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Art Exhibition at Shalford Mill Puts Focus on Mysterious Ferguson’s Gang

Published on: 12 Sep, 2012
Updated on: 17 Jun, 2013

The room at Shalford Mill in which Ferguson’s Gang met.

A unique art exhibition opens at the National Trust’s Shalford Mill on Wednesday, September 19. It features contemporary artists working in film, sound, installation and performance art all in response to the lives of the trust’s most unconventional donor group, Ferguson’s Gang.  

The exhibition will include a recreation of the 1930s style ‘Gang’s Room’, sound art from Collective#seven that will mirror the natural and urban environments within the hidden parts of the mill, two short films and live performances inspired by the genius of the Ferguson’s Gang, workshops and children’s art play.

Ferguson’s Gang was a secret group of well educated society women who retained their anonymity by going under pseudonyms such as Bill Stickers, Red Biddy, Bludy Lord Beershop, Erb the Smasher, and many others. Wearing masks, the gang collected money to preserve buildings at risk of demolition. Their random acts of beneficence were accompanied by theatricality and humour, with a good dose of eccentricity and a touch of the occult thrown in. 

Sarah Crawcour, visitor services manager at Shalford Mill, said: “We’re delighted to be hosting an art exhibition that brings to life the Ferguson’s Gang in the very place where they held their gang meetings and in the building that was their first gift to the National Trust.

“Imagine how bewildered the characters in the National Trust’s head office in the 1930s would have been by the sight of a masked woman carrying a huge sack and depositing it on the secretary’s table with a note that confirmed the contents were the first instalment of the promised endowment for Shalford Mill? 

“The contents proved to be £100 in silver coins. The transaction was covered by The Times in 1938, and resulted in a large number of new members for the National Trust.”

Shalford Mill in the first half of the 20th century.

By the time the gang wound down it activities in 1946 members had preserved not only Shalford Mill, but  also Newtown Old Town Hall on the Isle of Wight, Priory Cottages in Oxfordshire, and donated some of the most beautiful stretches of the Cornish coastline to the National Trust.

The exhibition, Taming the Tentacles, has been conceived and curated by Polly Bagnall, grand-daughter of one of the original members of the gang. It draws upon the unique history of Shalford Mill and the exciting untold stories of the Ferguson’s Gang to bring a new audience to the National Trust.

Rare pictures of Ferguson’s Gang members dancing!

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