W B Yeats and Bedford Park
First Garden Suburb
Irish lawyer-turned-painter John Butler Yeats’s 1879 decision to move his family to Bedford Park — a move key to WBY’s development as poet and dramatist — combined a desire to find a more aesthetically-pleasing way of life than their current inner-London world of railways, traffic & steep Victorian houses, with a shrewd career move: with the new District Railway (Bedford Park is by Turnham Green station) they could live pleasantly near the river in semi-rural Chiswick, while remaining within easy reach of his potential West-End and Westminster portrait-painting clients.
More significantly, in moving to a suburb designed by Jonathan Carr, (a Dublin-born businessman from an artistic family), he would find himself in the company of many of Carr’s gallery-owning brother’s painters, along with writers, publishers, actors, set-designers, and social and political thinkers.
He would inevitably enjoy a high-level of social contact with fellow residents as the community had been created with artists and aesthetes in mind: architect-designed Queen-Anne-style houses; winding tree-lined avenues; a sense of separateness from London’s bustle; and uniquee attention to work-life balance incorporating, in the original plan, inn (named after Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales tavern), stores block, church, community centre (The Bedford Park Club, where residents gathered for parties, pageants and political discourse), tennis courts, school of art, and even its own community newspaper!
The Bedford Park Society is a key source of information about the suburb’s history and works today both to preserve the character of the area and to maintain and improve its amenities in the interests of the local community.
Printing and Publishing
Chiswick and Bedford Park were central to poetry publishing with an emphasis on fine, small press publications including Withingham’s Chiswick Press who published Wm. Morris’s Chaucer and, later, the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, Morris’s own Kelmscott Press, the nearby Doves Press on Upper Mall, and in Bedford Park, the Webbs’ Caradoc Press, Lucien & Esther Pissarro’s Eragny Press which shared its font with Charles Shannon and Charles Rickett’s Vale Press, publisher of The Dial, and Elkin Matthews’s Bodley Head which published The Yellow Book.
Had I the Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half–light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Bedford Park People
First-garden-suburb residents included founder Jonathan Carr, architects Maurice B Adams and CFA Voysey, and the talented Yeats family: that’s — in addition to poet WBY and his John Butler Yeats, brother — and Ireland’s greatest 20c painter — Jack B., and sisters, Susan (Lily), embroiderer, who worked with Wm. Morris’s daughter May, and painter and educator Elizabeth (Lolly), the two sisters going on to found Cuala Industries and Dun Emer PressOther local notables included:
- John Todhunter, Irish poet/dramatist whose Bedford Park Club theatricals inspired WBY’s Irish National Theatre
- Ukrainian anarchist, and editor of Free Russia,Sergius Stepniak,
- Moncure Daniel Conway, Virginian abolitionist, follower of Transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau, and Walt Whitman’s London literary agent
- actor William Terriss
- Henrietta Paget and Henry Marriott Paget, painters with J Comyns Carr’s Grosvernor Gallery
- Henrietta Paget’s sister, Florence Farr, one of George Bernard Shaw’s leading ladies, she inspired and encouraged WBY
- RAM Stevenson, art critic, cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson
- leading playwright Arthur Wing Pinero who collaborated with Arthur Sullivan and Jonathan Carr’s brother J Comyns Carr
- Frederick York Powell, Oxford historian, expert on Stéphane Mallarmé and Icelandic folklore, encouraging WBY’s interest in both symbolist poetry and Irish folklore
- Elkin Matthews, publisher of The Yellow Book, also published the work of WBY’s group, The Rhymers’ Club and went on to found The Bodley Head
and painters including the Pagets, above, Lucien Pissarro, E Blair Leighton and TM Rooke who worked with Edward Burne-Jones and John Ruskin.
Also nearby… Wm Morris whose theories on art and crafts were central to Bedford Park’s existence and in whose creative industries WBY’s sister Lily worked and poet/journalist WE Henley whose soirées WBY attended. Frequent visitors included Robert Louis Stevenson, poet and illustartor Edwin Ellis who collaborated with WBY on the works of William Blake, author GK Chesterton (who married Bedford Park resident Frances Blogg and whose novel The Man Who Was Thursday is set in Bedford Park), WBY’s great unrequited love, Maud Gonne, painter Camille Pissarro, Fenian John O’Leary, members of London’s Irish Literary Society, and many, many more from the world of arts and letters.