Aldbourne Heritage Centre
Exploring the Village Story

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Margaret Longhurst – Writer and Curator

A short way up Castle Street is the pleasant, if unremarkable, ‘Cobblestones’ cottage. Previously part of this cottage was a separate dwelling named ‘Wayside’ where a lady, who was a groundbreaker in her profession, lived out her retirement.

Margaret Helen Longhurst, born in 1882 in Certsey, Surrey was the daugher of a successful, if modest, draper. She was educated privately but apparently not formally. After her fathers death in 1895, she inherited sufficient money to travel in Europe, presumably in the running up to the First World war, studying art and medieval sculpture. Subsequently she had articles published in the Burlington Magazine, still today the worlds leading fine art publication. After 1918 aged about 36, she volunteered for work at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), later moving to a paid position as a ‘temporary cataloguer’. As a result of her self-taught knowledge of early sculpture, she became a ‘Museum Assistant’ in 1926, no doubt at that time quite a respectable post at the V&A. In that same year she (privately?) published ‘English Ivories’ followed in 1927 by a ‘Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory’. She must have already been well—respected
because in 1929 she was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians and was further promoted to ‘Assistant Keeper (First Class)’ at the V&A in 1930. In 1932 she completed the V&As ‘Catalogue of Italian Sculpture’, previously started by another expert. Finally in 1938, aged 56, she became the first woman in Britain to attain the post of ‘Keeper’ at a UK national museum when she was promoted to ‘Keeper of the Department of Architecture and Sculpture’ at the V&A.

She retired (probably reluctantly) from the age 60, in 1942. She continued to travel (presumably mainly after the end of WW2) and at some time thereabouts and for reasons unknown, she came to live at ‘Wayside’ in Aldbourne. She never
married, remaining a very private individual who is remembered by those in the village who were young at the time as a rarer stern but pleasant lady. She died at ‘Wayside’ in January 1958, age 76. No doubt in acknowledgement of eminence in her profession, was credited with an obituary in The Times and an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Her ‘Catalogue of Italian Sculpture,’ printed in 1932, remained the definitive guide and was not superseded until 1964.
Margaret Longhurst was dearly a knowledgeable and determined lady who broke into the traditionally male dominated ranks of the museum world and once lived in our village.