Comment: A history of art in and around MK

The Statue of LIberty by Jessie Guymer
The Statue of LIberty by Jessie Guymer
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AS pastor to the Congregational Meeting in 1743, Humphrey Gainsborough came to Newport Pagnell.

There he lived at the Manse, High Street, until leaving a few years later for Henley on Thames. Yet apart from religion he had many other callings and gained much renown in other fields. However, his brother also achieved great fame, for he was the artist Thomas Gainsborough, who among his works painted a portrait of the poet William Cowper, which would grace the Cowper and Newton Museum at Olney.

Another painting to grace the Museum would be that of William Cowper stoking a fire in his garden to keep an orange tree warm. Valued at several thousand pounds this was donated by the artist Charles Spencelayh but was stolen in May 1991. Charles – now remembered for his early advertisement for Colman’s mustard – came to live at Olney during the First World War, having left his London residence not least because a crew member had fallen through his greenhouse roof during a Zeppelin raid. (As for WW2, stained glass in the eastern window of Marston Moretaine church is the work of Hugh Easton, the artist responsible for the Battle of Britain window in Westminster Abbey.) But back to William Cowper, who also possessed artistic talents. In fact he had been taught the art of drawing by an Olney stone mason, James Andrews, whose work may be seen in a memorial by the celebrated Peter Scheemaker in the church of Clifton Reynes.

Fashioned by Thomas Burman, another notable memorial came to be placed in Walton Church commemorating Bartholomew Beale (1583-1660) and his wife Katherine. This had been given by their sons Henry and Charles, and as the eldest the latter became lord of the manor. Yet he was also a manufacturer of artists colours, and supplied several prominent artists of the time including Sir Peter Lely, the famed portrait painter.

As a good friend of Lely, Mary Cradock would expertly copy many of his works, and she became the most renowned female artist of her day. Making the acquaintance of Walton, it was therefore appropriate that she married Charles Beale, and both her sons would become talented artists. In the later century Charles sold his local interests but in the 20th century the village was again acquainted with artistic talents, specifically those of Primrose Harley, a daughter of Dr. Vaughan Harley of Walton Hall. She would paint many murals in Walton Church and it was alongside her parents at Walton that she was laid to her final rest. Another talented artist was a railway ticket collector, Albert Perry, of 4, Bedford Street, Bletchley, who, despite competing with architects and art school students, gained a premier railway award at the Willesden LMS Institute.

In his ticket collecting ‘cubby hole’ he sketched in the intervals between trains and for several years received a letter of appreciation from the Chief Operating Managers Department. Another to receive railway recognition was Ernest Fryer, of 59, Eaton Avenue, Bletchley, who was presented with a gold watch, having since 1956 been chief staff clerk at the motive power depot at Kings Cross.

His wife’s father was a well known Canadian artist and illustrator, Herbert Sellen, who while on a visit to his daughter found he was unable to return when the Second World War broke out. He would then stay at his daughter’s address until he died in 1962.

In June 1956 one of the new teachers at Bletchley Grammar School was his granddaughter Miss Kathleen Fryer, who from a teaching position at Northampton came as the art mistress.

And on the subject of inherited talents and art mistresses, this week’s illustration is by an aspiring teacher Jessie Guymer, the daughter of a friend whose skills, in this age of internet publishing, are proving invaluable.

As for the theme, with regard to Herbert Sellen this quite literally has a very appropriate Transatlantic flavour.