The following article is a departure from my usual emphasis on fashion and textiles, but it does continue my interest in recording the lives of creative individuals who have been hidden from history. This is the story of my husband Andrew’s great uncle Horace Brooke. As the unofficial family archivist, I had been fascinated by Horace’s artistic talents and knew he had been to Leeds School of Art. I always had a little fantasy that his studio space may have been sandwiched between Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth’s – little did I know…
In 2017 Andrew and I visited the ‘Ravilious & Co: Pattern of Friendship’ exhibition at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne. In the first section that covered Ravilious and friends at the Royal College of Art [RCA] in the early 1920s, I was drawn to the photograph of the Royal College of Art Convocation, from the 18th July 1924 that included Ravilious and Edward Bawden’s future wife Charlotte Epton (top row fifth from the left). Charlotte was next two interesting individuals who stood out amidst a sea of female faces, one very tall
and the other short and from the Far East. As I had recently been scanning family photographs I recognised the tall young man as Horace! I hadn’t realised he had been at the RCA and had studied in such illustrious company. So as a result I have been trying to find out as much about Horace Brooke as I could and what follows is the results of that research.
Horace was born in the village of Gawthorpe, near Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, on the 11th April 1898, the second son of milk dealer Lionel Brooke and his wife Mary. His older brother was Leonard, and then came his sister Ada, then brothers Albert, Ernest and Gilbert. Two other siblings had died in infancy. (Click on the images for captions)
The village was a thriving community and dominated by the mining industry. The Brooke family were staunch Methodists and attended the Bethesda United Methodist Church where Lionel was a preacher. Horace and his siblings attended the village school. It is said that Horace showed artistic talent from an early age and according to the Dewsbury & Batley Advertiser (24 Dec 1953) he was taken under the wing of local artist Arthur Oldroyd. Wilfred Gledhill was his teacher when he attended the Ossett Municipal Technical School as a part-time student between 1910 and 1913, he appears to have also have been working as a farm hand during this period.
Between 1913 and 1915 Horace attended Leeds School of Art, Horace’s granddaughters still own a substantial collection of his artwork – there are sketchbooks, prints and paintings from this period which illustrate his aptitude.
But his studies were interrupted when he enlisted in the Green Howards at Richmond on the 18 November 1915. Fortunately, his service papers survive, although his age is wrongly recorded as 19 years and 7 months.
Horace had a rather up and down career in the army. On 8 June 1916 he was promoted to Corporal, two weeks later he was a Sergeant. He transferred to the Machine Gun Corps the following month. However, the next year, in March, he was tried in Aldershot for ‘neglecting company orders’ and ‘conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline’ and was found guilty – the sentence was a demotion to Corporal. But Horace bounced back with a promotion to acting sergeant on 23 October 1918 and the following week to full sergeant.
These promotions were undoubtedly related to the acts of bravery that won him the Distinguished Conduct Medal. It is worth reproducing the citation in full:
‘For consistent bravery disregard of danger and devotion to duty during operations near Le Cateall. On the morning of October 20th he led his section across the River Selle under heavy fire and in very bad weather, and by skillfull [sic] leadership got them into position with the infantry on the final objective without loss. When the enemy were reported to be preparing for a counter attack he went out alone in front to reconnoitre, and personally knocked out an enemy machine gun killing the crew. On his return he brought two of his guns to bear on another enemy machine gun – which he had noticed annoying the infantry – and silenced it by knocking out the crew. Having been informed by the infantry that a large party of Germans were assembling for a counter attack near Amerval he took a gun out on the flank opened fire and scattered the rest in all directions. By his prompt action and watchfullness he effectively protected the left flank of the division when the situation on this flank was obscure. (Recommended for D.C.M. (immediate) signed by R W Goldsborough Capt: D Company: 38th M.G.C. 24th October 1918)’
In contrast to Horace’s war, his older brother Leonard, serving with the King’s Own Light Infantry, perished in a trench in Normandy on 12 February 1917, aged just twenty-one.
When he was demobbed in February 1919 Horace returned to Leeds School of Art where he studied for the next two years. He was in illustrious company, fellow students included Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Edna Ginesi and Raymond Coxon.
Horace’s nickname was ‘Buggins’ and this is how he is referred to by Henry Moore in a letter to Horace from the 1950s, it seems that the two kept in touch. Moore’s background was similar to Horace’s, both were from working-class backgrounds and both had served in the First World War.
In 1921 Horace was awarded a County Art Scholarship to attend the Royal College of Art in London. He was there with several of his Leeds colleagues, including Moore, in fact there were so many students from Leeds that the common room had what was known as ‘the Leeds table’.
At the College Horace’s main study was painting, but he also studied architecture, drawing and engraving. His reports record that he was ‘an excellent student’, ‘an able draftsman’ and ‘a hard worker’, although one dissenting voice describes him as ‘an earnest student, not very gifted, but improving’! He contributed to the RCA’s student magazine and provided designs and decorations for the common room socials. When he graduated with a diploma in Drawing and Painting in July 1924, he was photographed (see image earlier in this article) with fellow students who included Eric Ravilious, Albert Christopherson, Charles Tunnicliffe, and Douglas Percy Bliss, who all went on to have distinguished careers in the arts.
One of his close friends at the college was fellow student Ba Nyan, who had travelled from Myanmar (Burma) and had a key role in promoting western painting techniques to Myanmar artists when he returned home. Ba Nyan visited Gawthorpe with Horace and stayed with the family and once he had left England he kept in touch.
In May 1925 the Yorkshire Post reported that Horace was represented in an exhibition at the Royal Academy, his work was shown in an open competition for scholarships for the British School in Rome, the newspaper noted ‘Among the engravings the work of Mr Horace Brooke has much to commend it, “Grassington Bridge” is particularly well done’, this was a subject he returned to many times. The following paragraph in the piece mentions Barbara Hepworth’s entry.
His annual RCA admission forms record his desire to become a ‘Painter and Black and White artist’ (printing) although on his last form, in 1924, a perhaps more realistic future as a ‘Teacher or Black & White artist’ is recorded. He was fond of self-portraiture and there are several examples of his talent for ‘black and white’ art in these examples.
When Horace left the RCA in July 1925 he set up a design business with fellow RCA students E Sutton and W Twibell .
The business was known as The Regent Studio and was based in Knightsbridge and the trio focused on ‘Design, engraving, illuminating, lettering, decoration, stone carving, illustrations, posters etc’.
It’s not clear when Horace ventured out on his own – but by 1931 he had established himself as a commercial artist in St Albans. At this point he married his long-time sweetheart Elsie Lovell and in 1924 she gave birth to their son Howard.
Like all commercial artists, Horace worked on a mixed range of projects for a varied array of clients. Work ranged from a small bookplate, to illustrations to promote art paper produced by the paper company Balston.
During the Second World War Horace served his country again and also produced drawings for the local paper to promote the purchase of a spitfire on the front cover of The Herts Advertiser in August 1940.
Although Horace had made his home in the south, he was very attached to Yorkshire. He travelled to see family including his birthplace, Gawthorpe, where his sister lived, and he went on camping trips to the Dales, especially to Grassington. He later took his caravan north for holidays.
He took a regular job for the Yorkshire Woollen District Transport Company of creating the covers its staff magazine as well as its company Christmas cards. Horace continued painting and printmaking and exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions in the 1950s.
After retirement, Horace and Elsie returned to their beloved Yorkshire and he taught art at Heckmondwyke Senior School before opening a sweet shop at Daisy Hill, Dewsbury. Elsie died in 1958 followed seven years later by Horace.
The stories of Horace and his brother Leonard Brooke illustrate the contrasting fates of two soldiers who fought in the First World War, Leonard cut down in his prime at the age of twenty-one and Horace who went on to marry, have a family and enjoy a successful career building on his artistic aptitude. Horace’s story is also of interest as he is one of many art-school-trained individuals who did not reach the heights of his fellow students, Moore, Hepworth and Ravilious – however, he is more typical of the many whose talent was recognised and then nurtured at art school allowing them to earn a living from their talents.
Many thanks to Horace’s granddaughter Jacqueline Smith for her help and permission to produce his artwork, thanks to Mary Clay (Horace’s niece), Andrew Clay (Horace’s great nephew), Kate Gilliland (Leeds College of Art), Keith Rowntree (Leeds Beckett University) and Neil Parkinson (Royal College of Art).
Unless stated otherwise all the images are owned by and reproduced by kind permission of the family and must not be reproduced without permission.