River Man – William Ascroft

William Ascroft (don’t call him Ashcroft) is another of the great Chelsea artists in our collection. (The others, for the record  are Greaves, Burgess, Griffen and Marianne Rush, although those are just the ones where we have a decent amount of their work. There are plenty of others where we just have a few works.) I did a couple of posts about Ascroft in the early days of the blog back in 2012 (here and here ) and while I wouldn’t say I didn’t do him justice, I still feel I haven’t done enough. Ascroft was a successful artist in his day. He was a Royal Academician, and is probably best known now for being commissioned by the Royal Society to paint views of the sky over London after the explosion at Krakatoa in 1883.

The truth is I just wanted to do another Ascroft post. I really like his work and have a strong urge to tell people about it. I’ve been re-arranging some of our pictures and one of the Ascroft related tasks was to remove some of his small pastel sketches from some large  cardboard mounts to which they had been glued many years ago. (Rather barbarously in my opinion but I’m not a conservator so it could be argued that my opinion isn’t worth that much.) It all gave me a good reason to do some more scans of the images.

 

 

This is one of several sketches he did of the Old Swan Inn (a favourite of many Chelsea artists – the old Old Swan of course, there are not nearly so many images of the new or later Old Swan.) I’ve made some efforts not to use the same images as I have in the earlier posts, but some of the pictures just look similar.

The Old Swan is in this one too.

 

 

But you won’t mistake this one for any of his others.

 

 

The Thames at Cremorne, 1866. I haven’t cropped the edges so you can see that these sketches now look a bit rough and ragged. But they show Ascroft on the move, catching impressions at different times of day.

Some are very sketchy, like this one of the Old Church from the south side of the river.

 

 

Or this one, the point of which is the colour in the sky.

 

 

Some are barely started.

 

 

It’s nicely done. Perhaps more detail could have sprung up around the Old Church.

But even the rough ones capture the sense place. This shows the steps up to Albert Bridge.

 

 

While this one shows the gate houses on the north side of Battersea Bridge, almost looking up Beaufort Street.

 

 

I think this is before the Embankment. The story of the Ascroft sketches as told to me was that when Ascroft died, the Librarian at Chelsea Library went to his studio and bought whatever was there. Having written that sentence I thought that this was the sort of story that could be told about many of our artists. You imagine the Librarian as a kind of Lovejoy figure, haunting the galleries and studios of Chelsea. I would have liked that job. But I couldn’t believe it was quite that simple. In the spirit of fact checking I went to the Accessions Register, a ledger older than any of our libraries and found the truth. A large number of pictures by Ascroft were purchased at Pope’s Auction Rooms in Hammersmith in 1937 for the sum of £6 and 30 shillings. A pretty good investment by the perfectly respectable Librarian. No scruffy antique (or book) dealers were involved, but it’s fun to imagine the scene.

So, anyway, we do have a large number of these small pastel sketches. Back in the 20th century I once put on an exhibition of Ascroft’s work. We had a pretty good colour photocopier in those days  and I used it to make enlargements of the sketches, so I didn’t have to worry about security. That seems a bit barbarous on my part now, but it was a very good photocopier. (Although it was never the same after being assaulted by a member of staff who I will not name – she knows who she is.)

This little picture shows Lindsey Row looking east, although I think it must be unfinished by the lack of a bridge.

 

 

The picture below shows Mr Radnor’s House.

 

 

On the rear of the paper, Ascroft left copious notes. I know some readers enjoy this sort of thing so it was worthwhile adding this picture.

 

 

Some pictures leave a distinctive impression half deliberately, half by chance. I couldn’t leave this one out.

 

 

But finally, some of Ascroft’s more conventional views.

The riverside, with the Old Swan again.

 

 

A look over the rooftops, perhaps from the tower of the Old Church at the river.

 

 

And one of a church, not necessarily the one we’re most familiar with, but any church, surrounded by trees.

 

 

Waiting for a story.  Not for me to supply this time.

I’ll leave William Ascroft for now. But you’ll see him again one day.

 

Postscript

I’ve just heard of the sad death of Emma Wood (obituary), Photographer, researcher and campaigner. I had dealings with her a few years ago relating to the archive of Mike Braybrook. Her energy and determination was significant in the preservation of the archive. As a librarian I’m always impressed by a dedication to the preservation of ephemera. I saw her from time to time in the library when she was researching other matters and she was always friendly and patient. My sympathies to her family and friends. It was nice to see in the Guardian obituary a photograph of a younger Emma.


3 responses to “River Man – William Ascroft

  • teresastokes

    Charming pictures, thanks for sharing those. I love the little church in the wood at the end, which seems to be inviting you in. Wonder where that was.

  • Matthew Raymond

    Dave, my name is Matthew Raymond and I work at Trailfinders in Kensington. This year 2020 is our 50th Anniversary. I am in the process of putting together a historical slideshow of our last 50 years and would like to use as much incidental content as I can relating to the area, especially our first 20 or so years when we were based entirely in Earls Court Road. I wonder if it might be possible to have a chat at the library at some point about my best options for uncovering material from the time machine archive. I appreciate now is not a great time for anyone (especially us in the travel business) but let me know if you would be happy to have a phone call or I can come up to the library to meet.

    Kind regards, Matthew

    Matthew Raymond IT Director Trailfinders Ltd 42-50 Earls Court Road Kensington W8 6FT

    0207-368-1288

    07880-747747

    On Fri, 13 Mar 2020 at 11:51, The Library Time Machine wrote:

    > Dave Walker posted: “William Ascroft (don’t call him Ashcroft) is another > of the great Chelsea artists in our collection. (The others, for the > record are Greaves, Burgess, Griffen and Marianne Rush, although those are > just the ones where we have a decent amount of their work” >

  • iChristopher John Pain

    For a while, from about 1908 till 1914, there were four important artist living next door to each other, from 107 to 110, including William Ascroft at 110. Francis Bentley at 111 rather spoilt it by being a hairdresser.

    https://ibb.co/xGM7Mz5

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