Back in the 1920s there was a gang known as “Ferguson’s Gang” that Lewis backed both financially and morally.
When I read the title, it inspired thoughts of secret societies, and I wondered exactly what it was that he would have supported financially as well as morally. This was uncovered in letters between Lewis and the leader of Ferguson’s Gang, his friend Margaret Gladstone. She was the niece of former Prime Minister William Gladstone, who went under the pseudonym Bill Stickers. Before Lewis came to Oxford in 1917, he studied in Surrey a couple of miles from where Gladstone grew up, and they became friends.
Ferguson’s Gang was a National Trust fundraising group whose “inner circle” was made up of five well-connected young women. They went under the secret names Bill Stickers, Sister Agatha, Lord Beershop, Red Biddy and Kate O’Brien. The group joined together in 1927 to fight the growing urbanization of the countryside and help preserve the country’s heritage.
Author Anna Hutton-North said the letters she found between Lewis and Bill Stickers revealed that he supported the gang, but included no evidence of his being an official member. The gang raised the equivalent of more than half a million pounds in today’s money to support the National Trust. They saved their Victorian silver and contributed money made from friends of the group. Their headquarters was at the Shalford Mill in Surrey.
Members of the gang traveled across London, in masks, to National Trust buildings with a sack of money with a note explaining what it should be used for. On some occasions they tied bank notes around cigars. They helped save almost 20 historical sites by buying them for the National Trust. The Priory Cottages in Steventon, near Abingdon, were earmarked by Lewis himself as a building that should be saved. They helped restore the buildings and handed them back to the National Trust at a time when it had fewer than 1,000 members and was very poor.
The Priory Cottages, formerly known as Steventon Priory, has been converted into two houses. It is a 14th century manor house and former monastic grange. One of the houses can be visited by the public with written permission
Through the gang’s contribution the members helped save almost 20 historical sites by buying them for the National Trust, including the Priory Cottages in Steventon, near Abingdon, which was earmarked by Lewis himself as a building that should be saved. They helped restore the buildings and handed them back to the National Trust at a time when it was very poor and had fewer than 1,000 members.
Formerly known as Steventon Priory, Priory Cottages – a 14th-century manor house and former monastic grange – has been converted into two houses, one of which can be visited by the public with written permission. Richard Henderson, general manager of the West Oxfordshire National Trust branch, said: “Priory Cottages were given to us in 1939 by Ferguson’s Gang, who were a group of secret ladies It is very interesting to hear that CS Lewis may have been involved in helping to preserve the cottages and we look forward to hearing more about it.”
Author Mrs Hutton-North, started researching for the book, entitled Ferguson’s Gang – the Maidens behind the Masks, two years ago after reading a newspaper article about the group. “For a long time it felt like I was making no progress. But then I had a Eureka moment when I found Sister Agatha’s love letters to a future husband, which included details of the other gang members.”
The book is published by Lulu Inc and is available to buy for £9.99
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