I finally did something this month that I had been wanting to do for quite some time, I joined the Women’s Institute.
It’s a new branch in Forest Hill, which I really like as that means we are all new to the WI. So in honour of joining I thought I would do a post about flower arranging!!
It actually goes a bit deeper than that, I was having a sort through all my vintage tea towels & came across three Ulster linen tea towels with flower arrangement ideas on them – perfect I thought, that would work for my blog.
I noticed that the tea towels are by Julia Clements, I did not know this name so off to google I went & quite interesting & apt it was too.
Born Gladys Agnes Clements on 10th April 1906, her father died when she was just 10 years old, leaving her mother with 7 children to bring up alone. Gladys had always wanted to travel but being the oldest child this was deterred, her mother did allow her to travel to Belgium, where she attended Zwicker College & learnt French. After returning to the UK & having various jobs, she took up freelance writing.
Durning the Second World War she worked for the Red Cross Agricultural Fund & unfortunately gave birth to a still born child & her marriage broke down. Once the war was over she joined the magazine “My Garden” & was asked to go to New York to give a lecture to garden club presidents.
“There seemed no aim for my life. I had no money and no coupons, clothes were still rationed. So I made myself a blouse from a pair of torn net curtains still hanging up at one of my windows that had been blasted by a bomb.”
”After my lecture I was deluged with requests to talk to conferences and clubs and ended up staying for several months and speaking in 22 States.”
On her return to Britain she was asked to speak to the Kent Area Women’s Institute about her trip to the United States
“I was appalled by their dispirited, grey faces and shabbiness. We had won the war. These brave women had faced and survived real hardship. The speaker before me, was explaining how to get chicken feed to keep hens — my talk seemed totally irrelevant. It was then I gave my first flower demonstration. I seized the bowl of flowers on the table, separated the flowers and tried to inspire the women by showing them how we can all be artists, we can all enjoy colour, scent and beauty and be creative with the one thing that was there and was free for us all — flowers. After the talk I was mobbed with umpteen requests to talk to their women’s groups.”
In the 1950s Julia Clements was working with television presenter Katie Boyle in a show called “How To Be a Good Hostess”. Julia Clements demonstrated flower arrangements, at the end of each presentation, she encouraged the formation of a local flower club.
Flower arranging clubs sprang up across the country, and in 1959 they were affiliated under the umbrella organisation NAFAS (National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies).
She was a flower arrangement judge both for the NAFAS & the RHS. She had three roses named after her: the Julia Clements, Lady Seton (that can be since on one of the tea towels above) & Julia’s Rose.
She married Sir Alexander Hay Seton, 10th Baronet of Abercorn in 1962, thus becoming Lady Seton, although once again she was hit with tragedy when he died the following year, they had no children.
”The only thing to make sense in my life then was the conviction that I could help women to find ease and happiness by unlocking their creative talents and expressing themselves using flowers.”
Julia Clements was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour by the Royal Horticultural Society, their highest award, and in 1989 she was presented with the O.B.E. by the Queen. She celebrated her 100th birthday in 2006 & remained active in floral art and horticulture until the end of her life.
From humble beginnings she achieved great things
Lady Seton (Julia Clements) 10th April 1906 – 1st Nov 2010