AUGUSTUS AND GWEN JOHN by Volunteer Alan Crooks


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Earlier this month (12 June) I was one of a party of Salisbury Museum volunteers privileged to be taken to see the ‘Augustus John – Drawn from Life’ exhibition at Poole Museum.

As such I was intrigued to read that Augustus John was born in Tenby; intrigued because I was aware of a Blue Plaque to Augustus John in my wife’s home town of Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. This stimulated me to check on my ‘Blue Plaques’ Pinterest site, from which I recalled that Augustus John once lived in Haverfordwest in the house in which his sister, the artist Gwen John, was born.

A John

In this connection, the local J D Wetherspoon pub is The William Owen and this has many Augustus John reproduction paintings/prints on the walls. On discussing this with the landlord he informed me that Wetherspoon’s take a lot of trouble to integrate their pubs in with the local history. This was reinforced for me last year when I was listening to a ‘Word of Mouth’ programme on BBC Radio 4 about ‘Pub Names’. Here, one of the interviewees was Eddie Gershon, long time publicist for the J D Wetherspoon chain, who explained that Wetherspoons open about 20 new pubs per year, the vast majority of which have individual names based on the local history. An individual, Ray Colvin, is employed for the purpose of researching the local history.

Returning to The William Owen pub, this has information on the wall, in English and Welsh, about Augustus John:

“The leading portrait painter of his generation, Augustus John was born in Tenby, in 1878, but spent his early years in Haverfordwest. He and his sister, Gwen, were looked after by two aunts, Rose and Lily, both officers in the Salvation Army.

In the summer of 1897 Augustus hit his head on a rock whilst diving into the sea. The incident seems to have radically changed his character. A bohemian lifestyle followed, which made him one of the most talked about figures of his day. Many distinguished people had their portraits painted by John, including Dylan Thomas and Winston Churchill.” However, Lord Leverhulme was so upset with his portrait that he cut the head off it. Augustus John died in 1961, aged 83.”

A John2

And this about Gwen John:

The highly acclaimed artist Gwen John was born in Victoria Place, Haverfordwest, in June 1876. Gwen painted and drew from an early age, later studying at the Slade School of Art in London.

In 1913 Gwen converted to Catholicism, saying “my religion and my art, these are my life”. Most of her paintings depict single figures, typically nuns, set in interiors and sensitively painted.

For many years her work was eclipsed by that of her brother, Augustus. However, he prophesied that one day his sister would be thought of as a better artist. Gwen John died in 1939, since when “his star has fallen and hers has risen”.


‘Girl Reading at the Window’ 1911

For completeness, one should mention that William Owen, after whom the pub is named, was appointed county surveyor in 1824, and was four times mayor of Haverfordwest.  He was the driving force behind the improvements made in Haverfordwest in the early 19th century and  designed several buildings in Haverfordwest.


“..passing by..”


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A fragmentary bone crucifix. 18th century. Found in Cathedral Close.

This evocative image is my eye’s focus; a white emblem among varieties of dark metal work objects which make up the so-called ‘Drainage Collection’ – muddy-coloured objects salvaged from the street channels of medieval Salisbury. But the white face of Christ is stained only with the ravages of pain clearly picked out in bone. The striking figure stands out amongst the keys, knives and other mundanities. Although he was lost, he has been found, and given a home in this museum, and is here to see every day by the  wanderers passing by his glass window.

Erica Humbey writes about one of her favourite objects in the museum…





Henry Lamb’s painting:  ‘An Instructor of the Royal Air Force Co-operation School’ (Imperial War Museum)

As a person with a long-standing interest in aviation, my favourite pieces in this exhibition are those created when Lamb was attached to the School of Army Cooperation at Old Sarum.

I was particularly struck by the oil on canvas painting entitled ‘An Instructor of the Royal Air Force Co-operation School, 1941’ .

A check of the Imperial War Museum’s website (from whom the painting has been loaned) describes the painting as a “portrait of a young man in RAF uniform and a sheepskin jacket” and identifies the sitter to be Flight Lieutenant Caradoc Bowen-Davies who was killed aged 24 in a flying accident at R.A.F. Old Sarum on 22nd September, 1941. Henry Lamb subsequently wrote to the War Artists Advisory Committee, “I am terribly dashed by the death this week of that delightful airman […] C. Bowen-Davies. He was night flying. I had palled up with him considerably: he used to come often with his charming young wife”.

An online Bowen-Davies family tree shows that Caradoc’s wife was Betty Nash, and they had a daughter, Cara Patricia, who was born in 1942, i.e. after Caradoc’s death.  His parents were Elystan (1883-1947) and Katie Guinlan.

Caradoc Bowen-Davies had been a pupil at Oundle School, an independent school in Peterborough,  as he features in the Old Oundelian Memorials on the school heritage website.

Caradoc Oundle School Memorial to Caradoc Bowen-Davies

Flight Lieutenant Caradoc Bowen-Davies’ name is recorded in Flight Magazine (November 13, 1941) under the heading, ‘Killed on Active Service’. This was Air Ministry Casualty Communique 89.

It appears that Flight Lieutenant Bowen-Davies (Service No. 33302) may also have been involved in an earlier incident as a thread on a Royal Air Force Commands website (thread  concerning ‘Unaccounted Airmen’) states:

“F/Lt (Pilot) Caradoc BOWEN-DAVIES – 33302 – the Graves Registration Report Form gives his unit as 41 O.T.U.

The Western Mail of June 7th 1940 had reported the following:

Reported Missing: Now in Hospital
Flight Lieut. Caradoc Bowen-Davies, Cardiff, who a few days ago was reported missing, is in a South of England hospital suffering from wounds to both arms and legs.”

Flight Lieutenant Caradoc Bowen-Davies is recorded as being Buried/Commemorated in St Andrews Churchyard, Laverstock, as listed on CWGC (the Commonwealth War Graves Commission).

Volunteers’ Week



An eye-opening visit to Wessex Archaeology



Exquisite Mompesson House



A special tour and talk on ceramics from Rosemary Pemberton



The Cathedral generously opens its archives



Arundells opens its doors

A wonderful week. Thank you.

Hanah and the Kettle


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Hannah Turton cropped

Work experience at the Salisbury museum – Hanah Turton

From Monday 4 June to Saturday 9 June 2018 I participated in work experience at Salisbury Museum. The experience has helped develop my understanding and knowledge of history in the Salisbury area.

The volunteers were extremely friendly, helpful and accommodating. The opportunity to talk to a variety of volunteers with different interests contributed a broad range of information about artefacts, archaeology and architecture. We also had the opportunity to delve into some of the costume collection with the help of one of the volunteers. Having access to the costume stores was so enthralling, especially when seeing all the beautiful lace wedding dresses and accessories.

In addition to the magnificence of the costume archive, we were able to participate in National Volunteers’ Week at Salisbury Museum and attended a variety of activities including a ceramics talk; and visits to Mompesson house, Arundells, Salisbury Cathedral library and archive and Wessex Archaeology. The week was full of so many interesting activities and events, all due to the organising and planning of the Salisbury Museum.

While here, Hanah was asked what was her favourite object…

The Old Sarum Kettle was first highlighted to me by volunteer Paul Marsh whilst on a spotlight tour of the museum. This first account of the peculiar object ignited a fascination in its origin and history. The earthenware ceramic pot is a peculiar shape that contrasts immensely with the modern-day kettle. By delving into the information and resources that the museum provides, I was able to gain a detailed explanation of what made this kettle so riveting.  Due to the advancement of technology, it is possible to accurately identify where the kettle originated. It did not come from the medieval City of Salisbury but the North African country of Morocco! The Old Sarum Kettle was first introduced to Watson’s of Salisbury in the 19th Century, and he presumed the kettle to have been from Old Sarum, oblivious to the true origin. Thereafter, Watson’s of Salisbury commissioned Doulton of Lambeth to recreate and mass produce the “Old Sarum” Kettle. Over 140,000 “Old Sarum” kettles were sold by Watson’s of Salisbury between 1889 and 1921. One copy of the Old Sarum Kettle is a small porcelain kettle that displays Salisbury City’s coat of arms which was created by W.H Goss (this is also on display at the Salisbury museum alongside various other imitations).

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An Old Sarum Kettle

South Wilts Grammar Student Enjoys Museum


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I’d like to introduce myself – Erica Humbey, keen Classicist with aspirations of a full and colourful future, and I am currently coming to the end of studying in Year 12 at South Wilts Grammar School. Taking exams in Latin, English Literature and Maths and with interests in Music and Ancient Greek, the museum may not seem at first glance the obvious place for me. It has been a week of revelations and endless opportunities!

Hanah (another student) and I worked alongside individual volunteers every day of the week, each of whom have been equally welcoming, generous, patient and interested in our affairs and plans for the future. Doing this has cemented in my mind how utterly invaluable such volunteers are to the existence of the museum. A fitting realisation for National #VolunteersWeek!

Incidentally, we were extremely fortunate to join the museum on this week as we were able to accompany groups of volunteers on a behind-the-scenes insight into many organisations in and around Salisbury: Salisbury Cathedral, Arundells, Mompesson House and Wessex Archaeology.

The museum:

We were first presented with the ceramics collection and inspected a small number of pieces of commemorative ware. Under the guidance of volunteer Roy Wilde we improved our eye for ceramics and gained a basic understanding of the process of cataloguing. Later in the week a talk from ceramics enthusiast Rosemary Pemerbeton illustrated the breadth and depth of the collection so that we understood the significance of the pieces standing in front of us.

In the afternoon it was our pleasure to be conducted around the museum by volunteer Paul Marsh for a tour in which Paul talked with us about particular features within the museum. One’s visit can be greatly enhanced by singular focus on individual items. It brings to life the stories behind them which roll beyond stagnant objects in a case (although due to expert curatorship Salisbury Museum’s displays are anything but stagnant). We heard about the museum building, the King’s House, the history of which makes it not just enclosing walls but an artefact in itself. We also discussed the tender and charming image of writer Edith Olivier in the selection of Rex Whistler’s paintings facing the windows into the courtyard. Shadowing volunteer Catherine Hazard the following day assured me that any visitor could gain valuable insights from an Engagement Volunteer on their meander around the museum, and feel as personally inspired by the museum as I did.

With volunteer Anne Oaten we spent some time in the costume stores and catalogued a number of items as well as tracked down a set of artefacts which will be on display in an exhibition at Mompesson House next March. These two items, a dress and matching shoes, have a story which I rather like and I look forward to seeing the fully formed exhibition next year. As well as giving us the opportunity to help her with cataloguing Anne encouraged us to spend time in the costume store rooms which are filled to bursting with rails of hanging garments: an unparalleled opportunity! We satisfied our eyes with ornate fabrics, working smocks and wedding dresses as well as children’s wax dolls and a set of old Bishops Wordsworth’s school uniform which was a particular surprise as the school is so familiar to me!


A Child’s Doll – about 4 inches tall

Costume store

The Costume Store – rails of intrigue!

More from Erica next time…..