The Miss Drews

There were three Miss Drews – three sisters Mary, Sylvia and Joan. They came to live at Blatchfeld, Blackheath in 1910, and at once undertook a variety of work to benefit the village community. All the sisters enjoyed drawing, painting, music and embroidery and as they grew up, each concentrated on developing her particular talent. Mary was interested in drama, Sylvia in music and Joan became a nationally known embroiderer.

         When in 1904 Ralph Vaughn Williams founded the Leith Hill Music Festival, all three sisters participated in the choral competitions. In 1912 Sylvia Drew founded the Blackheath Choral Society and, with her as conductor it achieved many successes. She remained as conductor until handing over to Lady Tangley in 1948. She was then 81 years old, and had led the society for 36 years.


The following report appeared in 1913, and is evidence of the kind of community work to which the three ladies gave so much of their time.

“A laudable attempt to encourage the residents of Blackheath to take an interest in home arts and industries was made on Wednesday, when an exhibition of work was held in the village room (as the village hall was then called). It was the first exhibition of its kind in the village and the result was gratifying to the Misses M. and J. Drew who organised it.”

In 1919 the “Blackheath Home Crafts Exhibition” had become a two-day affair, using not only the village room, but also the “congregational hall” (now a private house called Chapel End”).


By this time Blackheath Women’s Institute had been formed (in January 1919), and as the Miss Drews had taught most of the members, they were proficient at singing, handcraft and particularly embroidery. In 1921, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes held an exhibition in the Royal Horticultural Hall in London, and Blackheath ladies earned this glowing report: -

“ Blackheath Women’s Institute, at the great exhibition in London, has done credit to the village, winning the banner for the greatest number of awards in all England and Wales, another banner for the best needlework in all England, and a third for part-singing. First class medals were gained by Miss Ladworth, Miss O. Chitty, Miss M. Drew and Miss R. Leigh, and second class medals by Miss J. Drew and Mrs. Brown. The country dance team also gained warm commendation for their good of dancing.”

So the village continued to benefit from the efforts of these remarkable ladies. Joan Drew became renowned for her embroidery. In 1920 and 1922 she conducted short summer courses in the Victoria and Albert Museum for the teachers of needlework subjects, and in 1932 examples of her work were included in an exhibition by the British Institute of Industrial Art, that was held in the museum.

In 1928 Joan Drew made an important and far-reaching contribution to the life of Guildford. She prevailed upon the authorities at the Castle Museum to accept a collection of old embroidery she and her friends had formed. From this modest beginning has grown the collection of smocks and samplers for which the museum is now noted.

         Locally, she supervised embroidery classes, and those who studied under her all speak of her as a “splendid teacher”, and consequently many local ladies and girls became expert with the needle.

         Joan’s output was prolific – among local examples of her work, or work carried out under her supervision are: - two banners in Blackheath Village Hall; a banner for Blackheath and Chilworth Mother’s Union; a banner for the Surrey Federation of Women’s Institutes (worked with Blackheath, Chilwoth and Shalford members); a banner for Albury, St Marthas and Farley Green Mother’s Union (this won the Embroiderers’ Guild, Challenge Cup, 1940), and a particularly fine banner in Shalford Church. A retrospective exhibition of her work was held at Loseley House, Guildford in 1968, when over 150 items were on view.


         In 1936, the three sisters moved to Albury Heath, but Miss Sylvia continued to lead Blackheath Choral Society. Mary, the eldest, died at Albury. Then in the late fifties, Sylvia and Joan returned to this parish, staying at Brantingeshay when it was used as a nursing home. Joan died on 16th June 1961, aged 86 and Sylvia died the following September, aged 94.

         In the years before radio and television these ladies did much to encourage local residents to undertake worthwhile hobbies and interests, and they must have had a profound effect on the quality of life in this parish. It is fortunate to have surviving examples of Joan Drew embroidery today – they are treasures from the past.

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