Obituary: Heather Tanner

Heather Spackman, writer: born Corsham, Wiltshire 14 July 1903; married 1931 Robin Tanner (died 1988; one adopted son deceased); died Kington St Michael, Wiltshire 23 June 1993.

THE DEATH of Heather Tanner, barely five years after that of her husband Robin, the etcher, brings to a close a very fruitful artistic partnership. Heather joined heart and soul in Robin Tanner's career, sharing his Quakerly values, nurturing talents which she recognised in him from the beginning, and caring for their adopted Jewish son, Dietrich Hanff, whom they saved from the Nazi death camps on the very brink of war.

She was an exceptionally gifted naturalist and wrtier, with particular sensitivity towards wild flowers. They flourished in the Tanners' exuberant cottage garden at Kington Langley, in Wiltshire, where the couple spent all their married lives. Heather's texts for Robin's prints, mostly published in limited editions, have the lilt of an English not much heard in present times - one benefit, perhaps of her brilliant First in English at King's College London in 1921.

The two met as juniors at Chippenham Grammar School: the ardent suitor, as he confessed in his autobiography, Double Harness (1987), would slip notes to Heather when they both became monitors. They married at Easter 1931, she in a dress which - typically - the groom himself designed for her, made of wool and silk dyed with madder and woven by an aunt. Her friends said she looked like Jane Eyre in it; and indeed there was often a pert, Bronte- ish air about her as she made her guests welcome at the cottage door.

This enchanted place, Old Chapel Field, doubled as a studio and workshop where Heather was always on hand to help with the grimy and fastidious business of print-making. Her widely admired book A Wiltshire Village, first published in 1939, with illustrations by Robin - the Akenfield of its day - celebrates the rustic graces of an already fated countryside in terms which Robin's images have helped to perpetuate as art. The book ends with a lament for the impending doom of the village creed, 'What always has been always will be.' Heather Tanner only wished that were true - 'birdsong in the small hours, sunrise over the combe, the farmer calling to his carthorses and slipping halters over their willing necks . . . The sound of church bells at evening when cottagers tend their gardens and old men sit on the steps of the Market Cross.'

In time this gave way, in the Tanner homestead, to the nightmare of atomic war. Proceeds from the print room were diverted to the anti-nuclear cause, with Heather as its pacific champion. Stricken towards the end, but quick as ever in spirit, she was pleased to share the acclaim which was the Tanners' due. Finally she reserved a thought for their much-loved son, Dietrich, who died last year. 'What a blessing,' she told friends, 'that Dietie has not been left alone.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot