After Irene Mawer’s death her collection of books (later known as the Irene Mawer Memorial Library) along with some other items were donated to the British Theatre Museum and were later transferred to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London. Much prestige is attached to Irene’s inclusion in the V&A but the prestige is tinged with sadness because her books are not easily accessible.
The Dancing Times, July 1964, tells us that after Irene Mawer’s death a fund was set up, called The Irene Mawer Memorial Fund which was financed by donations. From what I can gather, either it was never intended to be an on-going enterprise, being designed to last only for as long as the money was there, or, donations dried up after a few years which caused the Fund to close. The Irene Mawer Memorial Fund was used to run the annual Mime Competition, where the prize was to be a medallion plus cash. The Dancing Times goes on to confirm that Irene’s collection of some 200 books relating to mime and the history of the theatre were bequeathed to Mrs Eric KENYON (Twinks), who, in turn, presented the books to the British Theatre Museum, along with a bookcase with a memorial tablet. A decade ago Susan MITCHELL-SMITH attempted to trace the books and the bookcase but met with vague replies.
In addition, Susan notes that according to her informal records, Twinks also donated an original manuscript of “Poetry and the Dance: an anthology of verse for interpretation in Dance and Movement”. If this is the case, then it would be very exciting as it would be a “lost” manuscript as the two previous copies that I have heard about are accounted for. Susan’s informal notes go on to say “the manuscript was bound by Ruby Ginner and placed in the library (ie, the Memorial Library, I think) at the British Theatre Museum for the use of students and anyone interested in the Theatre Arts”. However, my excitement was curbed when I later read a letter dated 25 June 1967 written by Eric KENYON (husband of Twinks) to the British Theatre Museum asking for the return of the manuscript because “Miss Ruby Ginner, Chairman of the Irene Mawer Memorial Committee has attempted find a publisher for this work and, on failing to do so, sent the manuscript for inclusion in the library. However, as Executor of Miss Mawer’s will, I feel I must continue to attempt to have this valuable work published. This work was not included in the gift of Miss Mawer’s library donated by my wife. Hence my request for the return of this manuscript”. So, my excitement was not justified – this bound copy is indeed accounted for and is in a private collection.
Since the time when Susan MITCHELL-SMITH made her enquiries, paperwork has come to light which shows that after Miss Mawer’s death Twinks, under the name of Florence PERUGINI KENYON, formally handed the books to the Trustees of the Irene Mawer Memorial Fund: Madam Ruby Ginner, Miss Doreen Woodcock, Mrs Lucille Boardman, Mrs Jean Goullet and Mrs Margaret Button, on 25 January 1965, who, on the same day, under a Deed of Gift passed the items to the Trustees of the British Theatre Museum: Sybil Rosenfeld; Laurence Irving (painter); Sir Michael Redgrave (actor, living at 3 Hans Crescent, London); Seymour John Louis Egerton (banker, living on Strand, London) and the Right Honourable Viscount Norwich, whereupon they became formally known as “the Irene Mawer Memorial Library”.
The Irene Mawer Memorial Library was originally kept as one entity at Leighton House, 12 Holland Park Road, London which was the premises of the British Theatre Museum at that time. The Deed of Gift went on to state that if the British Theatre Museum ceased to exist, then arrangements should be made for the Irene Mawer Memorial Library to be given to another library or museum as “one entity” for the benefit of the British Nation. The Deed of Gift stated that Twinks or her daughters should be informed if the collection needed to be re-homed.
Sadly, when the books were moved Twinks had passed away, and no contact was made with either of her daughters who were unaware that the Irene Memorial Library had been moved to the V&A. A second dispiriting point is that on arrival at the V&A, the collection was not able to be kept as “one entity”. The books were split up and the bookcase was disposed of. On a brighter note, the plaque showing Irene’s head in profile has survived.
I have seen a book in a private collection which has an “ex-libris Irene Mawer” sticker affixed into the front, which I believe was placed in the book after Miss Mawer’s death. I wonder if the books in the Irene Mawer Memorial Library might have the same “ex-libris” stickers in them?
Susan MITCHELL-SMITH has noted that a pamphlet advertising the Irene Mawer Solo Mime Competition states that the donation to the British Theatre Museum also included one of the medallions which were part of the Irene Mawer Award for the Mime Competition: a prize given to the winner each year, I believe. The medallion was the work of sculptor Arthur W Banks and shows the head of Irene Mawer in the role of L’Enfant Prodigue. It was stated that this should be incorporated in the design of the bookcase which they provided to contain her books.
I do not know what the memorial tablet is (referred to in the Dancing Times) and I wonder if it is the plaque which is held at the V&A?
With regard to the bookcase, I wondered if it was Irene’s own bookcase? Or was it bought specifically by the Trustees of the Irene Mawer Memorial Fund to house the collection of books? However, I have come across the following section of a handwritten letter from Ruby GINNER to Eric KENYON (he was the executor of Irene’s will, and husband of Twinks) “…the bookcase is quite beautiful; a gift from one of our old students…” which would seem to answer that question, though the donor is not named. One of my contacts (I can’t recall who at the moment) has notes which refer to the bookcase having a ‘roundel carved on it, showing Irene’s head’. I would imagine that this would be modelled on what I believe to be Miss Mawer’s most famous photograph – the one of her in character as Pierrot in L’Enfant Prodigue, which is the same image as is on the plaque at the V&A and is the frontspiece to her book The Art of Mime.
I am guessing that it is this same image which is portrayed on the medallion designed by Arthur W Banks and the carving was the method by which it was incorporated into the bookcase. I have not yet managed to see a photograph of one of the medallions, but I expect the design is the same as the design on the plaque. So perhaps the image of Miss Mawer’s head was actually carved, or perhaps in the end they just used the plaque instead? Perhaps it was fixed to the bookcase in lieu of a carving, and when the bookcase was disposed of, the plaque was retained.
With difficulty, I have searched the V&A archives on-line and either I have not done my searches correctly, or the items are not there, or at the very least are not electronically catalogued. The only thing I could find which was Irene’s alone was ‘The Art of Mime” book.
The V&A were kind enough to reply to my email query in January 2020 and provided the following information: the book (sic, I assume this means “The Art of Mime”, singular) and bookcase were acquired from the British Theatre Museum in 1974. “We do not appear to have the bookcase, but we do hold the plaque depicting Mawer in role” and the V&A provided me with a very nice photo of the plaque. Although the V&A use the term ‘plaque’, I do wonder if it is in fact the ‘tablet’ referred to by Susan Mitchell-Smith as being mentioned in the Solo Mime Competition pamphlet?
The V&A email went on to say that they think that at the time of acquisition a decision was made to distribute the books through the library rather than keep them as a “discrete collection” (my emphasis). “Provenance notes are usually added to records, but as many of these remain only on catalogue cards, it is not possible to search by donor/previous owner name unless they have been retrospectively catalogued on line”. I don’t really understand that, but I think it means that perhaps the reason I can’t find the books on-line is because they have not been added to the electronic database. I think, horrifically, it may also mean that the V&A do not hold a list of titles of books which were donated in Miss Mawer’s name – some 200 books… this is terribly, terribly sad.
I urge anyone reading this who has the time to please access the V&A on-line system to see if anyone else can find Irene’s books, as I have not had much success. Please let me know your findings, thank you. The V&A gave me the following link: https://nal-vam.on.worldcat.
org/discovery stating that “…any that have been retro-catalogued should appear by searching on . Confusingly, when I accessed the website prior to contacting the V&A, I found two different search engines. I see that the curator has given me the World Catalogue link, which a friend tells me is different from the V&A catalogue link. I find it very confusing and wonder if the World Catalogue lists items held at different V&A buildings around the world, such as in Dundee.
I assume the link given to me by the curator is the same as appears on the V&A website, but I haven’t checked yet.
The Curator at the V&A who emailed me kindly noted that she had traced “a few items once belonging to Irene Mawer by searching our card catalogue using the subject ‘mime’, but our vast holdings for ‘theatre’ and ‘dance’ are too extensive to find by this method.” Tantalisingly, the Curator omitted to tell me what they had found… However, they did attach a photo of the plaque.
There is no size given for the plaque, but it clearly shows the head of Irene Mawer, in profile, in the role of L’Enfant Prodigue. The inscription on the plaque reads “IRENE MAWER 1893-1962 The Great English Exponent of the art of mime”. In a letter from Ruby GINNER to executor Eric KENYON, Ruby states the plaque is made of bronze and is very fine and that it was given to the Memorial Library by the Committee. The letter does not state whether this is the Committee of the Institute of Mime, or of the Memorial Fund – which is usually referred to as the Trustees, so is unclear, but is in any case, a minor point in this story.
Due to the Covid-19 virus, it is not possible for me to go to the V&A to search through the card index, and in any case, I am unclear as to how I would locate any of Irene’s books in such a vast museum as the V&A appear not to have a list of which books were donated in Miss Mawer’s name, or even a list of books donated by Florence PERUGINI KENYON, or by The British Theatre Museum. What an irony! Irene Mawer is recognised within one of the world’s largest and most prestigious museums but I might be unable to find her books among the 2.27 million other holdings. I urge anyone who is interested and able to physically attend the V&A to find out the actual situation (Covid permitting) as it will no doubt be a few years before I can get there.
A conundrum: are Irene Mawer’s books “lost” within the V&A forever? … maybe, or maybe not, because I just happen to have access to a typed copy of the complete list of 200 books which comprise the Irene Mawer Memorial Library. Hands up who has any free time to visit the V&A…