Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Janette Grossmann’s ‘Tonbridge’ Desk

Local Treasures -  Janette Grossmann’s ‘Tonbridge’ Desk              22 October 2013
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Interviewees: Ann Hardy
Broadcast Notes Miss Janette Grossmann was the Headmistress at Maitland Girls High School for 24 years (1890 – 1913). In the collection at Grossman House is a beautiful timber portable writing desk, also known as a ‘Tonbridge desk’. Tonbridge is a town in Great Britain, famous for its creative woodworkers and particular style of wooden products, known as Tunbridge ware. Tunbridge ware were wooden items manufactured at Tunbridge Wells near Tonbridge. Many of the woodworkers lived at the town of Tonbridge, however set up businesses near Tunbridge Wells.  The wells were located at the riverfront, ideal for the woodworkers selling their wares. The style of wooden goods (Tunbridge ware) became very popular in the nineteenth century.  The market for Tunbridge Ware grew as navigation increased nationally and internationally.  Tunbridge Ware were mostly small items made from wood, often having inlaid wood and other decorative features. Originally items were of whitewood with printed designs showing local scenes, a sort of souvenir that visitors could purchase.  Another more common style was a design formed from gluing small sticks to form a mosaic, it is this style that typifies Tunbridge Ware. The pieces produced were an exquisite example of fine carpentry.
In 1890 before coming to Maitland her students from Waverley West Secondary School gave her the lovely gift, of a beautiful decorative desk.  It was probably purchased in Sydney by the girls’, however its creator and place of production is unknown. Unfortunately it does not have a makers mark. The inscription on the small plaque on the top of the desk says  
Miss Grossman was obviously very well liked and appreciated at her former school in Sydney where she had been only for a relatively short time. Previously to this she had graduated ‘with Honors’ from teaching college in New Zealand, working in Christchurch later at Sydney Girls’ High before her appointment as Principal at Maitland West Girls’ High in 1890. The portability of Miss Grossman’s desk would be ideal in her role as school Principle, taking stationary with her from place to place.   The desk is about 25cm x 50cm and has intricate wooden inlay on the lid and front of desk.  A centerpiece on the lid is a piece of shell. It has an intricate design of inlay. The desk is most likely made from English walnut.
Eventually in 1913 she was promoted to founding Headmistress of the new North Sydney Girls High School. 
The school community at Maitland must have really liked Miss Grossman because when she left in 1914 there was quite a fuss. The Maitland Weekly Mercury reported the following on Saturday the 21st February 1914.
The, pretty grounds of the Girls' High School looked especially attractive on Saturday night, illuminated as they were and bright with flags on the occasion of the farewell to Miss Grossmann late headmistress of the West 'Maitland Girls'…. Mrs. Lindsay then presented Miss Grossman with a very beautiful pendant of original design of tourmalines and pearls, and an autograph book with the names of the girls, and also to Mrs. Grossmann a handsome bag. Miss Grossmann, with much feeling, thanked the friends for their words and gifts to herself and mother. While she, disclaimed being the originator of the ‘Old Girls' Union, yet she had felt that this union had grown to be both a blessing to all who had taken part, and to many in the town, and she hoped that Miss Campbell would be able to lend her influence to strengthening the good work.  Miss Grossman regretted leaving dear old Maitland, and said she had spent very many happy years in her work here. Miss Ewing played 'For she's a jolly Good Fellow,' and all joined in the singing.
Later after her death in 1924 the girls’ school at Maitland was renamed Grossmann House in her honour in 1935. It is not known when the desk came into the collection of Grossman House, it likely went the Sydney with Miss Grossman after she left, and donated to the house sometime after her death.

It will be on show at Grossmann House 2-3 November 2013, 10am-3pm



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