A Secret Admirer (1906)

A Secret Admirer (1906) a series of Eleven Pencil and Ink drawings on paper.  [800 x 540 mm] drawings; [820 X 120 mm] Container.

Brantwood, Lake Coniston, Cumbria. 26th May 1906

My dearest friends Emily & Alice,

I hope that this letter finds you both well?  I am myself in fine spirits staying here in the Lake District.  The weather at the moment is very fine and I stomp about the country with much vigour. I couldn’t be happier staying in this breathtaking country right here in Brantwood.  The legacy of John Ruskin permeates every hue and shade that the landscape has to offer.  My fortune means that I am residing at the invitation of my old school friend Arthur Severn, who married Joan — Ruskin’s cousin. I’m sorry to have taken so long to respond to your last missive, I have been traveling a great deal.  Thank you sincerely for your kind words about the quality of the maps that I sent you.  And please don’t hesitate to make of them what you will and add your own stamp to them.  I was more than happy to furnish them to such an interested party.  I hope to one day see any additions that you have made, and I hope the family might add the Lake District to its travels.  I’m quite sure I could find you some very comfortable and pleasing accommodations.  Thank you as well, for the photograph of us all at the last Church gathering, a fine example and a lovely commemoration.  Might I ask you for some additional  photographs, a portrait of you perhaps and Miss Alice? Please give my deepest regards to your father, I do hope his health has improved since last I saw him.  Your most humble servant, Mr Cornelius Pike.

Cornelius Pike (1868-1933) an amateur cartographer, first met Bertha Emma Bryant and Alice Cockin at a Sunday school teacher’s conference in Matlock in 1904. 

A Secret Admirer—created during a residency at Haden Hill House Museum in 2016—was inspired by the diaries of Bertha Emma Bryant. 

Containing little in the way of personal information, thoughts or feelings, the pages of Bryant’s diaries do not elucidate any significant insight into her inner life, her dedication to the practice of journaling is sporadic and inconsistent. We only get a glimpse into her world, during the regular entries depicting the family’s frequent holiday excursions. During several annual trips —often for four or five weeks at a time—the dairies between 1895-1901, provide a series of day-to-day itineraries, details that reveal a sense of family life and chart the exploration of the width and breadth of England.

Bryant’s diaries on first reading may seem mundane or commonplace, not appearing to reveal anything of any great consequence. However, in understanding her background and placing them in context, they demonstrate one of the most significant aspects of becoming adopted by George Haden Best—the opportunity to travel. Coming from a middle working-class background, someone of her social position, may have most likely been a seamstress or teacher. We might imagine some occasional travel throughout her life, but the latitude for extended excursions would almost certainly only resulted if she had ‘married well’. Bryant never married. Evaluated in this context, Bryant’s diaries—whilst not overly descriptive or insightful to her state of mind—do document this significant change in circumstances.  

A Secret Admirer brings Byrant’s diaries to life, encapsulating simple pleasures like mushroom picking or caterpillar hunting, or hours of travel—by train, carriage and foot—in search of scenic landscapes or historical monuments. The eleven maps created by a fictitious Cornelius Pike and annotated by Bryant—serve to illustrate the scope of the family’s travels and extensiveness of their explorations.

A Secret Admirer provided the focal point for a permanent installation An Artistic Revelation: a creative demonstration that offers us a glimpse into the story of Alice Cockin and Bertha Emma Bryant, two working-class girls previously just a footnote in the house’s history, adopted into a life of privilege and occupying their time with painting, photography and travel. 

A Secret Admirer was shared with online audiences as a new archival discovery: an artefact found during renovations at the museum, unearthed in a hidden attic cupboard in the summer of 2016. On permanent exhibition, at Haden Hill House Museum, West Midlands.