From Bushey to Budleigh: The life and death of painter and illustrator Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1849-1914)
I’ve never been to Bushey, in Hertfordshire. Unlike the peaceful coastal town of Budleigh Salterton it seems to be very much a domitory place for commuters to London, with a population some five times bigger than ours.
The famous former resident was the Victorian painter Sir Hubert von Herkomer, who chose to move to Bushey with his family in 1873. The only connection between him and Budleigh Salterton is that he died here in our town, 100 years ago today. Like another famous Victorian, the author Sir Henry Rider Haggard, he came to Budleigh for its peaceful atmosphere and healthy climate. Too late. His relatively short life came to an end when he was only 65.
"There stood her mother, amid the group of children, hanging over the washing tub," by Hubert von Herkomer, RA. This plate, the first in the illustrated serialisation of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the Durbervilles, appeared in the 4 July 1891 issue of the London Graphic. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
“The myriads of small dwellings that are springing up on every available bit of land throughout this country, built by small and large builders, by retired tradesmen, even by frugal workmen (they do exist) who have saved a little money, poison this fair England of ours like a black plague. The origin of this satanic scourge was made clear to me when a builder showed a friend of mine a new street that he had perpetrated, and exclaimed: ‘There! that is what I call a beautiful sight, all the houses alike, and all let!’”
His 1875 oil painting, ‘The Last Muster’ established his position as an artist of high distinction at the Academy. It was painted after Herkomer had attended a service at the chapel of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, the home for veteran soldiers known as the ‘Chelsea Pensioners’.
“The idea was to make every man tell some different story, to be told by his face, or by the selection of attitude,” Herkomer wrote. "The central figure has slumped forward, his stick slipping from his grasp. The old soldier beside him reaches for his pulse to discover that his neighbour has indeed answered the call for ‘the last muster.’"
Part of the front elevation of Lululaund, Bushey, Hertfordshire
Many blame the deterioration on the influence of the press. One journalist in particular led the way in portraying Germany as a threat to Britain. As early as 1894 Alfred Harmsworth, proprietor of the Daily Mail, had commissioned author William Le Queux to write The Great War in England, which featured Germany, France and Russia combining forces to crush Britain. "This is the book that frightened the life out of many British people, proclaiming a German threat a decade ahead of the First World War," writes historian Max Hastings.
The house, which stood on Bushey's Melbourne Road, fell into disrepair in the 1920s, was transferred to the ownership of Bushey Urban District Council and finally was demolished in 1939. It’s widely reported that anti-German feeling may have played a part in an ignorant Council’s action.
All that survives is the Grade II* listed base of the entrance porch and a section of flanking wall, part of the entrance to the former British Legion Hall in Bushey. The Hall is being redeveloped as housing. There’s a certain irony there, I feel.