Gilbert Spencer

Self-Portrait 1928 Gilbert Spencer 1892-1979 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1975

Gilbert Spencer RA (1892 – 1979) was born at Cookham, Berkshire, on 4th August 1892, thirteen months after his more famous brother Stanley, Gilbert Spencer was the eighth son and youngest of the eleven children of William Spencer, organist and music teacher, and his wife, Anna Caroline Slack. The family had little spare money and the formal education of their children was sketchy, but what they lacked in schooling was made up for by the talk they heard between their elders at mealtimes. His formative influences were his musical family (he too, played the piano and composed) , a childhood spent in observation of nature, the idiosyncrasies of late Victorian village life, making wooden models of farm carts, and his close relationship with the genius of his older brother Stanley.

Sashes Meadow, Cookham 1914-19 Gilbert Spencer

Gilbert first studied at the Ruskin School in Maidenhead then at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in 1911 before entering the Slade School of Fine Art. Gilbert followed Stanley to the Slade in 1913, remaining until 1915. At the Slade, Gilbert came under the powerful influence of Henry Tonks, an influence which remained with him to the end of his life. He won the coveted life drawing prize in 1914 and was runner-up for the summer competition prize, with a huge mural, The Seven Ages of Man (Art Gallery of Hamilton, Canada).

Spencer commented: In my early days I even attempted some religious paintings, but soon abandoned that, realising that I could get along better in other ways; though not before my brother had observed, after seeing my painting of the crucifixion, in which I had painted father as a model, “I don’t know what it is, but when G paints Pa his pictures seem to be alright. “

During the First World War, after pacifist misgivings on the part of both themselves and their mother, both Stanley and Gilbert served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, initially at the Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol. Gilbert was then drafted to the Macedonian front, serving in Salonika and later transferred to serve on hospital ships in the Mediterranean, and then to North Africa for the duration of the war. He returned to full-time studies at The Slade after the war (1919–20). Through fellow student Hilda Carline he became part of a circle of artists centred at her home in Downshire Hill, Hampstead and began to enjoy professional success.

Spencer painted portraits, genre scenes and murals but was primarily a landscape painter, focusing his attention on vistas of Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Dorset, and the Lake District. It was in 1920 that Spencer stayed with the painter Henry Lamb at Stourpaine in Dorset, and he returned there often.

Landscape in Dorset. Melbury Beacon – located near Shaftesbury, Dorset. Twyford, Dorset. Twyford Village. View of Egdon Heath from the Crest of Clouds Hill, Looking North.

Spencer became a member of the New English Art Club in 1919. That year, he met Hilda Carline, his brother’s future wife, and her brother Sydney Carline. When he became Ruskin Master in 1922, Sydney Carline asked Spencer to join his staff at the University of Oxford. Lady Ottoline Morrell, with whom Spencer was friendly since before the war found him a room in the village of Garsington near Oxford. She allowed him easy access to her own house, Garsington Manor, which was frequented by many illustrious guests including the Bloomsbury set. While living there, Spencer painted Trees at Garsington (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), Garsington Roofs and The Sheep Fold at Upper Farm.

Cotswold Meadows by Gilbert Spencer Date painted 1920–1930

In 1923 Spencer had his first solo exhibition at the Goupil Gallery, London. He also exhibited at the RA, he was elected Associate of the Royal Academician in 1960, NEAC, (of which he was a member), Leicester Galleries, RSA, Redfern Gallery, and many other venues.

Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Ursula Spencer. Burdens Farm with Melbury Beacon. The Artists Garden, Burdens Farmhouse..

Spencer married former pupil Margaret Ursula Bradshaw (1898–1959) on 31 December 1930 at Holy Trinity Church, South Kensington, London. The artist John Nash (brother of Paul Nash) was his best man. The couple lived at Burdens Farmhouse, near Compton Abbas, Dorset between 1931 and 1936. Spencer commented, ‘We loved the place on sight, and took it from the farmer, Ivor Day for 10 shillings a week, plus rates’

The Spencer’s daughter Gillian was born on 21 October 1936. During the late 1930s, after the move to Tree Cottage, Upper Basildon, Berkshire he began to re-introduce people into his paintings once more, focusing on small, intimate pictures of figures caught unaware, such as his Going to Market, and The Coalman. They lived at Tree Cottage from 1936–70.

A Cotswold Farm 1930-1.

Stanley Spencer, letter to Gilbert dated 13 February, 1932
Dear Gil, I feel obliged to write, really in order to raise my own status; to lift me from
the ‘gutter’ of ignorance and shame where —last night—in Annie Slack’s —I was ‘brother of’: I was brother of ‘ the painter of the farm picture Mr Shepherd said the Times and Morning Post are full of it…….Cookham rings with your fame; you o’er stride the place like a Colossus and I peer about to find myself a miserable grave with my coat collar turned up…

From 1934–6 he created a series of murals depicting the Foundation Legend of Balliol College for Holywell Manor, Oxford.

From 1932 to 1948 Spencer was Professor of Painting at the Royal College of Art in London. When in WW2 the RCA was evacuated to Ambleside the Imperial War Museum commissioned a number of pieces of work from him. The first commission in 1941 was of Troops in the Countryside followed by a portrait of John German. Gilbert served enthusiastically in the Home Guard first in Basildon and then in Ambleside as a subsection leader.

Grasmere. Grasmere Home Guard 1943. Troops in the Countryside (3rd version).

Spencer was also Head of the Department of Painting at Glasgow School of Art, 1948–50 and, from 1950 to 1957, was Head of Painting at Camberwell School of Arts & Crafts under the Principal Leonard Daniels, serving meanwhile as an Official War Artist, 1940-3.

The Football Match 1950. An Artist’s Progress 1959.

Gilbert Spencer painted The progress of Husbandry when he was in his seventies.  He illustrates the history of farming, or ‘husbandry’, from an ancient Britain ‘scratching the earth’ to the introduction of the tractor. At the centre, two horses are lead away from a corn binder for the last time. The painting was commissioned to advertise a tractor for Massey-Fergusson.

He wrote an autobiography ‘Memoirs of a Painter’ in 1974 in which he stated, ‘Country sounds going on all around me put me in a happy mood and got me into my pictures.’

Landscape with Cows. The Converted Poacher. The Master Farmer.

Spencer was widely exhibited during his lifetime and examples of his work are held in major public and private collections, including the Tate Gallery and the Royal Academy.

Spencer died at Lynderswood Court, Black Notley, Braintree, Essex, on 14 January 1979.

Summer Evening, Hook End Farm; Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives.

There is a wealth of information re Stanley Spencer, indeed Gilbert wrote a book about his brother. There is a lot less info’ re Gilbert so Wikipedia has provided a fair amount of the text here. See also the Royal College of Art at Ambleside…..

Graham Bennison January 2022.

Lady Filmy Fern, or, the voyage of the window box 

‘Lady Filmy Fern, or, the voyage of the window box’ is a children’s book by Thomas Hennell, written in February 1938 and featuring 18 illustrations by Edward Bawden.  Some might describe it as a surreal adult fairy tale ! The book follows the strange story of retiring social beauty, Lady Filmy Fern, her devoted companion, the carpenter Mr Virgin Cork, and the photographer known as the Welsh Polypod. 

A few years earlier staying as lodgers at Brick House, Great Bardfield, renting half the house, Edward Bawden recalled meeting Thomas Hennell: ‘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 slightly 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’

Brick House, Great Bardfield in 1960 by Ronald Maddox, watercolour. A recent photo of Brick House.

The following year, Bawden married Charlotte Epton and his father bought the whole house for them as a wedding present. Ravilious and Tirzah continued to spend weekends and holidays at Brick House and another regular visitor was Gwyneth Lloyd Thomas an English Don at Cambridge. During the lamp-lit winter evenings they amused themselves inventing three characters – Lady Filmy Fern, Mr Virgin Cork and the Welsh Polypod. Bawden decided to make drawings of these characters and illustrated their adventures. Hennell participated in the tale and was persuaded to write it down. The resulting manuscript was rejected by publishers and pasted into a scrapbook along with the illustrations , where they remained forgotten for the next 45 years.

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.

Following the outbreak of war Bawden, Ravilious and Hennell were all eventually conscripted as War Artists. Before leaving for North Africa Bawden placed much of his work, including the scrapbook in a water-proof covering, down a well in the garden of Brick House. Ravilious was lost over Iceland in 1942 and Hennell reported ‘missing, believed dead’ in Batavia, 1945. It was not until 1980 that the book was officially published, with more illustrations. 

Thomas Hennell was appointed as a temporary lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on 24th May 1944. This photo was taken in a studio near his mother’s house in Folkstone. Edward Bawden as an official war artist. Eric Ravilious pictured with his paintings at the War Artists Exhibition at the National Gallery, 28th May 1942.

Lady Filmy Fern is a reluctant celebrity hunted down by the camera wielding Welsh Polypod, the equivalent of a modern-day paparazzo. To escape the Polypod Lady Filmy Fern and her protector Virgin Cork take to the sea in a window box.

Lady Filmy Fern flees from the attentions of the Welsh Polypod. Lady Filmy Fern and Mr Virgin Cork sailing at night. Lady Filmy Fern and Mr Virgin Cork sailing on the Red Sea

The Welsh Polypod climbs onto a bottle. Lady filmy fern The Welsh Polypod in a dispute with customs officers. The Welsh Polypod climbing on board an aeroplane. The Pilot rescues Lady Filmy Fern and Mr Virgin Cork (who didn’t have a shave for the whole voyage!). The Polypod made his home in the ship-wreck of the window-box and used Lady Filmy Fern’s bell-glass for deep-sea diving.

It is thought that the character Lady Filmy Fern was based on a friend of both Hennell and Bawden – Muriel Rose. In 1928 Rose opened the Little Gallery in the heart of Chelsea selling contemporary crafts. Bawden’s wallpapers, made in the attic of Brick House, were sold. alongside the textile designs of Enid Marx and the pottery of Michael Cardew and Bernard Leach. Hennell and Bawden were on holiday with Rose in Switzerland when Hitler invaded Poland on 1st September 1939, Britain and France declaring war on Germany two days later. Soon after the start of the war the Little Gallery closed its doors in 1940 , there being no enthusiasm for purchasing crafts.

Muriel Rose. The Little Gallery. The Little Galley by Edward Bawden ?

Graham Bennison, December 2001.

The blog re Thomas Hennell can be found here….

George Chapman 1908-1993

George Chapman. Self Portrait

Chapman was born in East Ham, London 1st October 1908, the third child of Jane and William Chapman, a Superintendent on the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. He attended Shebbears College in Devon where his profound deafness hindered his education. In 1924 he went to Gravesend School of Art. He left the Art School to train as a commercial designer under Ashley Havinden, Head of Design at Crawford’s in 1928. His income from commercial design was used to pay his own way at the Slade School of Art (1937). After a year he was persuaded by his friend Barnett Freedman to transfer to the Royal College of Art, studying painting under Professor Gilbert Spencer. His early influences included Sickert and the Euston Road School (William Coldstream, Victor Pasmore, Claude Rogers and Graham Bell).

Chapman’s quest for a meaningful subject matter and an idiosyncratic style led him to emulate works by the painters he admired: Daumier, Cézanne, Sickert and artists of the Euston Road school. The Threshing Machine. The Water Bowser. Gors Fach, Pennant.

A committed socialist his sympathies remained with the working class. In his formative years as a painter in the 1930s he had witnessed large-scale unemployment, poverty and unrest. ‘My job as an artist is to make things as they are. Providing I do my job properly, the social comment, if such a thing is needed, will come over itself.’

Chapman married May Codlin, a designer, in 1938 and a son was born in 1939.    His wife left him and their son in 1943.

During the war George Chapman taught at Worcester School of Art, his deafness exempting him from active service. He returned to advertising in 1945 working for Jack Beddington at Prentice, Colman and Varley.

This work was executed when Chapman, exempted from war service due to profound deafness in 1939, he moved out of London to become assistant headmaster at Worcester School of Art, where he was given two days a week to do his own painting. The painting remained in the artist’s studio until his death and was only framed for exhibition at the Goldmark Gallery in 1992.

Two years later he married Kate Ablett, eighteen years his junior, who he had met on a visit to Norwich School of Art. In 1950 they left London and moved to Great Bardfield in Essex settling in the near-derelict Vine Cottage. Edward Bawden invited the newcomers to tea and the Chapmans were welcomed into the growing Great Bardfield art community. The couple upgraded to Crown House on Crown Street and Michael Rothenstein taught Chapman etching, together with the use of his press. On Michael Rothenstein’s press he made his first etching ‘Essex Farm at Great Bardfield.’ When Kate was pregnant in 1951 Chapman made several large etchings of her which somewhat disconcerted the locals.

Chapman supplemented his income as an artist by teaching graphic design part-time at the London College of Printing, Central School of Art and Colchester Art School. He contributed regularly to the famous ‘Great Bardfield Open House’ exhibitions that included Edward and Charlotte Bawden, Michael and Duffy Rothenstein, John Aldridge, Bernard Cheese, Kenneth Rowntree and Marianne Straub.

Chapman later commented: “I have never regretted it (moving to Great Bardfield) as I have found tremendous help from the three artists who were already in the village before me.”

Essex Farm at Great-Bardfield – Etching. Old Cart. Mr Bone the Butcher…..Mr Bone was indeed a butcher in Great Bardfield but older residents of the village state that he looked nothing like this ?? Pregnant Woman 1 and 2 – the images of Kate which caused consternation amongst the Great Bardfield locals.

In 1953 at the age of 45, Chapman made a journey through the coal-mining valleys of south Wales and discovered the Rhondda Valley where, he said, ‘I got a fantastic shock… I realised that here I could find the material that would perhaps make me a painter at last’. He returned to paint the valleys over the next ten years and there followed a period of considerable success.  This visit made a huge impression on him and was to transform his vision of himself as an artist.  His subsequent paintings of the industrial valleys saw him achieve great critical and commercial success with sell-out exhibitions in London in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was awarded the Gold Medal at the National Eisteddfod in 1957.

In 1960 the couple and their young family moved to a moated house in Norfolk, and four years later to the Georgian seaside town of Aberaeron on the west Wales coast, he missed the Great Bardfield Open House exhibitions as well as the friendship and support of like-minded artists. Kate Chapman gave up a career in art to support her husband and to raise their three children.

Chapman’s paintings of the Rhondda were celebrated amid a growing awareness of and interest in the British working classes, made manifest in the work of the so-called ‘Kitchen Sink’ painters,

‘First Building’ from The Rhondda Suite (etching, 1960). Children Going Home. Passing Storm. Pigeon-Huts-Rhondda. Rhondda. The Bridge. Welsh Village.

One written recollection recounts Chapman’s only experience down a mining shaft: ‘I am not really interested in the hell below ground – I shall be buried soon enough. It is the humans above and how they live I want to see…The whole place was in an appalling state…Men work down there to earn a living. I thought it disgusting. Coal is cheap at any price.’

After the Shift. Free Coal. Street Scene With Children.

Friend Robert Meyrick commented: ‘The contrast between the village of Great Bardfield – a quintessentially English mix of medieval, half-timber, thatch and Georgian red-brick properties surrounded by open pastureland – could hardly have been more stark, physically as well as socially, than with the drab mining communities of close-built terraces dwarfed by heavy industry and chapels, enclosed cheek by jowl in the steep-sided, cloud-shrouded valleys that he painted.’

John Dalton writing for The Guardian in 1959 stated:’ ‘Out of the squalid, Chapman can squeeze poetry till the pips squeak, for Chapman people are not crowds, swarming like ants, but individuals […] isolated, purposeful, looking as though they will be the last pedestrians in the world. If it’s drawing you’re after, George Chapman is your man’.

George Chapman died peacefully at his home near Aberaeron on 28th October 1993 at the age of 85.

God Save the Queen, Hills near Aberaeron (oil on board, 1970s). Houses Under a Slagheap. Tudor Tower, Pentlow, Essex. London Transport Poster.

From the late 1960s to the early 1990s Chapman’s work became unfashionable, and it was only after his death in 1993 that his reputation underwent a major revival.  His paintings of the Rhondda are now regarded as an important record of an industrial landscape and community that has all but disappeared.

Welsh Gossip.

Great Bardfield Open House Art Exhibitions

Graham Bennison, December 2021.

Sheila Robinson

Sheila Robinson

Sheila Robinson (1925–1988) was a noted artist and illustrator, one of the Great Bardfield Artists and a member of staff at the Royal College of Art.

Sheila Robinson was born in Nottingham in 1925.  She studied at the Nottingham School of Art and in 1946 entered the School of Graphic Design at the Royal College of Art, where she was a student of Edward Bawden.

One of her RCA projects was a complete, hand-drawn, lettered and bound book, The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

She married fellow RCA student Bernard Cheese in 1951. In 1951 she helped Bawden with his mural in the Lion and Unicorn Pavilion for the Festival of Britain Exhibition on the South Bank. Daughter Chloe Cheese was born in 1952 and in 1954 following the birth of son Ben the family moved to Upalong, a house in Bardfield End Green. With Bernard working away and distancing himself from the family the marriage broke down, a situation which greatly saddened Sheila who never attempted another relationship. The couple separated in 1957, divorcing in 1958. With the help of the Bawdens, Sheila and the children moved to Cage Cottage in Great Bardfield.

Sheila, focussed on her art and produced an impressive body of work. She also worked on a number of commercial commissions – advertising posters, including BBC publications such as Time and Tune and the BBC Book of the Countryside. She created several posters for London Transport in the early 1950s, including Literary London and Tattoo. The linocut ‘Great Bardfield Windmill’ celebrates the move to Cage Cottage.  Balancing her work as an artist and her role as a mother, Sheila would work at the kitchen table while Chloe and Ben would play on the floor or draw beside her.

Lino Cut: Cat looking out to Gibraltar Windmill, Great Bardfield. Cardboard Cut Prints: Pant Bridge. Bridge Street. Brook Street. Crown Street. Fry Gallery, Saffron Walden.

In 2013 Choe recalled Cage Cottage: ‘It had a modern interior, the beams were painted white, there was wallpaper made by my mother – she printed it with her feet! I remember her work room – she worked at a Victorian table, there were rollers and a block – I would see my mother in the process of making her print.  She also worked on the kitchen table – making designs for Schweppes.  She designed animals – life size – for Blackpool Pleasure Beach – I think they are still there.  I loved watching her make the drawings for those animals.  She did a lot of work – this was a very productive time for her.  She also made dresses for me to my designs and dolls.’

In 1960 Sheila’s father, Ernest, died in Nottingham and her mother Joyce came to live with her, a great help with the housework.

Sheila became an enthusiastic gardener helped by fellow artist gardeners the Bawdens and Aldridges, also paying visits to John Nash’s house in nearby Wormingford.

An inventive printmaker, Sheila developed her technique of cardboard-cut printing, sticking shapes of card onto a cardboard base then coating with a PVA glue which prevented the oil-based ink from being absorbed.

Lino-cuts and cardboard prints: “Catherine cat Purrrrrfect condition ! lino 1965.

Red Tabby 1971. The Cat. Parrot. Fry Gallery, Saffron Walden.

During the 1960’s Sheila undertook some teaching at Walthamstow College of Art. In 1965 her work at Walthamstow led to a part-time teaching post at the RCA illustration department, commuting to London, teaching there until her death in 1988.

In 1967 a devastating thatched roof fire at Cage Cottage rendered the building uninhabitable following water damage. Walter Hoyle’s old home, nearby Stackyard Cottage, served as a temporary home before moving to Saffron Walden where Choe and Ben were now attending school.

Sheila was one of the artists who contributed to The Oxford Illustrated Old Testament in the 1960s (along with Edward Ardizzone, Edward Bawden, Peter Blake, John Brathy, Edward Burra, David Hockney, Carel Weight and Brian Wildsmith.

Sheila’s cardboard-cut prints for the Oxford Illustrated Old Testament.

Following Charlotte’s death in 1970 Edward Bawden moved from Great Bardfield to Saffron Walden and the two friends became a great comfort to each other during a time of domestic upheaval. Their long friendship spanned 42 years and the two would spend evenings discussing books and art. The two enjoyed painting trips including a trip to Istanbul which led to some of Sheila’s best later work.

 The Melon Cart, Istanbul.

In 1975 Sheila was thrilled to receive a commission from the Limited Editions Club of Avon, Connecticut to illustrate D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’ producing a series of coloured cardboard cut prints.

Cardboard Cut Illustrations – Sons and Lovers. The third pic is a sketch for the second pic. Fry Gallery.

After Chloe and Ben left home Sheila moved house within Saffron Walden but her health was declining, and she lost confidence in her own work. Bawden was devastated when she died before him from a brain tumour aged 63.

London Road, Saffron Walden. Looking out over Saffron Walden Common her last print – unfinished. Cardboard Printing Block for Saffron Walden Castle. Fry Gallery.

Following her death, the RCA created the Sheila Robinson Drawing Prize in her honour

To finish…….some other varied works by Sheila:

Left: “Felsted school 1965. Blue Shadows etching proof 1965. Monkton Combe print for Editions Alecto 1964. Navigation Inn. Linocut_Abingdon Post Office design.

Right: “Two Houses Thaxted. Blue Monday. Great Bardfield. Hofterup Church Painting. The Cow, lithograph. The Storm, lithograph.

The majority of photos of works here are in the Fry Gallery archive, Saffron Walden.

See also…..

Graham Bennison November 2021.

Albert Houthuesen  (1903 – 1979)

A photograph of Albert Houthuesen taken by Richard Nathanson in July 1969

In his 1939 memoir ‘Since 50’ the first two names that appear on William Rothenstein’s list of top Royal College of Art students were Henry Moore and Charles Mahoney – the list continues with the names of luminaries such as Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Albert Houthuesen, Barnett Freedman, Edward Le Bas, Percy Bliss and Evelyn Dunbar.

All well known…..but Albert Houthuesen ??

Houthuesen was a Dutch-born British artist, born in Amsterdam; his father was Jean Charles Pierre Houthuesen, a painter and musician. In 1912 his father died following a tragic accident at home. Following the death of his father, the family moved to London living with a maternal grandmother. Houthuesen became naturalized in 1922.

The Traveller. Leeds Museums and Galleries 1927.

Houthuesen was encouraged with his artistic ability at Fleet Road School but left school aged fourteen already working as a grocer’s errand boy.  His first job was as assistant to a grocer in Belsize Park. He enrolled for night classes at St Martin’s School of Art 7.30 to 9.30 pm.

Leaving the grocers, he worked for the periscope Prism Company in Hampstead where during WW1 they ground lenses and made periscopes for rifle sights.

A possible reason for Houthuesen’s affinity with clowns is that his father’s cousin was a leading comic actor in Holland and his father, a talented musician as well as an artist, also enjoyed performing comic routines on the piano. The artist himself explained that he was ‘always clowning for friends, trying to cover things up, so I’ll give up clowning and start being a clown through some drawing’. The sketches at the Grand Theatre were his first real clown studies. He noted that he used to go round to the back of the theatre and tell the Hermans how marvellous they were, which they couldn’t understand because nobody else bothered. ‘People rolled in, laughed like hell and went out.’

A number of jobs followed before entering the Royal College of Art on a Monday morning the 24th of September 1924. Houthuesen had endured three unsuccessful attempts to enter the RCA before Principal Sir William Rothenstein intervened on his behalf having been shown a portfolio of his drawings. His contemporaries included Moore, Ravilious, Bawden, Barbara Hepworth, Edward Burra, Ceri Richards and Cecil Collins amongst others.

His own artwork was influenced by Rembrandt, Constable, Turner and Van Gogh.

The Stack Yard, 1935, was painted out of doors at Maes Gwyn Farm, Llanara, near Holywell, North Wales, where the artist was staying. In a letter (23 March 1958) he recalls his impressions: ‘A wonderful landscape wherever one looked, and in the village lived colliers who worked at the Point of Air colliery, two or three miles away on the coast. Painting in the open or near a cottage I heard women singing beautifully, not snatches of song but complete melodies. I cannot tell you how much the character of the whole place and the people fascinated me.’

Fellow RCA student Catherine Dean recalled: The first time I saw Albert, I was walking to the Common Room for my lunch. And, coming in the opposite direction was this extraordinary, tense, wild, red-faced, furious looking young man with a spotless white shirt, no collar or tie, but I think a little stud at the neck, and in a black suit with white stripes. I thought ‘What a man. What a good-looking man.’

Wheels, Maes Gwyn Farm. Landscape with farm building with kite in foreground. Barn, Bertengam. 1934. The Bebington Stable.

The couple became engaged leaving the RCA in 1928, marrying in 1931 and renting rooms in St John’s Wood. Each year during the 1930s Houthuesen and Dean visited Trelogan, Dean’s family home, where Houthuesen painted monumental portraits of colliers.

Collier John Savage smoking a pipe 1935. Collier chalk drawing. Collier William Jones 1933. Jones, White Horse Farm 1934.

From 1928 to 1936 Houthuesen taught art classes at The Working Men’s College with colleagues Percy Horton and Barnett Freedman, under the Directorship of James Laver. Catherine taught art at the University of London’s St Gabriel’s Training College and became a lecturer in 1939, a Senior Lecturer in 1945, and was made Principal Lecturer in 1956.

In the mid-1930s, Houthuesen suffered from a duodenal ulcer, which prevented him from joining up, following the outbreak of the Second World War. His application to become an official War Artist was also rejected, and he was eventually hired as a tracer in the technical drawing office of the London and North Eastern Railway Company in Doncaster, Yorkshire.

Houthuesen commented: ‘We had the studio for eighteen months when, during the first air raid on London, that vast blockhead dropped a bomb on it.  The studio itself wasn’t hit, but the adjoining studio belonging to my neighbour landlord Hardiman, received a direct hit.  It was simply a miracle.  There was a crater, and on the edge of the crater was our studio still with all the work in it. Mercifully none of us were there……. The roof of Kate’s college in Camberwell, where we are now…..had also  been on fire.  And the staff and students were evacuated to Doncaster.  Since we had no place to live, I went with them.’

Reflecting on the war Houthuesen said ‘It was a terrible thing to see the planes going over, to think of the marvellous young men on those bombing raids and know perfectly well that many of them wouldn’t come back. And that it was going to be ghastly at the other end…. There I was at the Plant, loathing the very idea of war, yet having to do this idiotic work…. One night German bombers went over dropping chandelier flares. I looked back – the sound of the bombers seemed to come from behind, in fact it’s a funny echo -and then I turned round and the night was absolutely blue with two great chandelier flares hanging in the sky; and the whole village every tiny speck of it (could be seen) … as if it were carved out of a phosphorescent chalk. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was another world’.

After the War returning to London penniless, he became a warden at a student hostel in the Elephant and Castle. His first one-man exhibition opened in May 1961 at the Reid Gallery, London.

Bay with rocks and surf. Breaking Wave. Evening Tide Coming in over Sandy Beach. Olive Mountain. Sun Over Rock. Wave Against Orange Boulder. Wave Against Storm Sky.

Houthuesen worked in virtual isolation for sixty years, producing still-lifes, landscapes, seascapes, and portraits, as well as biblical, mythical and allegorical scenes.

Still Life with Mulberry Leaves; Leeds Museums and Galleries 1956–1960.

In 1967, Catherine retired taking care of seriously ill Albert from her retirement until his death in 1979. Houthuesen died at home on the 20th October 1979.  Catherine died in 1983.

Catherine Houthuesen nee Dean: Lemons, onions and wine. Marionette. Marionettes Greeting. Sheep’s Skull and Ferns.

Graham Bennison.

Great Bardfield Wallpapers

Edward Bawden: ‘Church and Dove’ or ‘Woodpigeon’ designed in 1927 for the Curwen Press

As students at the Royal College of Art (Design School) in 1922 both Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden would have produced repeating pattern designs for wallpapers.

Edward Bawden made his first wallpaper in 1924. Bawden was inspired by William Morris’ papers which he saw at the British Exhibition (23 April 1924 to 31 October 1925) at Wembley. Bawden’s nine wallpaper designs were lithographically reproduced by the Curwen Press between 1927 and 1933 but they failed to sell.

“The Curwen wallpapers were my earliest designs to be printed from linocuts,” recalled Edward Bawden. “In 1924 a friend told me about cutting and printing from lino at a time when such prints were generally unknown, though a few by Claude Flight had appeared in the Print Room galleries of the Victoria and Albert Museum.”

“I bought a piece of lino, the common sort universally used for covering floors, and with a tube of artist’s oil paint, a brush and a roll of white wallpaper, I went off home to experiment. I had on me a penknife sharp enough for cutting soft lino. There was not much room between the end of the double bed and the gas fire, only enough for a chair, in the cramped space typical of a student’s bed-sit of the period, and it was here on a drawing board with a piece of plain wallpaper pinned to it, that gently I put down my foot on a small cut of a cow stippled red and gave the cut gentle foot pressure. The print was better than expected so naturally the cows multiplied and were a small herd by the end of the evening.”

Edward Bawden: Waves and Fish early design. Knole Park early design for Curwen. Napkin and Fruit for Curwen 1926. Tree and Cow 1927.

Also, in 1924 Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) created his ‘Butterball Crab Apples on a Plate, Design for Wallpaper.’ The repeat pattern is likely to be a crab apple of the Butterball of Golden Hornet variety. The design was given by Ravilious to artist friend Douglas Percy Bliss in 1924/5.

Neighbours in Great Bardfield, Bawden and John Aldridge (fellow artist and wallpaper designer) collaborated in designing fifteen ‘Bardfield Wallpapers’ during the later 1930s, which were distributed by Cole & Sons, a British wallpaper company. The Bardfield papers were exhibited at Muriel Rose’s Little Gallery in the late 1930s.

Bardfield Wallpapers: Grass and Swan produced by Cole & Son. Periwinkle and Trellis. Waffle and Cross.

Aldridge’s most successful designs were ‘Lace’ and ‘Moss and Trellis.’  These repeating patterns managed to produce an overall pattern but had a free and organic feel.  Another design ‘Hexagon’ was more geometric and architectural.

John Aldridge: Moss wallpaper 1939 for Cole & Sons. Preparatory drawing for wallpaper design. Hexagon Wallpaper 1946.

Bawden commented: ’John Aldridge and I, who lived in the same village, decided that we would try to print our own designs by the roll from our own blocks. A few lengths were produced, and these amateurish efforts were seen by a director of Coles who was passing through Braintree and happened to look in at the art exhibition in the Institute. From then onwards we cut full-size wallpaper blocks faced with lino and passed on the blocks to Coles who printed and sold the designs.’

The Second World War put a stop to their wallpaper production, but the Bardfield series was taken up by Cole & Sons after the war. They were put into production in 1946, despite the continuation of paper rationing.

Tirzah Garwood (Ravilious) also produced wallpaper designs and having moved from Great Bardfield to Castle Hedingham in 1934 created a wallpaper for their new home, Bank House in 1936.  Wallpaper designs were also submitted to Charles F. Read Ltd (Lithographer and Printers) in 1936.

Tirzah Garwood: Wallpaper designed for Bank House, Castle Hedingham. Other wallpaper designs by Tirzah.

Bawden’s last wallpaper was designed in 1956 for a Sanderson’s exhibition called Decorama 56. Staff of the RCA had been invited to design the furnishings of Flat 56, and Bawden contributed a wallpaper.

Graham Bennison, September 2021.

Great Bardfield Open House Art Exhibitions

This is a short, concise rendering of the Great Bardfield Summer Exhibitions. A detailed account can be found in Janet Dyson’s book ‘Artists of Great Bardfield’ …….go to the end of the blog.

Publicity photograph for the 1958 Great Bardfield Open House Art Summer Exhibition. From left: Edward Bawden, Walter Hoyle, George Chapman, Laurence Scarfe, Stanley Clifford-Smith, Michael Rothenstein and Sheila Robinson with daughter Chloe.

The group exhibitions date back to 1942 when the newly established Council for the Establishment of Museums and Arts (predecessor of the Arts Council) organised an exhibition of the village artists. John Aldridge, Edward Bawden, Kenneth Rowntree, Michael Rothenstein, Geoffrey Rhoades and several local amateurs featured.

In 1951 Essex Rural Community Council sponsored Great Bardfield as a Festival of Britain village and works were displayed in the artists homes. In 1954 an Open House Exhibition was held from 17th to the 25th of July. Limited to professional artists the exhibition featured works by John and Lucie Aldridge, Edward Bawden, George Chapman, Clifford-Smith, Joan Glass, Audrey Cruddas, Walter Hoyle, Duffy and Michael Rothenstein and Marianne Straub.  Despite the lack of pre-publicity for the event 1,700 visitors enjoyed the exhibition over the ten days.

Card advertising the 1954 Summer Exhibition

A New Statesman review of the 1954 exhibition stated:” Great Bardfield, you will recall, was one of the three beautiful Essex villages especially recommended to visitors to the Festival (of Britain) three years ago. The last three weekends it has been en fete. The houses of the painters who live there have been open, with their works displayed, and the artists therefore on tap to discuss them with you. The attraction is greater because there is no ‘Bardfield School of Painting’; there is nothing in common, except technical ability, between Edward Bawden, Clifford-Smith, Michael Rothenstein, John Aldridge, George Chapman and Walter Hoyle.”

Great Bardfield Summer Exhibition: July 8-17, 1955.

With the 1954 edition a success the artists agreed that the event should be repeated but this time with better publicity. The exhibiting artists were Edward Bawden, John Aldridge, Michael Rothenstein, George Chapman, David Low, Walter Hoyle, Clifford Smith, Audrey Cruddas, Marianne Straub.

The 1955 Exhibition Souvenir Brochure. Pages from the brochure. John Aldridge’s painting ‘The Moors’ 1955.

Edward Bawden: ‘Chapman’s Cottage’ 1955. Later listed as ‘Thatching’.

Michael Rothenstein’s press release for the 1955 exhibition was particularly blunt regarding the perception of married women artists.

“Nine artists and three wives who are artists as well as housekeepers will show work of great variety…..As well Mrs. Aldridge, wives exhibiting are Mrs. Rothenstein, who shows one or two portraits in oils, and Mrs. Clifford-Smith (Joan Glass) who displays textile designs somewhat akin to her husband’s paintings and drawings.”

Visiting his weekend cottage, popular cartoonist David Low agreed to exhibit some of his work at the open house exhibition.  This helped to make the event a drawcard for many visitors. Low didn’t want visitors tramping through his Bendlowe’s Cottage, so Clifford-Smith and Joan Glass agreed to show his work at Bucks House. However, the Essex Chronicle of 22nd July commented: ’Meantime genuinely curious people are wondering why the much-advertised David Low, the distinguished cartoonist, never puts in an appearance.’

David Low: One of his cartoons which made him a priority on the Hitler hit-list ! Low’s Modern Rake’s Progress paintings.

An estimated 5,000 people visited the 1955 show with 1,200 on the final Sunday.

Some of the ‘Open Houses’. Bucks House – Stanley Clifford-Smith and Joan Glass. Brick House – Charlotte and Edward Bawden. Place House – John and Lucie Aldridge. Trinity Cottage – Marianne Straub. Ethel House – Michael and Duffy Rothenstein.

John Aldridge and his wife Lucie Aldridge (née Brown) frequently opened Place House for the summer exhibitions in the village. These well-organised shows attracted thousands of art lovers. In 1955, Aldridge told a London Observer reporter that “people seem to prefer this domestic informality to galleries”. At these summer exhibitions, Aldridge exhibited his oils while Lucy exhibited her hand-knitted rugs. Although Aldridge’s work was well-received, it seemed the most conservative of the Great Bardfield Artists as it possibly reflected the art scene of the 1920s and 1930s in Britain.

The Daily Mail quoted a woman emerging from the Rothenstein’s Ethel House: “The pictures, oh the pictures I didn’t have time to look at them, it was their houses I wanted to see.”

The most intriguing newspaper report for me was published in the Bolton Evening News of the 27th July 1955. As a 13- and 14-year-old in Bolton I worked from 4.30pm until 7pm delivering the teatime and final editions of the BEN. The report featured a conversation overheard in a local pub (was it the Vine, White Hart or the Bell?).

First Villager:” Lot o’ peculiar folk knockin’ about.”

Second Villager: “Aye an’ a lot o’ peculiar pictures at this exhibition.”

First villager: “One I seed looked a bit mucky to me. It weren’t like what it said at all.”

Second Villager: “It ain’t meant to be. That’s art that is.”

Stanley Clifford-Smith: ‘Sisters’ 1955. This oil painting was sold to an American living in Chicago and its whereabouts are now unknown, no colour photo of this image in known.

1956 Exhibition at Clare College, Cambridge.

The Great Bardfield artists exhibited at Cambridge in November and December 1956.  Four guest artists also exhibited – Denis Wirth-Miller, Charles Howard, Geoffrey Clarke and Eduardo Paolozzi.

Poster advertising the Great Bardfield Artists Exhibition in Cambridge 1956

1957 Great Bardfield Artists’ Travelling Exhibition.

The artists were joined by newcomers Bernard Cheese and his wife Sheila Robinson. The tour started on the 31st August at Southend then travelling to Shipley, Nottingham, Sheffield, N. Ireland, Eastbourne, Brighton and finally Wakefield finishing on the 23rd of August 1958.  The souvenir booklet with Walter Hoyle’s cover design went on sale for two shillings.

1958 Great Bardfield Artists’ Summer Exhibition.

The 1958 Great Bardfield Open House Summer Exhibition souvenir brochure, the cover design by Walter Hoyle

At the same time as the travelling exhibition was at Brighton the newly formed Great Bardfield Artists’ Association decided to repeat the open house format which had been so successful in 1954 and 1955. Clifford-Smith was appointed secretary and the souvenir booklet was revised for the occasion.  Guest artists Peter Whyte and Laurence Scarfe joined the resident artists for the show. In early July a young TV presenter Alan Whicker interviewed Joan Glass and Edward Bawden for a BBC programme on the Great Bardfield art community.

The page in the 1958 brochure for Audrey Crudas. Costume design for Ann Todd as Lady Macbeth by Audrey Cruddas, Macbeth, Old Vic, September 9th 1954

Thousands of visitors flocked to the village and the exhibition received national coverage. The surge of visitors resulted in traffic management problems for the local police. It was estimated that a staggering 19,000 visitors had viewed the art works and the artists sold a collective £5,000 worth of work.

You’ll wish you could go back in time as at the 1958 exhibition Bawden’s lino-cut ‘Road to Thaxted’ went for 7 guineas. Bawden’s watercolour of Lindsell Church was priced at 35 guineas and Aldridge’s Bluegate Hall at 33 guineas.

1959 Great Bardfield Exhibition in Bristol

The exhibitions came to an end in Bristol with eight Great Bardfield artists exhibiting at the Royal West of England Academy displaying over 170 works. Following this exhibition, the group fractured with many moving away from Great Bardfield. Edward Bawden, John Aldridge and Marianne Straub remained through the sixties with only Aldridge still resident in 1971 living in the village until his death in 1983.

Janet’s fabulous book ‘Artists of Great Bardfield’ can be purchased via:

Bucks House now functions as a lovely B & B.

Graham Bennison September 2021.

The Royal College of Art at Ambleside

Charles Mahoney: ‘Ambleside, View from the Library Roof’, 1942.

In autumn 1940 the students of the Royal College of Art arrived eager to resume their studies only to find that a notice on the locked door announcing that the college would re-open ‘in the near future, somewhere in the country.’

Eventually two hotels in Ambleside were selected to house the college away from the bombs falling on London.  The Queens Hotel would house the male students and the some of the staff, also providing classrooms. The Salutation Hotel would house female students and also accommodate  ‘the teaching of engraving and dress design.’

While Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and Barnett Freedman were commissioned as war artists their former RCA colleagues and friends Charles Maloney and Percy Horton were evacuated to Ambleside alongside Professor of Painting Gilbert Spencer (Younger brother of Stanley).

Charles Mahoney: Waterside Hotel, Ambleside. Ambleside unfinished. Gas Mask Drill one and two. Charles’ rooms at the Queens Hotel.

Maloney and Horton went up to Ambleside in October to prepare for the delayed arrival of the students. On 2nd December 1940, nearly one hundred and fifty students arrived to resume their studies. The college would be based in Ambleside for the next five years. Reports in the local newspaper described the students ‘as being somewhat strangely garbed’, with young men ‘sporting wild and woolly beards.’

Percy Horton: Corner of Ambleside. House at Ambleside. Storm at Loughrigg. Shepherd.

The college made big efforts to integrate with the local community. For War Weapons Week the students produced window displays in local shops.  Warship Week was organized by students who had joined the 9th Westmorland Battalion of the local Home Guard.  The College Exhibition of 1941 attracted 1,000 visitors, a number which was doubled in 1942. College plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Percy Horton as Bottom the Weaver were extremely popular as were the lectures by visiting speakers which were open to the public.

Gilbert Spencer: Self Portrait. Grasmere Home Guard. The School on Peggy Hill, Ambleside. Troops in the Countryside 3rd version. Troops in the countryside study.

In July 1945 Principal Percy Jowett stated that the Lakeland episode had been a great success.

Graham Bennison, August 2021.

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Peggy Angus part four

Peggy Angus at furlongs by Hugh Dunford-Wood

At the age of 67 Peggy retired as Head of Art at North London Collegiate School, enjoying her teaching long after retirement age.

Having received some money from lifelong friend Ishbel MacDonald, Peggy took a holiday in Pakistan with young artist and former pupil Gaby Moore  (  Gaby was 14 when she first met Peggy on Boxing Day 1963, when her brother took her to spend a few days at Furlongs.

Following an obligatory walk Gaby recalled: “Returning to the cottage for tea and ginger cake we were once again entertained by more enthralling tales from Peggy. As darkness fell we lit fires and lamps in the kitchen and after another rustled-up Peggy supper, the contents of which we couldn’t quite make out but it was nevertheless filling and tasty enough, we all retired to a cosy sitting room with a blazing coal fire.”

Gaby is writing a brilliant account of her travels with Peggy, working towards a book. Here one of her opening paragraphs: Peggy had previously travelled to Indonesia on a sabbatical when teaching at North London Collegiate School, where she made friends with a lady called Theja Gunawardena who from 1975 was the Sri Lankan ambassador in Lahore, Pakistan, and had invited Peggy to come and stay. As I had recently been diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis and Theja laid claims to being a faith healer, Peggy proposed that I should accompany her to Pakistan as a young travel companion / minder and to see if she could do anything about my condition.’

Peggy had divided her time between London and Sussex since 1933 when she first sub-let Furlongs cottage from tenant farmer Dick Freeman. Peggy and Dick outside Furlongs. Sketch of Dick by Peggy. Letter to Patience Gray re Dick.

On her return from Pakistan Peggy threw her energies into making wallpaper. Years earlier Peggy’s daughter Victoria had suggested decorating 122 Adelaide Road with block-printed paper. When artist Kenneth Rowntree saw these designs he commissioned Peggy to produce wallpapers for his home, having moved to Chiswick from Great Bardfield.

Peggy went on to develop something of a cottage industry, producing handmade wallpapers designed in response to commissions. Peggy’s process was simple but arduous, indeed laborious.  She would carve the design into a block of lino, then paint a long roll of lining paper in one colour using ordinary emulsion paint, and hand print the wallpaper design using a second colour until the roll was complete. Peggy used her ex-pupils, students and friends to help her print the unwieldy wallpapers.

Wallpapers by Peggy Angus including the popular ‘Sun and Moon’ design

Peggy continued to print wallpapers to commission through to the end of her career, making wallpaper for her ‘patrons’ and friends, and friends of friends. She would design hundreds of wallpapers over her career, sometimes simple repeats, sometimes with figurative vignettes incorporated into them. Some of her wallpapers are still in production today, though machine printed, the reproductions looking just like the originals.

Victoria, also involved in the design of wallpapers, had married architect Richard Gibson and in the early 1960’s they moved to Shetland where Victoria designed knitwear. Tragically, Peggy’s son Angus, who suffered from epilepsy, suffered a fit during the night in 1959, and died at the age of nineteen.

Peggy Angus. Angus & Victoria at Breakfast

Peggy was still spending time at her rented Furlongs cottage in the South Downs, and amongst the many friends visiting was Patience Gray. Peggy met Patience in Hampstead in the 1950s through architect Alexander Gibson.

In the late ‘50s Patience started the Observer women’s page, much later writing what has been described as “the best book about food that will ever be written”, Honey from a Weed. Patience’s earlier book Plats Du Jour was published in 1957 selling 50,000 copies in its first year.

Nick Gray playfully comments: ‘In a recent edition of Lifo Magazine, my mother Patience Gray at Furlongs, perhaps about to set light to a witch !’ Photo by Monica Pidgeon.

For Peggy, Furlongs was a creative refuge, and the like-minded Patience also found solace and inspiration amongst the Downs. One summer solstice evening in 1958 Flemish sculptor Norman Mommens appeared over the brow of a nearby hill, having walked the seven miles from his home at Grange Farm, shared with his potter wife Ursula.

The chance meeting sparked a friendship, and eventually a romance, with Norman regularly visiting Patience in Hampstead until finally, in Spring 1962, they set off together for Carrara in Tuscany, Norman on a quest for marble to carve.

There they stayed – apart from brief periods in Provence, Catalonia and Greece – until in 1970 they bought a ruined sheep farm in the Salento, the remote tip of the heel of Italy. Their 30 years together at Spigolizzi were to be remarkably harmonious and creative, Norman producing an extraordinary body of work that he did little to launch into the art world, and Patience making jewellery, researching local cuisine, and honing Honey from a Weed for publication.  Norman died in 2000 and Patience 5 years later.

Two watercolours of Barra from Peggy’s sketchbook. Peggy and Robin Ravilious (James’ wife) at Higgins’ House. From an old photo album, an invitation to the 70th birthday party of Peggy’s sister Nancy Wilson Angus,

In the early ‘60s Peggy too had acquired a ruined property. Camping holidays had previously taken her and the children to the Western Isles. On Barra they took shelter in a half-ruined crofter’s cottage overlooking the beach. The cottage, Higgins’ House, had been empty for some years, but Peggy decided to buy it for the asking price of £150. Maintenance was a big problem, but Peggy drew on the help of brothers John and James Ravilious. As at Furlongs, parties were enjoyed with Peggy’s punch made from pouring whatever drinks her guests brought into a large pot. Peggy made a banner for the local Presbyterian Church illustrated with fish and seabirds. The banner was, however, removed, the locals horrified by the semi-naked mermaids included in the design !

The painting of grey pebbles gathered from the beach became another cottage industry, depicting Pictish and Celtic art forms.

Peggy’s house at Adelaide Road had been condemned for some years and it was finally demolished. Peggy now moved into a purpose-built studio in Camden Street, Camden Town. This became her permanent home thanks to the generosity of old friend American sculptor Alexander Calder. A maquette that Calder gave Peggy sold for a high price at auction enabling her to buy the studio from the local council. At Furlongs an amusing hand-shaped loo-roll holder had been fashioned from a wire coat hanger by Calder.

Camden Studios

The orange coloured lino-cut above was made by Gabrielle Moore.

The final months at Adelaide Road are recalled by Patience Gray’s son Nick: “As an errant teenager I lodged with Peggy in London after expulsion from school at Christ’s Hospital. That was in 1959 when I was 18.  There wasn’t really anywhere in Patience’s Victorian billiard-room home in Hampstead so Peggy offered me a snoring box above the entrance hallway at 122 Adelaide Rd.  I worked for a neighbouring transvestite who sent mostly resting actors out to the suburbs as housewives’ helps.  The following summer I did the season as a stagehand at Glyndebourne but don’t remember popping over the hill to Furlongs.”

“Come 1972 I rolled up at Camden Town with a pair of narrowboats and a half load of coal for retail sale.  My then wife and mother of my two children, Corinna, toddled up the road to Swiss Cottage to help Peggy manually mass-produce her rolls of handprinted wallpaper. My sister Miranda Armour-Brown also worked as one of Peggy’s wall-printing slaves.”

In a letter to Patience and Norman dated 1974 (photo here) Peggy wrote, “What fun it was last Christmas with Nicolas and Corinna in their barge at Camden Lock !”

Section of a letter to Patience and Norman dated 5th January 1974

In between wallpaper production Peggy took trips to Barra and to Shetland to visit Victoria’s family. Her heart, however, still belonged to Furlongs and she carried on paying the rent in her final years – exactly the same amount as back in 1933 !

An old pupil from North London Collegiate School, Janet Kennedy, and her husband Tyl moved into a cottage just down the lane from Furlongs, and Ursula Mommens was still on the other side of the hill at Grange Farm.

One evening Janet had a worried phone call from Ursula as Peggy had set off to walk over the hill but hadn’t arrived. Tyl rushed off on his motorbike and as darkness fell found Peggy stuck in the mud in a ploughed field unable to move.

Peggy’s granddaughter Emma visited Furlongs to help out as did Tirzah’s daughter Anne Ullmann and husband Louis. There was still no electricity at Furlongs, Peggy’s son-in-law Richard (Victoria’s husband) had installed a shower. Peggy, however, refused to use it, preferring to plunge into cold water.

The many visitors to Furlongs shared treasured memories of the Midsummer dewpond parties held on the summit of Beddingham Hill where the guests drank and sang around a summer solstice bonfire.

An early dewpond party featured The Blue Goddess created by Norman Mommens with probably help from John and James Ravilious.

‘The Blue Goddess’ by Peggy Angus. Photo: “Furlongs. the blue goddess dressed in parachute silk walked across the downs from South Heighton. John Ravilious ignites one of his hot air balloons. present are Norman and Ursula Mommens, Heywood Hill, Olive Cook. Photograph by Edwin Smith” Photo detail: Peggy, Norman & his much younger sister Ruscha at the Furlongs dewpond party: 

Now entering her eighties Peggy relied on granddaughter Emma to organise the dewpond parties. 

The door to Furlongs remained unlocked so that people could drop in day and night. Gaby Moore recalls, “She never complained about money and would tell visitors to use as much coal and paraffin as you like.”

Nick’s ex-wife Corinna took Peggy on her last trip to Barra, remembering that in spite of her health problems she remained extraordinarily bright and cheerful. Peggy died of pneumonia in 1993 at the age of 89.

One final party was held up at the dewpond. Janet Kennedy build a bright red papier-mâché bull and placed Peggy’s ashes inside together with those of her son Angus, which Peggy had kept under the bed all those years. The bull was carried up the hill and duly set on fire. Peggy would have approved !

A few of Peggy’s Furlongs paintings

This May I came across an empty Furlongs and sneaked a photo of the many mosaics hidden in every corner of the cottage exterior.

Graham Bennison August 2021. Many thanks go to Nick Gray for his superb help with this blog. Also thanks to Gabrielle Moore for her much appreciated help.


Sadly…. Janet Kennedy (née Eady), died peacefully at home on Thursday 8th July 2021. An artist, Janet was a leading designer for Clothkits from 1971 to 1988. Much loved by all of her family, Janet was the wife of Tyl Kennedy, mother to Sasha, Patrick, Lucy and Jason, and an adored grandmother to ten children.

Please follow Facebook page…..Eric Ravilious and Friends…..

Stanley Clifford-Smith

Stanley Clifford-Smith

Stanley Clifford-Smith was a latecomer to the artist community in Great Bardfield, Essex moving to the village with his family in 1952. His experimental style set him apart from the other artists in the Great Bardfield community.

Clifford-Smith and his second wife Joan Glass set up home in Bucks House, a prominent building they rented at the centre of the village. Bucks House was built Circa 1510, altered c.1600 and in the 19th Century. The ancient building is timber framed its exterior faced with red brick. Bucks House now operates as a welcoming B & B which can be accessed at

Bucks House, Great Bardfield.

Clifford-Smith, the son of a photographer, was born in Reddish, Stockport, Cheshire in 1906 and was educated in Manchester and Paris.  The artist disliked his forename and signed his work under the name ‘S. Clifford-Smith’.

In the 1930s he was involved in the carpet trade working firstly as a salesman and later as a designer for James Templeton & Co in Scotland. It was at this time that he first began to paint.

During the Second World War, Clifford-Smith was a member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

Clifford-Smith first married Susan Taylor in 1932 and the couple had a daughter. The relationship was not to last the pressures of the Great Depression and the couple soon separated.

After leaving the armed forces, he married the English artist Joan Glass (1915-2000) in 1946 having met during the war. The couple left London for Suffolk in 1947. While in East Anglia he painted mainly religious works much influenced by the French expressionist, Georges Rouault.

Joan Glass: ‘Reflected Gardener’ 1947 mixed media.

Clifford-Smith and Joan Glass pictured at Bucks House.

In his new home Clifford-Smith was an active member of the Great Bardfield art community during the mid to late 1950s and later became the Honorary Secretary of the group. It was Stanley Clifford-Smith who was a prime-mover setting up the open-house days in 1954, 1955 and 1958, exhibiting with the other artists of the village. They would turn their houses into art galleries and thousands of people came into their homes to view the work. The Bardfield artists then included: John Aldridge, Edward Bawden, George Chapman, Stanley Clifford-Smith, Audrey Cruddas, Joan Glass, Walter Hoyle, Sheila Robinson, Michael Rothenstein, textile designer Marianne Straub and cartoonist David Low. These shows attracted thousands of visitors and made the art community famous thanks to national press coverage and several one-off and touring shows in the late 1950s.

A 1955 press photo showing Clifford and Joan with Edward Bawden, John Aldridge, Michael Rothenstein and Audrey Cruddas outside Mariann Straub’s Trinity Cottage in Great Bardfield.

Clifford-Smith’s work in the 1950s was both diverse and experimental, he painted  Irish and Italian landscapes, images of ships, as well as hypnotic ‘mother and child’ portraits. In 1958 Clifford-Smith and Joan bought the  Old Bakehouse in Great Bardfield opposite the Bawden’s Brick House. In the early 1960s the Great Bardfield art community fragmented, John Aldridge at Place House was the only artist to stay until his death in 1983.

A then, young Richard Bawden recalls: ‘I remember going across the road from our home in Brick House to Clifford and Joan’s in the Old Bakery. Clifford had several large paintings on show with almost life size standing figures; these were in blue-grey and warm grey with a misty atmosphere and a pale yellow sun shining through the haze. I was impressed.’

Stanley Clifford-Smith: ‘Neighbours’ 1956, ‘Pembrokeshire’ 1958. ‘Two Men in a Boat’ undated. ‘Spanish Trawlers off the Fastnet’ 1959.

Clifford-Smith and his family moved to Little Baddow Hall near Chelmsford. During his time at Little Baddow he painted mainly thickly textured monochrome moon portraits.

Women Bewitched by the Moon’ c.1965.

Following his death in 1968, the artist had several important exhibitions of his work; a retrospective at The Minories, Colchester 1969, Little Baddow Hall Arts Centre 1979 and at the Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden 1998. He was survived by his widow and five children from his two marriages.

Clifford-Smith and Edward Bawden stood on the steps of Brick House.

Graham Bennison July 2021. Graham Bennison | Facebook