Flowers Beckon: Lavender Goes to Chelsea


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Irene, my friend, is a keen gardener and a lover of perennial borders and deceptive traps for slugs and all that comes with gardening. Myself, well, as I always say: my thumb just never had time to go green! Sometimes I dream about a little cottage garden, but let’s be honest I’d rather play cards with my friends or go to the cinema theatre than grab a hoe and get my hands dirty with peonies and whatnot. I like looking at flowers and sitting in beautiful parks though!

So this month, I’ve found myself getting excited about gardens: Irene won two tickets to London to an exhibition held in the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital at a charity raffle. It’s apparently all about gardening and plants with companies like McBean’s Orchids, and Blackmore and Langdon exhibiting their goods, but it also comes with train tickets and high tea on the grounds, so even a garden terror like me will have something to do! I love London, especially that I’m almost certain I get to see my darling daughter Isabella too. I’ve already written to her post haste.

I’ve never heard of such a thing in my life, but apparently garden shows are anything but a new invention. The predecessor of this one was the Great Spring Show, which was first held in the Royal Horticultural Society‘s garden in Kensington in 1862 and then in Temple Gardens between 1888-1911, before moving to Chelsea. It will probably be held somewhere else next year.

It contains both nursery exhibits for the likes of Irene, and model gardens, as well as exhibits from foreign countries and from Britain, for the likes of me. Irene says the Queen’s going to be there too, but I’m more interested in the Japanese dwarf trees, which will be presented to the public for the first time. Irene’s numerous pamphlets describe them as the miracles of nature and horticultural skill: they are apparently exactly like real big trees except they sit in a pot. Last night I actually dreamt of the big dollhouse I used to have as a child and it was surrounded by tiny live poplars. Who knows maybe deep down there is a gardener inside me, albeit probably only a really tiny one….

Queen Mary visiting the Chelsea Flower Show in 1913:


The Chelsea Flower Show went on to become a national phenomenon of course. Sir Harry Veitch, the great nurseryman, secured the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, for a one-off event in 1913. It proved such a good site for an exhibition that the Great Spring Show was moved there in 1913, where it has taken place almost every year since. Despite the First World War, the show was held 1914 – 1916, but was cancelled in 1917 and 1918. By the roaring 1920s, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show was back in full swing, the famous Chelsea tea parties were established and Royal visits resumed. Exhibitors never fail to rise to the challenge of the temperamental British weather to maintain the prestige of this event. In 1928, there was a heavy storm the night before the opening day and the drains of the marquees became choked with hailstones, which caused flooding. The next morning, the show opened with no sign of the previous night’s torrential storm after RHS staff and exhibitors worked through the night to clear debris and repair damage. But there was more than just hail in the history of the Flower Show. It was cancelled during the Second World War, as the land was required by the War Office for an anti-aircraft site. The show resumed in 1947. Weathering the ever-changing fashions of horticulture, 2013 is the first year when gnomes will be allowed in the model gardens!



The Man from Bradford: William Rothenstein’s Big Plans for Leeds


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I meant to write about William Rothenstein for long now. He is a Bradford man, but made a name for himself in London. Isabella, my daughter [who studies art at the Slade] told me about his London career and I keep hearing that he’s is going to be the shiniest star on the skies of English Art, if he’s not that already.

William (or Will as everyone seem to refer to him) was born to Moritz Rothenstein, a well-to-do wool merchant  from Germany, who converted to become a Unitarian. His mother remained an orthodox Jewess (I believe from Hungary originally), despite some of the children being baptised and all that. I believe William befriended Ernest Sichel, who had finished in the Slade and later lived in Bradford himself, and he moved to London to study art at the Slade upon his advice. He started his studies there in the late 1880s. He was studying under Charles Holroyd, another Yorkshireman, whom I should write about at some point. Back then Slade was very different  than the Bohemian circles my daughter is ‘running with’, as they say these days. There was a lot of copying and drawing, and all that highly disciplined, rigorous training that Isabella looks down on. Of course Sickert’s New English Art Club was alreadly fledgling, but Rothenstein received all the classic art education the Slade was so famous for at the time. But amidst all the studying he always had time to come home – yes, it is possible, Isabella, especially if your mother is willing to pay your train fare!.

Anyway, by now ‘young’ Rothenstein has become an important and influential man: artist and art writer. In 1898 he co-founded the Carfax Gallery in St. James’ Piccadilly with John Fothergill, which was closely associated with such artists as Charles Conder, Philip Wilson Steer, Charles Ricketts and Augustus John. Lately, he has been travelling nationwide to give lectures and talks – Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, you name it. In 1907 he was at the opening of the Spring Exhibition of the Leeds Art Gallery, I saw him there. Isabella, who was a mere girl in short skirts back then, pointed him out on the street sniggering that he was the most diminutive man she’s ever seen. At the opening he talked about the ‘chasm  between Arts and Commerce’ alluding to the Arts and Crafts movement, but I don’t recall much of his talk to be honest. He did mention how impressed he had been when he, as a young artist, came home to Yorkshire in 1903. Rothenstein was one of the organisers of the first exhibition of the then freshly anointed Bradford Art Gallery, which turned out to be popular and a great financial success. This was all a long time ago, and I didn’t know back then how interesting that little man really is.

Now I see his name more and more often, Sir Michael [Sadler, Vice Chancellor of Leeds University] is becoming a close friend of him and they have a busy private and business correspondence. It’s a real arty relationship: I think Sir Michael would be keen to invite him to deliver a lecture or lectures, and Rothenstein being a prolific portraitist will no doubt benefit from Sir Michael’s enormous network of illustrious friends who may be interested in commissioning him. Sir Michael has some very optimistic plans for several young painters to make designs for panels in the Leeds Town Hall as well. I believe he wants Rothenstein to be involved in some ways, maybe picking the artists, but no one has illusions about our Leodian aldermen dragging their feet whenever art needs to be financing. But I’m sure Sir Michael will figure something out in the end!

The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds holds several interesting portraits by Rothenstein, such as the portraits of Michael Sadler, Emeritus Professor Charles Edwin Vaugham, Honorary Librarian 1908-13, Alfred Chaston Chapman FRS, Sir Joseph Hooker and Alfred Russel Wallace. The Gallery also owns ‘Cockerel’, a wonderful print by his son Michael, who became a successful and talented printer after the war.

Rothenstein’s Sadler portrait and his son’s print is currentloy on display in the Gallery’s current exhibition ‘Jewish Artists in Yorkshire’, which showcases Yorkshire-born artists’s works. As a related event, the Gallery has invited Rothenstein-expert Samuel Shaw for a public talk:

‘Crossing the Threshold: The Jewish and Yorkshire Identities of William Rothenstein / Talk by Samuel Shaw
Wednesday 22 May, 5.30-6.30pm

Using works featured in the exhibition, ‘Jewish Artists in Yorkshire’, this talk will explore the career of the influential British artist Sir William Rothenstein, who grew up in the large German-Jewish community based in nineteenth-century Bradford.

The Buffer Girls - a painting Rothenstein started to work on during his time lecturing at Sheffield University during the First World War.

The Buffer Girls – a painting Rothenstein started to work on during his time lecturing at Sheffield University during the First World War.

William Rothenstein maintained good ties with the University of Leeds indeed – in 1919 he designed the hood for Doctors of Philosophy (Honorary and otherwise) (Speaight, p. 305). The planned panels for the city hall, however, never came to fruition: the designs were just too discordant: Edward Wadsworth, Stanley Spencer, Paul and John Nash, H. S. Williamson, Albert Rothenstein and the Leeds-based Jacob Kramer were just too individualistic in their approach. The failure caused William embarrassment; he felt himself to be blamed and a temporary friction resulted between himself and Sadler (Speaight, pp. 315-16).

In his memoirs he writes about 1920: “To sole effect of my Sheffield activities [professorship at the University, which he later resigned from], was to move Sir Michael Sadler to make a gesture – a well meant gesture – of the success of which I was doubtful. I had been wiser to be frank at the start. Sadler’s plan was for several young painters to make designs for panels in the Leeds Town Hall. If the civic authorities could be persuaded to accept them, and to find the necessary money, the designs would be carried out in situ; failing this Sadler would pay £20 for each design, and, in addition, all material expenses. I knew the municipal mind too well to be hopeful; yet when I put Sadler’s project before Wadsworth, Stanley Spencer, the two Nashes, H. S. Williamson and my brother Albert, the yagreed to accept it. At Sadler’s suggestion, Jacob Kramer, a Leeds man, joined the group. The designs were to be approved by me; to reject any of these was disagreeable, but one by Stanley Spencer was, though admirable in itself, ill adapted to the others. I was compelled, therefore, to tell him so. […] The Nashes’ designs also came in for some criticism, but finally all were completed. Sadler deemed them insufficiently harmonious, while I knew they would shock the municipal eye. Had the work been commissioned, these gifted young men would have carried it out; but without a definite promise, the could scarcely be expected to achieve completed and harnonious designs.I agreed with Sadler that it would be wise to let the matter gently drop, without reflecting on the capacity of the artists to carry the scheme through. But I had been weak in furthering the project I did not believe would reach fruition. I learnt my lesson, and later was more happily situated when associated with the execution of wall paintings at St Stephen’s Hall, and at Morley College.” Recollections: pp. 348-49

Clare A.P. Willsdon describes the situation differently in her ‘Mural Painting in Britain: 1840 – 1940: Image and Meaning‘. According to Willsdon, Rothenstein initiated the murals and persuaded Sadler to start the project. Even so, the failure, was just as unsavoury for all parties involved.

As attested to by Alice Kingsley’s recollections, Rothenstein was indeed conspicuously short of stature: “the smallest man I’d ever seen”. Alice later became Mrs William Rothenstein! (Speaight, p. 82)

Sources: Robert Speaight, William Rothenstein: The Portrait of an Artist in His Time, London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1962, pp. 7, 15-16, 206, 272, 315.

William Rothenstein, Men and Memories: Recollections of William Rothenstein 1900-1922, London: Faber & Faber, 1932, p. 57

Gelatin and Light: Godfrey Bingley’s photos at the University of Leeds


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I’m back from blustery Scarborough after being away from my dear diary for a whole month! Did you miss my chatterbox column? I was away to look after my aunt who sadly passed on last week after a long illness. Who knows what killed her, but she was in much pain so her trusted old family physician, Dr Stutcliffe visited every day to administer morphine and more morphine daily. After her passing I stayed on for a couple of days to sort her things out and let the help go. Her funeral took place three days ago and I already miss her, even though she was not my own aunt, but my Stanley’s mother’s sister. We used to love visiting her, such a free spirit, loved frolicking on the seaside and writing piquant poetry that made us young lovers blush and giggle. Ladies like her are hard to find in our serious modern age…

Sorting through her boxes and papers I found so many amazing relics from the past! It made me go up in my own attic yesterday and I just sat there with an old lamp for an hour until my legs went numb. I looked at Stanley’s old photography equipment and even found some of his chemicals, I wonder how long ago they have expired… I used to help him develop photographs when we still had our business. All these memories surfaced because the day I returned to work I heard from Godfrey Bingley again and more boxes arrived to the office from his home.

Funnily enough I actually have a photo of Scarborough by him, whether it came from Stanley or Aunt Betty, I don’t know. I can tell you nothing’s changed in Scarborough since 1887 when this picture was taken!

Scarborough, 2 July 1887. Photography: Godfrey Bingley.

Scarborough, 2 July 1887. Photography: Godfrey Bingley.

Earlier this year, he had donated all the lantern slides and negatives he had taken to the University of Leeds, due to his failing eyesight. Sir Michael [Sadler, Vice Chancellor] has recently received further slides and his instructions that these should be kept together, preferably in the Geological department. I understand he worked a great deal with Professor Kendall from Geology and took a lot of pictures of rock formations around Yorkshire and all kinds of geological samples.

Because I’m a gossip and tend to socialise with other gossips gladly, I know all about his family. He now lives in Shaw Lane, Meanwood, but was originally born to Mary and Godfrey Bingley on Skinner Lane in Sheepscar on 3 July 1842. He grew up there and went to business with his uncle John, on Harper Street Foundry, where he worked on and off due to ill health, eventually taking ownership of the foundry. He married Lizzie Huckvale of Over Norton in 1878, and had daughters Edith born in 1879 and Mary Gertrude in 1882. In 1884, aged 42 he retired and took up a number of hobbies and interests, becoming an active member in a number of societies, historical, geological, Liberal Club, and so on. Three years later, in 1887 he began taking photographs and never looked back until this year when he realised he is no longer able to work.

My Stanley took active interest in his work back then because he worked with advanced technology and experimented a lot. His preferred medium was the gelatin dry plate, which has always fascinated me. Stanley was very keen on this method too and his first big investment in the business was a full equipment with all the chemicals and plates. He hardly had a chance to try it before he passed on. I believe now it is a bit obsolete but back in the nineties it was very advanced.

In 1871 Dr Richard Leach Maddox, a physician and microscopist, who was also a keen amateur photographer, suggested the use of gelatin as a replacement for collodion. Solutions of soluble halide were run into a warm solution of gelatin, thus forming a fine precipitation of silver halide – the photographic emulsion.  In reality it is a suspension rather than an emulsion, as a true emulsion is a dispersion of one liquid in another liquid, but we called it emulsion all the same. Now, the photographic emulsion was poured over glass plates, and due to the presence of the gelatin, they quickly set and dried. Thus was produced the first photographic dry plate. Since a dry gelatin film layer absorbs water and swells when placed in an aqueous solution, the plate could be developed and fixed successfully following exposure in the dry state. Initially the original dry plates, prepared by Maddox, were not very sensitive: a 180 times slower than the wet collodion process! However, other photographers, including John Burgess, Richard Kennett and Charles Bennett, improved and sped up the process to enable factory mass-production of gelatin dry plates. This is the technology Mr Bingley used and I often wonder if Stanley’s precious Eastman kit, bought shortly after our honeymoon, would still work. It’s all films and box cameras these days, all the young people click away with Kodak ‘brownies’, but nothing can re-create the quality and elegance of a dry plate photograph, I’ll tell you…

All this brought back so many happy memories about Aunt Betty and my beloved husband, God rest their soul. I grow melancholic when I’m alone. I wish my silly daughter was here to laugh at all the old-fashioned frocks in those photographs. She does cheer me up to no end and I miss her so much when I’m sad and begin to talk to all the ghosts from the past.

Godfrey Bingley's letter

Godfrey Bingley donated his collection of glass plates and negatives to the University of Leeds in 1913. He died in 1927.

Godfrey Bingley

Godfrey Bingley

The collection is now held in The Leeds University Library Special Collection, where it is being fully digitised and made accessible to view the images online.

One of the first pictures the collection holds was taken in 1887. Bingley kept extremely precise notes of when and where he took his photographs, and these notes are part of the collection too. We know, for example, that he took pictures of Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds on 4 May 1888.

Bingley5 Bingley4 Bingley1

The Digitisation Team of the library will take photographs at the exact same place and time in the morning on 4 May 2013 to celebrate Godfrey Bingley‘s invaluable gift to the University of Leeds.

In the afternoon Claire Evans from The Stanley & Burton Gallery will be hosting ‘Combobulate Leeds!‘, a creative interactive workshop using Bingley’s Leeds photographs and quite a few overhead projectors in the Parkinson Court! Come along and create your own wacky Leeds to project on the walls of the court! Let’s play!

Many thanks to Beccy Shipman, Digital Content Coordinator at the Leeds University Library Special Collections, for Lavender’s insight into the dry plate process and Godfrey Bingley’s life…

The Art of Chatting: Leeds Conversation Clubs


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This day and age there is more and more time a town dweller has for entertainment and education. This is clearly visible in the proliferation of conversation clubs ran by learned men of our town, which has been ongoing for the last thirty or so years. What a venerable tradition! You may laugh at me, but I myself have been toying with the idea of setting up a ladies’ club for just my friends and their friends – we could meet on a Sunday every month after church and discuss more weighty subjects than what we can normally chat about when we share an omnibus ride for a couple of stops or bump into one another in the noisy market. This journal sometimes feels like I’m talking to myself!

Just to mention a couple of interesting circles who have (and still do) devote time for the art of conversation on a regular basis… There’s the famous Curfew Club, a conversation club that was founded back in 1886 and it is restricted to only twelve members who meet monthly, each member hosting one meeting every year. I know that they are very strict about two things that are taboo: theological questions and municipal politics. Very wise!

A professor at our University, Cyril Ransome was a founding member back in the day. He’s been long dead and his boy Arthur is a grown man now, about thirty and a journalist by trade, and I hear he is working on children’s books based on his childhood spent in Windermere and Rugby. His mother, Professor Ransome’s widow, the lovely Mrs Edith Ransome moved back to Headingley last year and he often visits her.  He is a handsome, but much-troubled man, you probably heard of the literary storm he got himself into: his book on Oscar Wilde, published last year, embroiled him in a libel suit with Lord Alfred Douglas. I’ve also heard that his marriage to Ivy Walker is on the rocks too. A jack of all trades (just think of how he had been studying chemistry here at Leeds before he turned to cheap journalism and Bohemian literary life in London), I hear, he is now learning Russian and planning a trip to Russia later this year, apparently to study Russian folktales. One would think this is hardly a good idea when one is in the throes of a pending lawsuit and a troubled marriage.

It seems that his friend Eric Eddison has done better in the world: after their Leeds years he was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Oxford and then joined the Board of Trade. The reason I know about them is because they shared a governess when they were both kids growing up in Adel, a Miss Glendinning who lived by the Shire Oak at the time. Now this Miss Glendinning once was arranged to meet us, Mama and myself, for tea and tell me about what it entails to be a governess. I was a precocious twenty-year-old back then with no suitable suitors or much prospect of a private income, and Mama thought I should just have a chat with the kind Miss Glendinning. As you can guess I was not much taken by Mama’s idea, but I appreciated the warm person I got to know in Miss Glendinning and we corresponded for a number of years.

Anyway, I digress… My career path is much less interesting than the early conversation clubs and all the notable men in attendance. After the Curfew Club, Professor Cyril Ransome founded another club called the Ransome Literary Club, with a membership also restricted to twelve. This is more like a book club and they meet way more frequently than monthly. They often meet at the University Refectory too and the Masonic Hall and of course their own homes all over Headingley where the Ransomes live too.

And then there is the Conversation Club, with the same twelve member/twelve month operation. This one has had such prominent Leodians as the aforementioned Mr Ransome (clearly a lover of good banter), Dr John Eddison and his brother Octavius Eddison (the old solicitor who used to ride around town on horseback, Eric Eddison’s father), and Nathan Bodington, Professor of Classics and Philosophy and also the former Vice-Chancellor of the University. He died two years ago, bless his memory.

Many of these honorable old men, whom I remember as oft-seen public figures of our community, are now gone, but their legacy is alive. It seems if you’re an educated man in Leeds, you have always had a choice of fine literary circles – although I have a feeling that (as is the case of any small city’s intelligentsia) often they consist of much the same faces until a member or two dies or moves away… Nevertheless, provincial as it may seem, our men of letters have a busy social life, besides what’s on offer at the theatres, cinemas, societies and university lectures. Now that our very own Vice-Chancellor [Michael Sadler] and Frank Rutter have settled so well in Leeds, the arts are surely to follow all the literary clubs. And one day maybe my Ladies’ Sunday Club will join the ranks too!

Both Eddison and Ransome became successful writers later in life. Eddison is best known for the early romance The Worm Ouroboros (1922) and for three volumes set in the imaginary world Zimiamvia, known as the Zimiamvian Trilogy: Mistress of Mistresses (1935), A Fish Dinner in Memison (1941), and The Mezentian Gate (1958).

In 1913 Ransome won the lawsuit, left his wife and did indeed travel to Russia and published Old Peter’s Russian Tales in 1916. He later returned to Russia during the First World War as a foreign correspondent and met his second wife there. Upon their return to England, they settled in the Lake District. He decided not to accept a position as a full-time foreign correspondent with the Guardian and instead wrote Swallows and Amazons in 1929—the first of the series that made his reputation as one of the best  English writers of children’s books.

 In 1913 the writer Lord Alfred Douglas accused Ransome of libel, for the account of him in his biography of his friend Oscar Wilde. Here Ransome (left) leaves court after winning the trial.

In 1913 the writer Lord Alfred Douglas accused Ransome of libel, for the account of him in his biography of his friend Oscar Wilde. Here Ransome (left) leaves court after winning the trial.


The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds UK showcased many original drawings by Arthur Ransome, which he made to illustrate his series of children’s books. The catalogue for the exhibition ‘Austerity and Invention: Illustrators between the War’  with an essay on ‘Arthur Ransome in Leeds’ by Chris Sheppard, Brotherton Fellow at the Leeds University Library is now available in the Gallery’s online shop.


David Hall, Far Headingley, Weetwood and West Park, Far Headingley Village Society, 2000, pp. 124-26

C. S. Lewis: Collected Letters Volume Two: Books, Broadcasts and War, 1931–1949, ed by Walter Hooper, Harper Collins, 2009

Painting Colours Where There’s Nowt: Harold Gilman in Leeds


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It always strikes me as odd what artists choose for subjects. Sometimes I’m more fascinated by the choice of subject than their delivery!

Well, one interesting chap I’ve been recently thinking about is Harold Gilman, who is one of the founders of the Camden Group, but he’s up in Leeds quite often now because of Frank Rutter, whom I’ve mentioned in previous journal entries. Rutter became the Director of Leeds City Art Gallery last year, and he’s an enthusiastic admirer and reviewer of Gilman’s work. I’ve asked Isabella about Gilman because I find his work intriguing but she just shrugged, muttering something about him being bald and old. Clearly, those two characteristics alone are enough to expel him from the Hall of Glorious Art if you ask my daughter. He’s actually younger than I am as far as I know (thank you very much, Isabella).

Rutter also invites another Camden Town Artist Charles Ginner quite frequently too. Of course Sir Michael [Sadler] is involved in weaving the web too: He holds monthly meetings at his home in Buckingham House on Headingley Lane, where his collection of works by Gauguin, Van Gogh, Klee, Kandinsky and modern British painters is housed. Gilman and Ginner, as well as the Rothensteins and their circle, often come up to contribute to this aesthetic seminary. Very exciting, and oh so London! Maybe one day Sir Michael will need a good shorthand secretary to be present at these meetings….

Anyway, back to subject matter and Gilman. He paints interiors, portraits and landscapes, sometimes using garish colours that are not actually there, but his paintings still make sense if you know what I mean. Sometimes they look even more realistic than my favourite Chowney or the ever-so-popular Herkomer. He obviously admires Van Gogh’s work, at least his generosity with real-life colours suggest so! Here’s how I found out about him. As everyone else, I go to the marketplace quite often myself and one day earlier this year I spotted a man making swift pencil and ink sketches. Of course I had to nosy and judging from the small sketches he was quickly drawing onto sheets of paper, it seemed to me at the time that he was another painter to produce those pretty genre paintings of a busy marketplace, you know the kind, mostly a couple of figures loitering or squatting around stalls laden with produce and whatnot. Later when I began to hear his name more and more often and asked Isabella about him, I put two and two together and realised that the bald chap I saw sketching was indeed Mr Gilman himself.

Study for 'Leeds Market' c.1913 by Harold Gilman 1876-1919


Ever since then, I’ve been trying to find out more about his works and I’m ever so curious to see if he ever gets to make a painting out of any of the sketches he drew up while he was at Kirkgate market or elsewhere in Leeds.
What colours can his eyes see in a place that is so often mocked for lacking all colour? Some say that even the stars don’t shine here, because everything’s so sooty and grey. Having seen a couple of works by Mr Gilman now, I’m certain that he will make Leeds market look like Leeds market even if it’s all emerald and yellow like Isabella’s stockings. It almost fills me with British pride: isn’t it more admirable to find colours where there are none, than travelling all the way to Tahiti like Gauguin or the South of France like the Dutch Van Gogh?

Gilman indeed finished a large painting of the Leeds Market in 1913. The colours are subtle, almost pale, reflecting perhaps and early winter morning – not exactly Tahiti, after all.

Leeds Market c.1913 by Harold Gilman 1876-1919


Gilman’s sketches provide an insight into an important aspect of Camden Town work: its small scale, as Stephen Hackney writes, “sketching on the scale that the eye sees, so that the captured image, at a comfortable arm’s length, can be exactly superimposed over the more distant model or scene. This is a well-known technique for maintaining accuracy of proportion and relationship. The drawing can then be made proportionally larger on a bigger canvas by squaring-up with a grid or grille. A fine grid of vertical and horizontal lines is drawn over the sketch with a pencil and ruler and then a scaled-up grid put on a canvas primed for painting, either by drawing or painting it directly on the ground of the canvas or by using string stretched across the front. The lines in each square of the sketch are then copied onto the appropriate square of the canvas, which keeps the proportions consistent with the sketch.” (Stephen Hackney, ‘The Evolution of Painting Technique among Camden Town Group Artists‘)

That Harold Gilman worked and sketched on the move is remembered in this anecdote by his friend Louis F. Fergusson: “On one occasion, for instance, when several people assembled at 47 Maple Street before sallying forth to dine at Roche’s or the Étoile, a charming lady arrived in a very delightful hat. This so worked upon Gilman’s colour-sense that he incontinently seized a blank canvas, picked up his palette, loaded a brush with a combination of pigments that matched the mauve hat-band to a marvel, flung a dollop of the mixture at the canvas, and worked it across in a beautiful smear with his palette-knife. I seemed to have read of this procedure as one of the less reputable idiosyncrasies of Courbet, and looked on astonished. This bold onslaught upon a, at that moment, somewhat reluctant sitter was followed by a roughing-in of hat and head, and somewhat delayed the start for dinner. The work was never finished.” (Louis F. Fergusson, ‘Harold Gilman’, in Wyndham Lewis and Louis F. Fergusson, Harold Gilman: An Appreciation, London: Chatto & Windus 1919, pp.19–32.)

The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds holds another witness to Gilman’s studious sketching around Leeds around this time:

Harold Gilman: Canal Buildings, Leeds (Factories)

Armory Show: American Art out of the Rut and the World is to Follow


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I’ve always wanted to travel and travel far – and now I long to climb on board a Cunard steamer more than ever. I want to go to New York! It seems that all the art of the world is there all of a sudden. Not the Mona Lisa and the Sistine Chapel, but the true essence of living, throbbing, jubilant art in the making. I do believe we live in important times. Young artists are transforming our aesthetics for good, even mine. Yes, good old Lavvie, admirer of Chowney and Seabrooke, suddenly feels that art has reached a point of no return: these young ‘uns will become the new classics in their lifetime, even if many dismisses them as a bunch of clowns making a joke out of beauty and all that.

So here is the news: the Armory Show, officially known as The International Exhibition of Modern Art, exploded the American art scene in a single night and the reverberations are to be sensed all over the world soon. It’s as if the shockwaves of the wildest European art went across the ocean to return a hundredfold amplified. Four thousand guests visited the rooms on the opening night. For the first time, the American public, the press, and the art world in general are exposed to the changes wrought by the great innovators in European art, from Cezanne to Picasso.

The first of its kind in the United States, the exhibit was the result of more than a year’s planning by a small group of artists, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS).

The AAPS abandons any obligation to realistic depiction, and as their realist predecessors have done, they cast aside allegiance to an academic ideal in favor of a newfound freedom. In their “modern” world, vision is not restricted to ideal forms, noble subject matter, harmony, decorum, and nature, but instead relied on an insightful, unfettered, soulful perception. They believe that the time has come to acquaint the general public with the vital new movements of modern art. And to stay true to their aims, these people put on an exhibition of giant proportions without any public funding whatsoever. That’s what we in England need: the bold entrepreneurial spirit of the true pioneers.

The major organizers were all names I’ve never heard of, but will remember now: American painters Walt Kuhn,Arthur B. Davies,Walter Pach. Overwhelming in its size, the exhibit includes examples of Symbolism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, and Cubism.Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art

Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art

The exhibition seems vast! I can hardly imagine art on this scale, I first thought the paper had a type when I was reading the news: approximately 1250 paintings, sculptures, and decorative works by over 300 European and American artists.  Separate rooms for for Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Cubists, Futurists, Symbolists, Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Neo-Impressionists and other -ists from Europe and of course all the new art from across the United States. Among those European artists whose work was seen in the US for the first time were Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, and Marcel Duchamp. The American list of names looks so unfamiliar and exotic, it’ almost like another planet: George W. Bellows, Oscar Bluemner, Solon Borglum, Patrick H. Bruce, Mary Cassatt, Stuart Davis, James Earle Fraser, Childe Hassam, Edward Hopper, Elie Nadelman, Maurice Prendergast, John Sloan, Henry Twachtman, Bessie Vonnoh, and James Whistler

Apparently the most scandalous work on display was Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending the Staircase’, which is described by the New York Times critic as ‘an explosion in a shingle factory’. I’m yet to warm to Duchamp’s works, and I don’t particularly like or understand what’s going on in that painting (I’ve only seen a grainy photographic image), but I think I’m going to investigate once the magazines are restocked in the library. I need to understand this new idea of art!

In the meanwhile the home front is not too bleak either: The famous Parisian American who keeps the French art and literary world moving, a Gertrude Stein and her secretary are coming to London to find a publisher for her works over here.
She owns a great deal of modern art and some pieces of her collection have travelled to the Armory Show. But while what America did for art this year is colossal, I’m proud to say we were there first – even if at a much smaller scale. In fact, London’s Second Post-Impressionist art show had to close early, so that some of the paintings could be sent on to the Armory Show.  I think this second show had a better reception from the average Brit than the first had back in 1910. Once the English have gotten used to Cezanne, they are more open to Matisse!

I feel that while we’re piddling with Cozens’ landscapes here, I have an awful lot of catching up to do about the crazy speed the art world is gathering. But when I feel that living in Leeds is like sitting on a horse-drawn cart while the steam engine of international art rushes by, I can always comfort myself with the thought that our very own Vice-Chancellor is aware of these movements and the future. No pressure, but if anyone, I expect him to respond to the latest art news with a good lecture or something, so that our youth would be aware of what’s happening beyond Barnsley…

Sources: AskArt, npr, Such Friends blog, and “1913: The Shape of Time”, Exhibition catalogue for the Henry Moore Institute (Essays on Sculpture, 66), 2012.

Lavender was right of course (helped by the pwer of hindsight) – the ‘lunatics’ and ‘clowns’ have indeed changed the landscape of art forever and became the new classics almost immediately. For example, the most talked-about painting in the 1913 Armory Show, Marcel Duchamp’s Cubist-inspired ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ depicting a human figure in abstract brown panels in overlapping motion sold for $324. After the commission, Duchamp received $240 — about $5,565, in today’s dollars. Not bad for an artist unknown in this country at the time.

Philadelphia Museum of Art/Copyright succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2013

Philadelphia Museum of Art/Copyright succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2013

Was it just the element of surprise? How sustainable was the shock effect? Duchamp in a 1963 interview he said that, at the time, artists had lost the ability to surprise the public:

“There’s a public to receive it today that did not exist then. Cubism was sort of forced upon the public to reject it. You know what I mean?” Duchamp said. “Instead, today, any new movement is almost accepted before it started. See, there’s no more element of shock anymore.

However, as Lavender might have felt too, it wasn’t just the element of surprise that mattered in the Arnory Show and the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition in London. While it certainly drew younger audiences, it was the inherent artistic value in these works that finally conquered the minds of the contemporary art consumer by breaking through the received sense of art as the representation of reality and a vehicle of aesthetics and beauty. Lavender is one of the many who began to feel that art is transforming to keep up with the challenges of modern life.”

No pressure, Vice-Chancellor Sadler!

(Michael Sadler, born in Barnsley, returned to Yorkshire in 1911 to take the post of Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leeds. By this time, he had already begun to develop the diverse artistic interests that would make him a notable figure in the history of modern art in Britain.

Sadler felt that a student’s education was greatly enhanced by a cultured and harmonious environment. He set about creating such an environment through the public display of pictures from his collection. He introduced a series of public events on a wide variety of topics, many arts-related, including talks on literature, daytime music recitals and a Saturday concert series. After leaving Leeds in 1923, Sadler served as Master of University College, Oxford, until 1934. The generous gift of artworks from his own collection, which he gave to the University in 1923, forms the basis of today’s University art collection, now on display at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds.

Grimshaw at the Organ, Grimshaw at the Easel


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Leeds cathedral has had such a varied history! The other day I was chatting to the parents of young Master Chambers, the organist boy at the Lounge Cinema. He is an amazingly gifted child, who sings at the choir there and receives informal tuition from the Organ Master too. He is also said to have written hymns and short songs by the age of ten, like that Wolfgang Mozart. Anyway, they told me some interesting things, I decided to write a little summary of what I found out about the history of the church, and especially the choir and the organ, which has some interesting links to the history of Leeds art and artists.

I remember the old St Anne’s Church, situated on the west side of Cookridge Street facing down Park Row. It was demolished for road widening in 1903. I was there among many others in the crowd, overlooking the destruction of this much-loved old church. While it’s hard to say goodby to a building we passed by every day all our life, I have to admit it wasn’t a very special building, nor very old at the time.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Leeds was created in 1878 and in the following year, St Anne’s was elevated to Cathedral status. Eighteen-year-old Arthur Grimshaw, one of the sons of the famous Leeds painter, John Atkinson Grimshaw, was appointed as the first Organist and Master of the Choristers in 1883 and has been serving there ever since then. During these decades he has become widely regarded as ‘The Father’ of St Anne’s Cathedral music. Grimshaw was also the principal conductor of the Leeds Symphony Society from 1896 until a couple of years ago. He is also a painter and not a bad one! Very much influenced by his father’s style and choice of subject matter, Arthur Grimshaw’s paintings focus on the streets and dockland areas of Northern cities and towns: Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds and Scarborough.

Arthur E. Grimshaw, The Quayside, Newcastle upon Tyne

Arthur E. Grimshaw, The Quayside, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1895, oil on canvas, Laing Art Gallery.

He was most active between 1890-1900. Unlike his father, he has never exhibited at the Royal Academy and I know that Isabella and her London artist friends probably turn up their noses at his ‘provincial’ moon-lit landscapes and cityscapes. His work does seem to be derivative of his father’s, but it is not wholly without value. The Pre-Raffaelite obsession with precision and detailing and his father’s legacy in creating atmospheric nocturnes may now be seen old-fashioned, but they are quite wonderful. I think they are perfect paintings for the salon of a discerning but perhaps not too affluent collector up here in the North. Much as I like his works, I can see why his works will never achieve the height of popularity of those by his father twenty-thirty years ago.

He is a prolific painter, but he has been much busier in his other field of passion and profession: he composed not only a setting for Psalm 141 and other Church music, but two operettas, El Escribano and Amaranthus, in 1891 and 1892 respectively. Later in the decade he composed various songs, part-songs and melodies for string orchestra. Mr Grimshaw is indeed a born musician with impeccable taste and devotion to his instrument.
Here is a story: Ten years ago, Pope Pius X issued a decree to restore the  unaccompanied Gregorian chant to Roman Catholic public worship as the supreme model of all sacred music. Although some modern music is permitted, the decree made point to avoid the so-called ‘theatrical style’ favoured in Italy, restricted solo singing and prohibited women from forming any part of the choir. When Architect Eastwood’s splendid Arts and Crafts Gothic-style cathedral opened on in June 1904, Grimshaw was at the organ console and the choir was conducted by Austin Mahoney. By then the magificent Norman Beard organ had been built and installed according to the specification of Mr Grimshaw. Well, Grimshaw and Mahoney went against the papal decree for the occasion and Rossini’s  Petite Messe Solennelle was sung at the Pontifical High Mass, which was exactly the thing the Pope wished to uproot. It was a one-off though. After the opening, the strict limitations placed on the organ’s use returned. In fact, the instrument is shut down completely during Lent and Advent and the ‘redundant’ organist welcomed into the choir.

So this is the story of the organ at St Anne’s intertwined with the story of a truly impressive local artist. It always pleases me to find interesting intersections, overlaps and coincidences in stories about art and artists. Artists are such fascinating people! I’ve seen some paintings by him, but really want to meet Mr Grimshaw in person now.


If you want to meet Mr Grimshaw, you better hurry Lavender! Arthur Edmund Grimshaw died in the same year (1913). Following his untimely’s death at only 48, the Cathedral appointed the World’s Youngest Cathedral Organist, Henry Alban Chambers, a boy treble in the Cathedral Choir, who also was the resident organist at the Lounge Cinema Headingley.Chambers remained in post until 1931. Bernard F. Malone, a senior member of the choir, was appointed organist in succession to Chambers and would serve the cathedral in this capacity for the next 22 years.

On Monday 13th November 2006, a magnificently restored Leeds Cathedral re-opened for worship after a closure of 15 months. The four cathedral choirs now sing ten services between them each week including Choral Vespers and Mass every weekday (except Friday) alongside the two principal Sunday services. Choral Vespers are regularly broadcast from the cathedral on BBC Radio 3 and the choirs can also be heard on both BBC Radio 2 and 4.Leeds Cathedral’s free Thursday lunchtime organ recitals and choral concerts are now an important element of the City’s busy musical calendar.

The organ, built in 1904 specifically for Leeds Cathedral by Norman and Beard, had been out of use since the 1970s and was subsequently replaced by an electronic organ. Widely recognised as the one of the finest examples of Edwardian organ building, the Norman and Beard instrument has now been re-built and enlarged, as befits the restored Cathedral and the new position of the Choir at the East End. Reconstruction and restoration work undertaken by German organ builders Johannes Klais Orgelbau has been designed to preserve the English Edwardian tonal style of the original instrument. The organ was re-built in the workshops of Klais in Bonn and transported to Leeds Cathedral in June 2009 for re-instatement over a five month period. On the 16th May 2010, Benjamin Saunders gave the inaugural recital on the re-built organ, preceded by Pontifical Vespers sung by the Leeds Cathedral Boys’ Choir, Girls’ and Adult Choirs.

More about the history of the Cathedral choir:

The Stanley &Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds has two paintings by John Atkinson Grimshaw in its permanent collection: ‘Briggate Leeds’ and the ‘Thames Moonlight’ both painted in the early 1880s. Arthur E. Grimshaw’s paintings are less frequently found in public galleries, but the recent increased popularity of his father’s paintings brought his works to the limelight too, it is not uncommon to find them at commercial galleries.

The Alpha of Omega: The Art of Canary Yellow Stockings


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Isabella went back to London today and the house is empty again. She is forever busy, painting, drawing, sketching everything and everyone and now she added even more to her already staggering amount of activities day to day: the girl is now turning to all those things her forebears were so happy to abandon when the age of modernity (and relative prosperity in the family) abolished some of these backbreaking duties and chores of housekeeping. She’s now learning to spin and weave to make her own clothes and after a few cushions and tapestries even started dabbling in furniture design and woodwork. My precocious daughter who last year exclaimed that the weaponry of the fairer sex should consist of pencils and sketchbooks instead of ruffles, lace and empty chitchat, now spends her time learning how to make all those ruffles and lace. Of course I’m being a bit simplistic and unfair: Isabella’s newfangled passion for fashion is more than empty pastime for the bored and the privileged. It all comes from this new movement in Bloomsbury, specifically from Roger Fry‘s head.

Fry’s ambition is for the artists to become multi-talented, designing furniture, ceramics, book illustrations, as well as painting and sculpture, rather like the artists of the Italian Renaissance, and he is now working on creating a workshop out of Slade students. Isabella is of course dying to be involved in this programme, which is going to be called Omega Workshops and open its gates some time in June if all goes as planned. A similar thing is apparently very successfully operating in France and that’s where Fry got the first idea. A couple of years ago he spent some time across the channel organising two Post-Impressionist exhibitions showing the work of new art by painters like Matisse, Picasso and Cezanne, whose names still cause hyperventillation among the more senior members of the London art establishment. Whilst in Paris choosing paintings for the exhibitions Fry visited Paul Poiret’s Atelier Martine. Fry now wants to promote painting and the decorative arts together and sell the products through his new workshop.

Obviously one is reminded of William Morris and the designers of the Arts and Crafts Movement, but Fry’s idea is quite different. He’s not at all concerned with social reform or protesting against contemporary machine manufacture. He comes from a more aesthetic-philosophical direction and wants to remove what he sees as the false division between the fine and decorative arts. As for the style: the nascent workshop will be no doubt a celebration of Post-Impressionism: bright colours and bold, simplified forms. As a result Isabella is covered in checks and zigzags in yellow, salmon and bright green. Even her stockings are canary yellow, much to the consternation of dear neighbour, Mrs Snythes, who believes in the curative powers and moral roboration of full corsets and expects both me and my shameless daughter to wear black at all times.

Perhaps the best thing that may come out of this new movement is that (besides the art philosophy), Fry genuinely wants to help his artist friends by providing them with the chance to make a living designing and decorating furniture, textiles and other household accessories. Much as I am a supporter of Isabella’s artistic career, my practical side truly hopes that this is a bandwagon my forever hungry daughter can hop on with her creativity and enthusiasm – as long as she doesn’t get too bored too fast at the loom!

The Omega Workshops really did open later in the year and there is still a little bit of exciting Omega stuff to see in Leeds a hundred years on! Find Fry’s painting of Nina Hamnett at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery (University of Leeds, UK) and check out the the bold printed linen cushion used to jazz up an old armchair, long before Ingvar Kamprad taught us how to clash our prints in the living room. We love Nina’s stockings too, which should be an inspiration for us all on grey January mornings (and a reminder to re-read ‘Women in Love’, just because we can).

In the Laughing Torso, Nina writes: ‘I had a wonderful collection of stockings at that time and wore flat-heeled shoes with straps on them like children do. They made my feet look very large. They cost five francs and were worn by concierges. I had red stockings and yellow stockings and some that looked like a chess board. Modigliani would run after me up the Boulevard Raspail after the Rotonde had closed. He could always see me because of my loud stockings. One night he nearly caught me so I climbed up a lamp-post and waited at the top till he had gone.’

Roger Elliot Fry, Nina Hamnett, 1917, oil on canvas, The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds, UK

Roger Elliot Fry, Nina Hamnett, 1917, oil on canvas, The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds, UK

Read more about the Omega workshops and one of their most well-known fabric ‘Maud’ (used for the cushion in the painting) here:

“The Workshops opened on 8 July 1913 at 33 Fitzroy Square, Bloomsbury, London to cautiously enthusiastic reviews. At the opening Princess Lichnowsky, the German Ambassador’s wife, named the six printed linens. ‘Mechilde’ she named after herself, ‘Margery’ and ‘Pamela’ after Fry’s sister and daughter and ‘Maud’ after Lady Maud Cunard. Fry’s friends Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell were co-directors. Twenty “artist decorator”, students from the Slade School of Art were employed, but so as not to be distracted from their painting, were only allowed to work less than three and a half days a week. Edward Wadsworth, Jessie Etchells, sister of Frederick, and Nina Hamnett were some of the students who later became famous. Edward Wolfe, one of the last artists to join the Workshops recalled that the Omega was an extremely colourful and creatively exciting place, with an atmosphere that encouraged the artist to pick up and decorate whatever came to hand.

The keynote of the Workshops was spontaneity. Fry’s ambition was for the artists to become multi talented, designing furniture, ceramics, book illustrations, as well as painting and sculpture, rather like the artists of the Italian Renaissance. He felt that objects and furniture should be bought for their aesthetic qualities rather than the reputation of the artist, so he insisted that all the work was anonymously produced. […] ‘Maud’, the fabric illustrated , was named after Omega’s patron, Lady Maud Alice Burke Cunard (1872-1948). […] The Omega Post-Impressionist sitting room at the Ideal Home Exhibition in 1913 showed a length of ‘Maud’ hanging on a wall. This was the Workshop’s major undertaking after its opening. The fabrics were also used for garments. A blouse was made using ‘Maud’ fabric in 1914-5 by the Workshops, worn by Roger Fry to a party of the Ballet Russe in London in 1918. In 1914 linen tunics were being made to measure using Omega printed linens. There is a photo of Nina Hamnett in one made up from ‘Maud’ fabric, as well as a painting of her by Roger Fry with the cushion on a chair covered in ‘Maud’.”

Want more of the spirit of 1913? Come to Leeds to see the exhibition ‘1913: The Shape of Time’ at the Henry Moore Institute, which also includes Omega objects, such as lampstands by Roger Fry himself and the Daily Mail’s Ideal Home Exhibition Rug attributed to Frederick Etchell.The exhibition runs between 22nd November 2012 and 17th February 2013.

Further reading and bibliography:

Clandestine Christmas Adventure and Best Wishes


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I called in sick this morning and did my Christmas shopping. How else are we expected to get anything for our families when we work the same hours as the shopkeepers? So I sent a note in the evening post yesterday and this morning I got on the tram wearing a scarf over my hat to hide my shameful face. In the best Sabgalle tradition (yes, I’m looking at you, my dear daughter Isabella!) I was playing truant sampling Christmas goodies in the furthest possible place with civilised merchandise: West Park.

There is a new quarter of fashionable modern ‘homesteads’ taking shape west of the Weetwood Park estate so the whole area is transforming. Apparently next year an elegant parade of shops will open on the Otley Road. Well, I couldn’t wait that long so I got my humble presents at the Jessop’s fine groceries and at Taunt’s.The best part of the day was when I spotted Jones, also off ill, hurrying to catch the tram at the Three Horse Shoes. Hah! Christmas seems to be truly demoralising.

Have a glad Christmas and be merry!

Baby on paper moon

Source, David Hall, Far Headingley, Weetwood and West Park, far Headingley Village Society, 2000, p. 181

The shops did open the following year. Patience, Lavender, patience!Jessops and Taunt’s are made up names, but the rest is true. The trams ran to West Park  from as early as 1908, when the line was extended from the Three Horse Shoes. In 1913 it was further extended to Lawnswood.

Mack heast an’ gang: George Cowling


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ViewScan_0001Just found a little notice in a week-old paper when lining my peels bucket. Funny how you work at a place six days a week and you have to learn these things from the paper lining your bin. I’m so very happy that bright young ladies can now compete (and win!) serious academic prizes with their no doubt brilliant essays. But the only reason this little snippet caught my eye is that I know of this chap George Cowling. He’s very young, maybe twenty or so, but very ambitious. This essay of his (the one that’s just earned him the Ripon English Literature Prize) must have been an off-shoot of his dissertation that he’s working on so ferociously. He’s one of those erudite fellows who are not only interested in a great many things, but also know a good deal about those great many things too. I have the feeling that if the university would allow submitting three dissertations on three completely different subjects, he would do just that. You can find him at music recitals just as frequently as at literary lectures, but his biggest passion is collecting speech specimens from old Yorkshiremen. Hah! If I didn’t know of his scholastic devotion to linguistics and the history of the English language, I’d say that’s a fine pretext for going to village pubs where no one knows your name.

The other day he delivered a rather impromptu lecture on the corridor leading to the Library about the Northern consonants in the phrase ‘mack heast an’
gang’. How can one talk about four incorrectly uttered words for thirty minutes, I cannot fathom. It was interesting and quite entertaining nevertheless. I predict a bright academic future for young George – whether it be in music, linguistics or theatre, he may not know yet himself.

G. H. Cowling’s name may ring familiar to fans and students of Tolkien. According to the Tolkien Gateway: In 1920 Cowling was lecturing at the University of Leeds, as Assistant Lecturer in English Language under Tolkien and E.V. Gordon. In 1925, when Tolkien moved to the University of Oxford, Cowling was appointed Reader. He subsequently moved to Australia to take up the Chair of English at the University of Melbourne in 1928.

G.H. Cowling (1881–1946) had broad literary interests. His Music on the Shakespearean Stage (1913) was the first treatment of the subject. In this, he shows what kinds of music were used on the Elizabethan stage, and explains where in the theatre, at which point during the plays and with which instruments and personnel the music was performed. He also assesses what both songs and incidental music contributed to the meaning and the performance of Shakespeare, going back to examine the roots of dramatic music in the use of religious music in the medieval Mystery plays. You can read it online here.

While at Melbourne he published essays on the English Romantic poets, as well as a general anthology, The Outline of English Verse (1935). He even has a certain notoriety within the field of Australian literature, for a public declaration of his doubt in the very possibility of such a thing. Writing in the The Age newspaper, Cowling made a series of disparaging comments about the legitimacy of Australian literature: “The rewards of literature in Australia are not good enough to attract the best minds … Good Australian novels which are entirely Australian are bound to be few… [and] Australian life is too lacking in tradition, and too confused, to make many first class novels.” However, he also shared with Tolkien a particular and early interest in the origins and structure of the English language: his postgraduate study was of the dialect of Hackness, north-east Yorkshire. Besides his A Yorkshire tyke : rustic tunes mainly in the Doric mode in 1914 and The dialect of Hackness (North-East Yorkshire) : with original specimens, and a word-list in 1915, he contributed several poems to F. W. Moorman’s Yorkshire Dialect Poems, which you can have a gander at here. He also edited and wrote commentaries on Chaucer in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Tolkien and Cowling families remained friends; in 1938 they stayed with J.R.R. and Edith at Oxford when on sabbatical leave. His wife Muriel (Mollie) maintained contact with the Tolkien family after G. H. Cowling’s death, and visited the Tolkiens in England on several occasions. During such a visit in 1955, Muriel was given signed copies of three volumes of The Lord of the Rings (in which Tolkien included a Tengwar inscription including the lines ‘I wish that you need not go back / “Across so wide a sea”).

G.H. Cowling

Professor George Herbert Cowling (1881-1946), University of Melbourne, circa 1928-1940.’ University of Melbourne Photograph collection, University of Melbourne Archives UMA/I/1658.

Sources: The Tolkien Gateway and Dr David Hanson’s piece on a first edition Lord of the Rings.