Explorations in the footsteps of Turner, Cotman and Ruskin with Professor David Hill
This is the seventh work of twenty-five bought in a lot of Sundry Drawings and Watercolours, offered at Anderson & Garland Ltd, Newcastle upon Tyne, 21 March 2-17, lot 46 as Various Artists (British 19th Century) Sundry drawings and watercolours, mainly topographical and floral studies, including a grisaille “South Gate Lynn, Norfolk”, bearing the signature J.S. Cotman, various sizes, all unframed in a folio.
Here we begin to work through a sequence of five fine pencil drawings, all dated 1828, once mounted in an album, and some numbered with the original page order.This is the first of five drawings all by the same hand, on similar paper and similarly mounted and inscribed. The present drawing is not numbered as are many others but all are mounted on pages of an album and framed with a double pencil keyline, suggesting that they are all from the same source and by the same hand. A full collation of the original sequence will be attempted in due course.
The present subject is dated 19 June 1828 and the remaining subjects are dated over a few days from 15 July 1828 and record views in the area of Woodstock Park, near Sittingbourne in Kent.
None of the drawings is signed, nor is their authorship otherwise identified, but the geographic spread of subjects points to their being by a member of the Twopeny family.
Little Casterton is just north of Stamford, Lincolnshire, and was the living of the Reverend Richard Twopeny (1757-1843). He was the third son of William Twopeny, a wealthy lawyer of Rochester, Kent, who in the later eighteenth century established the family seat at Woodstock. In 1826 Woodstock passed to the Revd Richard’s eldest nephew, Edward Twopeny (1795-1857).
The Revd Richard had three sons and seven daughters, all but one of the daughters alive in 1828, and Edward Twopeny of Woodstock had seven siblings, so there are plenty of potential artists in the family. We have, however, already identified in the portfolio (see parts 3 and 4) two drawings of this period and in this style by David Twopeny (1783-1876). He was Edward’s second brother, and on the evidence of the 1824 drawings, a talented and very-well-trained antiquarian draftsman. In ability, he was certainly the equal of many a provincial antiquarian professional, but it is not clear how much work he produced or how consistently he exercised his talent. His professional life appears to have been devoted to his service as Vicar of Stocksbury in Kent, to which he was called in 1831, and which he retained to his death.
Edward’s first brother was William Twopeny. He worked as a solicitor in London, but was a lifelong and prolific antiquarian draftsman. His style is similar to David Twopeny’s but is more exclusively focused on architecture. During his lifetime he published a few antiquarian volumes, and on his death bequeathed several albums of his drawings to the British Museum. A fine selection of his work is given by Eric Swain in his book ‘William Twopeny in Kent’, Winston Publications, Sittingbourne, 1986. The present portfolio does contain one drawing by him – a fine study of gothic stonework – which we will examine in due course, but it seems clear from that, and from the B.M. drawings that he had very little interest in landscape as such, and that the figures and foliage here are better than anything in that line by William.
David Twopeny most directly connects the localities depicted in this group. In 1834 he married Mary Twopeny the younger daughter of Rev Richard Twopeny in the church at Little Casterton. He might well have established the beginnings of this liaison during this visit in 1828. In any case close examination of the treatment of foliage in both the 1824 initialled drawings and those in the present group, does suggest the same hand, albeit more confidently applied.
The present drawing is a painstaking and carefully-drawn panoramic landscape of the head of a loop in a slow-flowing river, with pollard willows and a variety of shrubs and small trees on the banks. The foreground is open to the water and the principal subject is of a pair of heavy horses being watered, being watched by two small girls seated on the bank close by, whilst a couple of young boys paddle in the water to the left, presumably catching sticklebacks. The figures and animals are very well caught and characterised, and a poetic of simple pastorality very professionally evoked. Drawn in the same decade as Constable’s ‘Hay Wain’, the aesthetics seem decidedly advanced and well-informed.
It is interesting that the inscription incorporates the infrequently encountered word, ‘Forestead’. So uncommon indeed that a search for it on Microsoft Edge for example, effectively amounts to a denial of existence. And even when one finds gold amongst the dross, as, for example the outstanding https://dawnpiper.wordpress.com/land-words/ there seems to be no great consensus over its meaning. A ford is one old usage, or more generally a space in front (of a river). It seems to be the last sense in which it is being used here, a stretch of open riverfront along which the water might be readily approached. The ‘dawnpiper’ article, by the way, is dedicated to the proposition that the strength of our cognitive relationship with the world can be measured by our stock of words. The site compiles a very long list of abandoned interest. It seems likely that as long ago as it was drawn, this image was already a rearguard action.
Where, exactly, at Little Casterton, were the island and forestead is far from obvious in the village today, but a perusal of the old Ordnance survey maps conclusively establishes the location.
A short way upstream of the Old Rectory the river Gwash divided into two channels. The southernmost channel has now disappeared but in former times formed a substantial island. At the east end of this island it appears that the riverbanks has been dug out somewhat to form quite an extensive river pool, and a land ran up from the main village road and opened out to the pool in a perfect illustration of the definition of a ‘forestead’. Clearly, it facilitated open village access to the riverside where animals could be watered, and all the public amenity be enjoyed that at an open river frontage could facilitate.
The forestead was marked on Ordnance Survey maps right the way up until the 1960s, but that was based on the last full survey of 1930, and it was not until later that the map of the river was revised. It is possible to exactly pinpoint the viewpoint of the drawing on the old map. It turns out that the drawing was taken from by the west boundary of the Old Rectory gardens, near the old stable block, whose wall at that time looked over onto the forestead.
When I visited Little Casterton on 6 February 2020, it was my privilege to meet and be guided by Arthur Hinch. He has lived in the village all his life and has more personal memory of the village than anyone now living. He told me that when he was young the southern river course was silted up, but that there was still quite an extensive pond area where the forestead formerly stood. The need passed for universal access to the river and eventually, he thought in the late 1960s or early 1970s, the land was levelled and taken for a new house, garden and meadow.
Another question might be whose were all the children? The artist seems to have been especially fond of children, they occur frequently, and as here affectingly, in his drawings. It is possible that they were relations. We may recall the Revd Richard Twopeny had three sons and six daughters survive to adulthood. Most were of marriageable age by 1828. Further research in the family tree might produce a number of candidates.
TO BE CONTINUED:
There are several more Little Casterton subjects in the portfolio. We will return to these in due course, but for now I propose to stick with this distinct dated group of five sketches. The next in the sequence takes us to Woodstock Park, the one-time seat of the Twopeny family in Kent.