garden ornament

In 19th century England there arose an unusual and short-lived fad for having an ornamental hermit in one’s garden. Edith Sitwell wrote about them in her book English Eccentrics and Eccentricities.

Edith Sitwell found here

One lived in the village of Newton Burgsland, near Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire, in the 1850s and early 1860s.

He was his own master, and lived comfortably, enjoyed a good dinner, a glass of beer, and a pipe; yet, in spite of these blots on his character as a hermit, he claimed that he was still entitled to the name, and it must be said that he conformed to the hermit ideal in sporting a venerable appearance, and a long white beard.

image found here (click to enlarge)

The unnamed hermit’s chief eccentricity was to own twenty hats and twelve suits to which he assigned emblems, sayings, and mottoes, so that wearing them about the village he would display statements such as “Without money, without friends, without credit” or “Blow the flames of freedom with God’s word of truth.” These he combined with even pithier sayings on colored ribbons, such as “Good allowance,” and “Well clothed.” The man’s garden was likewise a maze of extensive signage.

image found here (click to enlarge)

The passage leading into the garden was “The Three Seats of Self-Inquiry”, each inscribed with one of these questions: “Am I Vile?” “Am I a Hypocrite?” “Am I a Christian?”

“The Kitchen Walk” contained representation of culinary utensils with mottoes such as “Venison Pasty” and “Round of Beef”; whilst “The Odd Fellows Square” sported “The Henpecked Husband put on Water Gruel

Amiable and charitable, there was but one person whom he disliked. In the centre of his garden there was an odd desk which served as a pulpit from which the hermit addressed his listeners on such subjects as the Pope whom he considered to be the Antichrist. He went as far as to erect a mock gallows adorned by an image of the Pope, dressed in queer garb and dangling amongst books advocating Popery. 

image from Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist found here

Another eccentric Sitwell described was Matthew Robinson (1712-1800), who became Lord Rokeby. His particular eccentricity was to be submerged in a bath or spa as many hours as possible, even when receiving guests. Lord Rokeby shared with ornamental hermits of convention a long beard and long hair but these were not the only parts of his nature that ran wild. He was often seen leaping through pastures in pursuit of some fleeting female form. In his youth, he was a great admirer of the fair sex and even in old age, was still attracted to female beauty. 

image found somewhere on this site

Published in: on August 5, 2011 at 8:09 am  Comments (37)  
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  1. I’m glad that the hermit had at least one rant-worthy subject. I was getting worried that he wasn’t much of an eccentric at all!

  2. If you have room in your garden, I have all the required qualifications to be your ornamental hermit. I would be a devout follower of the Holy Corset.

    • Ha ha ha! Better send a resume, Archie!

      • Is that last picture from your resume,Archie?

      • Lord, I hope not

  3. i don’t have a large garden… just some window boxes attached to the rail of my patio. perhaps i’ll need a very small one…

    • I think a little devil would suit your needs daisyfae

  4. I suppose that’s where garden gnomes come in…

  5. I have crabs at the bottom of my garden, I wonder if they’re hermits?

  6. The hermit’s way of life sounds tempting, but I look a bit manky wearing a beard.

  7. Doesn’t sound like a bad gig.
    Almost as good as getting paid to be the town drunk so the nobles could note your sad state to their children–a Roman custom that apparently did not save the nobility from any such excess.

    Oh, and thanks for the strange cosmos link. I can probably kill a whole day at the office with that. 😉

    • It’s a vortex isn’t it?

  8. Every town needs a fellow of this sort.

    • Sydney has got hundreds

  9. He seemed rather decadent and outgoing for a hermit which, as you say, rather blot his copybook.

  10. *bonk bonk bonk*
    Hey, will someone please let me out of this giant can already?!

  11. I don’t have any ornaments in my garden. Bummer. Let’s see, if I were going to put some out there, what would they say? Oh wait, I know, my favorite saying, “Everyone’s weird, it’s just a matter of how much.” Yeah, I like that one.

  12. hmmm. I would have thought Man in a Can would have come in a different shape.

  13. Somehow, the entire Debt Ceiling debacle, the diving Dow, and my president’s trashed future just flew right out of my head.

    It’s an odd service you do here, but powerful.

  14. it’s like having an elaborate hobby but Robinson sounds a crazy

  15. I had some plastic dinosaurs in ‘my garden’ but it seems they’ve wandered off.

    • Sprouted wings perhaps?

  16. I was reading a Bill Bryson book recently and it mentioned garden hermits, although just about one who had to break his contract because he couldn’t take the life of a hermit. I like the eccentric one better!

    • That was such an enjoyable book!

  17. Oh I have always loved this English quaintness! I can’t wait to see who The King instals in our garden.

    • I have a farting gnome on my balcony – – –

    • I’m using the Queen’s IPad here, but I assure you my loyal subjects that it is me. Her majesty has perhaps failed to realize that I established myself at the bottom of our garden many years ago, I presume affairs of state have distracted her from my obvious absence.

      The King

      • It’s all that cooking she does. I notice you disestablish yourself when the aromas float down to the bottom of the garden

  18. “He was often seen leaping through pastures in pursuit of some fleeting female form.” Oh dear, I think I might qualify to be an ornamental hermit.

    • Send in your resume, Archie is first in line at the moment

  19. I’ve always wanted to be an ornamental garden hermit!

    • Your avatar indicates suitability Binky

  20. Never heard of such people – how utterly fascinating – was thinking it sounded like a fab way of life until I read the “general terms of the contract”

  21. “Man in a Can”, HA! That “Antichrist” film reminds me of why I don’t do art house cinema (shudder).

  22. Hey, I dropped here by coincidence while surfing trough the net, and I found here intersting, very original stuffs.

  23. The man in a can ad confused me for a second – I actually thought it was real because I couldn’t read what the paper says. Thanks for a long laugh!


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