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.’

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.

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.

Trevor Lofthouse 1938 – 2000

Trevor Lofthouse

As a fifteen-year old I moved up from the Bolton Art School to the Bolton College of Art, all in the same Hilden Street building just a move to the bigger world upstairs.

One of my Tuesday Craft options was lino-cut. We started college at 9am and finished at 6.30pm, a long day for a fifteen year old especially as all the students had to travel home quite someway. My lino-cut lessons were led by Trevor Lofthouse, an inspirational teacher who back in around 1951 entered the School of Art as a 13-year old having previously been schooled at Tonge Moor Primary and then Tonge Fold Secondary. I entered the school barely thirteen in 1959, the August 21st birthday together with the operational school start of 1st Sept, making me one of the youngest ever pupils. Trevor made his way through the school and the college with distinction and going full circle returned as a tutor in 1964. Trevor remained with the art department later incorporated into Bolton College and even later during the fledgling days of the University of Bolton.

Two Collergraphs by Trevor Lofthouse, the third photo is of one of Trevor’s actual collergraph boards.

Trevor’s lino cut lessons took place in a room in the bottom corridor of Hilden Street whilst later on I studied wood engraving and lino-cutting with Trevor at the old Bridgeman Place Annexe.

Lino-cut ‘Meridian’. Trevor Lofthouse
Lino-cut. Trevor Lofthouse

In the college year 1963/64 as a seventeen year old I studied Craft ‘A’ Level (design and practice) at Bridgeman Place under the guidance of Trevor. We studied the history of print-making/illustration, I still have the book ! ‘A’ levels were meant to be covered in two years but for Art and the Craft ‘A’ level we were deemed proficient enough to take the exam in just one year.

Trevor standing on the right with me seated on the left in the lower room corridor at Hilden Street. Right: The textbook.

In 2004, living 260 miles away from Bolton, I discovered that a retrospective exhibition of Trevor’s work was held in the March at Bolton University. I discovered the event too late, in July, sad to learn that Trevor had passed away suffering a stroke in 2000.

Lino-cut. ‘The Croal Valley’. Graham Bennison. I still have most of my lino-cut work from those distant days, this is my favourite. Right, Trevor signed the reverse as artist’s proof.

I would be grateful for any information that anyone has of Trevor to fill in all the gaps in this blog. My email is

Drawing – Trevor Lofthouse

Graham Bennison

Brian Bradshaw (1923-2016).

Brian Barlow

Bolton-born, Bradshaw trained at Bolton School of Art and Manchester Regional College of Art. He served in WWII, and following demobilization, won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art where he enrolled in 1948. In 1951, his final year, he won the Silver Medal for work of special distinction; the Engraving and Architecture prizes; an Associateship (First Class); and was elected Associate of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers (A.R.E). He then won the Prix de Rome and spent two years at the British Academy, before travelling throughout Greece, Spain, France, and Germany.

A young Bradshaw attended Canon Slade Grammar School, this was followed by an interim period before conscription and Bradshaw’s family suggested he enrol for a few months at the Bolton Municipal School of Art under the direction of Principal Mr John R Gauld.  He stayed there for three years and was successful in obtaining the drawing and pictorial design certificate.  He enlisted in the army in 1942.

Haulgh Hall

The family home in Bolton was the historic Haulgh Hall, next door to the Hilden Street College of Art.  It is a timber-framed and brick building built in 1597, rendered over, with a stone flagged roof.

Later in life Bradshaw described it as: ‘A linear world of black line on white wall.  The Tudor timbers plot their structure in a decorative skeleton on the stone slabbed roof, and above, sandstone walls.  This rambling mansion rebuilt and modernised in 1602, grounds encroached upon by the industrial age, bounded by road and canal.  A massive door of studded oak and iron; porch in cobbled courtyard; linenfold panels line the private chapel; carved oak beams grip the ceilings and pillar the walls.  In this oasis, I was born and bred.  The green garden paths are lined with large white limestones.’

Returning from service in North Africa Bradshaw returned to Bolton Art school and later took a teaching course in Manchester. He applied to the Royal College of Art to study engraving and succeeded in winning a scholarship for three years entering the College in 1948. He was awarded a first-class associateship at the end of his course.

As a boy Bradshaw was drawn to the nearby moors spending much time on Rivington Pike and Winter Hill. His love of the countryside saw him move in 1953 to a cottage in the Welsh Mountains near Snowdon, where he worked on pictures for an exhibition in Manchester. He painted industrial, moorland and mountain landscapes in England and Wales, as well as seascapes. He won numerous awards from the British and Welsh Art Councils, and in 1953 had his first solo exhibition at Salford City Art Gallery, which was followed by one-man exhibitions in the U.K, U.S.A., South Africa, Australia and Zimbabwe, including four retrospectives.

Top left: Bolton Moors. Three other paintings of Bolton.

Bradshaw added to his CV by securing the job of art critic for the Bolton Evening News. Bradshaw wrote to Editor frank Singleton: “you know you have a good paper but your art reviews are bloody awful!”

Chairman of the newspaper company Marcus Tillotson commissioned Bradshaw to paint two paintings one of which was an impression of Victoria Square as it was in 1956.

The Long Road. Top right: The Pit. Middle Right: Queens Park, Bolton. Bottom Right: Reflection (Rose Hill, Bolton).

After serving as Vice Chairman of the British Parliamentary Committee on Art Education (1955-1960), Bradshaw was in 1960 invited to take the Chair of Fine Arts at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. In 1964, he formed the Grahamstown Group, which exhibited at their own gallery and at venues throughout South Africa and Rhodesia. Many of his former students are now well-known South African artists, lecturers, professors, and gallery directors. In 1978, he resigned from Rhodes University and as Director of the National Galleries of Rhodesia, and returned to England, although he continued to exhibit his work in both the north of England and South Africa and travel between the two.

Tonge Moor. Ink Drawing. The Croal. Trinity Church.

Just before he died aged 93 in November 2016 Bradshaw was made aware that the Arts Council of South Africa were honouring him with a permanent foundation for his work to be held and exhibited in Pretoria.

Thank go to Rosemary Hogge who supplied the bulk of information here in her dissertation studying at Rhodes University, South Africa, 1976.

Graham Bennison

Some of the artists that visited Ceres

Edward Arthur Walton 1860-1922.  Walton was born at Glanderston House, Barrhead, Renfrewshire on the 18th March 1922, into an exceptionally talented family.  He was a Scottish painter of landscapes and portraits studying art in Düsseldorf before attending Glasgow School of Art School where he met Sir James Guthrie.

Edward Arthur Walton. Back Wynd, Ceres. The Uplands of Ceres.

Walton was a close friend of artist Joseph Crawhall – Walton’s brother Richard having married Judith Crawhall in 1878. Walton and Guthrie lived in Glasgow until 1894 becoming became part of the Glasgow School or Glasgow Boys, all of whom were great admirers of James McNeill Whistler. Their favourite painting haunts were in the Trossachs and at Crowland in Lincolnshire. In 1883 Walton joined Guthrie, who had taken a house in the Berwickshire village of Cockburnspath. Carrying out portrait commissions became Walton’s main source of income. In the 1880s and 1890s he painted murals in the main building of the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1888 and other buildings in the city.

Walton was in London from 1894 until 1904, living in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, a neighbour of Whistler and John Lavery. While in London, Walton often painted in Suffolk, spending summers at the Old Vicarage in Wenhaston. Here he painted pastoral scenes in oil and watercolour, the latter often on buff paper with creative interplay between paper and paint.

Walton married the artist Helen Law (née Henderson) after becoming engaged on 29th November 1889. Helen gave up her painting career in order to tend to their family.

Walton died at 7 Belford Park in Edinburgh and is buried in Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh, near the north-east corner of the northern Victorian section.

William Miller Frazer 1864-1961. Frazer was born at Scone, Perthshire. He was a landscape painter highly influenced by his many visits to Algeria, Holland, Italy and Norway. He was fond of the Norfolk Broads, the Fens and the lowlands of Scotland and Fife in particular. He was a founder member of the Scottish Society of Artists of which he was president in 1908. He was one of the best loved artists of his day and spent most of his time at his house in Findhorn. He died in Edinburgh.

Ceres Kirk. Ceres, Fife.

Robert Dickie Cairns 1866-1944.  Cairns an artist, teacher and founder member of the Dumfries & Galloway Art Society. He was also Art Master at Dumfries Academy, 1889-1927, he exhibited only rarely.

When Scotland’s police forces were looking for one emblem to represent them all, they turned to Dumfries. Dumfries chief constable William Black approached Dumfries Academy art master Robert Dickie Cairns to produce a suitable logo. Cairns designed the badge carrying the Semper Vigilo – Always Alert – motto.

Ceres, the Glebe. Hens outside a barn, Ceres.

John Guthrie Spence Smith 1880=1951. Smith was born on 14th February 1880 the fourth and youngest son of Perth Linen Draper Joseph Smith and his wife Grace Farquharson. Contracting Scarlet Fever in infancy caused Smith to lose his hearing and his speech. He was known to his friends as ‘Dummy Smith’.

By 1906 he was attending the RSA Life Drawing Classes in Edinburgh. Most of  his work was executed in Perthshire, Angus, Fife and the Lothians.

Having settled in Edinburgh by 1909 Smith was a co-founder and member of the so-called Edinburgh Group which centred round Eric Robertson and his wife Cecile Walton. He spent some of his later yeas in the house of his friend William Mervyn Glass.

John died at his home in Edinburgh on 22nd October 1951.

John Guthrie Spence Smith Below: Farm Cottages, Ceres. Top Right: A quiet Corner of Ceres. The other two, right. The Mill House, Ceres.

The posting of this blog has brought forth this painting from a friend. Could this painting be by John Guthrie Spence Smith ? AS in Dickie Cairns painting you can see the old building behind the kirk (a brewery ?). Any info most welcome.

William Mervyn Glass 1885-1965.  Glass was born in Aberdeenshire in 1885.  He studied at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen and at the Royal Scottish Academy Life School in Edinburgh.  He also studied in Paris and Italy. In 1913 he moved to Edinburgh before serving in the War.

A painter of coastal scenes, seascapes and landscapes, he was particularly fond of painting Iona, where he would paint alongside Maclauchlane Milne, Cadell and Peploe.

Glass refused to teach and committed his time to painting: ‘The thing that gets me is that nine-tenths of the painters in Scotland have to beg for their bread and butter. In their spare time and during holidays they squeeze in enough time to do some real painting’.

Ceres, by William Mervyn Glass
William Mervyn Glass, ‘Fife Cornfields’.

George Leslie Hunter 1877-1931.  Hunter was a prolific painter of Ceres and his works are too numerous to mention here.  Below the link to an earlier blog re Hunter, Meldrum and Ceres.  Click on the link below.

Hunter would arm himself with small boards when walking around Ceres executing many quick painted sketches.

Ceres at harvest time was a recurring theme for Hunter. The shop, Ceres in Main Street is a seldom seen work.

Just a sample of some of Hunters better known works below.

Latch Cottage. Old Mill, Ceres. The Mill, Ceres (landscape painted on the reverse). Mill Buildings, Ceres. The Mill Dam. Ceres Kirk.

Here’s the commercials. There are four Ceres works presently in my Etsy Shop, the latest is a lino-cut The Glebe, Ceres. For locals it’s easier and cheaper to buy direct – 07731904559.

Lino-cut- The Glebe, Ceres, inspired by Robert Dickie Cairns painting. An edition of 30 signed and numbered £20 in mount.

For Sale. These reproductions of Hunter’s ‘Ceres Kirk’ and Walton’s ‘Back Wynd, Ceres’ from the originals were produced by Fife Museum/Art Services. They are 12 x 10 ins. printed on high quality gloss photo paper. Would look lovely framed. £20 each.

Graham Bennison 01334-656844 07731904559