Peggy Cripps Appiah,
MBE(b. May 21 1921- February 11 2006) was a children's author, known as well for being the daughter of former Chancellor of the Exchequer Stafford Crippsand the wife of Ghanaian lawyer and political activist Joe Appiah.
Enid Margaret Cripps was born in
Lechlade, Gloucestershire, England, just across the county border from the home of her parents, Stafford Cripps and Isobel Cripps, nee Swithenbank, in the village of Filkinsin Oxfordshire.
Enid was the youngest of four children. When she was born, her brother John was nine years old, her sisters Diana and Theresa were 7 and 2, and from her earliest days all of them, and her parents, called her Peggy or Peg. Her parents had been married for ten years, and her father was a successful young barrister, specializing in patent law. Her mother, Isobel Swithinbank, was the granddaughter of J.C. Eno, whose invention of the extremely profitable Eno’s Fruit Salts meant that Isobel was heiress to a considerable fortune.
The family had only recently moved into Goodfellows, the home in Filkins where Peggy grew up; a Cotswold-style manor house, whose decoration and development owed much to the influence of Sir Lawrence Weaver, the architect, who was, with his wife, Kathleen, one of Stafford and Isobel’s closest friends. Kathleen Weaver died in 1927 of pneumonia. When Sir Lawrence also died in 1930, their two sons, Purcell and Toby, were, in effect, adopted by the Crippses. In later life, Peggy always regarded them as her brothers.
Growing up in the country, in the care of her mother and her beloved nanny, Elsie Lawrence, and with the companionship of her sister Theresa, she spent much of her childhood exploring the English countryside, collecting the wildflowers and the fruits and mushrooms that grew in the hedgerows and meadows of the convert|500|acre|km2 of her father’s farm and the surrounding woods and fields. As members of the British Wildflower Society, she and her sister learned how to identify plants and got to know the common and Latin names of many of them. She was to transfer this interest in later years to the flora of Ghana. This love of the countryside was something that united her family; indeed her brother Sir John Cripps, not only farmed at Filkins all his life, but edited "The Countryman" and was later the European Countryside Commissioner. One other interest that her family shared was a great love of poetry. Peggy began to write poetry as a girl and continued to do so throughout her life.
On her father’s side, the family had long lived in
Gloucestershire: they were a solidly upper middle-class family. Stafford’s father, Lord Parmoor, was a lawyer who had been ennobled in 1914, when he became a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Stafford’s great-great grandfather, Joseph Cripps, had been MP for Cirencester, not many miles away; and when Stafford’s father was a Member of Parliament he represented Stroud, another Gloucestershiretown.
The political connections of Peggy’s family were extensive on her grandmother’s side as well: two of her grandmother’s sisters were married to the MPs
Charles Edward Henry Hobhouseand Leonard Henry Courtney, Baron Courtney; another, her great-aunt Beatrice, was married to Sidney Webb, who served with her grandfather Lord Parmoorin the first Labour Government, in 1924, and was Secretary of State for the Colonies in the second Labour government in 1929, where he served in cabinet with Lord Parmoor, as Lord President of the Council, and was joined later by Stafford, as Solicitor General. (It was at this time that her father was knighted.) Among her favorite visitors to the family home at Goodfellows was George Lansbury, who was leader of the Labour Party in opposition in the 1930’s, before Clement Atlee; and, indeed, a photograph of Lansbury was one of the only adornments of Peggy’s office in her last home in Kumasi.
Peggy’s family were not only devout
Anglicans, they were deeply involved in the life of the church: Parmoor was an ecclesiastical lawyer, a member—and in 1911 the Chairman—of the house of Laymen in the Province of Canterbury, Vicar General of various English provinces, and author of Cripps on Church and Clergy; Stafford, it is sometimes said, was the first layman to preach in St Paul's Cathedral. When she was preparing for her confirmation, she told her parents that she had doubts about some of the thirty-nine articles of faith of the Church of England, and her father arranged for her to discuss them with his friend, William Temple, Archbishop of York (later Archbishop of Canterbury). Peggy used to enjoy telling people that as they had gone through the 39 articles, each time she had expressed a doubt, the Archbishop had said, "Yes, I find that one very difficult, too!" She decided that if an Archbishop could lead the church with his doubts, she could join it with hers. And, indeed, her firm but undogmatic Christian convictions sustained her throughout her life.
Peggy had a conventional education for a young woman of her class and time. She was educated first at a day school at Queen’s College, Harley Street, and later at Maltman’s Green, a boarding school in
Buckinghamshire, where she and a group of friends attended a Quaker Meeting House. Through her parents’ connections, she also began to learn something of the world outside England. In 1938 she and her family spent several months in Jamaica, and in the same year Jawaharlal Nehru, with whom Stafford had begun an extensive correspondence as a result of his interest in the development of democracy in the British colonies, visited Goodfellows with his daughter Indira Gandhi.
"Off to study"
When she finished school, Peggy applied to
Edinburgh University—-she wanted, she said in later years, to get away from the influence of home—-and then went off to Italyto study the history of art in Florence and to sketch. But this was 1939 and the Second World Warwas looming. She had to return hurriedly to Englandfrom Florence, Italy, and she declined her place at Edinburgh University, enrolling instead at the Whitehall Secretarial College, which had been evacuated to Dorsetwith the onset of bombing in London, so she could start work immediately.
Once she had completed her training, she was able to set off to join her father in
Moscow, where he was then British Ambassador and she was able to be useful as a secretary in the embassy. Because the direct route to Moscowwould have required traveling through German-occupied Europe, she and her mother and her sister Theresa, traveled to Russia by way of Canada, crossing the continent on the Canadian Pacific Railwayand then passing through Japanand Chinaand crossing the Soviet Unionby rail.
Moscow, Peggy did secretarial work for her father and became friends with the daughters of the Yugoslav and Chinese ambassadors, and the daughter of an Iranian diplomat, who was to remain a life-long friend. In 1941, at the age of 20, with her parents in London, and her sister in Iran, she was left in charge of the evacuation of the British Embassy, with the German invasion of Russialooming. Since she was officially a secretary in the Foreign Service, she found herself working for a Mr. Cook in the consular department in Teheran. Later on, when the British Army took over the Iranian railway system, she worked as a secretary for the Brigadier who was in charge.
In 1942, she returned to
England, accompanying her father, who was returning from a visit to India. They traveled through the Middle Easton a seaplane, landing on Lake Galileein Palestineand the Nilein Egypt, where she was able to see the pyramids of Egypt. This was also her first visit to the African continent. For the rest of the war she worked in the Ministry of Information, first in the Indian Division and then in the Soviet Relations Division, where she was able to use her knowledge of the Russian languagein her work. As her father committed himself full time to politics—-and to the reduced income that came with the loss of his legal practice—-the family gave up the large house at Goodfellows and moved into a smaller house at Frith Hill in Gloucestershire, though her brother John eventually took over the running of the farm at Filkins.
At the end of the war, Peggy had a nervous breakdown. She had given up her place at university to be useful during the war; now she found herself experienced but unqualified for the job she was already doing. She was sent to
Switzerlandto recover at the Maximilian Bircher-Bennerclinic in Zurich, spent a summer in Luganostudying painting, and returned to Londonto take up the study of art full time at the Anglo-French Art Centre in St. John’s Wood, in London. Then she took up painting in a small studio in the apartment of the artist Feliks Topolskiand attended life-classes at Hammersmith Art School, under the tutelage of Carel Weight.
Throughout this period she was in close and regular touch with her parents, even though her father was increasingly busy with his political work. With the Labour Party victory in the 1945 election at the end of the War, Stafford had entered the cabinet as President of the Board of Trade, where he spent most of his time working on negotiations with the leaders of Indian independence, including
Gandhi, Nehruand Jinnah. In November 1947, he became Chancellor of the Exchequerand most of the rest of his life he helped to manage the beginnings of the post-War recovery of Britain and the creation of the modern welfare state.
In 1942, her mother had agreed to lead a campaign to raise money for aid to the people of
China, who were facing great suffering as a result of the Japanese invasion, floods, disease and famine. Six years later, the Chinese government invited Lady Cripps to visit their country so that they could see what was being done with the money and express their gratitude for the work of British United Aid to China. Peggy went along as one of her mother’s traveling companions. Since the money was meant to be used to help all the Chinese, they both stayed with General Chiang Kai-shekand Madame Chiang and also visited the Communist "Liberated Areas" in Yenan, where Peggy met Chou En Laiand Madame Mao. On their way back from China, she and her mother traveled through Burmaand India.
As a result of her experiences in
Jamaica, Russia, Iran, China, Burmaand India, and her family’s friendship with people like the Nehrus, Peggy, who was now in her mid twenties, knew many people from many countries and also knew much more about life outside England, indeed outside Europe, than most of her contemporaries. This experience, along with her deep Christiancommitments, led her to work for cooperation among peoples; and in the late 1940s she started to work for an organization called Racial Unity, which had been started by Miss Atlee, sister of the Prime Minister, as well as becoming active in the Youth Department of the World Council of Churches(WCC). It was through her work for Racial Unity, of which she was secretary in 1952, that she first met Joseph Emmanuel Appiah, better known as Joe Appiah, who was President of the West African Students’ Union. Their friendship grew fast and in January 1952, he proposed and she accepted.
At the time, however, Peggy’s father Stafford was extremely ill. In May of the previous year, he had been taken to the
Maximilian Bircher-Bennerclinic in Zurich(where Peggy had recovered many years before) and was eventually thought well enough to return home to the family’s home at Frith Hill. But in early January 1952 he was flown back to Zurich, where he died nearly four months later. As a result of this illness, Isobel decided that it would be best if the engagement should be kept secret. Then, once he died, custom required that the engagement not be announced for another year. In the meanwhile, Peggy’s mother suggested that she should visit the Gold Coast on her own, traveling out by steamship to see the country of her intended husband.
Much to her surprise, Joe was already at home in
Kumasi, when she arrived, having flown back urgently on the death of his granduncle, Yao Antony, whom he was to succeed as head of his family. She traveled to Kumasion Christmas Eve 1952, where she was reunited with her fiancé, and met his family, for the first time, with him, on Christmas Day. On New Year’s Eve she attended the Watch Night Service at the Wesley Methodist Church in Kumasi, worshiping for the first time in the church which was to celebrate her funeral more than fifty years later. She also visited the campus of what was to be Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology—-then a one-year old teacher’s training college—-for the first time; a campus where she was to send her children to primary school and where, at the age of 84, she received an honorary degree of doctor of letters, to her great delight.
Peggy always said that she knew at once that she would be happy in
Ghana. The warmth of Ghanaians made more sense to her than the somewhat formal style of the English. On her first trip, she traveled as far north as Navrongo, crossed the Voltaand entered French Togoland, in the east, and traveled to Elminain the west.
Of course, there was much speculation as to what she was doing in Ghana, and because the engagement had not been announced, Peggy was not able to explain the real reason for her visit. She told the "Daily Graphic" that “as a member of a political family in Britain, I am very interested in the people of the Gold Coast and in their political advancement.” Along with her future husband’s family she met many prominent Ghanaians: the
Asantehene, Mrs. Aggrey, wife of the founder of the Achimota School, Kofi Antuban, the artist, Nene Mate Koli, as well as such leaders of the independence movement as Kwame Nkrumah, Kojo Gbedemah, Kojo Botsio, and Krobo Edusei. She came home looking forward to making a life in her husband’s country.
The announcement of their engagement in 1953 produced a firestorm of comment in Britain and around the world; and when Peggy Cripps and
Joe Appiahwere married in June 1953, the occasion was front-page news in Britain, in Ghana, and many other countries and the event was one of the social events of the year. George Padmore, the West Indian Pan-Africanistwas best man, deputising for Kwame Nkrumah, who was too busy as the new leader of Government Business to attend himself. Hugh Gaitskell, Stafford’s successor as Chancellor was there, as were Michael Foot, future leader of the Labour party, Lady Quist, the wife of the Speaker of the Gold Coast Assembly, and Krishna Menon, India’s ambassador to the United Nations. A Jamaican newspaper commented that there were "top-hatted and frock-coated British aristocrats... ex-Cabinet Ministers... as well as several Tory and Socialist members of Parliament." The real attraction, however, was the kente clothworn not only by the bridegroom but by many of his friends. Coverage in newspapers around the world ranged from the hostile—-in South Africaand Rhodesia-—to the skeptical (What would become of the children?), to the admiring.
Peggy and Joe took their honeymoon in
Franceand returned to England where Joe was to finish his legal training at the Middle Temple. In May 1954 their first son, Kwame Anthony Appiah, was born (amid another flutter of newspaper publicity) and in November the young family arrived in the Gold Coast to begin their new life. During this period, while Joe was developing a legal career and beginning his life as a politician, Peggy focused most of her energy on her young family—-Ama was born in 1955, Adwoa in 1960 and Abena in 1962—-and on working as a secretary and legal assistant in his law office and for his constituents, supporting her husband as she had supported her father. She learned to wear cloth, started attending funerals, and got to know her husband’s family and his father’s family as well. They built themselves a home in Mbrom, where their neighbors were Victor Owusu, another senior NLM politician, John Brew, and, across the street, Joe’s father, J. W. K. Appiah and his wife, Aunty Jane.
For more than thirty years, beginning in the late 1950s, Peggy’s extensive library at Mbrom was made available to the children of the neighbourhood, who could come and read children’s books, and, as they grew older, the novels and poetry she had collected. Among her most prized collections were many of the volumes of the Heinemann African Writer’s Series. Other frequent visitors to the house included the traders who brought her the goldweights they had acquired on their collecting trips through the villages and towns of
Ghana. She also took an interest in the education and welfare of a number of young people, who became part of her extended family, among them Isobel Kusi-Obodom, whose father died in Nkrumah’s prisons, and Dr. Joe Appiah-Kusi of Seattle.
When Joe was elected to Parliament in the 1956 elections, prior to independence, she continued to provide a secure home to which he could return from his political struggles, forget about politics, and rest in the bosom of his family. Peggy chose to join the little church of St. George in the center of
Kumasi; she worked tirelessly with Dr. Alex Kyerematen for the development of the Cultural Center in Kumas] ; and she was active, in accordance with the tradition of her own family, in social work. She was on the Committee of the Children’s Home, worked with the home for the Destitute in Bekwai, and in later years she became a patron of the Ghana National Association for the Blind. When Joe was imprisoned at the orders of Kwame Nkrumahin October 1961, she refused to leave the country and a deportation order was withdrawn when a front-page article appeared in the British press describing her situation. At this time her son, Kwame, was also very ill. And the next month, the British Queen made her first visit to Ghana. While inspecting the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospitalin Kumasi, she passed by Kwame’s bed with her husband, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and President Nkrumah. Since he had a picture of his parents displayed on his bedside table, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who had visited Kumasi previously and met her, turned back, as he was leaving, to send his regards to her. Nkrumah’s anger at being embarrassed in this way—-this was the husband of a foreign head of state sending a greeting to the wife of a man Nkrumah had in political detention—-was one of the reasons that her son’s doctor was deported.
The combination of her anxieties about her husband and her son put her under a great deal of strain, which was increased by the fact that she was pregnant at the time with her youngest child, Abena, who was extremely ill for much of her infancy. Nevertheless, she continued to maintain a stable home for her children and to work quietly for her husband’s release, with the assistance of her mother, Lady Cripps, who was able to visit her son-in-law in Ussher Fort in 1962.
Lady Cripps returned to England with her sick grandson; and just before Christmas, in 1962, Joe was released from prison and returned to legal practice, assisted, again, by Peggy. The anxieties of the final years of the Nkrumah regime were relieved in 1966, by the coup that ousted Nkrumah. In the years that followed, as her children were abroad at boarding schools and universities, and her husband was active once more in Ghanaian politics and as an ambassador for the nation, she stayed mostly in
Kumasi, providing the base from which he could travel out into the world, secure in the knowledge that Peggy was taking care of things on the home front. She kept an eye on the properties he had inherited from his granduncle. Despite her family’s extensive political involvements, Peggy herself was not particularly interested in party politics. She supported her husband, of course. But her own contributions were through the wide range of social work she engaged in.
Over the years, Peggy became increasingly interested in and knowledgeable about Akan art and folklore, as she acquired a major goldweight collection, began collecting and translating proverbs, and learned Ananse stories, many of them from her husband. For three decades, a visit to her house and her goldweight collection was one of the highlights of a visit to Ashanti for visitors interested in its art. Starting in the mid-1960s she began to publish a series of volumes of Ananse stories, retold for children, which became widely known in Africa, England and America and throughout the English-speaking world. Beginning with "Ananse the Spider: Tales from an Ashanti Village" in 1966, and followed by "Tales of an Ashanti Father", she went on to publish the "Children of Ananse" in 1968, "The Pineapple Child and Other Tales from Asante" in 1969, "Why There are So Many Roads" in 1972, and "Why the Hyena Does Not Care for Fish and Other Tales from the Ashanti Gold Weights" in 1977. She also published a series of readers to help Ghanaian children learn English: "The Lost Earring", "Yao and the Python", "Abena and the Python", "Afua and the Mouse" and "Kofi and the Crow", as well as a series of novels for children and adults, including "Gift of the Mmoatia" and" Ring of Gold", and two volumes of poetry. Perhaps, her most important publication, however, which was the result of nearly five decades of work was "Bu Me Bé: Proverbs of the Akan", a collection of over 7,000 Twi proverbs, which was launched in Accra in 2002.
In 1985, she and Joe traveled abroad together to visit their friend
Kamuzu Banda, President of Malawi, whom they had known during his period of exile in Ghana, to celebrate the twenty-first anniversary of Malawi’s independence. They traveled widely around the country, before going on to stay with their daughter, Abena, who was then living in Zimbabwe, and Ama, who was working in Angola. Later on in the decade, they made a visit to Ama in Norway, where Joe was diagnosed with the cancer that was to kill him.
In 1990, when Joe died, Peggy played the proper part of an Asante widow in the proceedings. She never considered leaving
Ghana, telling anyone who asked her when she was “going home,” that she was home already. She moved into a smaller house, which she built in a compound with a house for her daughter Abena, continued to work for her church, and went on studying Akan folklore. She visited her son and her daughters in the United States, Namibiaand Nigeria, and was visited in turn by her children and sons-in-law, and her six grandsons, Kristian, Anthony and Kojo, children of Ama and Klaus Endresen; and Tomiwa, Lamide and Tobi, children of Adwoa and Ola Edun. In the house next to her, with her daughter Abena, were her two grandchildren, Mimi and Mame Yaa. In 1996 the Queen Elizabeth IIawarded her the MBE“for services to UK/Ghanaian relations and community welfare”.
In 2001, she visited England for the last time to celebrate her eightieth birthday with the surviving members of her own generation in her family and her children and grandchildren, along with many nephews and nieces and great-nephews and nieces.
In the final years of her life, as she became increasingly limited in her movements, she continued to be the center of a wide network of family and friends, and a caring household led by her housekeeper, Ma Rose. Throughout her life she was sustained by her Christian faith, by her many friends in Kumasi—where she was universally known as Auntie Peggy—and around the world, and by the love of her family. As she wrote at the end of her autobiography, published in 1995: “I thank God for all he has given me and the happiness He has brought me."
Peggy Appiah died on
February 11 2006, aged 84, at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospitalin Kumasi, Ghana.
*"Bu Me Be: Akan Proverbs". Africa World Press, 2006.
*"Busy body". Accra: Asempa, 1995.
*"Rattletat". New Namibia Books, 1995.
*"The Rubbish Heap". Accra: Asempa, 1995.
*"Kyekyekulee, Grandmother's Tales". Accra: Quick Service Books, 1993.
*"Kofi and the Crow". Accra: Quick Service Books, 1991.
*"Afua and the Mouse". Accra: Quick Service Books, 1991.
*"Abena and the Python". Accra: Quick Service Books, 1991.
*"The Twins". Accra: Quick Service Books, 1991.
*"Tales of an Ashanti Father". Boston: Beacon Press, 1989.
*"A Dirge too Soon". Accra: Ghana Publishing, 1976.
*"Ring of Gold". London: Deutsch, 1976.
*"Why there are so many Roads". Lagos: African University Press, 1972.
*"Gift of the Mmoatia". Accra: Ghana Publishing, 1972.
*"Why the Hyena does not care for Fish and other tales from the Ashanti gold weights". London: Deutsch, 1971.
*"A Smell of Onions". London: Longman, 1971.
*"The Lost Earring". London: Evans, 1971.
*"Yao and the Python". London: Evans, 1971.
*"The Pineapple child and other tales from Ashanti". London: Evans, 1969.
*"The Children of Ananse". London: Evans, 1968.
*"Ananse the Spider: Tales from an Ashanti village". New York: Pantheon, 1966.
*Brozan, Nadine. "Peggy Appiah, 84, Author Who Bridged Two Cultures, Dies." "New York Times", "International," 16 February 2006.
*Tucker, Nicholas. "Peggy Appiah: Daughter of Stafford Cripps who dedicated herself to creating a children's literature for Ghana". "The Independent", "Obituaries," 17 February, 2006.
*Addai-Sebo, Akyaaba. "The Legacy Of Peggy Appiah--A Tribute." "The New Times Online". Sunday, April 09, 2006.
*Akosah, Kwabena Sarpong. "Tribute for Peggy Appiah." "Homepage Ghana", 19 February 2006 [http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/features/artikel.php?ID=99609] .
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