Object MattersThe strange, hermitic history of the garden gnome.

Object MattersThe strange, hermitic history of the garden gnome.

  • Words John Ovans
  • Photograph Cecilie Jegsen

“The hermit is never to leave the place, or hold conversation with anyone for seven years during which he is neither to wash himself or cleanse himself in any way whatever, but is to let his hair and nails both on hands and feet, grow as long as nature will permit them.” 

Not to be confused with your personal care routine during lockdown, the above quotation comes from classical archaeologist Sir William Gell’s book A Tour in the Lakes Made in 1797, in which he outlines one of the most curious professions in history—that of the ornamental hermit. 

Once the height of fashion, the hermit was an individual—usually an agricultural worker—hired by a rich landowner to live in a purpose-built hermitage on the grounds of their estate. The job description often required them to ...

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