Sunday, July 5, 2009


Walking round Sainsbury's the other day, looking through the vegetarian dishes, Linda McCartney's name jumped out at me, and my mind idly thought funny though dead she is still advertised. A talk about Laura Ashley had been on the radio that morning, another female entrepeneur also dying at a comparatively early age, and there was Anita Roddick, founder of the Body shop again of the same era succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver bought on by hepatitis.
Three women who had made successful businesses, all starting from an ethical stance that had grown out of the 60s.
So what is it, this self sufficency combined with a need to reform the world. Linda McCartney had a moment of truth when eating lamb and resolved not to 'eat anything with a face' and perhaps more famously if 'slaughter houses had glass walls the whole world would be vegetarian'. She was a strong supporter of animal rights, and the fact that she was married to a very rich husband, did not stop her from cooking the vegetarian meals for her four children, at heart her need to nurture her family and care for animals was strong.
The same can also be applied to Laura Ashley, mother also to four children, she was happy to milk a goat and grow vegetables in her cottage. So how did she change, the story goes that she was looking for those pretty small Victorian prints for patchwork quilts, and not finding any, set about producing them on her kitchen table. There is also another story, because of her pregnancies she wanted a 'decent' nightie, and that is why she designed the demure long calico Victorian nightdress that became so fashionable. Those were the days of 'baby doll' nighties which were hardly conducive to bending down, let alone to being pregnant. Though I remember one of my friends being pregnant with a very short mini dress at my wedding...
And what of Anita Roddick, her soaps, shampoos and make-up were produced 'without any testing on animals', she campaigned for fair trade for the natural oils and herbs that were used in her products travelling far and wide to understand the situation of people who produced these goods.
Bath was one of the first places to have a Laura Ashley shop, and as I made quilts, I would love to browse the boxes of quilting materials, her materials moved on of course, the small Victorian prints gave way to the more luscious chintzes and 'William Morris' design, and the prices went up accordingly. But it is interesting to note that today tucked away in one of the back streets in Bath is a quilt shop, and if you wander into the back room of the shop, you will see rows of neatly stacked materials, the colours shading down into the next colour, which should set the heart of any quilter off. One of my sister-in-laws at the time was a very good quilter, a lecturer in Hong Kong, she had one of those big American quilting frames to produce quilts for the family. And of course Bath has the American Museum with an enormous collection of American quilts.
Anita Roddick also had a connection with Bath she went to Newton Park (now Bath Spa University) to take a course in teaching, something that I did as well at the same college, though at a different time, and like me she never went on to become a teacher. Her Body Shop in Bath was also a fascinating place to wander around.
So all these women, like myself had an early learning curve that seemed to have come out of the 'new age' of the 60s, self sufficiency was the buzz-word, and they translated their 'nurturing' and housekeeping habits to suit the time and made profitable businesses out of them with the help of their husbands of course.
Another female entrepeneur springs to mind for she also has a shop in Bath, and that is Jocasta Innes, now more famous for her 'Paint Magic' paints, and all that stencilling that went onto our plain walls. Somewhere in my books I also have something she wrote early on in her career the 'Paupers' guides to a frugal way of living, as of course Susan Hills book 'Hovel in the Hills', which gave recipes on how to live cheaply.
Serendipity placed them at a time when the world was changing and they went on to make their fortunes out of the issues of that time. But the 'green' movement that had its start here, also took a long time to get through to the general public and even today people go their own sweet way not caring for the environment, though the warnings get more and more ominous.


  1. You and I are a similar vintage! By 1970 I was truly set into the person I am now, but it needed a little shaking down over the years. Self-sufficient not exactly, but definitely self-reliant and practical.

    Hovel in the Hills was Elizabeth West and I think Susan Hill's most wonderful book was the Magic Apple Tree (wonderful reading when I am poorly).

    A lovely nostalgic post which evoked such memories for me . . .

  2. Hi Jennie,
    I used to get the Magic Apple Tree book out of the library, don't own a copy still.. It was a comfort book, and still make the apple cake she gave in it sometimes.
    Think there is a book to be written about Laura Ashley's life soon which should be interesting. Anita Roddick wrote articles for Resurgence, another esoteric magazine that had its roots in this time.
    Also this morning on the radio they were down at Stoneleigh Royal Show in Warks, (closing down) the place where you could get all your chickens and self-sufficiency stuff. Katie Thear's books? ;)