Coombe Tennant, Winifred, 1874-1956.

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Coombe Tennant, Winifred, 1874-1956.

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Winifred Coombe Tennant ('Mam o Nedd', 1874-1956), art patron and political activist, was born in Gloucestershire, the daughter of George Pierce-Serocold and Mary Richardson. Her upbringing was very cosmopolitan, as the family moved home regularly, living at numerous locations in England, Wales, France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. By the time she married Charles Coombe Tennant in 1895, settling at Cadoxton Lodge, Neath, Winifred had acquired an international outlook and a strong interest in history, art and politics. Her marriage brought her a network of relatives in influential intellectual, political and cultural circles, and she met many prominent contemporary writers and artists. In time, she became an influential patron of art and craft in Wales.

  • Winifred’s attitude towards cultural life, politics and society was informed by a deep sense of the spiritual and its close connection with the physical, and she was fascinated by the idea of genius. In particular, she saw artists as special, standing apart from the rest of humanity, their art a transcendent medium through which the everyday concerns of ordinary people could be communicated. To this was added a love of the power of religious symbolism (especially Roman Catholic), an affinity for her adopted homeland, and a profound regard for tradition and historical continuity.

  • Winifred took a deep interested in Welsh culture and identified herself strongly with it, particularly in the field of arts and crafts. From 1911 onwards, her patronage was directed towards Welsh artists, and it became her goal to educate the people of Wales in artistic sensibility and the Welsh arts and crafts tradition. To this end, she worked towards acquiring a body of fine modern art that she initially hoped to make publicly accessible, and in 1931 she became an official buyer for the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea. She also involved herself in organising events at the National Eisteddfod, becoming initiated as an Honorary Member of the Gorsedd in 1918, taking the bardic name ‘Mam o Nedd’ and gaining full membership in 1923, and holding the office of Mistress of the Robes from 1928.

  • In politics, Winifred Coombe Tennant was a radical. She campaigned for female suffrage, Welsh Home Rule and international peace, and stood unsuccessfully for Parliament as the Liberal candidate for the Forest of Dean in 1922. Through her links with David Lloyd George, she was appointed as a British delegate to the League of Nations, and she also organised war work during the Great War, strove to improve conditions for prisoners in Swansea Gaol, and became one of the first women magistrates in the country.

  • Winifred also became interested in spiritualism as a young woman, and gained a reputation as a pre-emininent psychic medium, working under the pseudonym ‘Mrs Willett’. This aspect of her life was particularly important to her after the deaths of her baby daughter, Daphne, in 1908 and her son, Christopher, at Ypres in 1917.

  • Winifred Coombe Tennant left Cadoxton for London in 1931, retaining an interest in Welsh cultural affairs but becoming less active in the public arena. She died in Kensington in 1956.


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