NOSTALGIA: Artists put history in the frame

Dora P Richards' drawing of the Butter Market, Chichester, from the book West of the Arun. The doorway on the left gave access to the Art School on the upper floor.
Dora P Richards' drawing of the Butter Market, Chichester, from the book West of the Arun. The doorway on the left gave access to the Art School on the upper floor.

I recently had lunch with a friend in the café/restaurant on the upper floor of Chichester’s Butter Market in North Street.

In an odd coincidence, I discovered later that day my lunch venue had once been the city’s School of Art.

What sparked my interest in the school was a slim volume of drawings by some of its students. Published in 1932, West of the Arun weaves a commentary on local scenery around sketches of landmarks, some familiar (Chichester Cathedral, Arundel riverside and Castle), some much less so (Earnley Mill near Birdham, Monkton House on the South Downs).

The school’s principal, Margery Lillywhite, who wrote the text, explains in the foreword that the artists had tried to depict places not previously drawn by others. Even in somewhere as well-known as Chichester Cathedral, they had found unusual viewpoints in the upper levels. At a time of more relaxed attitudes to health and safety, there are even views from the parapet and from a door in the roof, evidently executed with the full approval of the cathedral authorities.

The Butter Market (more correctly named the Market House) was originally a single-storey building, designed by John Nash, architect of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. In 1900 it was substantially rebuilt, keeping Nash’s portico but adding an upper floor to house the Technical Institute and Art School, which previously had been in Crane Street. Public subscriptions at the time of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee helped to pay for the new Institute, topped up by funds from the City Council, the County Council and the Department of Art and Science.

There is a prospectus for the school in the County Record Office for the academic year 1935-36, not long after West of the Arun was published. The general aims are stated to be ‘to provide for a liberal education in Art, and also for training in Art as applied to the various industries’. There were classes (some day and some evening) in drawing, painting, architecture, industrial design and a range of crafts including book-binding, lettering and poster design. Street directories of the time show that while art education was taking place upstairs, on the ground floor of the market, Chichester’s shoppers could buy fish, meat and fruit (rather incongruously, there is also a vendor described as a ‘gramophone dealer’).

The school remained in the Market House until the 1970s, surviving a proposal by the City Council in the 1950s to let both floors of the building for commercial purposes. The administration of the school passed to Chichester’s College of Further Education (now Chichester College) when it was established in 1964. For some years the Art School continued at its North Street site before moving to the main Chichester campus at Westgate Fields.

This released additional space for shops on the upper floor of the market.

West of the Arun is a delightful book, with contributions from some 26 different artists. Both text and illustrations capture much of the charm of an area extending as far north as Trotton, Midhurst, Tillington and Pulborough, westwards to Bosham and east to Arundel and Littlehampton. Given the high quality of the work, I was keen to know more about the contributors.

One of the school’s most famous alumni from earlier in its history was Eric Gill, the sculptor and typeface designer, who attended while living with his parents at North Walls, Chichester between 1897 and 1899. Although none of the contributors may have matched Gill’s eminence, I have been able to discover more about a few of them.

One of the artists was Donald Simpson Auty, who attended evening classes at the school while an articled pupil to his father, Chichester architect Josiah Auty (see my article about the Autys, ‘Looking Back’, September 26, 2013). DS Auty’s drawing of the Council House, Chichester was reproduced with my earlier article. Examples of his architectural work can be seen on the Craigweil House Estate, near Bognor and he later practised in Scotland.

Another contributor, BW Dumbleton, must surely be Bertram Dumbleton, a South African artist who had represented his country at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924.

He spent some of the years between 1925 and 1937 in the UK and exhibited at the Royal Academy. Dumbleton’s drawing of Earnley Mill, still a working windmill in 1932, is a particularly fine one.

Dumbleton was already in his 30s when he contributed to the book.

Another artist, Alfred H Peat, must also have been of mature years if he is the Alfred Peat who co-authored a book called Churches and other Antiquities of West Sussex, published in 1912.

A much younger contributor was Winifred North (later Shoesmith), who afterwards had a long and distinguished career in teaching, first at Boxgrove School.

Later she set up and was principal of Summersdale School from 1939 to 1955 before establishing Northgate House School, Chichester, where she was headmistress from 1955 to 1996.

She was awarded the MBE for services to education in 1998 and died, aged 96, in 2008.

We know from the school prospectus that two other contributors to the book – Mary Seeck and VM Evans- were working there as teaching assistants in 1935-36.

On all the other artists I have so far drawn a blank.

I would be interested to hear from any reader who has memories of the school or information about the careers of its former students.

Here is a full list of the contributors:

Donald Simpson Auty, Mary Barnes, Donald Blanch, V Gilpin Brown, ME Croft, Bertram Walter Dumbleton, Elizabeth E Eames, Joan Evans, Viola Evans, VM Evans (possibly a different artist from the preceding), Dora Fry, J Gale, Dorothy V Gordon, Noreen Grimes, Arthur Groundsell, E de L Hall, Geoffrey Heather, William Kemp, H McLeod, Winifred Emilie North, Edith Parker, Alfred H Peat, Dorian Prince, Dora P Richards, Mary Seeck, Albert V Steward.

n Acknowledgements: Staff of the West Sussex Record Office, Helen Ward (head of marketing and admissions, Chichester College). 
More information about Bertram Dumbleton’s work can be found on the websites and