Sheila Robinson (1925–1988) was a noted artist and illustrator, one of the Great Bardfield Artists and a member of staff at the Royal College of Art.
Sheila Robinson was born in Nottingham in 1925. She studied at the Nottingham School of Art and in 1946 entered the School of Graphic Design at the Royal College of Art, where she was a student of Edward Bawden.
One of her RCA projects was a complete, hand-drawn, lettered and bound book, The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
She married fellow RCA student Bernard Cheese in 1951. In 1951 she helped Bawden with his mural in the Lion and Unicorn Pavilion for the Festival of Britain Exhibition on the South Bank. Daughter Chloe Cheese was born in 1952 and in 1954 following the birth of son Ben the family moved to Upalong, a house in Bardfield End Green. With Bernard working away and distancing himself from the family the marriage broke down, a situation which greatly saddened Sheila who never attempted another relationship. The couple separated in 1957, divorcing in 1958. With the help of the Bawdens, Sheila and the children moved to Cage Cottage in Great Bardfield.
Sheila, focussed on her art and produced an impressive body of work. She also worked on a number of commercial commissions – advertising posters, including BBC publications such as Time and Tune and the BBC Book of the Countryside. She created several posters for London Transport in the early 1950s, including Literary London and Tattoo. The linocut ‘Great Bardfield Windmill’ celebrates the move to Cage Cottage. Balancing her work as an artist and her role as a mother, Sheila would work at the kitchen table while Chloe and Ben would play on the floor or draw beside her.
Lino Cut: Cat looking out to Gibraltar Windmill, Great Bardfield. Cardboard Cut Prints: Pant Bridge. Bridge Street. Brook Street. Crown Street.Fry Gallery, Saffron Walden.
In 2013 Choe recalled Cage Cottage: ‘It had a modern interior, the beams were painted white, there was wallpaper made by my mother – she printed it with her feet! I remember her work room – she worked at a Victorian table, there were rollers and a block – I would see my mother in the process of making her print. She also worked on the kitchen table – making designs for Schweppes. She designed animals – life size – for Blackpool Pleasure Beach – I think they are still there. I loved watching her make the drawings for those animals. She did a lot of work – this was a very productive time for her. She also made dresses for me to my designs and dolls.’
In 1960 Sheila’s father, Ernest, died in Nottingham and her mother Joyce came to live with her, a great help with the housework.
Sheila became an enthusiastic gardener helped by fellow artist gardeners the Bawdens and Aldridges, also paying visits to John Nash’s house in nearby Wormingford.
An inventive printmaker, Sheila developed her technique of cardboard-cut printing, sticking shapes of card onto a cardboard base then coating with a PVA glue which prevented the oil-based ink from being absorbed.
Red Tabby 1971. The Cat. Parrot. Fry Gallery, Saffron Walden.
During the 1960’s Sheila undertook some teaching at Walthamstow College of Art. In 1965 her work at Walthamstow led to a part-time teaching post at the RCA illustration department, commuting to London, teaching there until her death in 1988.
In 1967 a devastating thatched roof fire at Cage Cottage rendered the building uninhabitable following water damage. Walter Hoyle’s old home, nearby Stackyard Cottage, served as a temporary home before moving to Saffron Walden where Choe and Ben were now attending school.
Sheila was one of the artists who contributed to The Oxford Illustrated Old Testament in the 1960s (along with Edward Ardizzone, Edward Bawden, Peter Blake, John Brathy, Edward Burra, David Hockney, Carel Weight and Brian Wildsmith.
Sheila’s cardboard-cut prints for the Oxford Illustrated Old Testament.
Following Charlotte’s death in 1970 Edward Bawden moved from Great Bardfield to Saffron Walden and the two friends became a great comfort to each other during a time of domestic upheaval. Their long friendship spanned 42 years and the two would spend evenings discussing books and art. The two enjoyed painting trips including a trip to Istanbul which led to some of Sheila’s best later work.
The Melon Cart, Istanbul.
In 1975 Sheila was thrilled to receive a commission from the Limited Editions Club of Avon, Connecticut to illustrate D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’ producing a series of coloured cardboard cut prints.
Cardboard Cut Illustrations – Sons and Lovers. The third pic is a sketch for the second pic. Fry Gallery.
After Chloe and Ben left home Sheila moved house within Saffron Walden but her health was declining, and she lost confidence in her own work. Bawden was devastated when she died before him from a brain tumour aged 63.
London Road, Saffron Walden. Looking out over Saffron Walden Common her last print – unfinished. Cardboard Printing Block for Saffron Walden Castle. Fry Gallery.
Following her death, the RCA created the Sheila Robinson Drawing Prize in her honour
To finish…….some other varied works by Sheila:
Left: “Felsted school 1965. Blue Shadows etching proof 1965. Monkton Combe print for Editions Alecto 1964. Navigation Inn. Linocut_Abingdon Post Office design.
Right: “Two Houses Thaxted. Blue Monday. Great Bardfield. Hofterup Church Painting. The Cow, lithograph. The Storm, lithograph.
The majority of photos of works here are in the Fry Gallery archive, Saffron Walden.
A photograph of Albert Houthuesen taken by Richard Nathanson in July 1969
In his 1939 memoir ‘Since 50’ the first two names that appear on William Rothenstein’s list of top Royal College of Art students were Henry Moore and Charles Mahoney – the list continues with the names of luminaries such as Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Albert Houthuesen, Barnett Freedman, Edward Le Bas, Percy Bliss and Evelyn Dunbar.
All well known…..but Albert Houthuesen ??
Houthuesen was a Dutch-born British artist, born in Amsterdam; his father was Jean Charles Pierre Houthuesen, a painter and musician. In 1912 his father died following a tragic accident at home. Following the death of his father, the family moved to London living with a maternal grandmother. Houthuesen became naturalized in 1922.
The Traveller. Leeds Museums and Galleries1927.
Houthuesen was encouraged with his artistic ability at Fleet Road School but left school aged fourteen already working as a grocer’s errand boy. His first job was as assistant to a grocer in Belsize Park. He enrolled for night classes at St Martin’s School of Art 7.30 to 9.30 pm.
Leaving the grocers, he worked for the periscope Prism Company in Hampstead where during WW1 they ground lenses and made periscopes for rifle sights.
A possible reason for Houthuesen’s affinity with clowns is that his father’s cousin was a leading comic actor in Holland and his father, a talented musician as well as an artist, also enjoyed performing comic routines on the piano. The artist himself explained that he was ‘always clowning for friends, trying to cover things up, so I’ll give up clowning and start being a clown through some drawing’. The sketches at the Grand Theatre were his first real clown studies. He noted that he used to go round to the back of the theatre and tell the Hermans how marvellous they were, which they couldn’t understand because nobody else bothered. ‘People rolled in, laughed like hell and went out.’
A number of jobs followed before entering the Royal College of Art on a Monday morning the 24th of September 1924. Houthuesen had endured three unsuccessful attempts to enter the RCA before Principal Sir William Rothenstein intervened on his behalf having been shown a portfolio of his drawings. His contemporaries included Moore, Ravilious, Bawden, Barbara Hepworth, Edward Burra, Ceri Richards and Cecil Collins amongst others.
His own artwork was influenced by Rembrandt, Constable, Turner and Van Gogh.
The Stack Yard, 1935, was painted out of doors at Maes Gwyn Farm, Llanara, near Holywell, North Wales, where the artist was staying. In a letter (23 March 1958) he recalls his impressions: ‘A wonderful landscape wherever one looked, and in the village lived colliers who worked at the Point of Air colliery, two or three miles away on the coast. Painting in the open or near a cottage I heard women singing beautifully, not snatches of song but complete melodies. I cannot tell you how much the character of the whole place and the people fascinated me.’
Fellow RCA student Catherine Dean recalled: The first time I saw Albert, I was walking to the Common Room for my lunch. And, coming in the opposite direction was this extraordinary, tense, wild, red-faced, furious looking young man with a spotless white shirt, no collar or tie, but I think a little stud at the neck, and in a black suit with white stripes. I thought ‘What a man. What a good-looking man.’
Wheels, Maes Gwyn Farm. Landscape with farm building with kite in foreground. Barn, Bertengam. 1934. The Bebington Stable.
The couple became engaged leaving the RCA in 1928, marrying in 1931 and renting rooms in St John’s Wood. Each year during the 1930s Houthuesen and Dean visited Trelogan, Dean’s family home, where Houthuesen painted monumental portraits of colliers.
Collier John Savage smoking a pipe 1935. Collier chalk drawing. Collier William Jones 1933. Jones, White Horse Farm 1934.
From 1928 to 1936 Houthuesen taught art classes at The Working Men’s College with colleagues Percy Horton and Barnett Freedman, under the Directorship of James Laver. Catherine taught art at the University of London’s St Gabriel’s Training College and became a lecturer in 1939, a Senior Lecturer in 1945, and was made Principal Lecturer in 1956.
In the mid-1930s, Houthuesen suffered from a duodenal ulcer, which prevented him from joining up, following the outbreak of the Second World War. His application to become an official War Artist was also rejected, and he was eventually hired as a tracer in the technical drawing office of the London and North Eastern Railway Company in Doncaster, Yorkshire.
Houthuesen commented: ‘We had the studio for eighteen months when, during the first air raid on London, that vast blockhead dropped a bomb on it. The studio itself wasn’t hit, but the adjoining studio belonging to my neighbour landlord Hardiman, received a direct hit. It was simply a miracle. There was a crater, and on the edge of the crater was our studio still with all the work in it. Mercifully none of us were there……. The roof of Kate’s college in Camberwell, where we are now…..had also been on fire. And the staff and students were evacuated to Doncaster. Since we had no place to live, I went with them.’
Reflecting on the war Houthuesen said ‘It was a terrible thing to see the planes going over, to think of the marvellous young men on those bombing raids and know perfectly well that many of them wouldn’t come back. And that it was going to be ghastly at the other end…. There I was at the Plant, loathing the very idea of war, yet having to do this idiotic work…. One night German bombers went over dropping chandelier flares. I looked back – the sound of the bombers seemed to come from behind, in fact it’s a funny echo -and then I turned round and the night was absolutely blue with two great chandelier flares hanging in the sky; and the whole village every tiny speck of it (could be seen) … as if it were carved out of a phosphorescent chalk. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was another world’.
After the War returning to London penniless, he became a warden at a student hostel in the Elephant and Castle. His first one-man exhibition opened in May 1961 at the Reid Gallery, London.
Bay with rocks and surf. Breaking Wave. Evening Tide Coming in over Sandy Beach. Olive Mountain. Sun Over Rock. Wave Against Orange Boulder. Wave Against Storm Sky.
Houthuesen worked in virtual isolation for sixty years, producing still-lifes, landscapes, seascapes, and portraits, as well as biblical, mythical and allegorical scenes.
Still Life with Mulberry Leaves; Leeds Museums and Galleries 1956–1960.
In 1967, Catherine retired taking care of seriously ill Albert from her retirement until his death in 1979. Houthuesen died at home on the 20th October 1979. Catherine died in 1983.
Catherine Houthuesen nee Dean: Lemons, onions and wine. Marionette. Marionettes Greeting. Sheep’s Skull and Ferns.
Edward Bawden: ‘Church and Dove’ or ‘Woodpigeon’ designed in 1927 for the Curwen Press
As students at the Royal College of Art (Design School) in 1922 both Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden would have produced repeating pattern designs for wallpapers.
Edward Bawden made his first wallpaper in 1924. Bawden was inspired by William Morris’ papers which he saw at the British Exhibition (23 April 1924 to 31 October 1925) at Wembley. Bawden’s nine wallpaper designs were lithographically reproduced by the Curwen Press between 1927 and 1933 but they failed to sell.
“The Curwen wallpapers were my earliest designs to be printed from linocuts,” recalled Edward Bawden. “In 1924 a friend told me about cutting and printing from lino at a time when such prints were generally unknown, though a few by Claude Flight had appeared in the Print Room galleries of the Victoria and Albert Museum.”
“I bought a piece of lino, the common sort universally used for covering floors, and with a tube of artist’s oil paint, a brush and a roll of white wallpaper, I went off home to experiment.I had on me a penknife sharp enough for cutting soft lino. There was not much room between the end of the double bed and the gas fire, only enough for a chair, in the cramped space typical of a student’s bed-sit of the period, and it was here on a drawing board with a piece of plain wallpaper pinned to it, that gently I put down my foot on a small cut of a cow stippled red and gave the cut gentle foot pressure. The print was better than expected so naturally the cows multiplied and were a small herd by the end of the evening.”
Edward Bawden: Waves and Fish early design. Knole Park early design for Curwen. Napkin and Fruit for Curwen 1926. Tree and Cow 1927.
Also, in 1924 Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) created his ‘Butterball Crab Apples on a Plate, Design for Wallpaper.’ The repeat pattern is likely to be a crab apple of the Butterball of Golden Hornet variety. The design was given by Ravilious to artist friend Douglas Percy Bliss in 1924/5.
Neighbours in Great Bardfield, Bawden and John Aldridge (fellow artist and wallpaper designer) collaborated in designing fifteen ‘Bardfield Wallpapers’ during the later 1930s, which were distributed by Cole & Sons, a British wallpaper company. The Bardfield papers were exhibited at Muriel Rose’s Little Gallery in the late 1930s.
Bardfield Wallpapers: Grass and Swan produced by Cole & Son. Periwinkle and Trellis. Waffle and Cross.
Aldridge’s most successful designs were ‘Lace’ and ‘Moss and Trellis.’ These repeating patterns managed to produce an overall pattern but had a free and organic feel. Another design ‘Hexagon’ was more geometric and architectural.
John Aldridge: Moss wallpaper 1939 for Cole & Sons. Preparatory drawing for wallpaper design. Hexagon Wallpaper 1946.
Bawden commented: ’John Aldridge and I, who lived in the same village, decided that we would try to print our own designs by the roll from our own blocks. A few lengths were produced, and these amateurish efforts were seen by a director of Coles who was passing through Braintree and happened to look in at the art exhibition in the Institute. From then onwards we cut full-size wallpaper blocks faced with lino and passed on the blocks to Coles who printed and sold the designs.’
The Second World War put a stop to their wallpaper production, but the Bardfield series was taken up by Cole & Sons after the war. They were put into production in 1946, despite the continuation of paper rationing.
Tirzah Garwood (Ravilious) also produced wallpaper designs and having moved from Great Bardfield to Castle Hedingham in 1934 created a wallpaper for their new home, Bank House in 1936. Wallpaper designs were also submitted to Charles F. Read Ltd (Lithographer and Printers) in 1936.
Tirzah Garwood: Wallpaper designed for Bank House, Castle Hedingham. Other wallpaper designs by Tirzah.
Bawden’s last wallpaper was designed in 1956 for a Sanderson’s exhibition called Decorama 56. Staff of the RCA had been invited to design the furnishings of Flat 56, and Bawden contributed a wallpaper.
This is a short, concise rendering of the Great Bardfield Summer Exhibitions. A detailed account can be found in Janet Dyson’s book ‘Artists of Great Bardfield’ …….go to the end of the blog.
Publicity photograph for the 1958 Great Bardfield Open House Art Summer Exhibition. From left: Edward Bawden, Walter Hoyle, George Chapman, Laurence Scarfe, Stanley Clifford-Smith, Michael Rothenstein and Sheila Robinson with daughter Chloe.
The group exhibitions date back to 1942 when the newly established Council for the Establishment of Museums and Arts (predecessor of the Arts Council) organised an exhibition of the village artists. John Aldridge, Edward Bawden, Kenneth Rowntree, Michael Rothenstein, Geoffrey Rhoades and several local amateurs featured.
In 1951 Essex Rural Community Council sponsored Great Bardfield as a Festival of Britain village and works were displayed in the artists homes. In 1954 an Open House Exhibition was held from 17th to the 25th of July. Limited to professional artists the exhibition featured works by John and Lucie Aldridge, Edward Bawden, George Chapman, Clifford-Smith, Joan Glass, Audrey Cruddas, Walter Hoyle, Duffy and Michael Rothenstein and Marianne Straub. Despite the lack of pre-publicity for the event 1,700 visitors enjoyed the exhibition over the ten days.
Card advertising the 1954 Summer Exhibition
A New Statesman review of the 1954 exhibition stated:” Great Bardfield, you will recall, was one of the three beautiful Essex villages especially recommended to visitors to the Festival (of Britain) three years ago. The last three weekends it has been en fete. The houses of the painters who live there have been open, with their works displayed, and the artists therefore on tap to discuss them with you. The attraction is greater because there is no ‘Bardfield School of Painting’; there is nothing in common, except technical ability, between Edward Bawden, Clifford-Smith, Michael Rothenstein, John Aldridge, George Chapman and Walter Hoyle.”
Great Bardfield Summer Exhibition: July 8-17, 1955.
With the 1954 edition a success the artists agreed that the event should be repeated but this time with better publicity. The exhibiting artists were Edward Bawden, John Aldridge, Michael Rothenstein, George Chapman, David Low, Walter Hoyle, Clifford Smith, Audrey Cruddas, Marianne Straub.
The 1955 Exhibition Souvenir Brochure. Pages from the brochure. John Aldridge’s painting ‘The Moors’ 1955.
Edward Bawden: ‘Chapman’s Cottage’ 1955. Later listed as ‘Thatching’.
Michael Rothenstein’s press release for the 1955 exhibition was particularly blunt regarding the perception of married women artists.
“Nine artists and three wives who are artists as well as housekeepers will show work of great variety…..As well Mrs. Aldridge, wives exhibiting are Mrs. Rothenstein, who shows one or two portraits in oils, and Mrs. Clifford-Smith (Joan Glass) who displays textile designs somewhat akin to her husband’s paintings and drawings.”
Visiting his weekend cottage, popular cartoonist David Low agreed to exhibit some of his work at the open house exhibition. This helped to make the event a drawcard for many visitors. Low didn’t want visitors tramping through his Bendlowe’s Cottage, so Clifford-Smith and Joan Glass agreed to show his work at Bucks House. However, the Essex Chronicle of 22nd July commented: ’Meantime genuinely curious people are wondering why the much-advertised David Low, the distinguished cartoonist, never puts in an appearance.’
David Low: One of his cartoons which made him a priority on the Hitler hit-list ! Low’s Modern Rake’s Progress paintings.
An estimated 5,000 people visited the 1955 show with 1,200 on the final Sunday.
Some of the ‘Open Houses’. Bucks House – Stanley Clifford-Smith and Joan Glass. Brick House – Charlotte and Edward Bawden. Place House – John and Lucie Aldridge. Trinity Cottage – Marianne Straub. Ethel House – Michael and Duffy Rothenstein.
John Aldridge and his wife Lucie Aldridge (née Brown) frequently opened Place House for the summer exhibitions in the village. These well-organised shows attracted thousands of art lovers. In 1955, Aldridge told a London Observer reporter that “people seem to prefer this domestic informality to galleries”. At these summer exhibitions, Aldridge exhibited his oils while Lucy exhibited her hand-knitted rugs. Although Aldridge’s work was well-received, it seemed the most conservative of the Great Bardfield Artists as it possibly reflected the art scene of the 1920s and 1930s in Britain.
The Daily Mail quoted a woman emerging from the Rothenstein’s Ethel House: “The pictures, oh the pictures I didn’t have time to look at them, it was their houses I wanted to see.”
The most intriguing newspaper report for me was published in the Bolton Evening News of the 27th July 1955. As a 13- and 14-year-old in Bolton I worked from 4.30pm until 7pm delivering the teatime and final editions of the BEN. The report featured a conversation overheard in a local pub (was it the Vine, White Hart or the Bell?).
First Villager:” Lot o’ peculiar folk knockin’ about.”
Second Villager: “Aye an’ a lot o’ peculiar pictures at this exhibition.”
First villager: “One I seed looked a bit mucky to me. It weren’t like what it said at all.”
Second Villager: “It ain’t meant to be. That’s art that is.”
Stanley Clifford-Smith: ‘Sisters’ 1955. This oil painting was sold to an American living in Chicago and its whereabouts are now unknown, no colour photo of this image in known.
1956 Exhibition at Clare College, Cambridge.
The Great Bardfield artists exhibited at Cambridge in November and December 1956. Four guest artists also exhibited – Denis Wirth-Miller, Charles Howard, Geoffrey Clarke and Eduardo Paolozzi.
Poster advertising the Great Bardfield Artists Exhibition in Cambridge 1956
1957 Great Bardfield Artists’ Travelling Exhibition.
The artists were joined by newcomers Bernard Cheese and his wife Sheila Robinson. The tour started on the 31st August at Southend then travelling to Shipley, Nottingham, Sheffield, N. Ireland, Eastbourne, Brighton and finally Wakefield finishing on the 23rd of August 1958. The souvenir booklet with Walter Hoyle’s cover design went on sale for two shillings.
1958 Great Bardfield Artists’ Summer Exhibition.
The 1958 Great Bardfield Open House Summer Exhibition souvenir brochure, the cover design by Walter Hoyle
At the same time as the travelling exhibition was at Brighton the newly formed Great Bardfield Artists’ Association decided to repeat the open house format which had been so successful in 1954 and 1955. Clifford-Smith was appointed secretary and the souvenir booklet was revised for the occasion. Guest artists Peter Whyte and Laurence Scarfe joined the resident artists for the show. In early July a young TV presenter Alan Whicker interviewed Joan Glass and Edward Bawden for a BBC programme on the Great Bardfield art community.
The page in the 1958 brochure for Audrey Crudas. Costume design for Ann Todd as Lady Macbeth by Audrey Cruddas, Macbeth, Old Vic, September 9th 1954
Thousands of visitors flocked to the village and the exhibition received national coverage. The surge of visitors resulted in traffic management problems for the local police. It was estimated that a staggering 19,000 visitors had viewed the art works and the artists sold a collective £5,000 worth of work.
You’ll wish you could go back in time as at the 1958 exhibition Bawden’s lino-cut ‘Road to Thaxted’ went for 7 guineas. Bawden’s watercolour of Lindsell Church was priced at 35 guineas and Aldridge’s Bluegate Hall at 33 guineas.
1959 Great Bardfield Exhibition in Bristol
The exhibitions came to an end in Bristol with eight Great Bardfield artists exhibiting at the Royal West of England Academy displaying over 170 works. Following this exhibition, the group fractured with many moving away from Great Bardfield. Edward Bawden, John Aldridge and Marianne Straub remained through the sixties with only Aldridge still resident in 1971 living in the village until his death in 1983.
Charles Mahoney: ‘Ambleside, View from the Library Roof’, 1942.
In autumn 1940 the students of the Royal College of Art arrived eager to resume their studies only to find that a notice on the locked door announcing that the college would re-open ‘in the near future, somewhere in the country.’
Eventually two hotels in Ambleside were selected to house the college away from the bombs falling on London. The Queens Hotel would house the male students and the some of the staff, also providing classrooms. The Salutation Hotel would house female students and also accommodate ‘the teaching of engraving and dress design.’
While Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and Barnett Freedman were commissioned as war artists their former RCA colleagues and friends Charles Maloney and Percy Horton were evacuated to Ambleside alongside Professor of Painting Gilbert Spencer (Younger brother of Stanley).
Charles Mahoney: Waterside Hotel, Ambleside. Ambleside unfinished. Gas Mask Drill one and two. Charles’ rooms at the Queens Hotel.
Maloney and Horton went up to Ambleside in October to prepare for the delayed arrival of the students. On 2nd December 1940, nearly one hundred and fifty students arrived to resume their studies. The college would be based in Ambleside for the next five years. Reports in the local newspaper described the students ‘as being somewhat strangely garbed’, with young men ‘sporting wild and woolly beards.’
Percy Horton: Corner of Ambleside. House at Ambleside. Storm at Loughrigg. Shepherd.
The college made big efforts to integrate with the local community. For War Weapons Week the students produced window displays in local shops. Warship Week was organized by students who had joined the 9th Westmorland Battalion of the local Home Guard. The College Exhibition of 1941 attracted 1,000 visitors, a number which was doubled in 1942. College plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Percy Horton as Bottom the Weaver were extremely popular as were the lectures by visiting speakers which were open to the public.
Gilbert Spencer: Self Portrait. Grasmere Home Guard. The School on Peggy Hill, Ambleside. Troops in the Countryside 3rd version. Troops in the countryside study.
In July 1945 Principal Percy Jowett stated that the Lakeland episode had been a great success.
At the age of 67 Peggy retired as Head of Art at North London Collegiate School, enjoying her teaching long after retirement age.
Having received some money from lifelong friend Ishbel MacDonald, Peggy took a holiday in Pakistan with young artist and former pupil Gaby Moore – (gabymoore.co.uk). Gaby was 14 when she first met Peggy on Boxing Day 1963, when her brother took her to spend a few days at Furlongs.
Following an obligatory walk Gaby recalled: “Returning to the cottage for tea and ginger cake we were once again entertained by more enthralling tales from Peggy. As darkness fell we lit fires and lamps in the kitchen and after another rustled-up Peggy supper, the contents of which we couldn’t quite make out but it was nevertheless filling and tasty enough, we all retired to a cosy sitting room with a blazing coal fire.”
Gaby is writing a brilliant account of her travels with Peggy, working towards a book. Here one of her opening paragraphs: ‘ Peggy had previously travelled to Indonesia on a sabbatical when teaching at North London Collegiate School, where she made friends with a lady called Theja Gunawardena who from 1975 was the Sri Lankan ambassador in Lahore, Pakistan, and had invited Peggy to come and stay. As I had recently been diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis and Theja laid claims to being a faith healer, Peggy proposed that I should accompany her to Pakistan as a young travel companion / minder and to see if she could do anything about my condition.’
Peggy had divided her time between London and Sussex since 1933 when she first sub-let Furlongs cottage from tenant farmer Dick Freeman. Peggy and Dick outside Furlongs. Sketch of Dick by Peggy. Letter to Patience Gray re Dick.
On her return from Pakistan Peggy threw her energies into making wallpaper. Years earlier Peggy’s daughter Victoria had suggested decorating 122 Adelaide Road with block-printed paper. When artist Kenneth Rowntree saw these designs he commissioned Peggy to produce wallpapers for his home, having moved to Chiswick from Great Bardfield.
Peggy went on to develop something of a cottage industry, producing handmade wallpapers designed in response to commissions. Peggy’s process was simple but arduous, indeed laborious. She would carve the design into a block of lino, then paint a long roll of lining paper in one colour using ordinary emulsion paint, and hand print the wallpaper design using a second colour until the roll was complete. Peggy used her ex-pupils, students and friends to help her print the unwieldy wallpapers.
Wallpapers by Peggy Angus including the popular ‘Sun and Moon’ design
Peggy continued to print wallpapers to commission through to the end of her career, making wallpaper for her ‘patrons’ and friends, and friends of friends. She would design hundreds of wallpapers over her career, sometimes simple repeats, sometimes with figurative vignettes incorporated into them. Some of her wallpapers are still in production today, though machine printed, the reproductions looking just like the originals.
Victoria, also involved in the design of wallpapers, had married architect Richard Gibson and in the early 1960’s they moved to Shetland where Victoria designed knitwear. Tragically, Peggy’s son Angus, who suffered from epilepsy, suffered a fit during the night in 1959, and died at the age of nineteen.
Peggy was still spending time at her rented Furlongs cottage in the South Downs, and amongst the many friends visiting was Patience Gray. Peggy met Patience in Hampstead in the 1950s through architect Alexander Gibson.
In the late ‘50s Patience started the Observer women’s page, much later writing what has been described as “the best book about food that will ever be written”, Honey from a Weed. Patience’s earlier book Plats Du Jour was published in 1957 selling 50,000 copies in its first year.
Nick Gray playfully comments: ‘In a recent edition of Lifo Magazine, my mother Patience Gray at Furlongs, perhaps about to set light to a witch !’ Photo by Monica Pidgeon.
For Peggy, Furlongs was a creative refuge, and the like-minded Patience also found solace and inspiration amongst the Downs. One summer solstice evening in 1958 Flemish sculptor Norman Mommens appeared over the brow of a nearby hill, having walked the seven miles from his home at Grange Farm, shared with his potter wife Ursula.
The chance meeting sparked a friendship, and eventually a romance, with Norman regularly visiting Patience in Hampstead until finally, in Spring 1962, they set off together for Carrara in Tuscany, Norman on a quest for marble to carve.
There they stayed – apart from brief periods in Provence, Catalonia and Greece – until in 1970 they bought a ruined sheep farm in the Salento, the remote tip of the heel of Italy. Their 30 years together at Spigolizzi were to be remarkably harmonious and creative, Norman producing an extraordinary body of work that he did little to launch into the art world, and Patience making jewellery, researching local cuisine, and honing Honey from a Weed for publication. Norman died in 2000 and Patience 5 years later.
Two watercolours of Barra from Peggy’s sketchbook. Peggy and Robin Ravilious (James’ wife) at Higgins’ House.From an old photo album, an invitation to the 70th birthday party of Peggy’s sister Nancy Wilson Angus,
In the early ‘60s Peggy too had acquired a ruined property. Camping holidays had previously taken her and the children to the Western Isles. On Barra they took shelter in a half-ruined crofter’s cottage overlooking the beach. The cottage, Higgins’ House, had been empty for some years, but Peggy decided to buy it for the asking price of £150. Maintenance was a big problem, but Peggy drew on the help of brothers John and James Ravilious. As at Furlongs, parties were enjoyed with Peggy’s punch made from pouring whatever drinks her guests brought into a large pot. Peggy made a banner for the local Presbyterian Church illustrated with fish and seabirds. The banner was, however, removed, the locals horrified by the semi-naked mermaids included in the design !
The painting of grey pebbles gathered from the beach became another cottage industry, depicting Pictish and Celtic art forms.
Peggy’s house at Adelaide Road had been condemned for some years and it was finally demolished. Peggy now moved into a purpose-built studio in Camden Street, Camden Town. This became her permanent home thanks to the generosity of old friend American sculptor Alexander Calder. A maquette that Calder gave Peggy sold for a high price at auction enabling her to buy the studio from the local council. At Furlongs an amusing hand-shaped loo-roll holder had been fashioned from a wire coat hanger by Calder.
The orange coloured lino-cut above was made by Gabrielle Moore.
The final months at Adelaide Road are recalled by Patience Gray’s son Nick: “As an errant teenager I lodged with Peggy in London after expulsion from school at Christ’s Hospital. That was in 1959 when I was 18. There wasn’t really anywhere in Patience’s Victorian billiard-room home in Hampstead so Peggy offered me a snoring box above the entrance hallway at 122 Adelaide Rd. I worked for a neighbouring transvestite who sent mostly resting actors out to the suburbs as housewives’ helps. The following summer I did the season as a stagehand at Glyndebourne but don’t remember popping over the hill to Furlongs.”
“Come 1972 I rolled up at Camden Town with a pair of narrowboats and a half load of coal for retail sale. My then wife and mother of my two children, Corinna, toddled up the road to Swiss Cottage to help Peggy manually mass-produce her rolls of handprinted wallpaper. My sister Miranda Armour-Brown also worked as one of Peggy’s wall-printing slaves.”
In a letter to Patience and Norman dated 1974 (photo here) Peggy wrote, “What fun it was last Christmas with Nicolas and Corinna in their barge at Camden Lock !”
Section of a letter to Patience and Norman dated 5th January 1974
In between wallpaper production Peggy took trips to Barra and to Shetland to visit Victoria’s family. Her heart, however, still belonged to Furlongs and she carried on paying the rent in her final years – exactly the same amount as back in 1933 !
An old pupil from North London Collegiate School, Janet Kennedy, and her husband Tyl moved into a cottage just down the lane from Furlongs, and Ursula Mommens was still on the other side of the hill at Grange Farm.
One evening Janet had a worried phone call from Ursula as Peggy had set off to walk over the hill but hadn’t arrived. Tyl rushed off on his motorbike and as darkness fell found Peggy stuck in the mud in a ploughed field unable to move.
Peggy’s granddaughter Emma visited Furlongs to help out as did Tirzah’s daughter Anne Ullmann and husband Louis. There was still no electricity at Furlongs, Peggy’s son-in-law Richard (Victoria’s husband) had installed a shower. Peggy, however, refused to use it, preferring to plunge into cold water.
The many visitors to Furlongs shared treasured memories of the Midsummer dewpond parties held on the summit of Beddingham Hill where the guests drank and sang around a summer solstice bonfire.
An early dewpond party featured The Blue Goddess created by Norman Mommens with probably help from John and James Ravilious.
‘The Blue Goddess’ by Peggy Angus. Photo: “Furlongs. the blue goddess dressed in parachute silk walked across the downs from South Heighton. John Ravilious ignites one of his hot air balloons. present are Norman and Ursula Mommens, Heywood Hill, Olive Cook. Photograph by Edwin Smith” Photo detail: Peggy, Norman & his much younger sister Ruscha at the Furlongs dewpond party:
Now entering her eighties Peggy relied on granddaughter Emma to organise the dewpond parties.
The door to Furlongs remained unlocked so that people could drop in day and night. Gaby Moore recalls, “She never complained about money and would tell visitors to use as much coal and paraffin as you like.”
Nick’s ex-wife Corinna took Peggy on her last trip to Barra, remembering that in spite of her health problems she remained extraordinarily bright and cheerful. Peggy died of pneumonia in 1993 at the age of 89.
One final party was held up at the dewpond. Janet Kennedy build a bright red papier-mâché bull and placed Peggy’s ashes inside together with those of her son Angus, which Peggy had kept under the bed all those years. The bull was carried up the hill and duly set on fire. Peggy would have approved !
A few of Peggy’s Furlongs paintings
This May I came across an empty Furlongs and sneaked a photo of the many mosaics hidden in every corner of the cottage exterior.
Sadly…. Janet Kennedy (née Eady), died peacefully at home on Thursday 8th July 2021. An artist, Janet was a leading designer for Clothkits from 1971 to 1988. Much loved by all of her family, Janet was the wife of Tyl Kennedy, mother to Sasha, Patrick, Lucy and Jason, and an adored grandmother to ten children.
Stanley Clifford-Smith was a latecomer to the artist community in Great Bardfield, Essex moving to the village with his family in 1952.His experimental style set him apart from the other artists in the Great Bardfield community.
Clifford-Smith and his second wife Joan Glass set up home in Bucks House, a prominent building they rented at the centre of the village. Bucks Housewas builtCirca 1510, altered c.1600 and in the 19th Century. The ancient building is timber framed its exterior faced with red brick. Bucks House now operates as a welcoming B & B which can be accessed at www.bucks-house.com
Bucks House, Great Bardfield.
Clifford-Smith, the son of a photographer, was born in Reddish, Stockport, Cheshire in 1906 and was educated in Manchester and Paris. The artist disliked his forename and signed his work under the name ‘S. Clifford-Smith’.
In the 1930s he was involved in the carpet trade working firstly as a salesman and later as a designer for James Templeton & Co in Scotland. It was at this time that he first began to paint.
During the Second World War, Clifford-Smith was a member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.
Clifford-Smith first married Susan Taylor in 1932 and the couple had a daughter. The relationship was not to last the pressures of the Great Depression and the couple soon separated.
After leaving the armed forces, he married the English artist Joan Glass (1915-2000) in 1946 having met during the war. The couple left London for Suffolk in 1947. While in East Anglia he painted mainly religious works much influenced by the French expressionist, Georges Rouault.
Joan Glass: ‘Reflected Gardener’ 1947 mixed media.
Clifford-Smith and Joan Glass pictured at Bucks House.
In his new home Clifford-Smith was an active member of the Great Bardfield art community during the mid to late 1950s and later became the Honorary Secretary of the group. It was Stanley Clifford-Smith who was a prime-mover setting up the open-house days in 1954, 1955 and 1958, exhibiting with the other artists of the village. They would turn their houses into art galleries and thousands of people came into their homes to view the work. The Bardfield artists then included: John Aldridge, Edward Bawden, George Chapman, Stanley Clifford-Smith, Audrey Cruddas, Joan Glass, Walter Hoyle, Sheila Robinson, Michael Rothenstein, textile designer Marianne Straub and cartoonist David Low. These shows attracted thousands of visitors and made the art community famous thanks to national press coverage and several one-off and touring shows in the late 1950s.
A 1955 press photo showing Clifford and Joan with Edward Bawden, John Aldridge, Michael Rothenstein and Audrey Cruddas outside Mariann Straub’s Trinity Cottage in Great Bardfield.
Clifford-Smith’s work in the 1950s was both diverse and experimental, he painted Irish and Italian landscapes, images of ships, as well as hypnotic ‘mother and child’ portraits. In 1958 Clifford-Smith and Joan bought the Old Bakehouse in Great Bardfield opposite the Bawden’s Brick House. In the early 1960s the Great Bardfield art community fragmented, John Aldridge at Place House was the only artist to stay until his death in 1983.
A then, young Richard Bawden recalls: ‘I remember going across the road from our home in Brick House to Clifford and Joan’s in the Old Bakery. Clifford had several large paintings on show with almost life size standing figures; these were in blue-grey and warm grey with a misty atmosphere and a pale yellow sun shining through the haze. I was impressed.’
Stanley Clifford-Smith: ‘Neighbours’ 1956, ‘Pembrokeshire’ 1958. ‘Two Men in a Boat’ undated. ‘Spanish Trawlers off the Fastnet’ 1959.
Clifford-Smith and his family moved to Little Baddow Hall near Chelmsford. During his time at Little Baddow he painted mainly thickly textured monochrome moon portraits.
‘Women Bewitched by the Moon’ c.1965.
Following his death in 1968, the artist had several important exhibitions of his work; a retrospective at The Minories, Colchester 1969, Little Baddow Hall Arts Centre 1979 and at the Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden 1998. He was survived by his widow and five children from his two marriages.
Clifford-Smith and Edward Bawden stood on the steps of Brick House.
Peggy Angus struggled to cope in the aftermath of the war, which along with Eric Ravilious’ death and her divorce all combined to send her into a deep depression. Help came in the form of the Pipers who came to stay at Furlongs in 1947. John Piper took Peggy on sketching trips, and they sketched the Seven Sisters Cliffs, resulting in Peggy’s famous painting ‘Coastguard Cottages, Cuckmere’.
‘Coastguard Cottages, Cuckmere’ 1947.
Back in London and living at 122 Adelaide Road Peggy would let out the rooms above her basement flat. Henry Swanzy a producer for the General Overseas Service of the BBC became a tenant. Tirzah Garwood’s three children (Ravilious) and Peggy’s children Victoria and Angus were of the same age and for a time after Eric’s death shared Peggy’s flat to take advantage of mutual childcare. Henry was introduced to Tirzah and on the 12th of March 1946 the couple were married, moving into 169 Adelaide Road. Peggy’s neighbour Ivon Hitchens had wanted to leave his home at 169 ever since the house next door had been destroyed by a bomb.
‘Peggy Angus Sat on a Bed’. Kiran Ravilious wrote: There is a painting by my husband’s grandmother Tirzah Garwood that went “missing”. My mother-in-law didn’t know where it was, someone else said she had it etc etc. My sister-in-law finally found it. It’s a painting of Peggy Angus sitting on a bed. The funny thing is, Peggy didn’t like how Tirzah painted her face so she touched it and her hair up! It seems that’s exactly the sort of strong-minded person Peggy was. I love a painting with a story behind it!
A welcome boost to Peggy’s morale came in 1947 being when she was appointed head of art at her old school the North London Collegiate School. Angus was a part-time teacher for much of her life and believed her teaching was as important as creating her own work.
Peggy now juggled her teaching commitments with her own creative work encompassing industrial designs, tiles and wallpapers. Her significant achievements included a tile mural for the Susan Lawrence School in war ravaged Poplar, East London, a ‘live exhibit’ for the Festival of Britain, a tile mural at the British Pavilion at the 1958 Bruxelles Exhibition, and tile designs for Sir Frederick Gibberd at London Heathrow Airport Underground Station. She also designed a new form of marbling design for glass cladding for the original buildings at Gatwick Airport, which, produced by the firm TW Ide, was given the trade name ‘Anguside’.
The Susan Lawrence School was built in 1949-51, designed by Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall, as part of the ‘Live Architecture’ exhibition of the Festival of Britain. The lobby’s interior was clad with ceramic tiles by Peggy Angus.
With materials in short supply Angus got her pupils to make potato- and lino-cuts, inventing a deceptively simple set of design rules. The results were startling, and the architect FRS Yorke immediately recognised her gift as a pattern designer. By 1950 she worked with Carter of Poole, designing tiles to humanise the rather cold, unadorned interiors and exteriors of Yorke, Rosenberg & Mardall’s commissions projects throughout the 1950s. This success led to a large number of orders from F.R.S. Yorke for tile designs, particularly for new schools and colleges. In 1952, she was made a member of the national Council of Industrial Design.
Tile designs from the early 1950’s.
At the North London Collegiate School for Girls Peggy believed in setting up communal projects where pupils’ works could be displayed to their best advantage. These projects also improved the school’s visual environment and expanded her influence beyond the art rooms. She wanted to encourage a sense of patronage and visual literacy for all, including those not thinking of following an artistic career. She remained a teacher at the school until 1971 aged sixty-five.
The stairs of the NLCS in the new drawing school, tiles designed by Peggy Angus. The art room 1960’s with desks designed by Peggy. Endpaper and title page for the school magazine 1958-59.
The art-department block at North London Collegiate stands as a memorial to Angus’s zeal and continues to be staffed only by practising artists. Her former pupils remember it as a separate creative encampment, an autonomous zone in the school’s highly academic environment.
Old Pupils say……
Mary Lane, Huddersfield:“Here is my memory of art lessons with Peggy Angus at NLCS. I think it will have been the first project we did in the Upper Thirds. We made a magic art folder by making a two-coloured potato print onto thick card– two pieces, a front and back cover. It was covered in clear fablon and the two sides tied together with ribbon. I have very little memory of what we put in the folder but I still have it, 52 years later! Peggy had an air of difference about her!”
Kate Clark:“In 1968, aged 11, I was fortunate to win a council scholarship to attend North London Collegiate School. The school had a large, separate art block, which over the following seven years became my place of refuge from the rigours of academia. My earliest memories of creating there are those spent in the company of wonderful, inspiring teacher Peggy Angus. In the ground floor studio, we crafted and created an assortment of colourful pieces under her watchful eye. My favourite was a painted papier-mâché bird. We made the body, stuck it on a stick and added the wings with wires attached to the stick so they could be pushed up and down to make the bird ‘fly’. What joy! Those early experiences led to Art A level, art college and an eventual lifelong career in design – and I am so grateful to Peggy and the other amazing art teachers we were lucky enough to be inspired by at NLCS. It’s only in recent years that I discovered more about Peggy Angus and the important legacy of art and design she left behind.”
Jill Hall: “As a very unworldly 11-year-old, Peggy Angus taught me at NLCS when I was a new girl and I certainly was unaware of her artist’s status – so,what a lucky little girl I was to have had her as my teacher, no less!”
Many of Peggy’s pupils visited Furlongs at the weekends and during the school holidays along with an ever-growing circle of friends.
One weekend Henry Swanzy and Tirzah visited Furlongs taking along with them artist/writer Olive Cook and photographer Edwin Smith. Olive and Peggy were to become lifelong close friends.
Another close friend was artist/potter Ursula Mommens. Peggy found a home to rent for her and sculptor husband Norman at Grange Farm, South Heighton, just over the Downs from Furlongs. Ursula had previously been married to artist Julian Trevelyan. Ursula’s mother, wood engraver and illustrator Elinor Monsell was a good friend of Virginia Woolf. Apparently, it was Elinor who encouraged Norman to take up sculpture; Leonard Woolf was an early patron, commissioning a work which still stands, though damaged, in the garden at Monk’s House.
Norman Mommens at work on a sculpture (at South Heighton) he did for Leonard Woolf – ‘Goliath’
Tragically the peace and joy of this circle of friendship was shattered in 1951 when Tirzah succumbed to the cancer which had first resulted in a mastectomy in 1942. Tirzah died suddenly and without pain on Easter Monday 27th March 1951, two weeks short of her forty-third birthday. She is buried in the Churchyard at Copford, Essex.
Tirzah Garwood (Ravilious) photographed by Edwin Smith 1951.
Peggy and Olive helped to look after Tirzah’s children, John, James and Anne, taking them along with Victoria and Angus on the train to Furlongs.
Peggy Angus: ‘Asham Cement Works’ with Peggy designed surround. Painted after the end of the war when Peggy was able to return to Furlongs.
If it had not been for Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious working on the Morley Murals 1928-1930 I would never have heard of the artist Charles Mahoney, the third man at Morley College who fully deserves to come out of the shadows into the spotlight.
Charles Mahoney was born Cyril Mahoney in Lambeth, South London on November 18th, 1903. Charles was the eldest surviving child of a family of seven boys, three of whom died in infancy. His father was William Mahoney, a self-employed mechanical engineer who married Bessie Rich who came from Exeter.
Charles and his brothers attended Oakfield Road School, Anerley, London, where his gift for drawing and painting was encouraged by the art teacher.
Charles’s daughter Elizabeth relates that: ‘Two early events cast their shadow over the rest of my father’s life. The first was the loss of an eye in a tussle with one of his brothers over the possession of some scissors. The second was a near fatal attack of diphtheria, which left him less robust than formerly. In later life his habit of smoking did not help an already weak chest, and his life was to be disrupted by bouts of poor health, particularly chest problems.’
View from rear window at Mahoney‘s family home, Anerley, c.1922
Steely determination, however, set in, after leaving school he worked for a few months in a city advertising agency before entering Beckenham Art School, overcoming his parent’s resistance to their preferred career in banking!
In a letter Charles recalls:’ I gained a Royal Exhibition in Drawing to the Royal College of Art in 1922. In September of that year, I entered the school of painting which was then under the active professorship of Sir William Rothenstein who was also principal of the College. I took my diploma in painting in my second year and was placed second on the list. I stayed on in the School of Painting for a further two years and was given a fourth-year scholarship.’
At the RCA a life-long friendship developed between the then Cyril and the talented Barnett Freedman who renamed him Charlie. The name stuck !
William Rothenstein in his memoir ‘Since 50, Men & Memories 1922-1938’ (published 1939) lists the first two names that appear in a roll of top Royal College of Art students which are Henry Moore and Charles Mahoney – the list continues with the names of luminaries such as Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Barnett Freedman Edward Le Bas, and Evelyn Dunbar.
Eric Ravilious: Cartoon sketch of Charles Mahoney at his easel
Charles left the RCA in 1926 after which he collaborated with Barnett Freedman designing theatre sets, some of his designs were bought for the print room at the V & A. An unhappy year followed as Senior Assistant at Thanet School of Art, mercenary landladies were the cause of frequent changes of lodgings while the school and its Principal were described as ‘uninspiring’. This unsettled period led to bouts of illness.
1928 brought a welcome turn of fortunes with Charles being offered the post of Visiting Painting Tutor at the RCA albeit, tempered by the news of his father’s death in the April. Charles commenced his RCA duties in the autumn.
The decorations in the Tate Gallery restaurant by Rex Whistler had been a success and Sir Joseph Duveen, later Lord Duveen, who had paid for the work was persuaded by RCA Principal Sir William Rothenstein to give money for decorations to be done at Morley College. Rothenstein recommended Charles to work on the murals assigned to the Concert Hall while Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious worked in the Student Refreshment Room.
The Morley Murals were unveiled in 1930 by the Prime Minister of the day, Stanley Baldwin. There was a final rush to complete them and Charles was helped by friend, Slade student, Geoffrey Rhoades. The murals were such a sensation that an imperious Queen Mary commanded a private view with the three artists in attendance. Each artist and the other people involved in the project was given a presentation album, containing a beautifully lettered frontispiece, copies of images from The Studio and The Graphic and other photographs.
Tragically on 15 October 1940 a bomb hit the Georgian building, which Morley’s Elaine Andrews tells us, ‘folded like a pack of cards. 57 men, women and children who were sheltering in Morley from the Blitz perished.
Charles sketches for the Morley Murals. ‘The Pleasures of Life in Work and Play (Scenes of London Life)’ in the Prince of Wales’ Hall, Morley College, Lambeth
In 1932 Charles was invited to organise a mural scheme for Brockley County School for Boys, the work commencing in 1933 with the help of three of his senior students from the RCA.
In 1934-6 Charles Mahoney along with senior students Evelyn Dunbar, Mildred Eldridge and Violet Martin (all from RCA) worked on paintings in the hall of a school in Brockley, creating modern-life equivalents of Aesops Fables
During the winter of 1932/33 Charles was at Brick House, Great Bardfield. Edward Bawden’s father had purchased Brick House as a wedding present for Edward and Charlotte and Charles and Geoffrey Rhoades helped to re-decorate the building. Keen gardener Charles also helped with the garden.Tirzah Garwood (Ravilious) relates: ‘Charlie Mahoney, with Geoffrey Rhoades stayed for a long time and helped Edward with the garden. During the winter the four men (Ravilious too) had cleared the yard which was feet deep in years of rubbish. They unearthed all kinds of relics from the trade of past owners: it had been a girls’ school, and a saddler’s and coffin maker’s and there were pieces of old coffin and piles of old harness which they had buried in a huge pit which they had dug in the garden.’
Tirzah records several amusing anecdotes about Charles recounted in her autobiography ‘Long Live Great Bardfield.’
‘Charlie had a glass eye but I thought that on the whole it improved his appearance, giving an interesting and piratical look to a face that as nature intended it, might have belonged to a Sunday School superintendent or a postman’
Charles Mahoney: ‘Willow Grove at Great Bardfield’ ‘Still Life With Landscape’ – the willow grove to the right. Charles Mahoney: ‘Portrait of Geoffrey Rhoades’ 1930.
The most talented pupil working alongside Charles on the Brockley Murals was Evelyn Dunbar.Evelyn and Charles spent some three years, from 1933 to 1936, completing the Brockley murals. During this time, they formed a close relationship, which eventually ended in 1937. A collection of Dunbar’s often lavishly illustrated letters to Mahoney covering their relationship between 1933 and 1937, are held in the Tate Gallery archive.
Commenting on the completion of the Brockley School Murals Rothenstein stated: ‘….through a further sum from school concerts, augmented by contributions from the governors and staff, £100 was given to Evelyn Dunbar….to enable her to study at the Royal College of Art.’
Mahoney, for his three years’ work, was given £25 and a silver cigarette case.’
In 1937 Charles wrote and illustrated ‘Gardener’s Choice’ in partnership with Evelyn, published by Routledge. Charles and Evelyn made many visits to Brick House and helped to marble the hall.
Charles Mahoneyand Evelyn Dunbar. Letter from Evelyn to Charles.
In 1937 Charles bought Oak Cottage, Wrotham a 16th century cottage for himself and his mother. His relationship with Evelyn was now over but they remained friends. Charles enjoyed sketching trips around the North Down sometimes accompanied by friend Thomas Hennell who lived nearby in Ash.
Thomas Hennell: ‘Charles Mahoney Sketching’.
Friend Bernard Dunstan later reflected on Charles’ garden: ‘A village back garden of Eden, in which sunflowers, sheds, weeds, cabbages and brick walls were treated with love and equal respect and took their places naturally in his mural designs.’
The first pic is ‘A View From the Artist’s House (Oak Cottage). The remainder are views of Oak Cottage plus two studies of the kitchen. The final pic is Oak Cottage from the front.Charles and Dorothy at Oak Cottage circa 1955.
In late 1940 the RCA was evacuated to Ambleside with Charles, deemed unfit for military service, amongst the first to teach there alongside friend Percy Horton. Charles joined the Home Guard in Ambleside. Also evacuated to the Lake District was calligraphy tutor Dorothy Bishop working in the Design School. Charles and Dorothy were married in n September 1941 and enjoyed a brief honeymoon in Edinburgh.
Two hotels were requisitioned in Ambleside: The Queens Hotel and the Salutation. The Queens Hotel was used to house male students and most of the staff, and also provided most of the classrooms; while the Salutation Hotel housed female students, a few of the staff, and teaching accommodation for engraving and dress design.
Charles Mahoney: ‘Ambleside’. ‘Rooms at the Queens Hotel’.
Dorothy had entered the RCA School of Design in 1924 with Book Illustration as her principal subject. From 1926-28 she took lettering and illumination under Edward Johnston, to whom, during this period, she became student-assistant. Her subsidiary subjects were wood engraving, pottery, bookbinding and embroidery. It is likely that fabric design dates to this period. In 1929 Dorothy was appointed Deputy Assistant to Edward Johnston, giving lectures, demonstrations, and classes in his absence
Charles Mahoney: ‘Portrait of Dorothy’. Dorothy Mahoney: ‘Design For a screen-print’. ‘Oak Cottage, Front Garden’. ‘Oak Cottage’. ‘Walled Garden’.
Charles was commissioned to produce a mural scheme for the Lady Chapel at Campion Hall, Oxford in 1941. Electing to paint directly onto canvas fixed to the walls and by daylight hours only, the project inevitably became drawn out and Mahoney could only work in situ during the Easter and summer vacations when he was not teaching. The project continued into the following decade and the physically exhausting work brought about a serious decline in the artist’s physical health. The work on the murals concluded in 1952.
The mural scheme for the Lady Chapel at Campion Hall in 1941. The scheme was to be made up primarily of three large panels: the Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherds, the Coronation of the Virgin, and Our Lady of Mercy.Charles Mahoney pictured at work at Campion Hall.
The Royal College of Art returned to London for the Autumn term, 1945. Following the appointment of Robin Darwin as Principal of the RCA in 1948 Charles and Professor of Painting Gilbert Spencer left the college.
A memorandum from Darwin stated: ‘The Royal College of Art must be reorganised root and branch. The courses provided must be revised and recruitment for them reconsidered. Many changes of staff will be necessary.’
Darwin placed no importance on the value of crafts such as calligraphy so consequently Dorothy left the RCA too.
Rodrigo Moynihan’s ‘Portrait Group (The Teaching Staff of the Painting School at the Royal College of Art, 1949-50) 1951. From left to right: John MInton, Colin Hayes, Carel Weight, Rodney Burn, Robert Buhler, Charles Mahoney, Kenneth Rowntree, Ruskin Spear, Rodrigo Moynihan
Charles was asked to contribute to the 1951 Festival of Britain. An initial shortlist of 145 artists was narrowed down to 60. Percy Jowett and John Rothenstein, members of the selection panel, undoubtedly would have recommended him. Charles contribution was entitled The Garden. Although not specifically related to the Festival of Britain commission, ‘Autumn’ was produced during the same period as The Garden and but for a slight difference in height could be described as its pair, Dorothy, posed for the main figure.
Charles Mahoney: ‘The Garden’. The setting of the Garden, seen through a red brick arch, was almost definitely inspired by the gardens at Sissinghurst where many such vistas can be found. Mahoney visited Sissinghurst many times. ‘Autumn’ photographed from the original in a private collection.
On 1953 Charles obtained a teaching post at the Bromley School of art and then in 154 at the Byam Shaw School of Painting and Drawing, an independent art school in London. During this period Charles produced a large number of large drawings of plants, including sunflowers, his mural days were behind him.
Charles Mahoney: Flower Studies.
Charles health problems worsened developing emphysema forcing him to give up smoking. In 1966 and 1968 he underwent two lung operations at the Brompton Hospital. Following the second operation cancer of the colon was discovered. Charles died following a third operation at the Royal Marsden hospital in 1968.
Charles’s daughter, Elizabeth Bulkeley, recalls that to enter his garden was to enter one of his pictures, and it ‘provided him with more subject matter than he could ever use’.
Of his teaching she states: ‘As many letters testify, his students and friends appreciated his genuine interest ad encouragement. He was a dedicated teacher, with a genuine sympathy fo the problems of young artists.
A selection of Charles’ work some of which I was privileged to see and photograph first-hand
The process of reassuring Charles’ place in 20th century British Art has had several important milestones including the 1975 Ashmolean exhibition, the Liss Fine Art/Fine Art Society touring show (2000) and Mahoney’s predominant feature in Tate Britain’s The Art of the Garden, (2005) – but the process of reassessment still has a long way to go. Charles standing as a major 20th century artist, like his flowers, deserves to bloom and grow and plant seeds in the hearts and minds of aspiring future artists!
Donald Towner: ‘Portrait of Charles Mahoney’ 1926. Mahoney and Towner were fellow students at the RCA. Towner shows the 23 year old Mahoney seated in his studio. Perhaps deliberately, perhaps by chance, Mahoney’s eye defect seems emphasised in this portrait sketch.
After leaving the Royal College of Art Dorothy taught calligraphy at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and Ravensthorpe School of Art. After ‘retirement’ at the age of 65 she taught 2 evening classes a week at the Stanhope Institute, Queen’s Square, London until she was in her late 70s. Dorothy died following a stroke in 1984.
Poster for the 2000 Exhibition. Brick Fields near Burough 1940. Greenhouse-Interior. High Street, Great Bardfield.
References: Bulkeley, Elizabeth et al. Charles Mahoney1903-1968, the Fine Art Society PLC in association with Paul Liss, London, 1999.
Campbell-Howes, Christopher. Evelyn Dunbar – A Life in Painting. Published by Romarin 2016.
Frayling, Christopher. The Royal College of Art – One Hundred and Fifty Years of Art and Design, Barrie & Jenkins 1987.
Garwood, Tirzah and Ullmann, Anne. Long Live Great Bardfield. Published by Persephone Books 2016
Rothenstein, William Since Fifty – Recollections of William Rothenstein. Faber & Faber 1939.
From 1930 to 1946, Peggy taught art at secondary schools in Sussex and London – Eastbourne High School as an art teacher for 2 years before moving on to the Henrietta Barnett School, Hampstead.
Peggy travelled to Russia in 1932 for an art teachers’ study visit and later urged her students to travel to the Soviet Union. This earned her the nickname “Red Angus.” Following her visit to Russia she became one of the founding members of the Artists’ International Association, an organisation born out of social and political conflicts of the 1930s.
Alfriston Paintings: 1 The Stuffed Duck, Mrs Cooper’s Parlour, watercolour 1931. 2 Mrs Cooper, A Farm Labourer’s Wife, oil 1933. 3 Mr Fidgett (the rat catcher), oil 1932.
Whilst teaching in Eastbourne Peggy found lodgings in a cowman’s cottage at Tile Barn, near Alfriston. Peggy was quite taken with her room at Tile Barn but had to leave when she moved to the Henrietta Barnett School. She had become so attached to the South Downs that she resolved to find an old, run-down cottage where she could spend weekends and holidays. True to her Girl Guide training (Peggy was a girl guide until 1924 aged 20) Peggy would pack her rucksack and hike over the Downs searching for her ideal cottage. In the summer of 1933 Peggy came across a cottage covered in ivy, it was actually two cottages in one, Barnes, a ploughman living at one end and the other end empty. Peggy asked the tenant farmer Dick Freeman, who rented the cottage from the Glynde Estate, if she could sub-let the empty end. He refused so Peggy set up camp and her outdoor art studio until he relented, and the cottage, Furlongs, was hers.
Furlongs, photo taken 24th May 2021. Cart Track to Furlongs by Peggy Angus. No date.
In the autumn of 1933 Peggy visited Zwemmer’s Gallery in London to view works by Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden. Visiting on the last day of the exhibition Peggy longed to buy a painting but by then they had all been sold. So, Peggy wrote to former RCA fellow student Bawden offering to buy a watercolour painting if he would accept an arrangement of paying by instalments of £1 at a time. Bawden replied inviting Peggy to visit Brick House for a weekend so she could choose a watercolour.
Peggy’s painting purchased from Edward Bawden. Ferryboat Entering Newhaven Harbour, 1935.
Peggy duly arrived at Brick House in early January 1934 bowled over by the decorations on the wall, the ceiling and floor. Peggy was pleased to see Eric again having only bumped into him once on Westminster Bridge since leaving the Royal College of Art. She was also able to meet Tirzah, Charlotte Bawden had been a fellow student at RCA.
Brick House, Great Bardfield. Photo taken 27th May 2021.
On what was a mild weekend another visitor to Brick House was young artist Diana Low invited for a six day stay by her former teacher Charlotte along with another Cheltenham School colleague Gwyneth Lloyd Thomas, an English don at Girton College, Cambridge.
The Saturday afternoon was warm for mid-winter but misty. Enjoying a group walk an exuberant Peggy tore her clothes off and plunged into the cold waters of the River Pant, Eric and Diana followed suit while a disapproving Tirzah stayed on the bank.
At the end of the weekend visit Peggy invited the whole household to visit her at Furlongs. Furlongs became the gathering-place of many artists – Eric Ravilious and his wife Tirzah, Edward and Charlotte Bawden, Percy Horton, Maurice de Saumarez, John and Myfanwy Piper, Olive Cook and Edwin Smith, as well as countless former pupils, colleagues and their children and grandchildren.
Peggy Angus: The Fever Wagons, oil, no date. The wagons used as a home and studio at Furlongs by Eric and Tirzah.
Ravilious was a regular visitor and considered that his time at Furlongs: ‘…altered my whole outlook and way of painting, I think because the colour of the landscape was so lovely and the design so beautifully obvious … that I simply had to abandon my tinted drawings.’
Ravilious made many drawings and paintings of the Downs around Furlongs and of the cottage inside and out. He and Peggy both made paintings together at the quarry and cement works at Asham nearby. Other visitors included Herbert Read, Olive Cook and Edwin Smith and architects Moholy-Nagy, Serge Chermayeff, Ernő Goldfinger, Frederick Gibberd, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew.
Paintings of Asham Cement Works by Peggy Angus 1934.
Peggy had maintained contact with Percy Horton since leaving RCA and he was amongst the first visitors to Furlongs. Horton and Peggy shared a love of music as well as sharing their socialist political leanings. The sound of Percy’s violin could often be heard coming from the cottage. Songs too resounded – Peggy’s Scottish ballads and folk songs and Percy’s Elizabethan rounds particularly enjoyed by Tirzah Garwood (Ravilious).
Teaching in London Peggy shared a flat in Camden with fellow RCA graduate Helen Binyon. In 1935 Helen visited Furlongs meeting Eric Ravilious. That year Helen and Ravilious became lovers meeting regularly at Furlongs, a relationship that lasted more than two years during which time Tirzah became pregnant, gave birth to John, and, also discovered the affair.
Peggy Angus: Oil painting of Eric Ravilious and Helen Binyon at Furlongs, c 1945. A posthumous portrait of Eric killed in action 1942.
So that Peggy could afford to travel from London to Furlongs at weekends she got a Saturday morning teaching job at a boys’ preparatory school in nearby Seaford.
In the summer of 1934 an RCA friend Betty Rea introduced Peggy to an Anglo-Irish architect and write Jim Richards. Richards had a family connection to Tirzah as his aunt had been engaged to Tirzah’s uncle and, on his death in WW1 the aunt had been adopted by the Garwoods as a sort of surrogate aunt.
Peggy invited him to visit Furlongs, an arrangement also encouraged by Tirzah. When he eventually turned up Peggy and Eric were away painting so he was taken care of by Sheila, Ishbel MacDonald’s sister. Further visits took place and on the 31st July 1936 Peggy and Jim married. Richards became editor of the Architectural Review and introduced her to many modernist architects. Artist friend John Piper gave the couple a wedding present of a rug made to his own abstract design. Peggy painted a portrait of Piper in 1937 reclining in a chair in front of his painting ‘Forms on Dark Blue’.
Peggy Angus: Portrait of John Piper (in front of his painting Forms on Dark Blue), pencil, crayon and wash, 1937. The Three Bears, watercolour 1945. Angus and Victoria at Breakfast in Furlongs, 1945.
Peggy, still teaching in London had to battle for her position as back in those days it was expected that women give up teaching when they married. Peggy resisted and the school accepted this, but a further battle ensued when Peggy became pregnant. London County Council had recently ruled that a woman was entitled to one term’s maternity leave and Peggy fought the school for her rights to this entitlement. However, the battle caused so much ill feeling at the school following the birth of daughter Victoria that Peggy resigned.
Shortly afterwards in 1939 Peggy was pregnant again, Eric was there to help while Tirzah was in Eastbourne herself pregnant with James. In the dead of a summer’s night Peggy felt the baby coming and dispatched Eric to bring Mrs Spikes, a mother of five camping in the nearby field. Eric then had to go to the phone box in Glynde to call the local doctor who knowing the cottage well refused to come. The doctor advised Eric to take Peggy to a nursing home in Lewes but Eric couldn’t drive and there was no car. Eric aroused Mr Lusted of the Trevor Arms, Glynde, and he agreed under protest to transport them both to the hospital in Eastbourne where Angus was born.
With Britain at war Peggy was appointed art teacher at Streatham School for Girls and was allowed to structure her teaching time around Angus’ feeds. The school was soon evacuated to Chichester and Peggy and the children went there too. Jim was working in Adelaide Road, London where he set up the office of The Architectural Review.
For the first wo years of the War Furlongs was out of bounds as part of a militarized coastal zone. Peggy was able to return for a brief visit in 1941 and in 1942 invited Eric to come and stay at Furlongs, a visit that never took place as Eric was lost in a plane over Iceland in September 1942. The loss of such a good, close friend sent Peggy into a depression that lasted on and off for several years.
Peggy Angus: Barrage Balloon, crayon and pencil, early 1943.
Tirzah struggled on at Ironbridge until March 1944, when she and the children moved to Boydells Farm, Wetherfield. The rented house was less primitive than Ironbridge having gas lighting, but water still had to be boiled in a copper. At Boydells encouraged by Peggy, Tirzah entered a competition to illustrate a book for young children. Her works were not amongst the winning entries but triggered illustrations for a counting book, ‘One, Two, Three’.
Peggy Angus: Portrait of Jim Richards, oil, 1947.
Unfortunately, with infrequent meetings at weekends less and less Peggy’s marriage was in trouble and Jim asked Peggy for a divorce, concluded in 1948. In 1954, he married Kit Lewis, also an artist; the couple had one son. Jim became Sir James Maude Richards, a leading spokesman and theorist of the Modern Movement in architecture in Britain, he died in 1992.
Part three will take us on to Adelaide Road, London.