Lewes Famous Face – Eve Garnett

Children’s books are often quietly powerful. The stories we read or have read to us when we are young can have an immeasurable impact on how we see the world and understand our place within it, which is why it’s so important for children’s books to reflect all children, not just a small minority. One author who understood this was the Carnegie Medal winning Eve Garnett.

 

Eve Garnett was born in Worcestershire on 9th January 1900. She studied art at Chelsea and the Royal Academy and won prizes for her artwork as a student. In 1927 she was asked to illustrate a book called The London Child, a study of working-class life written by suffragette Evelyn Sharp. Born as she was into a middle class family, Garnett was horrified by the living conditions of the London working class, and, inspired by her experiences and observations, she wrote and illustrated The Family From One End Street, a children’s book about a working class family living in the fictional Sussex town of Otwell-on-the-Ouse. Lewes, where Garnett had now moved to, provided inspiration for the setting of Otwell.

 

The book was a hard sell. Most children’s literature at the time featured middle class children doing middle class things, but the events of The Family From One End Street are often about financial matters, and even though the titular family, the Ruggles, are a happy one, their working class is a key feature that runs throughout the whole book. Mr Ruggles is a dustman, Mrs Ruggles takes in laundry, and with their seven children, their life is not always easy but it is boisterous and warm. Many publishers doubted that the book would be suitable for younger readers, but it was eventually published in 1937 by Frederick Muller. It won the Carnegie Medal in 1938, and since then it has never gone out of print and is now hailed as a ground-breaking classic.

 

Garnett followed up with two sequels: The Further Adventures of the Family from One End Street in 1956, and Holiday at Dew Drop Inn in 1962. In addition to her writing and illustrating, Garnett was a keen traveller, and in 1968 she published To Greenland’s Icy Mountains: The Story of Hans Egede, Explorer, Coloniser, Missionary, a biography of Hans Egede, an eighteenth century Dano-Norwegian Lutheran missionary who travelled to spread Christianity in Greenland.

 

Eve Garnett never married. She lived for many years in Lewes, and died in a nursing home there on 5th April 1991.

by Alice Smales

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