When Sarah Losh died in 1853 the local weavers planted a tree on the village green in her memory, ‘to convey an expression of their gratitude for the many gifts and favours that they had received from her’. Otherwise, as Nikolaus Pevsner noted in 1967, she was soon ‘except strictly locally, entirely forgotten’. That Pevsner should have regretted this fact and wanted to know more, is an indication of how different, peculiar and elusive the story of Losh’s life is from the scant biographical outline which Jenny Uglow has undertaken, with courage and considerable success, to try and fill in. What caught Pevsner’s eye, as it catches the eye of almost everyone who finds themselves in Wreay, was the parish church of St Mary, which stands in the centre of the village opposite the green. Small and built of local stone, its oddness dawns only slowly. The use of the Lombardic style – which Pevsner noted as ‘original’ for the early 1840s – may not strike the non-specialist as particularly remarkable, but a large stone tortoise, protruding like a gargoyle from under the eaves, certainly will. A tour of the building reveals that the tortoise’s companions include a snake, a crocodile, a dragon and a turtle with wings. The design of the church, like the savagely carved grave slabs beside it and the mausoleum beyond, within whose rough and massive walls the figure of a woman, carved in white marble, contemplates a pinecone, is the work of Sarah Losh.
Faber | Hardback
344 pp. |ISBN: