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An Anciente Mappe of Fairyland newly designed and set forth

  • Author: SLEIGH, Bernard
  • Publisher: W Griggs & Sons Ltd (Printers) - Sidgwick & Jackson (Publishers)
  • Date: c1917-18
  • Dimensions: 180 x 47.5 cms


The first edition of eccentric Birmingham artist & designer Bernard Sleigh’s panoramic vision of Fairyland, published in late 1917

About this piece:

An Anciente Mappe of Fairyland newly designed and set forth

Printed colour. The map comprising three contiguous printed panels joined together to form one large panoramic map. The vertical joins to the three panels newly reinforced on verso. Wide margins. Overall fine clean condition. With the rarely found accompanying descriptive Booklet (12.5 x 18 cms) entitled “A Guide to The Map of Fairyland, Designed and Written by Bernard Sleigh”, 16pp, 1 full page woodcut and two further in-text ills, all engraved by Sleigh.

The Spectator magazine of December 22nd 1917, in its Books of the Week section, Page 15, announced the publication of Bernard Sleigh’s latest Christmastide offering:

Mr. Bernard Sleigh has designed a very pretty and novel gift for the nursery in the shape of “An Anciente Mappe of Fairyland” (Sidgwick and Jackson, 15s. net). It is about five foot wide and mounted on linen with rollers, so that, if need be, it can be stowed away in a drawer. On this great expanse the artist has delineated in the manner of the mediaeval charts many of the wonders of Fairyland, its ports, its islands, Castle Warlock and the Weird Wood, the Forest of Lyonesse and the Garden of Proserpine, and the knights and nymphs, witches and dragons who inhabit those magic realms. Mr. Sleigh has provided a little guide to his charming map, which will interest and amuse children.”

The map proved immensely popular in Britain but it was only in 1919-20 when Ethel Sidgwick, wife of Frank Sidgwick of Sigwick & Jackson, the map’s publishers, sent a copy as a gift for the children’s room of the New York Public Library, that it captured the imagination of Americans, old and young alike. The map was spotted by a representative of the New York publisher E P Dutton on display at the New York Public Library, who immediately saw its attractions & potential, and bough the rights to market and sell the map in the United States, where it was initially offered in this same roller format, for a price of US$10 cloth, or for US$5 or US$6 for the basic paper edition.

The then head of the Children’s section of the NYPL, the pioneer educator, writer & children’s library advocate, Anne Caroll Moore [1871-1961], writing in one of her earliest memoirs, Roads to Childhood [G H Doran Company, NY, 1920], noted the impact of the arrival of Sleigh’s map in New York :

From England there has recently come as a gift from Ethel Sidgwick to the Children’s Room of the New York Public Library, an “Ancient Mappe of Fairy- land,” newly discovered and set forth by Bernard Sleigh. This unique map is in color, measuring five feet or more in length by about twenty inches. Children and grown people are completely fascinated by it. “Isn’t it great?” exclaimed a boy of twelve. “There’s Rockabye Baby square on the treetop, The Three Blind Mice, Humpty Dumpty sitting on that long wall, and down here are King Arthur’s Knights, the Sea King’s Palace, Dreamland Harbour,  and the Argonauts. There’s the Rainbow Bridge, Hansel and Gretel — everything and everybody you ever read about in Mother Goose, Fairy Tales, or Mythology.” We are showing this map on a long table covered with glass. It might, of course, be shown on the wall, although not quite so effectively. A map of Fairy land should prove of great interest to schools as well as to libraries.

By 19 December 1920, the New York Times’s Hildegarde Hawthorne could report the new Dutton-marketed Fairyland map amongst its review of Christmas Books for Youngest and Oldest :

Amongst the horde of fairy stories, some old, some new, most good and a few not so good, we must note, first of all, a map of Fairyland, most beautifully large and coloured, being at least two yards long by eighteen inches high with guide, such as all proper maps should have. Both the “Mappe” and the Guide are by Bernard Sleigh (Dutton). The thing is fascinating, and once securely tacked up on the wall, it will prove a constant source of fun and adventure with its winding little scarlet thread leading the voyager on to all manner of strange and odd places with names high in fairy lore and pictured most alluringly, with the inhabitants, such as mermaids and horned children, ogres, fairies and monsters, enchanted animals, princesses and knights and a hundred others, dwellers since the centuries began in the lands of enchantment.

Bernard Sleigh [1872-1954] is one of the most eccentric and quixotic of British artists and illustrators. Born in Birmingham, the son of a local coach maker, John Sleigh [1842-1886], on his father’s early death in March 1886, he left school to work as an apprentice for a German commercial wood-engraver & publisher in the City. His apprenticeship brought him into the circle of tutors and students of the newly established Birmingham Municipal School of Art, many of whom were followers of the influential medievalist and Arts & Craft pioneer, William Morris [1834-1896]. Foremost amongst these was wood engraver Arthur Gaskin [1862-1928], and in 1892 Sleigh left his commercial apprenticeship and became an assistant tutor in wood engraving at the Birmingham Central School of Art under Gaskin’s tutelage. His first commercial work was in preparing several of the one hundred woodblock engravings for a new edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, illustrated by Gaskin and finally published in November 1893. Sleigh became increasingly recognized as one of the leading wood engravers of the Birmingham School in the mid 1890’s. At this time, in about 1897, he also suffered a serious illness, due to a growth in his middle ear, which though repeatedly treated, became badly infected. Further medical treatment eventually led to the recommendation that his teeth be removed & stopped. Following the latter, he lapsed into a state of delirium & unconsciousness. With his life in the balance, he endured a specialist trepanning operation at the hands of a local brain surgeon. The result of this operation was successful though the recuperation process lengthy. The immediate impact however was particularly curious. For several days after the operation he saw everything in double vision, and even more curiously, he began to suffer vividly coloured visions, which came to him suddenly without warning, usually preceded by a “curious & very destructive” scent. The visions revealed strange “personifications” of an elusive array of people, whom he felt he knew and recognized but could never name. The visions always took place in a palette of vibrant red and green technicolor. During these episodes, his immediate surroundings would fade until the inner “visions” gradually passed, though there was no indication of them taking place on Sleigh’s outward features, demeanour or behaviour. Medical science could offer no explanation and from that point onwards Sleigh believed he was somehow “touched” – a “human Peter Pan” as he described himself in his own unpublished autobiography, somehow suspended between child and man, existing on a two quite different planes, one temporal, one more deeply & profoundly psychic. It was this latter plane that inspired his exploration of the land of fabled folk tale, fairy lore and mythology for which Sleigh is now perhaps best remembered in this remarkable cartographic compilation.

Yet Sleigh continued to develop his skills, as both as an illustrator, artist and specialist stained glass maker. Sleigh was also heavily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite artists, particularly Edward Burne-Jones [1833-1898], a fellow native of Birmingham. It is said that each year on August 28th, the anniversary of Burne-Jones’ birthday, Sleigh would leave a floral tribute below the latter’s painting, The Star of Bethlehem, which hung in the Birmingham City Art Gallery from the early 1890’s  onwards. From the late 1890’s Sleigh became a leading member of the Bromsgrove Guild, undertaking several commissions in local churches and municipal buildings. In December 1900 Sleigh married one of his young students, Stella Dorothea Phillp [1881-1956]. He was 28, she a young and naïve 19, though by the time of the April 1901 Census, living in their first marital home, at Acocks Green, Yardley, she is described as a 20 year old Art Teacher at the School of Art. She was married in a wedding dress of Sleigh’s own design, “with a high waist and wide wing sleeves. She might have stepped from one of the canvases by Rossetti or Ford Madox Brown which he so admired” (Barbara Sleigh : The Smell of Privet, p 23). The couple had two children, Brocas Linwood Sleigh [1902-1965], born in May 1902 and Barbara Grace de Reimer Sleigh [1906-1982], born in January 1906. Interestingly both would later become authors, each specialising in fantasy fiction.

It is interesting to note that the dedication at the front of Sleigh’s Guide to the Map of Fairyland is: to Brocas Linwood & Barbara Grace de Riemer and to all children young and old who are seeking passage through the hidden gates of Ivory and Pearl.

It is also interesting to note that Sleigh had in fact produced a hitherto virtually unknown prototype for this large panoramic map of Fairyland, some 8 years before the larger and more elaborately designed panorama first appeared in Christmas 1917.

In 1909, a much smaller  two-dimensional “Anciente Map of Faerie land” designed by Sleigh was published by the Whitwell Press in Plaistow “as a guide to alle Children, Olde and young, whose belief is in the pleasant Dreams of Faerieland” .

Though some authorities have suggested it is the 1917 Fairyland map, it appears to be this latter map which is described by Barbara Sleigh in her autobiographical memoir, The Smell of Privet, pp.51-52 :

Every day, after lunch, before he set off on his bicycle for the afternoon session at the Art School, he would read to the two of us. At first these stories were chosen for my brother, but I would sit on my father’s knee and listen to the flow of words with sleepy pleasure, whether I understood them or not…One wet holiday, my father drew a Map of Faeryland for us. On it were marked the sites of all our best-loved fairy-stories. There is Peter Pan’s House, and the palace of the Bell Dormante and the Bridge of Roc’s Eggs, and such succinct entries as “Here be bogles” and “Warlocks live here”. It has fascinated several generations of children.

[It seems unlikely that Barbara was describing the later 1917 map, because, if it had been drawn up & designed in that same year, Barbara Sleigh would, by then, have been a far more mature 11 year old girl. What is more, her father Bernard had in fact walked out of the family home in 1914, abandoning his wife and two children, an event that, for his daughter, became forever associated with the distinctive (& henceforward sickening) smell of privet, the young Barbara witnessing, from the front garden of the family home in Birmingham, the bitter vociferous exchanges that marked the final demise of her parents’ 14 year marriage.]

What is interesting is that many of the fabulous features & inhabitants of the 1909 map were subsequently incorporated into the more elaborate 1917 panorama, not least the “Greate Wall builded of stars by manie Elfin Emperours in days remote”, which divides both of these imaginary Fairylands in two.

The design template of Sleigh’s panoramic Fairyland map of 1917 can also be seen in its embryonic stages in the another of Sleigh’s now rare large-scale woodblocks published in 1900. This is a superb chiaroscuro print entitled The Horns of Elfland Faintly Blowing, illustrating the text on one of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poems, Blow, bugle, blow. It depicts, in beautiful detail, a young child gazing out over a fantastical fairyland landscape or rivers, waterfalls, arched bridges and fairy tale towns & castles populated by fierce dragons, elfin warrior armies, dancing fairy sprites and seductive water sirens.

The impact of the War had a significant impact on the now single Sleigh and his fellow artists. Overnight much of his decorative design work came to an abrupt halt. He was forced to try and drum up work for himself and his new partner, Frank Kedward Sheldon [1883-1957], even resorting to a small promotional pamphlet in 1915 in which they offered their combined services  for “memorial windows, wall paintings and inscriptions in metal or coloured gesso“. An uncomfortable patriotism resonates through the pamphlet as he notes that “at a time such as this it is more than ever desirous that the individual artist should come forward and assist in recording the bravery and self-sacrifice of those who have given their lives in defence of their country” and all the more so “as so much splendid and unique work of Medieval craftsmen has been irrevocably and wantonly destroyed by oue enemies” and “it is for us to devote all our energies and the resources of Modern Art and Science, in the endeavour to produce masterpieces worthy of this cause, that it may not be said in future days that “their heroes died unhonoured & unrecorded”.

Writing on the subject of “Art & the War” in the Review of Reviews in 1916, Vol 53, for which he also produced an allegorical drawing as frontispiece, Sleigh reiterated these sentiments :

No body of workers has been so deeply affected by the labour conditions brought about by the war as the artists of those countries directly engaged in this terrible struggle for existence…The blind onslaught of German fury, crushing of Belgian cathedral towns and villages of Northern France, and Poland, of Austrian aeroplane attacks on the quiet hill-towns of Italy, on Venise and Verona, (is) as though for a moment’s space we had returned to the indignation and horror of our childhood’s days, when reading of some senseless wooden-headed ogre trampling on fragile fairy temples and helpless elfin people.

The psychological trauma of Sleigh’s failed marriage at the beginning of the war was accompanied by the terrible physical trauma that resulted from an accident in the wartime blackout when Sleigh was knocked from his bicycle and left lying in a Birmingham street, his right thumb virtually severed from his hand. Unable to use a prosthesis, he eventually retrained himself to hold a paintbrush, graver and pencil in between his index and second fingers, but he was increasingly reliant on others for any finer design or engraving work. This led to his employment of one of his young students, Ivy Ann Ellis [1897-1984], then only 16 years of age, who became his regular collaborator and almost constant companion until the time of his death. Indeed Sleigh bequeathed his entire estate to Ellis in his will, following his death in Chipping Camden in December 1954.

It is especially interesting to discover, amid the exhibits of several local Birmingham artists and artisans at the Annual Autumn Exhibition at the New Street Galleries of the Royal Society of Artists in Birmingham in September 1917, a “quaint map of Wonderland” by Mr Bernard Sleigh (Birmingham Daily Post, Thursday Sept 17 1917, page 4). This map, whereabouts presently unknown, was perhaps the original artwork for the Fairyland map itself or more likely, given the “quaint” designation, perhaps just a small part of the Sleigh’s preparatory designs for his  Fairyland map which must have been close to completion by this date, given its appearance in print by Christmas of that same year.

Indeed the publication of Sleigh’s Fairyland map in December 1917 appears to have been the beginning of Sleigh’s increasing focus on the world of fairies and the occult. It characterizes a fantastical escapism, part perhaps of a conscious and deliberate attempt to divert children’s imaginations away from the awful realities of an increasingly protracted and terrifying global war and its equally difficult & traumatic aftermath.

His map of Fairyland was followed by his Faery Calendar [1920], a collection prose and verse on fairies & fairyland accompanied by 13 woodcut illustrations designed by Sleigh and engraved by Ivy Ann Ellis, which was reviewed by the Bookman’s Journal & Print Collector of 21st Nov 1920 in the following terms :

“In these days of Bolshevism, Pussyfootism, Cubism and all the other isms which make up the unpleasantness of this age and add to its turmoil and stress, it is a happy and welcome task to welcome a believer in Fairyland”

In the preface to the book, Sleigh confesses:

I believe in Faeries. It is very natural and not a bit foolish, for in these days we are quickly learning how little we know of any other world than our own. It is no more difficult for me to believe that a wild rose, or a daisy, has personal consciousness of life – a spirit, in short, than that a human being has….

This was followed by The Fairie Pageant [1924], a similar production, again with woodcut illustrations designed by Sleigh and engraved by Ivy Ann Ellis, issued in a limited edition of 475 copies by the Kynoch Press of Birmingham.

The fairy theme was further examined in Sleigh’s Gates of Horn [1926] Being Sundry Records From the Proceedings of the Society for the Investigation of Faery Fact & Fallacy. Selected and Edited by Bernard Sleigh. Illustrated With an Original Woodcut Engraved by Him. The book provided a supposedly “scientific” casebook of studies by this “Society” detailing the experiences of some ten individuals who had purportedly encountered fairy beings of one sort or another, such as a female kelpie, a changeling, a dryad & those with fairy blood in their veins. Based on his own experiences with the drug mescal (which had been recommended to him by his long-time friend and correspondent, the physician & writer, Havelock Ellis [1859-1939]), Sleigh also included the example of one individual, whose ingestion of the drug enabled him to experience & see this hidden fairy world. The book was marketed by the publishers as being for children, but its content and nature was undoubtedly adult. As a result the book sold very poorly, so that it remains a relatively scarce book today.

Sleigh had submitted several illustrations for the book, all but one of which were rejected by the publishers, J M Dent. One of the rejected illustrations, relating to the chapter on mescal, shows a lone man seated at his desk, behind whom study walls dissolve to reveal a forest of giant cow parsley in which naked girls ride on horseback. An indication perhaps of the hallucinogenic effects of the drug on Sleigh’s creative faculties.

The final production in this quartet of fairy books published over a period of six years was Travels in Fairyland [1926], edited by Daphne Miller, which included illustrations of Sleigh’s Fairyland map as its endpapers and provided an anthology of the verses, nursery rhymes, folk tales and myths which are depicted and illustrated in his map.

These are in fact detailed in brief in the original guide which accompanied the 1917 map, and Sleigh’s annotated source list includes: Asgard & the Norse Heroes; Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Malory’s Morte d’Arthur; Tennyson’s Idylls; William Morris’ Poems & Defence of Guenevere; The Mabinogion, Maeterlink’s Blue Bird; George Macdonald’s Phantastes & The Princess and Curdie; Keightley’s Fairy Mythology; George Meredith’s Shaving of Shagpath; Baring Gould’s Curious Myths of the Middle Ages; assorted popular nursery rhymes & English and Irish Fairy & Folk Tales; Housman’s Farm in Fairyland; The Arabian Nights; Kingsley’s Water Babies & The Heroes; Bulfinch’s Age of Fable; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Wonder Book; J M Barrie’s Peter Pan; E Nesbit’s The Phoenix and the Carpet & Book of Dragons; Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales, Joseph Jacobs’ Celtic Fairy Tales, and the Brothers Grimm’s Household Stories. It is said that in total Sleigh brought together some 130 legendary tales, fables, fairy stories and nursery rhymes in his Fairyland map.

Sleigh’s Guide to Fairyland concludes with the suggestion that true insight into the fairyland world might be made possible by means of a special invocation conducted whilst holding a seven-leaved spray of the sacred plant vervain (verbena) and the bloodstone ematille in each hand,  “then will your eyes be opened” . Both vervain and ematille were traditional accoutrements of druidic culture and the occult.

Sleigh was certainly in step with the zeitgeist. A new interest in Fairies and Fairyland had been awakened by the publication of the so-called Cottingley fairy photographs, taken by two young girls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths in the Yorkshire village of Cottingley in 1917 and made public in 1919.

They were subsequently endorsed by no less a figure than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in an article on fairies published in the 1920 Christmas issue of the Strand Magazine.

Conan Doyle’s hope was that the validation of the existence of fairies would add weight and credence to the possibility of wider psychic phenomena, not least spiritualism, in which he held an enduring & steadfast belief.

As he noted in the final paragraph of his Strand Magazine article:

The recognition of their existence will jolt the material twentieth century mind out of its heavy ruts in the mud, and will make it admit that there is a glamour and mystery to life. Having discovered this, the world will not find it so difficult to accept that spiritual message supported by physical facts which has already been put before it.

Conan Doyle used one of the further Cottingley photos to illustrate a second article published in the Strand Magazine in 1921, which detailed numerous fairy sightings, and the article formed the basis for his subsequent book, The Coming of Fairies, published in 1922. Conan Doyle’s articles and book were received with widespread scepticism, many noting the familiar appearance of the Cottingley fairies as if they had been plucked straight from traditional fairy tales, and also their distinctive contemporary French hairstyles. So it proved to have been the case, when the two cousins eventually confessed that the fairies had in fact been home-made cardboard cut-outs copied from illustrations that they had found  in Princess Mary’s Gift Book [1914] ! A film, Fairytale, a True Story, based on these events was released in 1987 and the girls’ five “fairy” photographs were sold at auction in July 1988.

Conan Doyle’s endorsement of the Cottingley Fairies may well have given impetus to the establishment, in 1927, of the Faery Investigation Society (not dissimilar in title or aims to Sleigh’s apocryphal 1926 Society for the Investigation of Faery Fact & Fallacy). The society was founded by former naval officer and inventor, Captain (later Sir) Quentin Craufurd, M.B.E [1875-1957], to scientifically examine the case for the existence and sighting of fairies. It was Craufurd’s own claim to fame that he had been the first person to transmit human speech by wireless, in a public trial of his own invention – a system of radiotelephony – conducted at the Royal Navy’s Chatham naval base in 1907. Many of the Society’s early members were, like Conan Doyle, closely connected with theosophy and spiritualism, and over the ensuing decades it attracted a number of new supporters & devotees, including such figures as Walt Disney and the head of the wartime RAF, Lord Dowding.

Whether fact or fiction, the widespread fascination with Fairies and Fairyland ensured that Sleigh’s map remained popular throughout the 1920’s and early 1930’s. A further reduced size edition of the map was published in one single sheet by London publishers, Vincent Brooks Day & Son Ltd in 1925. Indeed it was Sleigh’s Fairyland map that saved him from a life of relative poverty after his retirement from teaching in 1937. In retirement he followed in the footsteps of his mentor, Arthur Gaskin, and moved to Chipping Camden, where he lived at Old Forge Cottage, which was to remain his home until his death in 1954.

In 1936, William Turnbull, of the Mancunian fabric and textile printers Turnbull & Stockdale Ltd, approached Sleigh with a proposal to transform his 1917 Fairyland map into a new Rosebank fabric. It proved an immensely popular fabric, such that Turnbull & Stockdale commissioned several other fabric designs from Sleigh, including Oriental Fantasy, The PleiadesSea Foam and Kentish Scene, until factory production was stopped by the Second World War in 1941.

Sleigh himself is known for several other cartographic commissions, most produced in conjunction with Ivy Ann Ellis. These include a rare promotional advertising World map for Cadbury’s Chocolate & Bournville Cocoa [1923]; a scarce map poster for the London Underground entitled “Seek a Home of your own in the new Country” [1924] depicting a bird’s eye map of the increasingly accessible suburbs of North west London around Brent Cross & Edgware; a bird’s eye Map of the City of Birmingham as imagined in the early 18th Century [1924]; and a series of local bird’s eye maps of the suburbs & environs of Birmingham (including The Lickey Hills, Sutton Coldfield and Aston Hall etc) commissioned in the early 1920’s by the Birmingham Civic Society to promote their work, and of which Sleigh himself was an ardent supporter.

Refs: Roger Cooper: Bernard Sleigh, Artist and Craftsman 1872-1954, in: Journal of the Decorative Arts Society, No.21 [1997], pp.88-102; Barbara Sleigh: The Smell of Privet [Hutchinson & Co Ltd, London, 1971]; Gillian Hill: Cartographical Curiosities [British Library, 1978] #33, p.26; J B Post Atlas of Fantasy, pp.100-103.