Marianne Straub

Marianne Straub OBE (1909-1994) was one of the leading commercial designers of textiles in Britain in the period from the 1940s to 1960s. She said her overriding aim was: “to design things which people could afford. … To remain a handweaver did not seem satisfactory in this age of mass-production”.

Marianne Straub was born on the 23rd of September 1909 in the village of Amriswil, Switzerland, the second of four daughters of the textile merchant Carl Straub and his wife Cécile Kappeler.  She had tuberculosis as a young child and spent over four years in a hospital ward, returning home at the age of eight. For most of this hospitalisation she was immobilised by traction and was dependent upon her hands and imagination for amusement.

Having left hospital and started school another six-month period of inactivity, aged 12 and 13. saw Straub develop an interest in yarns. She requested a narrow strip loom and to plain cloths she added adventurous colour combinations and areas of brocading.

In 1928 Straub studied art at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich, focusing on hand weaving and textiles in the final two years. Her tutor was Heinz Otto Hürlimann, who had studied at the Bauhaus. She then spent six months working as a technician/helper at a mill in her village. She was paid with twelve towels – “worth every penny!”

Marianne while an art student in Zurich 1927

She moved to Bradford, arriving in 1932 to undertake a year’s study at Bradford Technical College. Bradford had addressed correspondence to her in Switzerland as a ‘Mr Straub’. One reason for choosing Bradford was that Swiss technical colleges would not accept women students – and at Bradford she was only the third female student. On arriving at Bradford College the staff were surprised to discover that she was a Miss Straub and not a Mr Straub!

After completing her course in one year instead of the usual three years she was invited to work at Ethel Mairet’s Gospels studio at Ditchling where she developed her hand loom techniques. Following this she worked as a consultant designer for the Welsh milling industry, advising 72 mills that were supported by the Rural Industries Bureau between 1934–7 and learning the skills of mass production. In 1937 she joined the firm of Helios, a subsidiary of Barlow & Jones as head designer, becoming managing director in 1947.

1 A Scarf of undyed Southdown wool woven for Gospels 1933. 2 Welsh tweeds 1945-37. 3 and 4 A selection of Helios fabrics.

In 1950, Straub joined the firm of Warner & Sons in Braintree, Essex, and remained associated with the firm until 1970.

Warner fabrics 1952 to 1970

It is at this point in 1950 that our interest takes us to Great Bardfield. Straub had been introduced to Edward and Charlotte Bawden shortly after her move to Braintree. In 1952 Straub purchased Trinity Cottage in Great Bardfield.

She recalls: ‘I went there a lot through the Festival of Britain….I decided it would be a nice place to live.  One day Edward Bawden rang and said “My gardener (Fred Mizen) says the cottage opposite is for sale”, so I drove over and looked at the cottage and decided to buy it.’

Walter Hoyle recalls: ‘I first met Marianne Straub in 1952, she was having tea at the Bawden’s when I called in. I was immediately struck – and that is the right word – by her personality, forceful, pleasant, on friendly first-name terms from the start.  I had recently moved into a farm cottage on the outskirts of Great Bardfield and Marianne enquired if I had curtains. When I told her I did not she immediately offered to make curtains for me using her woven materials…..we became good friends’.

Fabrics pieced together for curtains. Reminds me of the work of Paul Klee.

It was suggested that Marianne should take part in the Great Bardfield Summer Exhibition of 1954, a selection of her fabrics could be displayed in Bawden’s Brick House. When post exhibition, the artists met to work out expenses it was decided that it would be unfair to ask Marianne to contribute because hers was a non-selling exhibition. Marianne was upset by this and insisted on paying her contribution.

The village’s “open house” exhibitions attracted national press attention and thousands visited the remote village to view art in the artists’ own homes during the summer exhibitions of 1954, 1955 and 1958.

‘Reflections’ In the collection of the Fry Gallery

One of Straub’s most famous early designs for Warner was Surrey, a textile that featured in the Festival of Britain in 1951 and was used in the Regatta Restaurant.

Straub continued to work with Warner until 1970, she was also enlisted by Isabel Tisdall to create designs for the newly launched venture Tamesa Fabrics from 1964. Designs from the Tamesa range were to feature on everything from the QE2 to BEA’s Trident aircraft.

Straub was also among the designers used to create the livery for moquette upholstery on London Transport buses and trains. Her blue/green design (known as Straub) was used on all buses and trains entering service from 1969 to 1978, notably featuring on trains operating along the Piccadilly line extension to Heathrow Airport opened in 1977. The design – and variations of it – also featured in British Rail carriages of the period.

London Underground seat fabric. Top right: ‘Straub’ . London Transport – a moquette fabric entitled Straub, which was named after Marianne and was applied to all new buses and trains entering service between 1969-1978. Bottom right: Straub’ moquette textile in Piccadilly Line carriage opened by Her Majesty the Queen – 16 December 1977.

Straub also became an influential textile teacher, combining work with Warner with teaching at Central School of Art, London from 1956. She also taught at Hornsey College of Art and the Royal College of Art.

On retirement in 1970, she left Great Bardfield and moved to Cambridge. She continued to maintain her interest in cloth and weaving in retirement. In a letter to her biographer Mary Schoeser some three months before her death, Straub described her design process. “Whilst thinking of the new cloth, I think of its weight, its draping qualities, the handle; I see it in colours……The essence of the whole exercise is to place the cloth, in my imagination, into the situation in which it will be used.”

Straub was made a Royal Designer for Industry in 1972. In 1993, she received the Sir Misha Black Medal. She was also a Fellow of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers (SIAD) and was appointed an OBE for services to textile weaving.

Straub returned to Switzerland in 1992 for the last two years of her life passing away on the 8th November 1994 aged 85.

‘Brisbane’ 1949 for Helios.

Graham Bennison April 2021.

Please also see……..

Facebook pages. Eric Ravilious and Friends

John Aldridge Artist and Friends.

Percy Horton

Percy Frederick Horton Self-portrait; The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

Percy Horton (1897-1970) was the eldest son of Ethel Marman (1866-1954) and Percy Horton (1870-1937). He was born in Brighton on the 8th of March 1897 the eldest of three sons. His father was a bus conductor and his mother worked in service.

Percy’s mother’s experience in service aroused in her certain social ambitions, she made sure that all three boys worked hard, all gaining a scholarship to Brighton Municipal Secondary School. Percy went on to Brighton School of Art in 1912, again with a scholarship, where he was awarded prizes for drawing and pictorial composition.  He also passed the Department of Education Drawing Examination with Distinction in 1914 and continued studying at the college until 1916. It was now that Percy’s politics and fate took a hand, joining the Labour Party and formulating a sympathy with socialism. He came to the conclusion that the Great War was an inevitable result of rivalry between all the great powers scrambling to achieve military and naval bases, raw materials and markets. These rivalries had resulted in a frantic arms race.

Percy Frederick Horton Portrait of the Artist’s Mother; Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries

When conscription was introduced in 1916 Horton refused conscription joining the No-Conscription Fellowship in Brighton. It was through the N.C.F. that Horton met his future wife Lydia Sargent Smith, eleven years his elder. Lydia, a suffragette in her early 20’s, was engaged to Horton’s friend Royle Richmond, a conscientious objector who was imprisoned. Richmond died in prison in December 1918 from heart disease exacerbated by prison life. Horton and Lydia married in 1921.

Percy Frederick Horton. Portrait of Lydia Horton

Alternative conditions were put to conscientious objectors e.g. accepting service under civilian authority. Horton refused all the alternatives belonging to the few who were termed ‘Absolutists’. A cycle of court martial and prison ensued. His appeal was heard on the 14th April 1916 by the East Sussex Tribunal who took little notice of his argument and tried to stop him speaking. He was eventually sent up to Edinburgh where his appointed regiment the 27th Fusiliers were based.

Horton was confined to a cell in the Guard Room at a chocolate factory in Portobello.  Refusing to put on a uniform he was sentenced to two years at Calton Prison with periods of solitary confinement.

Horton was taken to Edinburgh Hospital for an operation on a large ganglion on his wrist in 1917. During his recuperation he made several drawings of patients and nurses. Artist Edward Arthur Walton saw these drawings and became interested in Horton. Walton was able to get permission to take him into his care and Horton was officially discharged from prison in April 1918. With his health severely weakened Horton stayed with Walton for several months.

Edward Arthur Walton. Self Portrait. Walton frequently visited my old village of Ceres to paint.

More info on Walton can be found here.

After the war Horton briefly returned home to his parents in Brighton. Following a brief stay he continued his education attending the Central School of Arts and crafts in London. His first appointment after leaving the school was as an assistant art teacher at Rugby School, he resigned in 1922 hoping to get back to his own full-time study of painting. He sat the Department of Education Examination in painting, passing with distinction. He was awarded a one-year Royal Exhibition at the Royal College of Art.  The other students alongside Horton included Henry Moore, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, Barnett Freedman and Peggy Angus with whom Horton formed a life-long friendship both sharing a passion for left-wing politics.

The Horton Family in Brighton.

Horton painted many scenes of Dulwich. He and his wife, Lydia lived at 11 Pond Cottages for many years. His neighbours were fellow artists James and Margaret Fitton who lived at 10 Pond Cottages.

1 Dulwich Trees. 2 Fair Hair Model 1925. 3 Model 1925. 4 Self Portrait circa 1940. 5 House Through the Trees.

Horton stayed two years at the RCA before becoming Drawing Master at Bishop’s Stortford College where he had a successful teaching time, the start to a lifetime of teaching. In 1930 Horton was invited to join the teaching staff at the RCA working as a painting instructor for the next nineteen years.

In 1934, the artist and designer Peggy Angus, invited Eric Ravilious to stay at Furlongs, the stark, flint-faced shepherd’s cottage she rented below Beddingham Hill on the Firle Estate. This resulted in some of Ravilious’s most celebrated landscape paintings. Horton was also one of the first visitors to Furlongs. Horton and Peggy shared a love of music as well as sharing their 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).

The Horton’s version of a holiday retreat was at Pump Farm, Assington, Suffolk and John Nash stayed with them through August and September 1936, Christine only staying a few days.  Assington was close to the Nash’s retreat at Wiston (also known as Wissington).  It was here at Pump Farm that Eric Ravilious and his lover Helen Binyon arrived for a week’s stay.  This was the first meeting between Nash and Binyon who within a year commenced their ‘affair’.

Coate’s Corner, Assington.

Horton was appointed Master of Drawing at the Ruskin School in 1949 having previously worked for the RCA when it moved to Ambleside during the Second World War, he produced a series of paintings of the Lake District and its people. He was at the Ruskin until 1964.

A Corner of Ambleside. House at Ambleside. Storm at Loughrigg. The Shepherd. Derbyshire Landscape.

In 1947, Percy Horton was invited to record in drawings the 150-mile Youth Railway being built by voluntary labour in war-ravaged Bosnia.

Horton’s interest in landscape painting and familiarity of the countryside around Furlongs, led him, in 1948 to a gamekeeper’s tower on Lord Gage’s estate at Firle, Sussex, John Nash a regular visitor. The tower served as painting studio at the weekends and holidays for the rest of his life. Atter retiring from the Ruskin in 1964 he moved to Lewes teaching a couple of days at the Sir John Cass School, Stepney Green and one day a week at Hastings School of Art.

Alfriston. The Dower House and Cottage, Firle. In the Valley, Firle. Shepherd’s Cottage, Firle (also painted by Ravilious). Farm at Firle. Mount Caburn.

The Lay, on the Firle Estate in Sussex, was also painted by Eric Ravilious in the 1930s. 

Like John Nash and John Aldridge, Horton was a prolific painter and there are scores of works I could have presented here. Here we have :- Girl in the studio 1947. House on the Seine. Lock Gates The Barn. Blind Workers at a Factory in Birmingham. Farm at Harvest. Haystacks. Portrait of a Private. Woman Ironing. Village in Luberon, France.

Horton passed away in 1970 a memorial retrospective was held at the Mall Galleries in 1971. His work may be seen in the permanent collections of the Tate, National Portrait Gallery, Arts Council, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and a number of city art galleries.

I will leave you with one of his most famous portraits and the painting he was working on just before he died.

Unemployed Man. Geraniums in a Barrel.

Graham Bennison, April 2021.

Loves Labours Sadly Lost – Bawden on Ravilious and the Morley, Morecambe and Colwyn Bay Murals.

Bawden and Ravilious by Michael Rothenstein. Watercolour. National Portrait Gallery.

Bawden writes: Eric came to London to the Royal College of Art in 1922 and was often seen in the student’s common room playing ping pong or sitting with girls in the broken-down old armchairs.  He was indolent, humorous, easy going – plainly a charmer,  Eric was never intentionally a hard worker. Little seen in the College he hid himself secretively and found the best hiding place in the School of Engraving. To work in the school was a privilege granted to few, admission being by application to the Professor, Sir Frank Short, who did not give it readily to students of the Design School as they could not be expected to reach even a moderate standard of good drawing.

Holidays at home were often spent sketching on the Sussex Downs.  The influence of Alfred Rich withered. New exciting things had been seen in London, work by Francis Towne, John Robert Cozens, Thomas Girtin and Samuel Palmer, also following in the tradition but breaking new ground with what seemed to be breath-taking freshness were contemporary paintings by Paul and John Nash.

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 Sir William Rothenstein to give money for decorations to be done at Morley College.  Sir William asked Eric and me to do sketch designs for the restaurant; subject; “London”. We decided to collaborate but even so such a vast intractable subject was too much for inexperienced young men to grapple with, Sir William rejected the sketches and suggested something on the lines of a fantasy and that suggestion turned out to be an inspiration.

Bawden and Ravilious perusing the Morley Murals.

Elizabethan plays, Shakespeare, Olympian gods and goddesses, Punch and Judy, a Miracle play and a doll’s house – Gosh! what a riot it was.  Whatever beneficial influence Italy had on Eric was now to some extent revealed, not by plagiarism, rather by his skill in organising space and in creating it for figures to be sent dancing and swinging in ballet movement across the walls The painting proceeded slowly and two years passed before it was completed. 

Venus Rising

Eric was still teaching intermittently at Eastbourne, but he had fallen in love with one of his students. The love affair with Tirzah Garwood blossomed on one of the walls; Tirzah impersonating Venus fully in the nude, stood proudly on a floating cloud.  It was the finest thing he painted.

Edward Bawden, composed in 1971.

Morley Murals – study
Morley Murals – Boarding House.

Artist Charles Mahoney was another invited to work on the murals, he worked in the Concert Hall, and Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious in the student Refreshment Room.

The Morley Murals were unveiled in 1930 by the Prime Minister of the day, Stanley Baldwin (a kinsman of Edward Burne Jones), 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.

Destroyed by a 1,000kg high-explosive bomb at 7.55pm on the night of 15 October 1940

Edward Bawden returned to Morley after the war and in the Refectory, you can look in and see his Canterbury Tales mural there.

In the spring of 1933 a commission from the architect, Oliver Hill, saw Eric and Tirzah paint a mural on the tearoom walls of the Midland Hotel, Morecambe. The couple found lodgings in nearby Heysham. Tirzah wrote in her autobiography of how the ‘…new hotel resembled a big white concrete ship’ facing out across the shining sands, mudflats and treacherous waters of Morecambe Bay’.

Hill and his financiers were eager to hurry completion of the mural prior to the opening of the new art deco hotel but as Eric and Tirzah worked, they became increasingly aware that their mural had no hope of lasting.

Tirzah and Eric at work in Morecambe

Tirzah wrote: ‘Decorating the tearoom was disheartening work because the plaster was too recently put onto the wall and as well as not being dry, it exuded little heaps of yellowish sand or lime or whatever it is that plaster is made with. When we were drawing out the design, if we used an India rubber or disturbed it in any way the white paint peeled off…’

B/W photo of the original mural. The Midland Hotel. Last photo: The mural today.

What is not widely known is that it was Tirzah that put most effort into the work – Eric departing on seven occasions (two days at a time) to return to work teaching at the RCA. The grand opening of the hotel took place in July 1933. The following year in March the couple returned to carry out extensive repairs but the mural soon deteriorated again.

In the 1980s theatrical decor artists from Thames Television had the notion of reproducing the mural, in its original location, for an episode of Hercule Poirot entitled ‘Double Sin’ that was to be filmed in the hotel. With only the black and white photographs as a visual source, the set designers were obliged to make their own judgements concerning the colours they used. A further restoration of the hotel in 2013 saw the mural re-painted by artist Jonquil Cook.

Link to the blog re Tirzah,

In 1934 Ravilious worked on his final mural, a commission for the Victoria Pier Pavilion at Colwyn Bay. Ravilious painted the wall of the tearoom, an underwater scene consisting of ruined arched buildings, Pink and green seaweeds float through the ruins of a submerged palace.

Study for the Colwyn Bay Mural. The Tearoom. The saved pieces of the mural.

One wall of the Eric Ravilious work has been lost because of water getting into the building, and the whole wall has been covered over with several coats of paint and plaster. The remaining sections are stored safely in a dry place.

Please do look at our Facebook group Eric Ravilious and Friends.

Graham Bennison. March 2021.

John O’Connor

John O’Connor – Self Portrait

John Scorror O’Connor was born at Leicester on 11th August 1913, a twin son of Vernon Fergus O’Connor (1875-1946), an optical instrument maker, whose family came from County Tipperary, Ireland, and his wife Annie Burnet née Scorror (1883-1964). After attending Wyggeston School and Leicester College of Art 1931-1933, John studied at the Royal College of Art 1933-1937, where his teachers included Eric Ravilious, John Nash and Robert Austin. Each influenced him, but from Ravilious he learned a great love of wood engraving. This was a golden age for private presses and, at the age of 23, O’Connor made engravings for an edition of Joan Rutter’s book of poems, ‘Here’s Flowers’, the first of his many book illustrations.

O’Connor visited the home of Ravilious and Tirzah Garwood in Castle Hedingham fascinated by the wood engraving technique as ER worked away under the light of a small lamp in the corner of a room.

Just some of the hundreds of wood engravings created by John O’Connor.

He married Mary Wilson Henry who had also been a pupil at Wyggeston and a student at Leicester College of Art. John served as a Flt. Lieut. in the RAF 1940-1946, still managing to cut a few wood blocks.  He arrived with the allied troops during the fall of Berlin and sketched the ruined city.  Back in England he married secondly at Filey, North Yorkshire in 1945, Jeannie Tennant, a teacher, they spent their honeymoon cycling around the Yorkshire Dales.

O’Connor was heavily influenced by medieval art, especially Gothic stained glass, manuscript illustrations and paintings of the 14th and 15th Centuries. He was also inspired by the works of Munch, Lucas Cranach, Joseph Wright of Derby and Murillo. As well as engravings, he produced his own stained glass window designs (for the Betton Memorial window in St Mary’s, Hadleigh) and painted many watercolours as well as powerfully coloured, slightly abstract oils.

Betton Memorial window in St Mary’s, Hadleigh

After war service, O’Connor taught at Hastings School of Art, moving in 1948 as principal of Colchester School of Art where his colleagues included Richard Chopping who designed the dust-jackets for the James Bond novels, his former teacher John Nash, and Edward Bawden. During his time at Colchester he lived in the Brett Valley Suffolk, firstly at Higham then at Shelley, where despite the tranquil settings he saw his favourite painting places, the ponds, willows, briars and honeysuckle, disappear beneath the bulldozer and the combine harvester – a time of great change.  In 1950 he provided text and engravings for ‘Canals, Barges and People’ subjects dear to his heart. His later books included ‘Landscape Painting’ (1968), a guide to the practical techniques which covered everything from the use of insect repellent to the theatrical element in landscape art. He also contributed to Harper’s Bazaar, House And Garden and the Radio Times. During the 1950s and 60s, O’Connor exhibited at the Zwemmer Gallery in London, and had many exhibitions throughout Britain.

John O’Connor’s two books plus canal art.

O’Connor was an enthusiastic teacher, full of intellectual curiosity; he held that artists had a duty to teach, and that contact with younger artists and students fed the imagination. jIn the staff room, he was remembered for his humour, his approachability and his anecdotes – and for letting it be known that he preferred the prettier girls as his models.

Former pupil Lottie Nevin recalls: My memories of John O’Connor are all very happy ones. I was privileged to grow up in rural Suffolk during the 1960’s at a time when East Anglia was still home to many creatives and artists.   Both John O’Connor and his wife, Jean, were very much a part of my formative years.  Jean taught me at school but it was John’s magical studio beside the stream in Shelley (or lower Layham?) that captivated my imagination and taught me so much.

I remember one lesson in particular- I went out with him (John) to look at recently harvested wheat fields. I had my drawing book and pencil, poster paints and water pot. I must have been about seven or eight years old. I can’t remember exactly what he talked about or, how I ended up making the painting but there was certainly some discussion on the importance of the getting the lines, the stubble ridges the right. For some reason I didn’t like them, I thought they were ugly and didn’t feel that they were part of the picture – (my naive eye could only see the stacks of wheat straw, piled up in cubes of eights around the fields) but John somehow encouraged me to see why they, the lines and ridges were so important. I then realised that ‘the cracks’ often hold the most unexpected beauty. Growing along the stubble tracks were poppies. Of course, it was those poppies and cart tracks that became the thing that brought the little picture together.

Of course, I did not verbalise that connection at the time, but it’s because of John that I owe so much. When you have a good art teacher, you learn so much more than just about the process of making art. You learn about life, too.

And I have one last happy memory of that day I spent with John spent painting out in the fields.  The look of joy on my mother’s face when I won first prize with my picture at the Hadleigh show under 10’s painting competition.

First painting is ‘Jenny Bone. Five of John’s landscape paintings.

Leaving Colchester in 1964, he was a visiting lecturer at St Martin’s School of Art until 1975 when the O’Connors left Suffolk for Kirkcudbright, Scotland a part of Scotland to which his wife belonged. making their home in a single-storey farmhouse and the byre beside the house became a three-room studio. He was a lecturer at Glasgow School of Art 1977-1984. His work was purchased by the Arts Council, the Tate Gallery, the British Museum and the Contemporary Art Society, as well as by several local education authorities; it can also be found in the Oslo Museum, the Zurich Museum and at New York central library.

Three of the Kirkcudbright paintings.

In 1947 he was elected to the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers and in 1974 to the Royal Watercolour Society and was an honorary member of the Society of Wood Engravers

Until 2001, O’Connor produced a monthly wood-engraving for Richard Ingrams’s Oldie magazine, work which involved considerable physical effort. This drive to create was typical, however, and he remained active as an artist – and full of energy – despite using a wheelchair and suffering from increasing deafness.

John O’Connor died on 5th March 2004.

John’s design for the Shell Guide to Britain Series published between 1934 and 1984, this one was 1960. And…..very proud to own three of John’s wood engravings pictured here.

Thanks to Colchester Art Society and Suffolk Artists for providing 50% of the text for this blog.

Graham Bennison

Thomas Hennell 16th April 1903 – 1945

John Rothenstein on Hennell: ‘A tall, awkward rustic chap, but one of obvious sensibility, and, I should think, of complete integrity.’

Hennell was born in Ridley, Kent in 1903, the second son of the Rev. Harold Barclay Hennell and Ethel Mary Hennell. He attended primary school in Broadstairs and then secondary school at Bradfield College, Berkshire before studying art at Regent Street Polytechnic. Hennell qualified as a teacher in 1928 and taught for some years at the Kingswood School, Bath and at the King’s School, Bruton in Somerset.

‘Beechan Cliff Farm from Widcombe’ across from Bath 1930. ‘A Bedroom at Rathcoursey House,’ County Cork, c. 1930-32.

Whilst at college Hennell had begun cycling around the British countryside to work on essays and illustrations of rural landscapes.

‘Threshing 1930?’ ‘Threshing 1931 ?’

Hennell cycled into Great Bardfield in 1931 on his ancient, black bike with a suitcase tied on the grid seeking material for his book ‘Change in the Farm’. A quest for accommodation led Hennell to Mrs Kinnear’s Brick House, a lodging house which already had two lodgers – Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious.

Bawden recounted: ‘One morning in 1931 when Eric Ravilious and I came down to the kitchen in Brick House to wash ourselves we found a stranger, stripped to the waist pumping water over his head and making quite a splash in the large slate sink. He was tall, thin with black beady eyes rather close set, dark sightly curly hair and as he greeted us his voice had a deep, booming parsonic ring, echoed even more loudly when he laughed. Outside leaning against the doorpost was a heavy, khaki-coloured Army bike and on it, tied to the bar between saddle and steering wheel, a large and perfect specimen of a corn dollie…..Tom greeted us in the most friendly manner. Our identity was divulged in a matter of seconds and friendship was established immediately’

Edward Bawden’s drawing ‘Garden Party at Brick House’. Thomas Hennell is seated front left with Ravilious behind. Tirzah Garwood (Ravilious) front right with Bawden behind.

With a mutual interest in the countryside they became firm friends, and Ravilious produced four engravings for Hennell’s ‘Poems’ of 1936.

Hennell’s Book of Poems with the four wood engraving illustrations by Eric Ravilious.

“The Angel”, draft of a poem – Claybury Psychiatric Hospital 1932-1935. “When at first I would seek a mate / I met an angel in a tomb”. The angel is a re-occuring theme for Hennell. The poem ends “And now I seek nor care for any human, / That is an eagle which I thought a woman”. The eagle is a reference to Marion Richardson who rejected Hennell’s marriage proposal. ‘The Angel’ was published in the Oxford University Press Poems of 1936.

Hennell suffered a nervous breakdown from 1932–35, diagnosed with schizophrenia and was detained at the Maudsley Hospital, Camberwell, South London before being sent to Claybury Psychiatric Hospital, Woodford Green.

Portrait Study: Five Figures at Claybury Hospital.. c.1935

Edward Bawden encouraged Hennell, recuperating at Brick House, to write The Witnesses, an account of his mental illness. Hennell stood as godfather to Edward and Charlotte’s son Richard.

Having recovered from illness Hennell returned to the work of recording scenes of rural crafts and craftsmen at work. At the outbreak of the Second World War an ambitious scheme ‘Recording Britain’ was set up by Sir Kenneth Clark employing artists on the home front. The result was a collection of more than 1500 watercolours and drawings that make up a fascinating record of British lives and landscapes at a time of imminent change.

Hennell was passionate about Windmills, some of his finest work for the Recording Britain project. Hennell made hundreds of drawings of windmills many recorded in ‘The Windmills of Thomas Hennell’ by Alan Stoyel 1993. ISBN 13: 978 1 84306 224 0

Top left: ‘Steel Workers’ Middle left: ‘Flint Pile, Making a Road. c. 1937-41.’ Bottom left: ‘Winchcombe Pottery 1940.’ Top Right: ‘The Hermitage, Long Bredy 1938.’ Right second down: ‘Abbotsbury Tithe Barn c.1940.’ Third down: ‘Stooking Corn, Mill Half Farm, Whitney on Wye 1941. ‘ Bottom right: ‘The Guesthouse, Cerne Abbas. c.1940.

Hennell was sent at short notice to Hampshire to record the magnificent beech avenue at Lasham before it was felled to make way for an aerodrome. He worked for the Ministry of Information in 1941, producing watercolours of rural crafts and agriculture in Kent, Dorset, Berkshire, and Worcestershire. His great interest was rural England and its fast-disappearing country life, the recording of which became a way of life.

‘Beech Avenue at Lasham 1941.’

Hennell sketching.

Hennell painted ‘Summer at Ridley’ in 1942 prior to flying to Iceland. Farmer Eric Chapman requested that Hennell paint his farm.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 Hennell had written to the War Artists Advisory Committee, offering his services as an artist. From 1943 he was a full-time salaried war artist.  It wasn’t until 1943 that he received his appointment and his first posting – to replace Ravilious in Iceland.

In 1942 Ravilious, had on arrival at the Iceland base, immediately volunteered to accompany an air-sea rescue mission – presumably intending to sketch the rescue – but his Hudson aircraft disappeared soon after take-off and was never recovered.

Paintings as a war artist, Iceland 1942.

Hennell painted in Iceland throughout the second half of 1943 before going to the northeast of England in January 1944 to paint maritime topics. In May 1944 Hennell went to Portsmouth to record the preparations for D-Day, which he took part in. Throughout the invasion he spent two months with the Canadian First Army as they moved through the north of France.

Hennell commented: “We look, in landscape painting, not primarily for a rationalised statement, nor for a description of fact but for the moment of vision. Watercolour is the most lovely, delicate and flower-like of all ways of painting. I don’t need to be told that a row of men lining up with their cups and mess tins when the mess-corporal shouts ‘Come and get it’ – is as fine a subject as a good drawing needs.”

‘Flooded Fields at Walcheren’.

He sent back watercolours of a variety of subjects recording the Allied advance towards the strategically important port of Antwerp, which was taken on 4th September. On 3rd October the Royal Air Force Bomber Command tore a 120-yard breach in the sea dyke at Westkapelle on the heavily fortified island of Walcheren. On 1st November Royal Marine Commandos stormed Westkapelle and by 10 November, after fierce fighting, often waist deep in mud, German resistance ended. The Scheldt and the port of Antwerp were re-opened to shipping on 28th November. This typically rapid watercolour was almost certainly made on the spot. It is signed

A year later Hennell was sent further afield, to record the war effort in India and Burma, which he did with success until the official cessation of hostilities. He survived the war but was not to survive the peace, being captured by terrorists in Batavia, Indonesia in November 1945 and subsequently reported missing, presumed killed.

At the time of his death, Hennell was widely considered to be one of Britain’s most significant water-colourists possibly the last great watercolourist of the English tradition. He was also an original, strange and visionary poet and the author and illustrator of a number of important books about English rural life.

‘Rathcoursey House, County Cork 1940.

Bawden commented re Hennell’s work: “We (Bawden and Ravilious) regarded him as a man of genius. The best of it is as good as anything done by other English 20th Century watercolourists”

“I have no doubt that Thomas Hennell was the greatest watercolourist that England has produced during this century” Carel Weight RA, painter and teacher.

I have two books of mine here which will be of interest, both can be easily found on line and fairly cheap.

‘British Craftsmen by Thomas Hennell 1943.’ Passionate about country crafts Hennell recorded craftsmen at work portraying the lives of the craftsmen.

‘The Land is Yours’ by Henry C Warren 1944. Illustrations by Thomas Hennell.

Finally can I pay tribute to a wonderful new book just published – ‘Thomas Hennell. The Land and the Mind’ by Jessica Kilburn 2021. ISBN 978 1 910258 62 0

Graham Bennison March 2021.

Walter Hoyle

Walter Hoyle and Denise Hoyle

Walter Hoyle (1922–2000) was a latecomer to the art community of Great Bardfield moving to the Essex village in 1952.

Hoyle was born in Rishton, Lancashire in 1922.  His father died when he was three years old, this having a lasting effect on him and his two older brothers and sister. The children went to live with an aunt in Blackpool while Hoyle’s mother went to London in search of work. Mrs Hoyle found work with an artist’s agency and later settled in Beckenham, Kent opening a bakers shop on the high street.

Walter and his siblings joined her and aged sixteen he entered Beckenham School of Art. In 1940 he was awarded a place at the Royal College of Art, the college relocating to Ambleside due to the war. He studied there until being called up in 1942.

As an army medical orderly, he was posted to India in 1945 returning to the UK in 1947.

He was offered a post graduate year at the RCA and it was here then that he first came across Edward Bawden who became a friend and close influence. He took up a funded place to study mosaics at the Byzantine Institute of America in Istanbul, prompting an interest in Byzantine colour and design.

The Modo, Istanbul.

Hoyle recalled: ‘It was the beginning of my fourth year at the RCA and there I met Edward. After leaving the RCA I spent another seven months in Istanbul, and it was on my return that Edward invited me to Great Bardfield.  ‘The first time I met Edward he was with John Nash and Kenneth Rowntree.  Edward and Nash were marvellous together, constant banter and leg pulling, rather like Morecambe and Wise.’

In 1950, Bawden asked Hoyle, along with Sheila Robinson, to help with the completion of his Country Life mural for the Lion and Unicorn pavilion at the Festival of Britain. The next year Bawden invited Hoyle to accompany him on a painting holiday to Sicily. Hoyle’s resulting paintings were exhibited at the Leicester Galleries, London, in 1952. It was this close friendship with Bawden that eventually led to Hoyle moving to Great Lodge Farm cottage, Great Bardfield.

Paintings of the trip to Sicily including the now rare book ‘To Sicily With Edward Bawden’. Published in a limited edition of 350. Signed by Olive Cook (intro) and Hoyle. The book was originally published in handwritten form in 1990 in a limited edition of just ten copies. 

Hoyle was soon introduced to the other Great Bardfield artists including John Aldridge. Hoyle stated:’ John, having a private income amongst all the Great Bardfield artists was a capitalist and a conservative. He had not gone through the art college system nor developed alongside art students most of whom were always hard up………John had a powerful car, an Alvis and when he got behind the wheel, he enjoyed the power and speed the car offered him.’

Paintings of Great Lodge Farm, the cottage was dilapidated when Hoyle moved in.

Hoyle took part in the Great Bardfield Open House exhibitions in 1954, 1955 and 1958 (designing the catalogue cover for the 1958 exhibition). At the first of these he met his French-born wife, Denise, an artist in her own right. Denise’s wealthy artistic employers had secured her services as an au pair in London, they were friends with Michael Rothenstein who had moved to Great Bardfield in 1941. Walter and Denise’s children, James and Nina were born in 1956 and 1960 respectively. In 1957, the family moved to the neighbouring village of Great Saling.

The first pic here is Hoyle’s ink drawing which was used as the cover for the 1958 Great Bardfield Summer Exhibition catalogue. A great year as Bolton Wanderers beat Man U 2-0 in the FA Cup Final !! Had to get that in. Hoyle produced many illustrations for the Post Office Savings Bank also pictured here.

Hoyle was working at the Central School of Art, London but found the travelling quite tiring. He was, therefore, relieved to secure a post at the Cambridge School of Art where he set up a print-making studio. In 1975 the family moved to Bottisham, nearer to Cambridge. Retiring from the school there in1984. That year Walter and Denise moved to Hastings to be within reach of the flat they had bought in Dieppe a year earlier Hoyle continued to work on his art between Hastings and Dieppe until he died of a heart attack in 2000.

The Hoyle’s would travel from Hastings to Dieppe via the ferry from Newhaven. The first pic here is a painting of Dieppe Harbour. Also included here some of Hoyle’s later work.

Hoyle’s lino-cut ‘Bust in a Garden’ plus lino-cuts from the Cambridge series.

I will conclude on a personal note as taking pride of place in my kitchen is the Women’s Institute Book of Party Recipes 1969 illustrated by Walter Hoyle. Just in case lock-down ever ends and I want to throw a party ! The accompanying illustrations inside are superb and I will sometime share them on the John Aldridge and Friends Facebook page.

Graham Bennison February 28th, 2021.

Eric Ravilious in Dover

Firing a Gun, 1941.

Following a short spell in Dover in May 1941 Ravilious returned to the family home now in Ironbridge, near Braintree, Essex. At the end of July he returned to Dover for a six month spell. That summer Ravilious commenced his second commission as a war artist. He was asked by the Admiralty to record the cross-channel shelling of the south coast.  Stationed at Dover Ravilious managed to visit Underhill Farm near Rye where Diana Low had temporarily returned from Wiltshire and where Stephen Spender, her sisters’ brother-in-law and his wife were staying along with Diana’s husband Clissold Tuely.  Diana’s sister Margaret married Humphrey Spender in 1937, Humphrey became famous for the mass social observation project ‘Worktown’ based in Bolton. Margaret died in 1945 …….   See

On the 19th  of August Ravilious wrote:   Dover is a good place. Except for shelling all the bombardment takes place on the other side and is an extraordinary sight – Fireworks very clear and small.  It is difficult to paint and I rather think funk trying to the dramatic again….. Last night when there was more shelling as well as wind and rain, it was pandemonium for a short time – The beaches are fuller than ever of curious flotsam and there was a skeleton under the cliff the other day; it was hard to tell, but I think it was a horse.

Bombing the Channel Ports by Eric Ravilious 1941 looking East towards Dover. A forerunner of radar, acoustic mirrors were built on the south and northeast coasts of England between about 1916 and the 1930’s.

There was a parachute and a lobsterpot with three crabs inside and a capital rowing boat by G Renier of Guernsey, bright red and banana yellow – I wonder if somebody landed in it ?  It was so irresistible I made a tolerably good drawing of it, with some shelling going on at sea. This happened at the time – aimed at some trawlers – so I put it in as inconspicuously as possible.  Under the big cliff there is driftwood and logs and bits of plane, boats and rope ladders.  Last year my landlord found a draper’s roll of black pinstripe suiting which he wears on Sundays now.

South Coast Beach Drift Boat

But then Ravilious moved his lodgings to c/o Mrs Jarvest, 27 Old Folkstone Road, Dover.

This is about a mile out of Dover under the Shakespeare Cliff….it is a nice place here, not too big and grand and majestically naval and I feel a stir in me that it is really possible to like draw wartime activities.  The town is almost empty and lots of sad ruins and I feel tempted to try some of the wallpapery interiors, in fact will do so later on.  There are a few beauties.  It is much livelier where I am now, also more on the spot for drawing.  I got up during the night to have a look at the shelling from the Cliff and it is an appalling noise but that is about all.  It did no harm.

Cross Channel Shelling Searchlight at Dusk Shelling By Night, Dover Harbour.

There is a great flash and explosion on the French side and then about 80 seconds later the shell lands in the sea – and a second bang and the sky lights up – I doubt if I can draw this –  It is too formless.   I’ll try it very small and see what happens.

Tirzah wrote I wonder what you were doing while they were shelling Dover.  I hope you are still intact.  Luckily I only hear about these things a long time after they have occurred.

Following his spell in Dover Ravilious travelled north to Rosyth lodging there with John and Christine Nash.   See……

Graham Bennison, February 2021

Sylvia Pankhurst

A young Sylvia Self portrait in chalk circa 1907-10

Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst was born 5th May 1882 in Manchester, she was an artist, a campaigner for the suffragette movement, a socialist and later a prominent left communist and activist in the cause of anti-fascism.

Pankhurst was the second of three daughters born to Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst who both became founding members of the Independent Labour Party and lobbied for women’s rights. Her father died when she was just sixteen. Sylvia, who dropped her forename Estelle, and her sisters, Christabel and Adela, attended Manchester High School for Girls, and all three became suffragists.

The Pankhurst home in Manchester (now the Pankhurst Centre)

Pankhurst studied at the Manchester School of Art and, in 1902, was awarded the Proctor Travelling Studentship residing in Venice for most of the scholarship. Pankhurst was the only woman in the life class at the Venice Accaddemia.  Out on the streets of Venice she made studies and paintings of people in everyday life.  Her studies in Venice were cut short when her mother became ill.

Street scene in Venice, watercolour

She returned to Manchester in 1903 where her mother and Cristobel founded the Women’s Social & Political Union. The Independent Labour Party had dedicated the Pankhurst Hall in Manchester to the memory of her father, the social club there being for men only. This was the spark that fuelled her desire to combat the lack of gender equality in the art profession with few art scholarships available to women. In this cause she enlisted the help of Keir Hardie, then leader of the Labour party, with whom she had begun a serious intellectual and intimate relationship.

Portrait of Keir Hardie

Pankhurst became the official artist and designer for the Women’s Social & Political Union – the movement started by her mother – designing badges, banners, and flyers. Her symbolic ‘angel of freedom’ was essential to the campaign alongside the WSPU colours of white, green and purple.

Angel of Freedom Women’s Social & Political Union Members Card

In 1907, travelling across Britain, she made realistic paintings for the Working Women In Britain project displaying the monotonous work done by women in mills and factories. In Glasgow she wrote about “the almost deafening noise of the machinery and the oppressive heat, the mill was “so hot and airless that I fainted within an hour”.

The Britain Women at Work Project. Glasgow Spinning Mill. Staffordshire Potteries. Portrait of a young woman.

She was imprisoned in 1913 and was subjected to force feeding. She made sketches that were distributed to the press on her release exposing her harsh treatment in jail.

Once the war started, struggling to balance her artistic and political work, she gave up art to devote herself to the East London Federation of Suffragettes – the organisation she founded to ensure that working-class women were represented and to pursue “a better world for humanity”.  

 During a lull in Suffragette activity Pankhurst visited Oberammergau, Southern Germany, a town renowned for its production of the Passion Play. It’s most likely that the pictures above represent scenes from the Passion Play, referencing Pankhurst’s watercolours and pencil studies of the various actors in the play.

Sylvia became estranged from her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel in January 1914 after their organisation, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), disapproved of her emphasis on building a campaign that centrally involved working class women, telling her that the new East London Federation of the WSPU must become a separate organisation.

Sylvia Pankhurst memorial mural in Bow East End of London

Towards the end of the war she began a thirty-year relationship with Italian printer and anarchist Silvio Corio. She gave birth to her first child, Richard, at the age of forty-five, refusing to marry. Her mother never spoke to her again after discovering she had given birth to a child out of wedlock.

She became heavily involved in the campaign supporting Ethiopia against the encroachment of fascist Italy in 1935. She permanently moved to Addis Ababa aged seventy-four and died there in 1960.

Pankhurst received a state funeral in Ethiopia at which Haile Selassie named her an “honorary Ethiopian”. She was buried in front of Addis Ababa’s Trinity Cathedral – the only non-Ethiopian among the graves of famous Ethiopian patriots of the Italian war.

Graham Bennison, February 2021 |

Barbara Robertson

Barbara Robertson

Printmaker, illustrator and teacher Barbara Robertson was born in Broughty Ferry, Angus, 16th August 1945.

She attended Blairgowrie High School, then studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee, 1965–71, her teachers included Józef Sekalski . She was awarded a Major Scottish Education Department Travelling Scholarship. Robertson went on to teach printmaking at Duncan of Jordanstone, then worked full-time mainly on lino-cuts.

An early work: ‘St Andrews’ – displayed in Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection.

Robertson was a superb printmaker, sensitive, observant, full of humour and wonderfully skilled, creating technically sophisticated, complex lino-cuts. She had a marvellous visual imagination and a mischievous wit, beautifully expressed in her exceptional prints. Cats, hens, sheep and other animals make regular appearances in her work; she also portrayed the landscape of the Angus countryside.

Lino-cuts: ‘Barn Dance’ ‘Flowers & Poultry’ ‘The Gate’. ‘Sea Salt’.

Her domestically orientated lino-cuts – cats, sheep, geese, rabbits, even an occasional human being, were all more or less integral parts of the country cottage in Douglastown near Forfar where she lived and did her printing on her huge cast iron printing press. Superbly drawn and detailed linocuts reflected her passion for the surrounding Angus landscape and the natural world she loved. She also drew inspiration from her numerous travels to Italy, Egypt and Africa. Almost invariably her prints have that additional, and all too scarce quality in most other work, a good helping of her own particular brand of humour.

The lino-cut technique involves the cutting away of the original design drawn on the lino and inking the relief block that is left before bringing together with the paper in a huge hand operated press. This whole process has to be repeated for every colour, the re-cutting of the lino design preventing the over printing of previous colours. Thus the building of the design is achieved the very darkest colour being applied last and the relief of which is the only remaining part visible on the now very much depleted surface of the original lino sheet.

Three of the seven ‘Witches’ linocuts.

Robertson’s Witch Series of seven lino-cut prints are on display in Forfar Library and feature in the Forfar Witches permanent exhibition at the Meffan Gallery, Forfar. In the Witch Series, her use of linocut and minimal colour echoes the wood cut prints of the time and those illustrating Daemonologie. The seven prints feature the Forfar Witches trials in the 17th century. Each print was printed in an edition of 150.

Robertson was also a gifted book illustrator, her works include :-

Robertson’s work has been exhibited in France and Germany and in the Printmakers Workshop (Edinburgh), and the Compass Gallery (Glasgow). Her Prints have been exhibited in the Royal Scottish Academy since 1973.

Robertson died peacefully, at her home, in Douglastown, near Forfar, on Tuesday, July 31, 2018.

Friends Carrie and Simon give this BR pride of place in their kitchen.

Barbara Robertson: Work For Sale.

‘Summer Visitors’. 4/10 17.75 x 8 ins. £60. a superb piece of art !

Bus Stop, Tunisia. 4/10 signed. Image 6.5 x 5 ins. In Mount. £35. Walking to Mesopotamia Three available – 6/16 9/16 signed and 16/16 unsigned. 16.5 x 6 ins. £40 each/unsigned one £30. Seagull 29/30 signed. 16 x 8 ins. £40.

Large works: Summering 8/18 signed. 15 x 8.25 ins. £45, Over the Moon, signed, two available. 2/18, 3/18. 24 x 13 ins. £40,

Printed on a rag paper. FRAMED. Sheep signed. Image 6.5 x 8.5. £45. Rosie’s’ Sheep signed. 17.5 x 11.5 ins. £35.

Lino-cuts not signed. The first one is numbered 1/16 ! Sizes range from 8.5 ins x 6 ins to the final lino-cut which is a massive 26 x 20 ins. Prices range from £25 to £50. If interested please contact for more information re each print. Graham Bennison

Two large lino-cuts.

Graham Bennison.

Bolton College of Art and the Croal Valley.

The classic Art Nouveau Hilden street building

The Hilden Street premises (Pupil Teacher Centre) were built in 1901 at a cost of £9,000 and art classes started in 1903, a temporary arrangement until more suitable premises could be found.  In 1905 art classes were moved to Mawdsley St.  When the Pupil/Teacher centre closed in 1913 art classes moved back to Hilden Street. By 1928 a Junior School opened offering full-time education to 13–16-year-olds chosen on a selective basis, such schools were to be found in many towns but they gradually disappeared leaving Bolton Junior School of Art as a unique institution. The Principal had a dual function as Head of the College and Head of the junior school.

Bolon Mechanics Institute in Mawdsley Street served as the Art College for a short period 1905-13. Bolton School of Art prospectus.

My old Head Mr John Nicholson was appointed Principal in 1951 with Roger Hampson appointed Vice-Principal in 1961 and Principal in 1967 when Mr Nicholson retired. Sometime around 1980 (?) the college moved to Chadwick Street before later becoming a department of Bolton Institute of Higher Education and even later the University of Bolton. Today, the classic Hilden Street Art Nouveau building houses luxury apartments.

‘Church Street’ by John Nicholson. Three paintings of the Croal Valley by Roger Hampson. ‘Kearsley Power Station’ by John Nicholson.

Roger Hampson 1925-1996

I entered the junior school in 1959 only a couple of weeks after my 13th birthday, I was used to always being the youngest.  The rear of the Hilden Street building gave way to a steep slope planted with trees leading down to the Croal Valley.  The Croal Valley became our playground and was also the inspiration for art work especially on being promoted upstairs to the college in 1961 !

Images of Church Wharf and the Croal Valley.

Long after I left Hilden Street the Croal Valley ceased to be,  replaced by the St Peter’s Way motorway in 1971, the fond memories remain illustrated by the accompanying photographs.

Work undertaken as a BCA student 1961 – 64 aged 14-17. 1 Lino-cut ‘The Croal Valley’. 2 Lino-cut. ‘Church Wharf Looking Towards Folds Road’. 3 Biro pen sketch ‘Church Wharf’. 4 Painted sketch of the Croal Valley. 5 & 6 Painted sketches looking towards Bury Road with the college in the background. Unfortunately I have no record of my best painting of the Croal Valley, painted age 13 as a junior school pupil. The painting was presented to the University of Bolton in 2004 and I have no photo record of it. It was signed on the reverse by my class teacher Lonsdale Bonner as being original and unaided !

I’m still inspired by my old playground today as recent works show:-

Church Wharf, pencil drawing. Croal Valley, pencil sketch. Church Wharf pen and ink.

Related articles :-

Brian Bradshaw (1923-2016).

Bolton ‘Work Town’ survey 1937/38.

Graham Bennison, January 2021.