Many of you I know have seen this photograph of the gnome peering over the balcony at Number 78 and wondered about it. A conversation with my sister when she was over from America in the autumn reminded me that there were numerous gnomes in the garden of New Ways although I could only clearly remember one by the pond.
I guess that I was judged too old to play the game of ‘Hunt the Gnomes’ that Uncle Wynne would play with her when my sister was staying there. Around a dozen gnomes were hidden amongst the plants and he would take her round the garden to find them. Like the tricky folk they are reputed to be, they no doubt skipped to new hiding places at night. They would have appealed to his zany sense of humour.
These were almost certainly all genuine German pottery gnomes that he had brought back from his many trips to Germany on business and visiting Trade Fairs. Some were painted in familiar bright gnome colours and some were plain stone coloured. The one in the photograph was perhaps the first of the family.
The first garden gnomes were made in Gräfenroda, a town known for its ceramics in Thuringia, Germany in the mid-1800s. August Heissner and Phillip Griebel both made terracotta animals as decorations, and produced gnomes based on local myths as a way for people to enjoy the stories of the gnomes’ willingness to help in the garden at night. The garden gnome quickly spread across Germany and into France and England, and wherever gardening was a serious hobby. Gnome manufacture spread across Germany with numerous other large and small manufacturers coming into and out of the business, each one having its own particular style of design. World War II was hard on the industry and most producers gave up then. Griebel’s descendants still make them and are the last of the German producers.
Garden gnomes were first introduced to the United Kingdom in 1847 by Sir Charles Isham, when he brought 21 terracotta figures back from a trip to Germany and placed them as ornaments in the gardens of his home, Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire. Only one of the original batch of gnomes survives: Lampy, as he is known, is on display at Lamport Hall, and is insured for one million pounds. I wonder what the Bassett-Lowke gnome would be worth if we still had it?