Thursday, 8 July 2010


Arthur Munby who lived from 1828 to 1910 was a man of many parts: diarist, civil servant, barrister, poet, artist and photographer. Some people thought he was also Jack the Ripper but he wasn't. He is now remembered chiefly for his diaries, his sketches, his photographs and his clandestine marriage to Hannah Cullwork, a working class woman who was also for many years his servant.

He was obsessed with working class women and he sketched and photographed them wherever he found them but on 19th August 1861 he was in Lympstone, sitting on the shingle and making sketches of the women who, at low tide, collected mussels on the Estuary. There are two of his Lympstone sketches among his papers at Trinity College Cambridge. The sketches are in black ink and the first of them is a full length figure of a woman holding her basket over her right arm and her rake in her left hand. She is wearing a muffler around her head and neck and a longsleeved jersey , patched trousers and boots. She could be one of the Lympstone mussel gatherers Eden Phillpotts describes sixty years later.

The second sketch shows a woman stooping forward. Her bare feet are in the mud and her hands are on the ground collecting mussels. She wears a bonnet and shawl and her skirt is tucked up above the knee.

Munby was thirty three when he came to the Estuary. He was looking to find working women, the rougher, dirtier and more ragged the better. The Estuary shellfish gatherers working in the Lympstone mud would not have disappointed him.

1 comment:

  1. ... although he was disappointed when he went back a couple of decades later:

    "13 September, 1884. Lympstone, on the Exe. Talk there with sailors & women, who say no women now go out to get bait, wading and wearing trousers, as I saw them do in 1860: only one or two of the older women still do so."