quite unusual to our eyes. Here is a photograph taken in the 1940s of a design using branches from Araucaria Aracana, the Monkey Puzzle tree. Sometimes, even dried vegetables and rhubarb leaves were used to fill an arrangement.
During World War II, despite the possibility of air-raids, Services continued in the Cathedral and the Flower Ladies carried on as best they could. This photograph shows flowers placed in the South East transept for the funeral of Archbishop Lang in 1942. Note the absence of stained glass in the window, removed for safekeeping during the war.
From 1952 – 1966, an arrangement of “Flower Ladies” emerged when Mrs Dorothy Mowll took charge, bringing both artistic and practical gifts to flower arranging. The influence of Constance Spry of London, who was responsible for arranging flowers for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey, was considerable and a new more flowing style of arranging evolved, mostly due to her influence. When Mrs Mowll retired she was succeeded by Mrs Nancy Clifford who is still remembered by recent members not least because she forbade the use of oasis during her 26 years in office.
It was during this time the Cathedral pioneered the development of an item of flower arranging equipment which became universally known as “the Canterbury”. It was made from old metal pipes welded together by the Works department and sat in a deep bowl of water, covered with chicken wire, into which the flowers were placed. These medieaval looking instruments were made in several sizes and thankfully, have long been consigned to deep storage. The “Canterbury” has since been superseded by blocks of oasis now favoured by flower arrangers everywhere.
In 1987 it was agreed the term “Women’s Guild” was somewhat outdated and sexist and the title changed to “The Guild”. The Guild was re-structured in 2002 and each specialist group now flourishes independently.’
In the next edition of the E-bulletin, Ann will bring the story of the Flower Guild right up to date, and elaborate on the work that the Guild do and how they go about creating the work that they display.
If you would like to see more old photographs, there will be a display of the history of the Guild at the Cathedral Open Evening on 9th October.