Some Notes About Irene Mawer (Part 2)

After five years of working in Birmingham, Miss Mawer retired at the age of 66, a full six years after the age at which she could have drawn her state pension. Leaving her flat in Edgbaston she moved to be near her great friend, Ruby, in the tiny village of Blewbury in Oxfordshire. In the late 1950s and early 1960s this was a village full of artists and writers, so creative people such as Irene Mawer and Ruby Ginner would have fitted in well. Except – there is almost no record of Miss Mawer having been in the village at all…

Stories abound about Ruby’s Ginner’s life in the village. However, absolutely no-one recalls Irene Mawer from her time living on London Road from the winter of 1959 until her death in the spring of 1962.

Miss Mawer’s last years are shrouded in mystery and it seems that she may have been reduced to living in one room, without a proper kitchen or bathroom. It is very difficult to be precise about her circumstances. It is known that the house was owned by a local woman, Miss Dorothy Balfour who definitely lived in the main part of the house. It is possible that Irene Mawer shared that main part with Miss Balfour, but it is by no means certain.

Irene’s address was ‘Highclere, London Road, Blewbury’ and the house (also known as Cotterills) still stands opposite the war memorial where the poppy wreaths from Remembrance Day are laid… a reminder of Irene’s first husband who fell during WW1.

Miss Mawer was a wordsmith, a poet, someone who loved the English language and someone who could express words through movement. She called her poems ‘word-rhythms’ saying that she would have liked to have used the term ‘poem’ but hesitated to do so ‘in fear that some of the forms chosen are not sufficiently metric to receive that name’. This would unlikely be a problem today, when it seems that ‘anything goes’.

In 1925 one of her published poems was a nature rhythm called The Tree in the Wind. Amazingly, in 2009 this poem popped up in schools in America. Who, in 2009, 84 years after its publication and 3,000 miles away thought to use a poem by Irene Mawer 47 years after her death? The answer remains a mystery.

Four weeks before Christmas 1962, Irene was taken ill at her home and died of a stroke in the hospital nineteen miles away in Oxford.

The beautiful Rose Garden at Oxford Crematorium is the last resting place of Irene Rose Mawer Dale Perugini and is where her ashes were scattered in the open air, as was popular tradition at that time.

After Miss Mawer’s death, her collection of books was donated to the British Theatre Museum and on its closure, to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In addition, the Irene Mawer Memorial fund was set up, financed by donations. This was used to run an annual mime competition for three years. In 1965 the winner was Robert Lister who still has the prize winner’s medallion and is helping with research into Miss Mawer’s teaching methods.

Rob Lister trained at Rose Bruford and it would seem that the connection with Miss Mawer is very strong: Irene Mawer was employed by Elsie Fogerty to teach mime at the Central School, Rose Bruford trained at the Central School, and is therefore likely to have learned the Irene Mawer Method of Mime. In addition, Rose Bruford also passed the Institute of Mime examinations. The Institute of Mime was founded by Irene Mawer and furthered the Irene Mawer Method. So it follows, that when Rose Bruford taught mime at her own school, she was probably teaching the Irene Mawer Method, or at least was very strongly influenced by it. So, in his winning performance, it would seem that Rob Lister brought the training full circle and won the Irene Mawer Memorial Mime Competition with a technique introduced by Irene Mawer herself.

Janet Fizz Curtis (the author of this article) was trained in Leeds by Mrs Nora Durling, who was previously married and known as Mrs Noni Gregorious Brown, who herself was a Ginner-Mawer and a good friend of Miss Doris McBride.

Janet performed a mime called ‘Pierrot and the Goldfish Bowl’ which won the Mary Kilduff Trophy at the Wharfedale Music Festival in 1983 (when Janet was 20 years of age). Unbeknown to Janet at the time, Mary Kilduff had attained the LRAM Teachers certificate for mime in 1951. Research shows that this qualification from the Royal Academy of Music probably used the Irene Mawer Method of Mime for their examination curriculum. Another full circle.

Another Yorkshire connection came in 1949, when Miss Mawer travelled to Doncaster where she met up with Mrs Gregorious Brown. Pupils from Mrs Gregorious Brown’s dance school (the Pamile School of Dancing, in Leeds) gave a demonstration to deaf children in the hope that mime would become an educational tool for use in their institution. Miss Mawer was very keen on using mime and drama for educational purposes, including speech therapy.

This article demonstrates a few of the main points of the life of Irene Mawer. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it. I am interested in all aspects of Miss Mawer and am piecing together what she was like as a person and I would love to know how she came across to her students, whether she was a popular teacher or was she disliked, or feared, or ignored? Was she invisible when beside Ruby Ginner? How did she interact with Ginner? How did she interact with other staff members (indeed, who were the other staff members)? Most mysterious of all: the Institute of Mime, about which almost no records exist and only guesswork can tell us why it disappeared into obscurity, rather like Miss Mawer herself. This article is the start of new beginnings for Irene Mawer, to establish her in modern memory as an important, strong, capable, independent woman who was an important part of drama, mime, and education between the two world wars.

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Author: Janet Fizz Curtis

Janet Fizz Curtis is trained in the Irene Mawer Method of Mime and Movement and is now writing a book about the life of Irene Mawer.

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