Tag Archives: Herbert Railton

Mr Railton returns

After a lengthy gap, we’re back with the artist and book illustrator Herbert Railton. I recently bought a copy of a book which combines three interesting characters: Railton, and blog favourite Hugh Thomson who both created illustrations for “Coaching days and coaching ways” (1893) by the entertainingly named W. Outram Tristram. It was he who wrote the final book Railton worked on, the fascinating, “Moated houses”, which was featured in the first post about him. I’m sure I’ll come back to the Railton/Thomson team-up in a future post but first I want to look at Railton’s Kensington connection.

One of his other projects was an illustrated edition of Leigh Hunt’s “The Old Court Suburb” (1855 / 1902) a rambling historical account of Kensington. Railton did most of the topographical pictures in the book. The Library possesses many of his original sketches for this project.

I have to say at this stage that Railton’s delicate and almost impressionistic pictures can be hard to scan. It is often easier to use the published versions, which have firmer lines. In this post I’ll use some of each. I’m concentrating on one location, Holland Park and Holland House.

If you’ve never encountered Railton’s work before this is a quite characteristic piece. The house is solid and rendered in some detail but at the same time it’s a little vague, glimpsed through some kind of summer haze, the foliage blending into the architecture. The one below is actually called “A peep at Holland House”

The house is even more indistinct. The focus of the picture is the sculpture of an urn, like a funery urn at the edge of the hedge frame.

If you know the park you’ll recognize the summer ball room turret, but perhaps not the wild trees and hedges which threaten to overwhelm it.

In the context of Hunt’s book, Railton’s illustrations work well in contrast to those of the other two artists, Claude Shepperson and Edmund J Sullivan, who were given the task of doing pictures of people from Kensington’s past.

 

Chloe and Delia admiring the flowers.

A bit of courtly behaviour.

After which the ladies and gentlemen could go on to some picturesque spots in the grounds, such as the famous sundial.


(Some of the originals are on this coloured paper. I don’t think it’s any kind of age-related deterioration but it does add a pleasingly antique feel to the pictures).

Lord Camelford, memorialised with a Roman altar, perished in a duel conducted in the grounds. There is a view of the wild looking site of his death in the first post.

We can head back to the house via the Dutch Garden.

And see some more details

The Oriel front, and the Terrace.

Even when Holland House was a private house, the grounds had visitors who might not be guests of the family. After their tour they might stroll to a nearby tavern, like this conveniently located hostelry.

See how once again Railton brings the picture to a point with some birds, in this case some fairly free range chickens.

When he wrote the Old Court Suburb, Hunt was also not far away ftom the house.


Edwardes Square (The name is from the family name of the first Baron Kensington. The square was laid out in 1811.) is just down the road . Here is another view.

Two girls stroll along next to the garden railings. Railton could manage figures well enough but he was sparing in his use of them.

When the illustrated edition of Hunt’s book was published, tourists were an established part of London life.

Note the editor, our old friend Austin Dobson, the go-to guy for scholarly introductions in those days.

Railton’s fellow illustrator Mr Edmund J Sullivan put a lady visitor (dressed in the fashions of the 1850s) in a couple of his pictures  who doesn’t seem too happy.

Here she looks like she’d like to sit down if the sign permitted.

(Is she bracing her back with her right hand, completely ignoring the guide book in her left, and waiting for her companion to get on with it so they can get to the gift shop?)

And here she (or a similar lady) looks a little melancholy, perhaps remembering those she mourns herself.

These two pictures have intrigued me since I first looked at the book, so forgive me for letting Mr Sullivan squeeze a few pictures into Mr Railton’s post. I wish he’d been able to develop the theme as an interesting contrast with the  topographical pictures but Railton was the headline act on this bill.

Postscript

Posthumous apologies to Claude Shepperson I suppose for not including any of his pictures in the post. Unfortunately, they’re a bit dull. By contrast, I’d like to see more of Edmund Sullivan’s’ work.


Mr Railton’s Haunted House

The approach to Christmas is also traditionally the time for ghost stories. The most famous of British writers of ghost stories, M R James, often gathered together friends or students at  this time of year to read one of his latest offerings to them. You can picture them in in an ancient university city, in an old academic’s study, lined with bookshelves and lit by candles or gaslight. A small group of like minded men in comfortable chairs gathered round the storyteller. Perhaps the only light is the one illuminating the reader’s manuscript.

It’s always gatherings of men in these things isn’t it?  So wipe some of them from your mind and insert some academic women in their place, perhaps in evening dress after some college function. The reader is an equal opportunity teller of scary tales. You can insert a clergyman if you like, and a nun,or even a woman dressed as a nun as in a Gothic novel, or a couple of actual modern goths with black dresses and white faces, shifted back in time to this seasonal setting.

I’m not going to tell you a supernatural story (I do that at Halloween). We’re unfortunately not sitting in a dark cosy room. (Or perhaps you are. If so, draw the curtains.) I’m going to entertain you with some illustrations, to a book called the Haunted House. The book is a long poem by Thomas Hood written in 1843, the year of his untimely death, which is unfortunately appropriate. Although it was strongly admired by that other poet of the unearthly, Edgar Allen Poe, the poem is curious rather than scary. It’s the illustrations, created long after Hood’s death, that do the trick.

HH 004

Unhinged the iron gates half open hung,
Jarr’d by the gusty gales of many winters,
That from its crumbled pedestal had flung
One marbled globe in splinters.

The pictures are by Herbert Railton from an illustrated edition of 1896 (introduction by our old friend Austin Dobson, the master of prefaces of course.) We’ve met Mr Railton once before . I told you then that there was something mysterious, wild and unsettling in his work, even when he was apparently simply depicting ordinary buildings. In the Haunted House he lets himself go, and this time he does want to scare you.

HH 006

O’er all there hung a shadow and a fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is haunted

The haunted house, a “colossal wreck” (to quote another poet) is often desolate, ruined, abandoned. The final member of an ancient family died here, the last of the line perhaps, who lingers on, unable to rest. Or was it a gifted young man, (or woman remember) who discovered dark philosophies and delved into hidden and perverse arts and ended up raising something which could not be put down?

HH 008

The lone heron is the demoralized soul or familiar of the dead sorcerer standing guard over the scene of its downfall. The waters of the moat both protect outsiders from the influence of the place and keep the forces within imprisoned. Well, you could say that if you were a travel writer wandering the country looking for interesting stories and local colour (like the author of Moated Houses, W. Outram Tristram who was mentioned in the first Railton post).

HH 009

 

Or “you” could be one of those invented sources used by writers of supernatural stories to lend a sense of authority to their creations. They write about the horrors at second or third hand, safe in their warm studies. But someone always ends up ignoring all the warnings and entering the haunted place. There’s often a handy path (secretly intended for this purpose) free from the undergrowth.

HH 011

Inside there’s a courtyard or what remains of an ornamental garden with a handy sundial. It will probably have some cryptic and oblique words carved on it in an obscure language. If you happen to read that language, don’t read the words aloud. So many do, and come to regret it.

HH 015

The statue, fallen from its marble base
Amidst the refuse leaves, and herbage rotten
Lay like the idol of some bygone race
Its name and rites forgotten

HH 021

When you get inside the house there should be no shortage of detritus from another age. It looks like the former inhabitants left in a hurry. If they left at all?

HH 024

Some kind of trail will lead you, through small pools of water dripping in through a leaky ceiling, or scraps of clothing or holes in the floor,  up the dark staircase to the final location. Mr Railton has a gift for making you not quite sure what you’re seeing.

At last, the haunted bedroom. Think of the Thing in the Corner (or the Whistling Room) in William Hope Hodgsons’s collection about the supernatural investigator of Cheyne Walk, Carnacki the Ghost Finder. Nothing is more terrifying than an unwanted presence in a bed chamber as several unwary sleepers in M R James stories discovered to their cost. (“Casting the runes” springs to mind, with the narrator finding a hairy mouth under his pillow.) A bed is usually a sanctuary from the world not a source of terror.

 

HH 028

The unquiet sleeper might prefer not to hang around and wait for what is coming but to throw on a gown or coat and retrace their steps out of the house.

HH 027

Even if they have to walk out into the moonlit courtyards and navigate gloomy passages to escape. Better to be off the premises altogether and out into the forgiving night. Will there be any pursuit?

Maybe it’s not that kind of story.

 

HH 029

Sometimes the spirits too slip away, bound for their final destinations, or the beginning of their adventures. Farewell to them, and back to that academic’s study, where the storyteller closes his book and the guests gather up their coats or cloaks so they too can venture out into the night back to their own places of refuge. The storyteller wishes them well. Happy Christmas, he says to Mr Railton and Mr Hood, to Mr Reid, Mrs Hernandez and Miss Smith, and all the others.

Postscript

More whimsical stuff. Next week I’m doing some short daily posts like last year. I’ve done four out of the five so we’ll have to see if I can come up with another one pretty soon. After the holidays we’ll have to get back to some proper history.

A vaguely related anecdote: do you recall the photographs of Simon Marsden, who published several books of pictures of disturbing houses taken using his own special techniques? He was a master at showing haunted houses (or houses that looked like they should be haunted) in desolate spots. One example was Plas Pren, in Denbighshire, now practically a ruin and nothing like it was when Mr Marsden took his picture, and coincidentally when someone took me there with a group of friends, parking just off the road and walking across a classic desolate moor to the empty house around which rumours of hauntings had grown. We actually ventured inside, although as I recall we were more concerned with the state of the floor than any possible ghosts. But of course we were there on a sunny afternoon, not after dark. And nobody recited any incantations. (We were on our way back from Portmerion, a place which had cast a different kind of spell over us.)

There had better be another dedication, to Mr Hughes and Mr McLennan and Mr Paxton.

I have one old friend who lives in a city of dark and splendour who is a regular reader so best wishes to Graham once again.

 


Mr Herbert Railton, illustrator

In 1910 the entertainingly named W. Outram Tristram had a book out called Moated Houses. I find Tristram’s prose style a little hard to follow. It’s pompous, rambling and obscure. And that book is long. I never knew that Edwardian England had so many houses with moats. Possibly many of them got knocked down and the moats filled in over the course of the twentieth century.

But as it happens water and architecture were an excellent combination for Tristram’s illustrator, Herbert Railton who died aged 53 of pneumonia in the year of the book’s publication.

This picture is of Gedding Hall in Suffolk.

Gedding Hall p155 - Copy

Railton combines a precision about the details of the buildings – brickwork,  windows etc –  with an overall impresion of indistinctness as foliage, water and the refection of the house leave you with a sense of looking through mist or being dazzled by sunlight.

I know Railton’s work because we have a collection of his pictures in the library, and from his illustrations to Leigh Hunt’s book about Kensington, the Old Court Suburb (1855) . (Many of the pictures are the originals of images in the book.) But I came across more of his book illustrations recently while following the trail of the equally prolific Hugh Thomson. They both worked on Tristram’s Coaching Days and Coaching Ways (1901). Thomson’s best pictures are of people. He has a gift for catching action and comedy. Railton can do people too when he has to, but he is best at houses.

Lonely houses that is, glimpsed through foliage, like this view of the rear of Bullingham House. Click on the picture for more of the detail.

Bullingham House garden front CPic263

The original edition of Leigh Hunt’s book had no illustrations. But there was a deluxe edition in 1902 with illustrations by Railton and others, and an introduction by the editor, the near ubiquitous Austin Dobson, a famous writer in his day not much remembered now. (Not by people like me anyway). But Dobson was all over the place in this era producing biographies, essays and volumes of poetry illustrated by Thomson and others. (And he had a day job too. He has a slight connection with Kensington so he might get his own post one day)

Gore House p50

Gore House, the home of the Countess of Blessington’s literary salon. The liveliness inside, where Leigh Hunt himself rubbed shoulders with Dickens, Thackeray and other figures (including the ill fated Letitia Elizabeth Landon ) is contrasted with the loneliness of the garden.

I think you could describe Railton’s style as elliptical. He loves to give you glimpses of his subject matter or fragments rather than the whole thing. Sometimes you have to work out exactly what some detail or other might be.

Where Lord Camelford was killed CPic299

This is the site of a duel in the grounds of Holland House. Railton’s unique way of handling lines renders the empty view almost abstract, but somehow meaningful, as if the violence that had been played out there was still imbued in the lawns and trees.

The Moats p164

This moat is also in the grounds of Holland House. I scanned this from the printed version as it was almost impossible to scan the original clearly.

Railton could do an ordinary street scene too when necessary.

The Rookery Ansdell Street CPic282

This pencil drawing shows Ansdell Street which would have been in a small pocket of poverty in a back street of Kensington. Calling it a rookery might be excessive, but Railton had a romantic, even gothic eye for his subject matter. The puddle with its refections is a characteristic touch.

Old Garden Wall to Campden House CPic303

The overgrown wall and the wild grasping trees dominate over the view of the house which looks distant and where you could easily imagine an imprisoned heroine in a tower room.

The same kind of trees occupy the background of this picture which actually has a supernatural title.

The Ghost's Avenue p168

The Ghost’s Avenue. I don’t think I’m overstating the case when I say that the large tree on the right of the path resembles a malevolent alien presence more than an ordinary tree. The branches are already reaching into the path. Would you walk there late at night?

Along with his evocations of the wild countryside of Algernon Blackwood, Railton also did a bit of traditional urban gothic.

Turret stairway to Triforium p43

The sinister staircase.

Corner in Clifford's Inn p267

The black cat on your path.

Gateway to Staple Inn p289

The shadowy figure before you.

Clifford's Inn p271

The heroine beats a hasty retreat with something in a hat box. Let her go. We have another moated house to see.

Ightham Mote Courtyard p231

Let’s leave it to Tristram to tell us about it. He had firm opinions on the place: If Compton Winyates has been called a house in a hole, Ightham may be described as being a house in a ravine, if such a precipitous expression may be properly applied to the pastoral scenery of Kent. The descent to the place, especially by a certain footpath, is almost headlong. Suddenly this moated manor is seen hiding itself in the opening of a small valley. Nor does the word “hiding” quite convey the weird secretiveness of the site. Weird better suggests the first impression made on the mind at the first sight of Ightham, and especially is this the case if the place is first seen at the close of a winter’s afternoon with snowflakes falling about gables which seem to be nodding in a conspiracy of silence, or melting into the broad and dark waters of a moat, whose murmurs seem the murmurs of distrust. The house wears a wicked look.

Ightham Moat p240

And it is characteristic of a house of the Ightham type that such an object of danger and mistrust should so suddenly obtrude itself, at the very moment when the mind is occupied with a contemplation of the place’s serener surroundings. You turn from looking at a sunset from the window of a Jacobean drawing-room, and a piece of mediaeval treachery stares you in the face. Your hostess rises from a civilized tea-table and touches a spring at the side of the fireplace: you open a door, and if you had not been warned not to go forward, you would have fallen into the moat.

I couldn’t have put it better. It’s like we’re in one of Robert Aickmann’s strange stories where an uneasy atmosphere can suddenly present a bizarre or threatening occurence.

Postscript

You can find Railton’s work in many books from the turn of the 19th century. You’ll also find more of it here as I have ideas for at least two more posts featuring him which will come up soon, at least one of them overtly supernatural (without any forcing from me). I’m writing this at the beginning of July just after the hottest July day on record. The lassitude induced by heat and the atmosphere of humidity both seem to be represented in Railton’s work.

William Outram Tristram. Moated Houses . Methuen, 1910.

W J Loftie. The inns of court and chancery. Seeley, 1895. Thanks to Kim for finding a copy for me.

Leigh Hunt. The Old Court Suburb. With an introduction by Austin Dobson. Freemantle & Co,1902

This week’s post is dedicated to my old friend Graham for an obvious reason.


Forgotten Buildings: Scarsdale House

Turn off Kensington High Street by Boots the Chemist. On the left you see a coffee shop, a corporate headquarters, some tall anonymous buildings and in the distance a hotel. On the right is a pair of 1890s mansion blocks with fascinating towers at the corner, both called Iverna Court. Wright’s Lane curves round to meet Cheniston Gardens and togther they join Marloes Road, which goes all the way down to Cromwell Road. On both sides of Wright’s Lane the south front of Kensington High Street is a twentieth century or late nineteenth century creation. The older buildings are gone now. But there was a different kind of view not all that long ago,less than a hundred and fifty years ago and well within the reach of photography. You can still see that other place today.

Take a look down a narrow street with high unwelcoming walls on either side, first to the south where Jobmaster Mr D Ridge hires Victorias, Landaus and Broughams.

Wright's Lane looking south GN52

Linger there at the bottom of the quiet road, far from the high street. There are no tall buildings. Although the city has expanded around the walled gardens this street still looks like a backwater.

Wright's Lane looking north GN43

You can vaguely make out a couple deep in conversation walkling towards the camera on the side of the road with a pavement. There are street lamps but the road still looks like a country lane. On the right is a house in a secluded garden behind the wall.

Scarsdale House from Wright's Lane GN46

Here’s another gentleman, and a lady carrying a fur muff (the day looks cold). Beyond them a  figure, wrapped up in a cloak, a young woman I think, and some other indistinct figures. Then there is the dark house and the garden with bare trees. Here is the entrance.

Scarsdale House entrance Wright's Lane GN44

The walls look old with many stains and there is some irregular brick work.

Scarsdale House entrance gate Wright's Lane GN47

In this picture the entrance is open and entry seems to be  permitted. Photographers can go inside and walk into the garden.

Scarsdale House garden photograph by Augustus Rischgitz CPic0171

The house is old, built in the 1690s for his own occupation by Francis Barry. Wright’s Lane was then just a footpath leading to Earl’s Court. On some maps it is called Barrow’s Walk. The house’s grounds were larger, including a fishpond. Several eminent persons lived there, including the Duchess of Monmouth, but it was not until the Curzon family acquired it that was called Scarsdale House after the peerage granted to Nathaniel Curzon.

Two centuries later, despite extensive building work it still has a forbidding look.

Scarsdale House garden looking north Wright's Lane GN45

In another season the house still looks worn but less gloomy.

Scarsdale house garden front GN153

At the time of the picture it was back in the hands of another Curzon, Edward  Cecil. It had spent nearly a century as a school of one sort or another. In the early 1800s a Mr Winnock owned it, and his wife ran a boarding school for girls there, a typical use for large houses at that time. Kensington had many of those small enclaves of genteel learning.

Scarsdale House garden  front 1815 watercolour by H Oakes Jones CPic0038

In those days the country south of the High Street was full of gardens and lanes. Scarsdale House was on the edge of the urbanised area as you can see from Starling’s map of 1822. Houses had been built in front of it on the High Street.

Starling 1822 A3 (2)

The house could look welcoming.

Scarsdale House garden  front July 1892 watercolour by Elizabeth Gladstone BG2502

Isn’t that woman gesturing for you to enter?

It was the same Curzon who brought in a pair of alabaster chimney pieces with allegories of Peace and War. W J Loftie calls them interesting. The Survey of London describes them as “in the grotesque style”.

Scarsdale House fireplace GN48

They survived the house and now in a house near Cardiff.

The tranquil isolation of the house ended with the arrival of the railway  and Kensington High Street Station which was just beyond the east wall of the property.  Mr Curzon died in 1885 so by the time most of these picture were taken the house was probably unoccupied as the land around it was used for other purposes. This may be why the house looks so bleak in the photographs.

Perhaps it would be better to remember it in views like this one:

Scarsdale House - old house in Wright's Lane May 12 1888 watercolour by Elizabeth Gladstone BG2501

Scarsdale House was sold in 1893 to its neighbour Pontings, which had started in the houses behind the house in 1873. The house was absorbed into the store but dictated the susequent shape of the building – “narrow frontage and great depth” according to Brian Curle, a predecessor of mine. Whatever remained of the old house was obliterated by re-building and nothing of it remained by 1907. The new proprieters told stories about a haunted room, and a murder, so perhaps the Gothic atmosphere isn’t entirely my imagination.

Postscript

All but one of the photographs were by the H and R Stiles company (featured in this post, with more to come soon). The sepia photograph of the garden was by Augustus Rischgitz. The first watercolour (about 1815) is by H. Oakes Jones, based on an unfinished sketch by John Claude Nattes. The final two colour pictures are by Miss Elizabeth Gladstone and were made in 1892 and 1888.

This drawing is by Herbert Railton and has taken my fancy.

Scarsdale House entrance gate 1901 by Herbert Railton CPic274

We may see more of his work in posts to come.

Another Postscript

I was sorry to hear today of the death aged 100 of Nesta Macdonald, ballet expert, photographer, local historian and user of Chelsea Library for many years. My condolences to her family and friends.

I covered one aspect of her interests in this post.

 


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