Erica Priestman

Erica Priestman

b: 1906
d: DEC 1985
From the jacket of her book, published posthumously, "The Permissive Garden":

"Erica Lady Pearce was born in 1906, the third daughter of the landscape painter, Bertram Priestman R A. She trained at the Central School of Art and in 1927 married Edward Holroyd Pearce, the distinguished judge. Exhibitions of her watercolour drawings of flowers and plants were held at the RBA Galleries in London in 1973 and 1976, and in the provinces. She died in December 1985."

From autobiographical notes by Edward Holroyd Pearce (Lord Pearce) 1989:

"Before returning to Manchester [in 1919] I had arranged to spend some of my holidays in the South. A close friend, Christopher Green, who was Head monitor of the school, had pressed me come for a fortnight as a guest with his family for a seaside holiday at Walberswick in Suffolk. I decided to accept - a fateful and fortunate decision for me

Chris and I went down to Walberswick and found his family already dug in, with lodgings on the Green. He had four attractive, pretty, younger sisters - just the party for a seaside holiday. He was proud of them, but he was at a stage when feminine society seemed to him futile. He was mad on sailing dinghies and wanted most of the day to be occupied in looking at boats or sailing them. His father, Curtis Green, was an architect who, after four years in khaki, was just starting to prosper again and getting on the road that led him to high success. He had brought his family to Walberswick because an old friend of about the same age lived there, Bertram Priestman, a landscape painter, recently elected A.R.A. He too had a son, a little older than me, and four very charming and pretty daughters. Another Priestman friend, the artist Walter West, R.W.B., contributed a pair of daughters of the same high standard. This galaxy of beauty was really quite outstanding and it amazed me that Chris made such efforts to escape and take me off on sailing expeditions. Fortunately the Priestmans had an elderly family sailing boat and on that we had many mixed expeditions. There were morning bathes, picnics along the shore and inland among the heather, and even a picnic at night with Japanese lanterns that meandered like a swarm of coloured fireflies through the dark along the dykes and marshes by the shore. Bertram Priestman on a picnic hit what to me was the right intellectual level, cheerful, merry idiocy with an occasional gleam of intelligent conversation. He had a motor car, a 1907 De Dion Bouton two seater (which he had swapped for a sketch) a dignified brass bound throne on wheels. When it took anyone to Darsham station (invariably late) it thundered along at 20 miles an hour, while the owner at the wheel was grimly divided between pride in the speed performance lest and agonixd apprehension lest it should die of over-strain. It once went at 24 miles an hour when I was in danger of missing my train.

The one out of the galaxy that most took my fancy was the most elusive, Erica Priestman She was a delicate long-legged maiden of thirteen with strands of seaweed hair. Her head was poised like a flower on a long graceful neck. She was immature with a fawn-like self-consciousness and had no desire for male society. But when I could get her to talk to me her wide grey eyes sparkled and her generous mouth had a charming smile. If Botticelli had painted for his Venus a shy girl instead of a seductive woman he might have produced just such a delight. Although I did not dream of falling in love then, I had that feeling of perfect aesthetic satisfaction in how she looked and moved. And her presence or absence mattered to me."

"Bertram Priestman had a simple piety acquired from a line of Quaker ancestors. The first known Priestman (said to be a Huguenot) was a miller at the Yorkshire village of Thomton-le-dale in the sixteenth century. From him had spread various prospering Quaker branches. Bertram Priestman's grandfather, John, had moved to Bradford. He was the first man there to put power into his mill. The mill was nick-named Ladies Mill because of his attempts to raise the standard of living of the employees. He was a man of character who had gone to prison for a refusal to pay rates because the Local Authority declined to contribute to any other than Church Schools. His son, Edward, a big handsome man, who lacked his father's acumen, inherited money and position. He was an ardent Quaker and one of Bradford's leading citizens. For a time he had great prosperity and then in about 1890 he lost all his money by unwise speculation. Since then the Priestman Mills had been in the hands of his half-brother (a grim rich old man known in the family as Uncle Fred) and his own son (a formidable figure known as Uncle George). Bertram Priestman had come south to be an artist, and was in his own view considered by all to be the fool of the family. He was a fine landscape painter, but he was too late for the halcyon days of the Victorian epoch when landscape painters made a lot of money. He used to quote with great relish and pomp: 'He was but a landscape painter and he also was penniless'. There was never much money to spare. His financial affairs were a queer mixture of shrewdness and lack of business sense, of economy and extravagance. They were hidden from the rest of the family and cloaked in that fog of sacroscant mystery with which Victorian males used to enshroud the subject of money, dropping their voices to a husky confidential whisper when the subject had to be mentioned in any detail.

His wife was a sweet simple person of great physical charm. She believed that every word of the bible was verbally inspired and could not be inaccurate. She was sometimes torn between her theories of goodness and gravity and her natural instincts for gaiety and mischief. She had a gift for making inappropriate remarks about her husband's pictures. Every day after breakfast there was a bible reading. Then all gravity and decorum were discarded for the rest of the day. But on Sundays an air of restless goodness continued throughout. No work was allowed and levity tended to shrivel up. Sometimes the artist would fall to the temptation of brooding over a picture whose inspiration had been interrupted by the advent of Sunday. But he never fell so far as to touch it, and he generally tore himself away from contemplation of it after a short spell with the air of one who puts unworthy things behind him. The whole family always went off to a Quaker meeting on Sundays, looking very clean, pious and attractive, crowded into the 1908 de Dion Bouton two-seater. All that is to say except Brian.

Brian was attractive and interesting but he was plagued by an intellectual conscience. In the war he had been a conscientious objector and then joined the Red Cross. He was now doing physics at Cambridge. He was continually worried about the things that were wrong in the world and the folly of so many of its conventions. One of the things that worried him was his family's old fashioned and unscientific attitude towards religion. He found it very aggravating that they were so indifferent to his profound iconoclastic arguments. He was worried about the error of helping one's country in a war - yet later in life when war came and he was a Professor of Physics at Frederiction University, he wangled himself into the Royal Canadian Air Force in spite of his age and navigated planes across the Atlantic. One thing that worried him to a curious extent was the folly of people who, just because the convention of heroism seemed to demand it, threw away valuable lives by trying to save somebody from drowning when the odds were against any success. Years later when fate set that problem to him, he died in an heroic but utterly forlom attempt to save a small boy from the icy waters of the Fredericton River - a deed that won him the posthumous award of the gold medal of the Royal Canadian Humane Society.

The family rating of the girls was as follows. Barbara, the eldest, had managed to acquire the reputation, so invaluable in any family, of being the good one, unselfish, hard working and intelligent. Ursula had to content herself with the reputation of being competent, kind, smart, but unimaginative. Erica was a dark horse who could not quite be placed, imaginative and creative, with plenty to say for herself, a good many worries and a profound mistrust of her own health. This mistrust had been confirmed when symptoms which everybody considered were spurious, were found (only just in time to save her life) to have had real existence in an inflamed appendix. Monica, who was the baby of the family, was considered the prettiest among a strong field, and it was assumed that she would take after Ursula. As soon as I arrived I fell in love with Erica, instantly and completely. It was two years since I had seen her for more than a few minutes; a year since I had set eyes on her. Then she had seemed to me an attractive child. In the last year she had started on the journey from childhood to woman-hood. She had not got very far along that path; she was 17 and young for her age. But to my youthful eyes the difference was startling."

From the East Anglian Daily Times [April 1927]:
"Famous artist's daughter married at Dallinghoo. County cricketer as best man

The tiny Suffolk village of Dallinghoo was quite agog with exitement on Saturday, when a wedding of uncommon interest was solemnised in the parish church. Marriages are apparently of very rare occurrence in Dallinghoo, ....... At any rate, considerable animated interest was displayed on Saturday, when Miss Erica Doris Priestman, the third daughter of the famous artist, Mr Bertram Priestman RA, and Mrs Priestman of 101 Guntersford Road, London W14 and of Walberswick, was married to Mr Edward Holroyd Pearce, barrister-at-law, the son of Mr and Mrs J.W.E. Pearce of South Kensington. Since the well known academician was attracted to the beauties of the Suffolk countryside and took up residence at Walberswick he, and his wife and daughters, have made a wide circle of friends,... Among them was the Very Rev. the Dean of Westminster, who conducted the service, and the well-known Oxford and Somerset cricketer, Mr R.C. Robertson Glasgow, who acted as best man."

[The item was accompanied by a photo of Erica looking as she always did, and Edward looking remarkably like his son James]

From Erica's book 'The Permissive Garden' about her garden at Sweethaws, Crowborough:

On the jacket: "On the slopes of the Ashdown Forest in Sussex lies a garden where, in the words of the author, "the soil is acid, the climate cold and windy, and the position high enough to have a wide view over the Weald of Kent and the South Downs". For over fifty years, Erica Lady Pearce cared for, cajoled and forced her beloved plants into her own unique version of "The Permissive Garden" - a place where she set herself the task of "getting rid of any work that had to be done". Some of her methods may seem unconventional, but all were acquired and perfected because they worked. Erica Lady Pearce died in 1985, but her garden remains as a rampant and spendid tribute to a free spirit, and to a gardener who combined great knowledge with a clear and original vision."

By Erica "When we came here, the garden was mostly grass with a few shrubs and flower beds. There was an old unproductive orchard and a small paddock, both screened from the house by holly hedges and trees......... Before the war, when the children were quite young, we had a gardner for one or two days a week. We had a lawn large enough for children's cricket...... flower beds, and a small walled garden, once a cattle yard, where we grew vegetables.........
Then came the war. Our London flat, in which we lived during the week, was destroyed in the first raid. The children and I moved to the country. The paddock, formerly given over to a shetland pony, became a vegetable garden. The pony was replaced by a goat who was meant to graze the common and provide milk, but who had a successful will to graze the vegetable garden. Hens lived in the orchard.
After the war, with gardening help getting more difficult, this vegetable garden became too large to manage. The goat had been swapped for some bees and the hens had gone. We fell for the prevailing fashion of growing Christmas trees, which were intended to pay for themselves. The paddock was then supposed to be off our hands. But the foresters' idea of weeds was not the same as ours. The twitch (or couch) grass overgrew the little trees and as this paddock is between us and the small walled vegetable garden, we could not ignore this eyesore whenever we went down the ggarden. Nor did it appear likely that when the trees were sold we would recover the cost of planting, ............... (and more)"

[Alan Ray-Jones writes: For me as a child Aunt Erica seemed very austere, 'contained,' so that it was difficult to feel warmly about her, but there seems no doubt that this marriage was a love match through all its many years. Edward outlived Erica, and one of his last acts was to ensure the publication of her book posthumously. On the last page he placed a poem to her memory:

To Erica:

How can I thank enough for all you gave?
Near sixty years of magic married love
Beyond imagining, or my deserts,
Gardening together was our dear delight.
My short span of loneliness is lit
By the sure knowledge that you are happy There
Eager to greet me with your lovely smile
When we are gloriously one again.

  • 1906 - Birth -
  • DEC 1985 - Death -
  • Education - St Felix ; Southwold, Suffolk
Bertram Priestman
ABT 1867 - 1951
Erica Priestman
1906 - DEC 1985
Family Group Sheet - Child
PARENT (M) Bertram Priestman
BirthABT 1867Bradford, Yorkshire; or Darlington, Durham
Death1951 Woodbridge, Suffolk
Marriageto ?
FErica Priestman
DeathDEC 1985
Marriage9 APR 1927to Edward Holroyd Pearce , Lord at Dallinghoo, Suffolk
MBryan Priestman
Death1945New Brunswick, Canada
Family Group Sheet - Spouse
PARENT (M) Edward Holroyd Pearce , Lord
Birth9 FEB 1901Merton Court, Sidcup, Kent
Death27 NOV 1990 Crowborough, Sussex, England
Marriage9 APR 1927to Erica Priestman at Dallinghoo, Suffolk
FatherJohn William Ernest Pearce
MotherIrene Kate Chaplin
PARENT (F) Erica Priestman
DeathDEC 1985
Marriage9 APR 1927to Edward Holroyd Pearce , Lord at Dallinghoo, Suffolk
FatherBertram Priestman
MRichard Bruce Holroyd Pearce
Birth12 MAY 1930Lincoln's Inn, London
MarriageABT 1987to Christine Westwood
MarriageJUL 1958to Private
MJames Edward Holroyd Pearce
Birth18 MAR 1934Crowborough
Death11 JUN 1985
Marriage2 AUG 1969to Private
[S22470] Edward Holroyd Pearce's unpublished autobiography
Descendancy Chart
Erica Priestman b: 1906 d: DEC 1985
Edward Holroyd Pearce , Lord b: 9 FEB 1901 d: 27 NOV 1990
Richard Bruce Holroyd Pearce b: 12 MAY 1930 d: 1987
James Edward Holroyd Pearce b: 18 MAR 1934 d: 11 JUN 1985