Norman Rockwell at Dulwich

I didn't really know much about Norman Rockwell (and still don't!), but I was really looking forward to the exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery and, boy, it does not disappoint - that man sure could paint - and draw! The biggest revelation was how big most of the pictures are, painted oil on canvas and - even though his early covers for the The Saturday Evening Post (founded by Benjamin Franklin) were only printed in black and red - all rendered in glorious Technicolor. How on earth did he transport them to the newspaper's offices, what about the drying time of the oils, how long did each one take to execute? In the first room is a fabulous picture of a 'dough boy' and some cheeky kids (on the front of the catalogue), with his early trademark white background. It has just enough red to be picked up by the process and it's enormous, and some other paintings on display seem to be life size! One long continuous wall of the show is covered literally with all 323 Saturday Evening Post covers he created between 1916 and 1963. What a client! (He did work for other clients too!) The sheer volume of work makes the originals part of the exhibition seem small by comparison, but there's enough there to show his skill: in both technique and composition, over and over again.

One of my favourites was Bridge game - the bid (1948) an aerial view in one-point perspectve showing all four hands of cards. The skin modelling is exemplary, using a cross-hatching technique reminiscent of the tempera work of Giotto (in fact there is a tempera piece by Rockwell towards the end of the show). But he's no photo-realist, like the Pre-Raphaelites. Look closely and you can see the hand of the artist in the beautiful brushwork - highly detailed around the faces and hands; looser elsewhere. And the few drawings exhibited show he was a dab hand with the pencil too. (It would have been nice to see the reference photos he used too.) In his later work, the compositions get more busy. April Fools - girl with shopkeeper (1948) is a Masquerade of detail that would occupy a spot-the-difference fan for hours. Some people dismiss Rockwell as kitsch, reactionary and sentimental - he is after all the anithesis of the Abstract Expressionists (a subject explored in the Kurt Vonnegut novel Bluebeard) - and there is one cover on show (sadly not the original) of a Connoisseur (1962) standing before the more critically appreciated Jackson Pollock. But in all honesty, as you leave the exhibition space to enter the Dulwich's permanent collection of Old Master paintings, those brown saints and aristocrats look drab and boring in comparison with Rockwell's pictorial exuberance.

It cost £8 entry (group rate). Although there was an excellent catalogue for sale (£22), the postcards were a disappointment! I didn't dare take any photos inside the exhibition. The coach trip was organised by the Brighton Illustrators Group and we had an enjoyable lunch at the nearby Crown and Greyhound (where they had Harvey's on tap!). The exhibition runs until 27 March 2011 - don't be such an art snob, go see it. You'll be amazed.


Who really lived in my house?

1877 map of Preston Circus: Gerard Street is off Clyde Road

When I wrote about who lived in my house, I didn't actually know who was a landlord and owned my house, and who was a tenant and actually lived here. Looking at census records however (thanks to David Pipes for supplying them as it is sometimes difficult to search on an address rather than name), it became clear that names were popping up that I hadn't heard of before. Henry Burnham was the only chap mentioned in the mortgages. One thing that struck me was how many people there were living here sometimes: two families in 1881, plus a mother-in-law and lots of lodgers and boarders too. It was exciting to discover that an engine driver once lived under this roof, even though he lied about his age!

Page's Directory 1877 - no mention of Gerard Street
Page's Directory 1879 - 'small houses'

1881 Census
Fanny Eager, 29, laundress
Alice E, 10, scholar
William R, 7, scholar
Geo C, 5
William Christmas, 33, lab(ourer?) from Guildford
Mary, wife, 28
John, 3
Wllm H, 1
(+ a Miss Sayers who didn't sleep there!)

Page's directory 1889 - Mrs Fanny Eager, laundress

1891 Census
Henry Burnham, 55, night porter - hotel
Louise, 45, wife
Henry, 6, son
Ada Louise, 12
Henrietta Elizabeth, 9
James Fielder, 21, lodger, firefighter
William Rapley, 19, lodger, engine cleaner

Page's Directory1892 - Mrs Burnham, dressmaker
Page's Directory1894 - Mr W Hale
Kelly's Directory1898 - Willian Thomas Hale
Pike's Directory1900 - Walter Simfield
Towner's Directory 1901 - Mrs Martyn

1901 Census
Harry H Hollist, 51, engine driver (locomotive)
Mary A, 49, wife
Eliza S Martyn, 72, mother-in-law

1911 Census
Harry Harding Hollist, 46, engine driver
Mary Ann, 45, wife
Henry Horace Martyn, 6, adopted son
George Robert Rutter, 21 , boarder, coachmaker
Walter Stephenson, 22, boarder, carr.(iage?) finisher

[Hmmm, was someone lying about their age?]

Kelly's Directory 1949 - Henry Harding Hollist
Kelly's Directory 1954 - no entry
Kelly's Directory 1955 - Mrs Bunney
Kelly's Directory 1958 - Alfd D Greene
Kelly's Directory 1974 - ditto [last directory in local history library]


Who lived in my house?

A while ago I asked my building society for a copy of my house deeds. I was wanting to find out when it was built. They said there would be a charge, but that they had a whole lot of other stuff I could have for free. I said yes please and a few days later a huge Jiffy bag full of ancient documents arrived. It was every single mortgage that applied to this address. It's now in a safe at my solicitor's but I took some notes first.

The land was once owned by the toffs who lived at Preston Manor, the Stanfords. It was fields of sheep with the odd windmill. Then the railway viaduct was built in 1846. Amongst the documents was an act of parliament that was all about a Stanford hieress, who to inherit the pile had to get any husband to change his name to Stanford. It may well have been Lady Ellen Thomas-Stanford, who eventually left the Manor to Brighton council.

On 3 June 1878, a Joshua Yardley (Yardley Street is the next street up the hill) sold a parcel of land comprising Nos 18 and 20 to Sidcup builder Josiah Roome for £180. I don't know if he bought any other plots.

Elizabeth Dipple took out a £400 mortgage on the property on 6 July 1878, but on 2 October innkeeper Charles Delmon bought the house from J Roome for £320. It's not clear when the house was actually built! On 24 June 1890, Henry Burnham - an army pensioner and hotel porter of 24 Gerard Street, bought it and on 19 December 1892 William Thomas Hale, a police detective, bought the house for £250. So much for inflation! On 17 October 1893 a jeweller called Robert Morse Younger took it off his hands. Another jeweller called James Henry Wellings paid £300 for it 5 June 1906. He lived here a while, because it wasn't until 9 November 1936 that Lily Hewetson, a clerk, bought it for £475 from Ernest Albert Hopkins and Geo Herbert Fowler. Who are they, you might ask? Possibly the people handling probate? Lily died 15 January 1939.

On 18 March 1939, James Wllm Hopkins and Elizabeth Mayo Hopkins paid £500 to vendor Simpson Hewetson for my house. We then leap to 20 April 1953 when J W Hopkins sold it on to Iris Goldsmith. A couple of months later and on 5 August 1953 Mrs Goldsmith sold it to Winifred Bunney. On 24 December 1968 it was owned (or rented?) by the delightfully named Aileen Beatrice Henville Chappell and Gwendoline Maud Henville de Graaff-Hunter. Sisters perhaps? 9 May 1974 it was acquired by Alfred Douglas Greene, the administrator of Win Bunney and, by 9 November 1977, Paul Nigel Abraham and Pamela Anne were living here. On 29 May 1980 it was bought by Raymond Barry Bisson and Elizabeth Ann Bisson for £9,950. When I viewed the house Liz was living with Dave Wilshire, the signwriter. They both now live in Australia. Liz's previous partner became a Buddhist monk and presided over a funeral I attended at the Crem. I moved in May 1987, and the rest they say is history!

One day, I'll try to fill in some details from census records and Kelly's Directory information but that's enough for now.

Daily Moan #17: Centre and epicentre

A joke. Q. where's the dead centre of Brighton? A. The cemetery! Ba dum bump ching! I've never been happy with the modern use of centre, as in Youth Centre, Health Centre or Shopping Centre. In Hove there's a place called a Trial Centre. We used to call them Courts, but presumably the people most likely to use them might get confused by the tennis courts down the road? Libraries are now called things like learning resource centres, to reflect that they rarely lend out books these days. Why have one simple word when you can have two or more? Boring old museums are sexed up with names like Thinktank, but I digress.

Because the word 'centre' has become meaningless, TV news reporters like to use the word 'epicentre' instead, as in 'Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism'. Now, this has a specific meaning: because earthquakes often happen underground, the epicentre describes the place on the surface immediately above the real centre. Well, this may have symbolic meaning, as it is the place where most damage occurs, but mostly it is being misused.