Recently my ISP warned that they are closing their free user pages. The timeline for Rappard Little Peggy and Wee Peggy wheels has therefore moved, and is now among the pages on this site. It’s listed in the main menu at the top of this page. The layout had to change a little but all the information is there. I hope it will be useful.
I was fortunate to get to know Maria Rappard (often called Mies or Mitzi) a little during the last years of her life. The first thing I ever heard about her was that she was rather terrifying. And yes, she could be: she was tall and striking-looking, very firm in her beliefs, and very outspoken. But once she was your friend, she was caring and generous (and still outspoken).
When first I telephoned her and introduced myself, wanting to find out about Rappard wheels and their history, she told me in no uncertain terms that some things were wrong in what I’d written. I kept in touch and kept asking questions, and after a while she accepted that I was genuinely interested and wanted to get things correct.
Later I visited her and her daughter, Yuet Ngor, at the farm on Signal Hill in Dunedin. I’ve already described how John, and later Maria, came to New Zealand and the history of Rappard wheels. She told me that “after a long session of me nagging” John made her a wheel, and she showed it to me – the very first Rappard wheel:
As time went on she told me more, and I learned that she had been a child in Rotterdam during the Nazi occupation. The people there suffered terribly, and some details of her story I don’t feel free to pass on. There was one episode, though, that I don’t think she’d mind you knowing.
Like many other families under Nazi rule, they had an illegal short-wave radio to listen to broadcasts from Britain. This was kept in a locked cupboard in her mother’s bedroom. One day, when only Maria was at home, police came to search the house suspecting there was an illicit radio. Of course they demanded the key to the cupboard. Maria told them it was where her mother kept her shoes, and she (Maria) was absolutely forbidden to open it. She must have been very convincing, because they said they would come back the next day when her mother was home – but by the next day the radio was safely hidden with neighbours.
During the last winter of the war and for a time after, there was a desperate shortage of food in the area and thousands starved. Maria said she would have, too, if it hadn’t been for the generosity of the Allies. Her health was permanently impaired by the hardship.
Here is a very special gift she gave me: a tiny Wee Peggy, just 63cm tall, seen here with two Little Peggies.
‘Baby Peggy’, as I like to call her, was created as a display piece for when they were promoting Rappard wheels at festivals and other fibrecraft gatherings, in New Zealand and overseas. She stands on a little box containing an electric motor, and when plugged in and properly adjusted, she spins. You couldn’t actually make yarn on her* but she’s very charming and eye-catching. Here she is with me at a spinning wheel display, where she attracted a lot of attention.
One of the things I admired about Maria was that she didn’t hate all the German people for what the Nazis had done. I also admired her creativity, her courage and determination in making a new life in New Zealand, the part she played in building up the Rappard spinning wheel company in partnership with John, and the lovely spinning wheels she helped create.
* Actually it is possible to spin a little yarn on Baby Peggy – Owen Poad of Majacraft proved it at a recent festival. But you wouldn’t want to do much. (This correction added 14 May 2019)