Mrs A.M. Bernhard-Smith

[Obituary copied from St Nicholas at Wade Parish Magazine, 1969?]

The death of Mrs Molly Bernhard-Smith on March 23rd at Cherry Tree Cottage, Shuart Lane, was briefly recorded in our last issue. It took place a few days after she had celebrated her 95th birthday.

She had been associated with this village for close on seventy years. Around the turn of the century she and her husband had taken tickets for a day trip on the paddle steamer from London to Margate. When the vessel reached Herne Bay, they decided to disembark and continue their journey on foot past Reculver and along the sea wall. Seeing the tower of St. Nicholas Church, they crossed the marshes on reaching the village were so favourably impressed that they took rooms. Soon after, they bought the Thatched Cottage in Chapel Yard, which had earlier been a public house, from Mr W. Cole of "Elim" (the present Mr William Cole's grandfather). It is thought that they paid £50.

Arthur Bernhard-Smith, her husband was a doctor who trained under Lord Lister, the founder of antiseptic surgery. He practised for only a few years, principally as ship's doctor for the P. & 0. and other lines. This enabled his wife and himself to see many parts of the world, including Baghdad at a time when it was little known to Western travellers. On one occasion on a voyage to South America the Lascar crew mutinied, locking the ship's captain in his cabin. Molly Bernhard-Smith decided that her childhood knowledge of the position of the stars should enable her to steer the ship. It did.

She and her husband at one time wanted to make a gift of a clock for the tower of St. Nicholas Church. I t was to have a blue face and gold hands. But they abandoned the idea when villagers protested that the clock would allow everyone to know if they knocked off early. Dr. Bernhard-Smith died in 1928. He was an expert on poisonous plants, but is remembered more for his love of practical jokes.

Two of Mrs Bernhard-Smith's sisters also lived in St Nicholas at various times; Mrs Winifred Morris, at Tudor Cottage, and Mrs Eleanor Killer, at Mariner's Hut. Mrs Miller now lives in California, the last of fourteen brothers and sisters. Mrs Bernhard-Smith was born Alice Mary Bishop. The father, Michael S. Holman Bishop had been born in Totnes. He became manager of the Seager Evans Distillery in Westminster and retired to Lewes where the family grew up. Molly acquired much of her education in Belgium and France. She became a very competent painter and was a founder member of the Kent Art Society, exhibiting at their Canterbury shows until a few years ago when she was made an Honorary Member. She developed a deep knowledge of many forms of art — pointing, woodcarving, sculpture, lithography, engraving etc. — and was an acknowledged expert whose opinions were sought by museums and dealers alike. In due course she became a dealer herself, establishing the "Twenty-one Gallery" in the Adelphi and later at other London addresses.

Here she presented exhibitions at which the work of little-known artists was shown to the public for the first time. Many were later to become famous — Sir Jacob Epstein, for instance, and Graham Sutherland, best known today for his savage portraits of Churchill, Beaverbrook and Somerset Maugham. She mounted the first exhibitions in this country of Mestrovic and Gaudier-Breszka. British painters, etchers and engravers included Sickert, Robert Austin, R.A. (who designed the £5 note), Paul Drury, F.L. Griggs and many more.

During this period she lived mainly in London, using her St. Nicholas home for holidays and weekends. She introduced several people to the village who later came to live there — Bernard Miles, the Madariaga family, and the late Dr. Thomas Jones. Her circle of friends was enormous; they were mostly artists, actors, architects, authors or musicians. Dame Laura Knight, Dane Eva Turner, Christopher Isherwood and Clifford Box are names that spring to mind. The Poetry Book Club was founded in her gallery and some of the poems of W. H. Davies and Ralph Hodgson published there. She founded the Senefelder Club with the aim of spreading the appreciation of lithography.

She was a Bohemian who hated restriction. Time meant nothing to her. She was an excellent cook and a skilled gardener. She loved to dress up for family games of charades. Her husband had played the flute; she played the piano and sang the popular songs of long ago. She regretted having no children of her own and delighted in the children of friends and relatives. She cherished personal freedom above all. In her old age she dreaded the thought of being forced into some well-meaning institution with rules and rigidity — "some dogs' home" as she put it. She was determined to die in her little cottage. All who helped her in her last difficult months when she was less and less able to fend for herself (and her cat), must rejoice that she had her way. Her family are deeply grateful to the many who helped her. She loved St. Nicholas and many in St. Nicholas loved her.