BASIL GUY and THE GUILD OF THE TREASURE SEEKERS
“The Guild of The Treasure Seekers” made high quality children’s toys in a garden shed in Stonaford and sold them through a shop in Plymouth. The Guild also showed off their craft at various fairs.
The Guild was the brainchild of Basil Gay who lived at Stonaford from around 1928 until his death in 1952. The Guild is interesting to North Hill residents as there are people in the parish today who remember it and people who worked there. Basil’s story is no less interesting, his family being remarkable in so many different ways.
The work of The Guild was wonderfully recorded in this article in The Western Morning News, written in November 1941.
Those of you with a connection with Tavistock may know the name of Basil Tudor Guy who was vicar there in the 1940s and 1950s. He will come into our story in due course but we must distinguish him from his father who was also named Basil Guy and is at the centre of this story. Basil Guy, the father, will be shown here as Basil Guy or Basil; his son will be shown as Basil Tudor Guy.
Basil Guy was born in 1867, the son of Frederic Barlow Guy and Rebecca Maria Guy. Frederic was an ordained priest in the Church of England, a Doctor of Divinity and headmaster at the exclusive and expensive Forest School in Walthamstow. Frederic had twenty children with his first wife, Rebecca, who was married at 23 and died at 46 having had all these children by single births. Nineteen of the twenty survived infancy which was unusual, given that the children were born in the mid-1800s when infant mortality was high. Frederic’s forebears numbered quite a few men in Holy Orders and some of his sons also went into the church as priests. Frederic was also a canon of St Alban’s diocese. He went on to become a highly influential headmaster in The Forest School and was followed in that post by two of his sons.
Links with William Morris of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
The following has been extracted from the Forest School’s website:
“Forest School is proud of its historical links with William Morris; champion of fine craftwork in furniture, fabrics, wallpaper and stained glass, writer, poet and pioneer of socialism.
“William Morris [pictured here] was born in Walthamstow on 24 March 1834, the same year that Forest School was established. The William Morris Gallery, housed in one of his childhood homes, is nearby. Morris’ father was a founding shareholder in the School and his brothers were all pupils here.
“Morris was a boarder at Marlborough College when an organised rebellion there in November 1851 led to the decision that he leave the School that Christmas and study for his matriculation with a private tutor: the Reverend Doctor Frederick Barlow Guy, who was then Assistant Master at Forest before going on to become its Headmaster.
“F. B. Guy’s influence over his talented pupil was great and a cordial friendship developed between them that lasted throughout their lives.
“After F. B. Guy’s wife died in 1875, the School commissioned the firm of Morris & Co. to install a memorial window in the south transept of the School Chapel, which was designed by Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris’ lifelong friend and partner. Burne-Jones also designed a window for the eastern end of the north transept; both of these windows were destroyed by the blast of a flying-bomb in 1944. A fragment from one, depicting Rebecca, has been set in a Quatrefoil window in the North wall. A third window made by Morris & Co. still remains in the north transept behind the organ; it shows Samuel and Timothy and incorporates the distinctive grapes and flowers that are so typical of Morris’ designs.
“Although Morris was never a pupil at Forest, his influence on the School remains strong. A banner made at the request of F. B. Guy, depicting an oak tree with the arms of the diocese of St Albans and the School motto ‘In Pectore Robur’, hangs in the Memorial Dining Hall today.”
Basil was thirteenth in the line of Frederic’s twenty children and was just 8 years old when his mother died. Like his brothers, he had a private education at a boarding school in Berkshire and later joined a company importing and exporting goods between the UK and Argentina. From the 1890s Basil travelled regularly by steamship between the UK and Buenos Aires. He travelled back and forth to Argentina on many occasions and this link shows extracts from the ships’ manifests. There were times when he made prolonged sojourns in Argentina. He married in 1894 in Kent and on two subsequent extended trips he took his wife, Edith, and children with him; some of his eight children were born in Argentina. When the family lived in Argentina there were no toys available for Basil’s children and so he learnt how to make them, not realizing that he might put the skill to use later in life.
Basil Guy retired when he was about 60 years of age in the mid-1920s. After a spell living in London he took his family to live in Looe, Cornwall. His pension was paid by the company for which he had worked for so many years but his income had reduced to the point where he needed to find another source of income. Trading conditions before World War One had been profitable but political instability in Argentina, tariffs imposed by the UK government and a lack of acumen in the company resulted in Basil losing his investment and pension income. To fill the gap in his finances Basil planned to set up “The Guild of the Treasure Seekers”, a business making and selling children’s wooden toys.
The premises in Looe were not suitable for making toys and Basil heard of a property in Stonaford to rent from the Rodd family. Stonaford had the benefit of a shed at the bottom of the garden and Basil chose to put this to good use as a place to manufacture toys. He moved the family to Stonaford and started The Guild. Over the years they did little to improve the property in case this might have induced their landlords to increase the rent.
Initially the venture was just Basil making, painting and selling the toys as a one man operation. As the business grew his wife, Edith, and his daughters, Kathleen and Sheila joined in and were painting some of the toys. Stonaford had a large treadle circular saw and fretsaws to make the toys. Basil’s granddaughter remembers educational toys, maps, jigsaws, plywood farm animals, alphabets in boxes and particularly a ‘House that Jack Built’, with silhouettes, to be filled in with appropriate figures like a jigsaw. In the images below can be seen a bookcase and a dressing table for a doll’s house and two articulated tortoises.
Basil travelled across the South West and even as far as London to craft fairs to promote his toys. The press reports of the fairs never failed to mention the high quality of the toys. He found an outlet for his toys at Underhill’s toy shop on Tavistock Street in Plymouth and demand for the toys increased.
To keep up with demand Basil employed half a dozen local young people at any one time, boys to make the toys and girls to paint them. Two of the lads he employed were Owen Landry and Ken Budge. In November 1941, during World War Two, The Guild of the Treasure Seekers featured in an illustrated article in the Western Morning News. Basil was described as “Helping Father Christmas” and his toys were described as ‘different’. It also describes Basil as the grandfather to fifteen children. Who better to be a maker of children’s toys? Indeed, the grandchildren used to paint the toys when they came to visit.
A memory exists in the family of a worker of The Guild dying at Clitters. This would probably have been in the 1930s. Do you know who this was? Please tell us via the e-mail address at the foot of this page.
A classified newspaper advertisement in 1949 informing of the sale of his lathe points towards the end of the guild. Technology had advanced significantly during World War Two and the use of plastics for toys was a death knell for the guild. Basil’s daughter, Kathleen Mackenzie, tried to keep the business going but eventually was compelled to close it down.
Basil Guy died in 1952 whilst visiting his daughter, Betty, in Goudhurst in Kent, where he was buried. His widow Edith died at Stonaford in 1960 39_01and is buried in St Torney’s churchyard along with her daughter Kathleen McKenzie. A wooden statue of the Virgin Mary in St Torney’s north aisle is dedicated to Basil and Edith. It was carved by local wood sculptor, Tony Frith.
The family still have a connection with the parish in that Basil’s great grandchildren come to stay in parish and the family maintain a friendly connection with the Latham family of Trebartha Hall. The shed at Stonaford no longer exists but the hardstand is still there and it was on that spot that the Guild of the Treasure Seekers came into being.
Basil and Edith’s children were Humphrey Guy (born 1896), Edith Dorothea Guy known as Dot (1898), Violet Guy (1899), Irene Guy (1901), Elizabeth Guy known as Betty (1903), Kathleen Guy (1907), Basil Tudor Guy (1910) and Sheila Guy (1912). In this photograph Edith can be seen with her first five daughters: Dot is standing at the back, Violet is on the right, Irene is on the left, Betty is kneeling and Kathleen is on her mother’s lap.
The 1941 newspaper article also mentions that one of his daughters was an artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy. This was Violet who submitted a portrait of a family member under her married name of Violet Thomas.
Basil Tudor Guy who was another member of the family who took Holy Orders. He went to Oxford University which was paid for by his Uncle Ralph who was headmaster of the Forest School at the time. Around 1938, when Basil Tudor Guy was engaged to marry, he was summoned to tea at Trebartha with the Rodd family so that they could meet his bride. Basil Tudor Guy was a curate in Wanstead in 1935. He wanted to enlist to fight when the Second World War broke out but the church authorities wouldn't let him. He then went to Bradninch as the incumbent. In the 1940s and 1950s Basil Tudor Guy was the Vicar of Tavistock. Whilst in that role he baptized Shelby, the chairperson of NHLHG, and her brother. Basil Tudor Guy went on to become the Suffragan Bishop of Bedford and then the Bishop of Gloucester. He died in Gloucester in 1975.
Kathleen Guy married John Mackenzie; she was another well known North Hill resident as an authoress of child’s books featuring ponies and an autobiography of Sarah Siddons. She was involved in amateur dramatics, she wrote and directed pantomimes for North Hill’s Christmas entertainment. These events were held at the sawmill at Trebartha, which had a large covered space, and raised money for the future village hall. In 1985 Kathleen was found suffering from a stroke on the floor of Stonaford by the postman; Kathleen died a week later. A biography of Kathleen Mackenzie can be found on this website.
We are grateful to Helen Hazlewood for her contribution to the story of The Guild of the Treasure Seekers. Helen is Basil Guy’s granddaughter.
The banner image shows a box of doll’s house toys that were sold at an auction in 2017. It was by this image that Gillian Thomas was provoked to ask the question “What was The Guild of the Treasure Seekers?” and from whence this whole story unfolded.