Fighting against the perceived threat of the ‘octopus’ of urban development to Britain’s rural land and important buildings, Ferguson’s Gang embarked on an extraordinary campaign of fundraising on behalf of the National Trust in the 1930s.
As the Trust explains, “the gang wore masks to protect their anonymity and delivered their ‘swag’ in creative ways – inside a fake pineapple, cigar or accompanied by a bottle of homemade sloe gin. The stunts were avidly reported in the press capturing the public’s imagination.”
To protect their identities as privileged upper class women, the gang adopted pseudonyms such as Bill Stickers, the Bludy Beershop, Red Biddy, and ‘Erb the Smasher. On one occasion, Red Biddy (aka developmental psychologist Rachel Pinney) marched into the office of the Trust’s secretary wearing a mask and deposited a sack of Victorian coins on his desk as a donation.
In total, the group is thought to have raised the equivalent of £500,000 in today’s money, allowing the Trust to purchase stretches of the Cornish coast, plus Mayon Cliff and Frenchman’s Creek, as well as other areas of the UK.
Their activities in Cornwall are now being celebrated in a new campaign, which forms part of the Trust’s nationwide Women in Power campaign. The campaign, by Supple Studio, centres around a graphic device incorporating an octopus (the gang were inspired by architect – and Port Meirion creator – Clough Williams-Ellis‘s publication, England and the Octopus, which denounced insensitive building and ugly development) and, in its negative space, two female faces.
Prints of the octopus’s tentacles, explains Supple Studio designer Kate Cadwallader, who led the project, “are dotted at Trust locations around Cornwall” indicating sites that the gang helped preserve. At certain locations, the Trust is also flying a Ferguson’s Gang flag, while anyone visiting the Mayon Cliff lookout can get an Octopus hand-stamp “to welcome them into the gang”, Cadwallader says.
In addition, members of the public can download and print out their own tentacles, which they are being encouraged to place in Cornish locations and photograph to spread the word on social media.