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Flora Klickmann

Whilst there is one obvious advantage to 'working' in a bookshop, here at Tintern we have another. The River Wye flows past the shop just a roads width away. At high tide, for the tide has an average rise and fall of approximately 20 feet, the water appears to be an extension of the road and sometimes the road an extension of the river, which makes for an interesting and varied life.

The river is tidal up as far as Brockweir, about a mile away. It was at this point that they used to embark the prisoners who were to be transported to Australia.

The village of Brockweir appears very quiet and sleepy, a place that time could be said to have passed by. It is difficult to imagine that in the first half of the twentieth century it was as famous as the fictional Ambridge (home of BBC Radio 4's Archer family) is today. Brockweir was where Flora Klickmann wrote the 'Flower Patch' stories.

She was born in January 1867, one of six children, and she was not a robust child. As a young girl she had a great interest in music and aspired to be a concert pianist. However the effort needed to succeed was too much for her and she fell ill. She was advised to give up her plans of a career in music and so at the age of 21, feeling that life had ended, she started teaching music, and then moved into music journalism, finally venturing into popular magazine journalism in the 1890's.

Introduced to 'The Windsor Magazine' by her friend James Bowden (a partner in Ward Lock and Bowden) she eventually followed him to the Religious Tract Society (RTS). The RTS had launched 'The Boys Own Paper' in 1880. This had been so successful (sales in excess of 150,000 a week) that they followed it up with 'The Girls Own Paper, which was even more popular. Flora became its editor in 1908 and remained so until 1931.

She was very innovative and introduced many new themes into the magazine. Photography competitions, needlework and many other craft orientated ideas. However this increased her workload and she suffered another breakdown in 1912. Her friends thought that stress had caused this and suggested she convalesce at Brockweir, where she had a rented cottage. But no improvement meant that she was taken to London, where she was operated on in 1913, entirely successfully. However she was starting to spend a lot more time at her retreat, and by the late 1920's she was essentially a long distance editor.

In 1913 she married Ebenezer Henderson Smith, who was one of the executives at the RTS and had been instrumental in getting the 'The Girls Own Paper' up and running. He was a widower in his sixties, she was 46. Although she had lived mainly in South London, Flora had rented cottages in Brockweir over the years. As a wedding present Ebenezer purchased 'Sylvan View', a house in Brockweir. Their main residence was at Sydenham Hill, which they used until the mid 1920's when they both moved into the Brockweir house.

Although probably conceived at 'Rosewell', the first house she owned in Brockweir, it was at 'Sylvan View' that the Flower Patch evolved - the result of an emergency requiring an article 'pdq'. The stories grew to involve the household (Ebenezer was 'the Head of Affairs') and the locals, and in all some seven Flower Patch Books were published over a period of 32 years.

According to the books' dust jackets the house was surrounded by an immense swathe of cottage garden flowers, and certainly the view over the river and valley would have been stunning. However the present 13 acres would have required a huge army of gardeners to keep it looking so good (and the acreage was probably greater when Flora owned it) and the view is no longer there some sixty years later. The house name now is 'Sylvan House' but was called 'Buttercup Cottage' in her books. It has also been called 'Sylvian House'. It takes some 20 minutes to walk into the village, and a good deal longer to come back up the hillside. The members of staff would have earned their keep.

Flora remained as editor of the 'Girls Own Paper' until 1931 when the owners felt that a new look was required. She continued to write and by the time of her death had published some ten other books/novels as well as nine other undated books and pamphlets.

Ebenezer died in 1937 and was buried in the Moravian Churchyard in Brockweir, where he had sometimes preached, and Flora joined him there in November 1958, aged 91.

Towards the end of her days she became reclusive, but she had certainly been progressive. Although she did not have electricity in the cottage, in other matters she was well advanced. A keen environmentalist (she wrote of the virtues of chemical free gardening and the value of natural fertilisers long before they became fashionable, and she decried the taking of the wild flower bulbs), consumer watchdog (testing the Post Office) she worried about the way the lurid press was harming young minds even then.

The Flower Patch books capture a way of life now long departed, and whilst they may have had facts tweaked a little, Flora's writing is humorous, elegant and beautifully observed, revealing a genuine love and concern for the natural world

Our thanks to Mrs. Rush, the present owner of "Sylvan House" for her assistance with this article and for allowing us to take photographs, and to Mr. Lazell, whose booklet "Flora Klickmann And Her Flower Patch" detailed Flora Klickmann's life.

Contributed by David Starling

(Published 1st Oct 2013)

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