[Deborah McDonald [dmcdonald@onwight.net] has kindly shared these materials from her Collet website with the Victorian Web. Her biography of Collet was published by Woburn Press in November 2003.]

In 1878-85 when Collet worked as a school-teacher at Wyggeston Girls' School, Leicester, she first met Ernest Gimson and his brother Sidney. Ernest was a young man who had just begun studying architecture at the local college when Collet met him. His family was agnostic and Collet was a Unitarian so with their unorthodox beliefs in common they soon became firm friends. It is possible that Gimson proposed to Collet for she received an offer of marriage during this period from a person she mysteriously names as "EW" in her diary. Ernest Gimson's second name was William, so if she was trying to disguise him she may have chosen this rather obvious code. Collet turned the proposal down as she said that she did not love the person enough.

Whatever the nature of Collet's relationship with Gimson, the two remained friends for many years. In 1884, just before Collet left Leicester, William Morris was invited as a guest of the Gimsons' to deliver a lecture locally, and he stayed at their home. This gave Ernest the opportunity of meeting and discussing ideas with the great leader of the arts and crafts movement, thus influencing his own work for the rest of his life.

Ernest left Leicester in 1886 for a position obtained with J D Sedding for which Morris provided a reference. Gimson soon developed his own style and became an acclaimed architect and furniture designer although as you say not as well known as Morris, for example.

In 1907 Gimson's path crossed that of Clara Collet once more, when she asked if he would provide training for George Gissing's son Walter. Gissing had died several years previously but Clara had made a promise to him only a few months after they had met, that she would take care of his sons should anything ever happen to him. True to her word she kept in contact with both Walter and his younger brother Alfred. Walter showed a degree of promise as an apprentice architect but sadly was never allowed to prove himself. He was killed in the Somme in 1916.


Clara Collet Gender History

Last modified 2003