North Devon in 100 Objects 98

98. Phyllis White’s Screen

This beautiful silk screen depicts Barnstaple Fair, which still upholds many of its traditions, including the ceremonial opening by the Mayor.

This screen was made in the 1930s by Phyllis White.  It is made up of three panels set in a wooden frame with an appliqued and embroidered silk design showing the Pleasure Fair in the centre, but also the Horse Fair (on the left) and the Cattle Fair (on the right).  Trading in livestock, and hiring agricultural labourers, were the original function of mediaeval fairs, and the Horse Fair continued on the Thursday of Fair Week until the 1940s.

Phyllis was born in Kent on 9th February 1907. Although the family seem to have had links with Portugal and lived in Dartford, Kent, they spent many happy holidays at Sentry Cottage in Bratton Fleming. As a child and young woman Phyllis enjoyed visiting Barnstaple Fair, then on the Strand and the area where the Civic Centre now stands.

In the 1920s Phyllis studied at the Royal College of Art where she was taught by Edward Johnstone the designer of the typeface for the London Underground.   She became a teacher and taught at Sherborne Girls’ School from 1937 to 1963, where she shared her love for architecture and calligraphy and taught her students how to weave and to dye wool with cochineal beetle shells. 

The silk screen, depicting her happy childhood memories, stayed with Phyllis throughout the years, even to the nursing home where she died in 2016.  Both she and her parents were buried in Bratton Fleming.

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