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The Beginning of the Garden Gnome (the Statue)

Gnomes have for a long time been known to be occasionally mischievous, particularly after partaking of a drop or two of alcohol. The drunken antics of a gnome called Jurgen inadvertently brought about the birth of the garden gnome.

The Beginning of the Garden Gnome (the Statue)

You may hear tales of how the garden gnome dates back to the mid seventeenth century, but these were garden dwarfs, and as explained to you in my first blog post; we most definitely are NOT dwarfs. No, take it from a gnome in the know, the garden gnomes resembling us began in the mid nineteenth century and here’s how it happened.

In a small village near Graefenroda, Germany in 1845 a gnome called Jurgen who was drinking far too much, played pranks on humans all the time. His favourite drunken past-time was to briefly make himself visible to people as they left the local ‘Kneipe’ (tavern) in the evening. The reason he found this so amusing was because at that time in Germany, drinking at the local Kneipe was seen as a way of defining and enhancing a man’s social status as long as they lived up to the rules and norms of Tavern society. If people were letting others know that when they left the Tavern of an evening, they were seeing ‘little people’ muttering to them; they felt they would probably have been seen as drunks and thought less of. Jurgens ‘victims’ were therefore left tormented, wondering if they were indeed drinking too much. Some even feared the onset of a mental breakdown. Please don’t think too badly of him though. He didn’t intend to hurt people, he was simply amusing himself and hadn’t considered the ramifications his silly joke would have on others. This went on for many months, until one night a villager let something slip! The Landlord of the Kneipe called last orders, when one of his patrons said “Oh no. Thank you, but if I have anymore to drink, I’ll be seeing little people on the way home again”. Another man overheard this conversation and said “little people? You too?” Before long, most of the people in the tavern had joined the conversation and were all trying to describe the little man they had seen.

Some nights later, one of the villagers, a craftsman at the local pottery came in to the tavern and placed a small figure on the bar. “That’s it! ….. well, nearly” somebody shouted out. People looked on staring at it for sometime until it came to them; what was not quite right was the hat. It wasn’t pointed.

What happened after this, at least for the next 5 years, remains a mystery. All I know for sure was that Jurgen stopped his game with the people of the village as once they realised they couldn’t all be imagining the same thing; they wanted him to appear to them as they wanted to learn more about him. With the element of surprise gone, there was no fun in it for him anymore.

Some five years later in the town of Graefenroda itself, Phillip Griebel, a sculptor of terracotta animals in the town began to produce small statues nearly identical to that which the potter in the village had sculpted. Eventually, the popularity of the gnome statues grew worldwide in the years that followed and gnome manufacturers popped up all over the world.

In the UK, a some point between 1850 and 1874, twenty one gnome statues were brought in to England, by a gentleman called Sir Charles Isham, for an enormous rockery at his home, Lamport Hall, Northamptonshire. Once here, the gnomes were thought of by many to be like ‘marmite’ as you humans would say today. Some people, including some of the Isham family felt the gnomes unfit for the aesthetic of such a fine home as Lamport Hall, and indeed upon the death of Sir Charles his daughters believed they had cleared the Hall of the gnomes, allegedly by shooting them with their air rifles. Only one remained, ‘Lampy’, and still resides at Lamport Hall in a glass case and it is reported that he is insured for one million pounds!

So there we have it. The real reason you are seeing gnome statues in your garden. Until next time…. X

Category: Gnomes