Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Mrs Box by Dora Carrington

Dora Carrington (1893-1932), Mrs Box, 1919 © Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery

I have written about this painting many times. It is one of my favourites in the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Collection. It is Dora Carrington at her finest, projecting her own feelings onto the portrait of the Cornish farmer, Mrs Box.

Carrington first met Mrs Box in 1917. She was on holiday in Cornwall with Lytton Strachey and friends. After finding their initial accommodation a real ‘pigsty of a farm’ and enduring multiple flea bites, they contacted neighbouring farms to find somewhere else to stay. Mrs Box at Home Farm, Welcombe responded and the party moved to her ‘simply perfect’ farm. 

Carrington writes to her friend Barbara ‘I am so happy here. Almost a headache every morning because I get so tired and exhausted. Simply loving so hard! The sea has yellow sands and big rocks and there are valleys such as you never saw with rivulets which flow down to the sea and green forests on the hills. It is surely one of the best places in England. I am painting old Mere Box who is 70, an amazing old Lady, who wears a pink bonnet and curious garments. Miss Box and her sister and brother keep the farm. I have swum in the sea twice with Noel.’

Carrington was to return to Mrs Box again over the years. In 1919 she took her future husband Ralph whom Mrs Box ‘thought was the most lovely young man’.

I have always written about the painting and Mrs Box from Carrington’s perspective, always using Carrington’s explanation of who she was. As part of the research into the Body & Soul exhibition, in which the painting is currently on display, I started to look into who Mrs Box was. Professor Christiana Payne and Dr Mary O’Neill, who are co-curators of the exhibition, set me off on the task of finding out about her. I went to my usual source for all things ancestry, Higgins volunteer Melissa, who swiftly gave me all the information she could on Mrs Box, including her name, Elizabeth. 

Elizabeth was born in 1847, most likely in the Bideford workhouse to Elizabeth Colwill and Thomas Box, who were married a few years later. She spent most, if not all, of her childhood living with her maternal grandparents, Richard (a thatcher) and Betty in Down, Welcombe. When she was 18, she had her first child, Mary Grace; two years later she had another daughter, Elizabeth Ann. Throughout this time Elizabeth remained unmarried and the girls were given their great grandparents surname, Colwill. She moved to several homes around Welcombe over the years, her grandmother died and her grandfather retired, but remained living with Elizabeth wherever she moved. She had several jobs: charwoman, housekeeper and church caretaker. When she was 36, she had another daughter, Emma Jane followed by a son William, both children were given her name, Box. When Carrington knew her, she was living at Mead Farm with her farmer son and her eldest daughter. Home Farm, where Carrington and her friends stayed, was next door and must have been let out by the Box family.

All this information found by Melissa gave us much more insight into the woman we knew as Mrs Box, but also left us puzzled as to who the children’s father was, and why they were given Elizabeth’s surname. Ancestry could give us nothing, there is no marriage record for Elizabeth and each of the children have no known father. The youngest child, Elizabeth’s only son William, gave us a clue. His name was William Richard Oke Box, a name that couldn’t have been too common in the 1890s and might help us to find out more; and indeed it did. 

William can be found in three articles from 1895, in Devon newspapers reporting on a paternity case brought by Elizabeth Box of Welcombe for her two children; ten-year-old Richard and 13-year-old Emma Jane. The defendant is Titus Oke who owned a cottage on his family’s farm that Elizabeth had briefly lived in. A witness testified that Titus visited Elizabeth ‘frequently’ and continued to do so after the birth of both their children. Titus had regularly given Elizabeth money to help care for both children as well as ‘a suit of clothes and rabbits’ but when he got married the payments stopped, leading to Elizabeth taking him to court. The judge ruled in her favour and ordered Titus to pay 2s a week for each child until they were sixteen. One of the articles gave us a bit more information about Elizabeth’s life, her two older children are also mentioned, not by name but by arrangements with their fathers. It seems that Elizabeth accepted a settlement of £20 from the father of her eldest child, Mary Grace, born when she was 18. Before she could do the same with the father of her daughter, Elizabeth Ann, born two years later ‘the father went away’.

From all of this, it is impossible to know what Elizabeth Box was like but what I find particularly heartening is that she kept all four of her children with her and remained living with her grandparents until their deaths. So many stories from history of illegitimate children end with shame and sadness for the women involved, but not so for ‘Mrs’ Box, whom Carrington describes as ‘an amazing old lady’ who ‘is still full of vigour’ and whom on Carrington’s last visit to the farm ‘appeared driving the cows; she held up both her arms and waved them, with a stick in one hand and then ran towards me!’. When I told Christiana what I had found out, she wondered if Carrington had asked Mrs Box to tell her about her life as she painted her. Maybe that is why she paints her so beautifully, two women from very different backgrounds, but both finding common ground with their unconventional lives.

You can see Mrs Box by Dora Carrington's on display in the Body & Soul exhibition.

Written by Victoria Partridge, Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Five Higgins Horrors for Halloween

To celebrate Halloween, we have put together five Higgins Horrors for you to enjoy on the creepiest day of the year. Find out more about the spooktacular objects and artworks in our collections, if you dare…

Do You Want to Play?

Bobalicon by Francisco Goya c.1818-19

'Bobalicon' (Simpleton) is part of Francisco Goya’s last series of prints ‘Los Disparates’ (The Follies) that were published 30 years after his death. Though the meaning of this print is unclear, it was made during a time of political and social upheaval in 19th century Spain. In this nightmarish scene, Goya shows the grotesque side of carnivals with a giant dancing castanet-player, transformed into a disturbing figure and surrounded by ghostly faces. His audience consists of a man hiding behind his female companion who is scared rigid by the sight.


Witch Bottle

This witch bottle dates back to the 17th century and was found buried at Renhold. Witch Bottles were used as counter-magical devices for protection. Folk healers would mix together a variety of ingredients inside, including rosemary, red wine, seawater, thorns, sand, oil, hair, nail clippings and urine. The witch bottle would then be buried or hidden away where no one could find it. For the spell to work fully, the bottle had to remain hidden and unbroken. You can see this Witch Bottle on display in the Collectors Gallery.

Medieval Monsters

13th Century Corbel

This carved stone corbel was once part of Bedford’s St. Paul's Church during the 13th century. Medieval corbels were often decorated with angels placed high on the walls overlooking the congregation. However some churches depicted demons, gargoyles and grotesque figures as a reminder of ever-present evil. It was also thought that these terrifying corbels could serve as protection against harm and defend those within the church by fighting the Devil with his own. You can see this medieval corbel on display in the Settlement Gallery.

Very Superstitious

The Desiccated Cat

In the 17th century cats were regarded as being particularly gifted with a sixth sense and having a connection with the afterlife. It was believed that they could protect the home and guard against evil spirits, witches’ spells and curses in relation to the common superstitions of the time. They were intentionally hidden in walls, floors or attics, sometimes with the cat’s innards removed, dried and stuffed with straw. They were often placed into hunting positions to help protect the family home.

Double Double Toil and Trouble

Macbeth and the Witches by Richard Westall c.1797

This drawing is based on the three weird sisters from William Shakespeare's play, 'Macbeth'. It is set during Act One, Scene Three in the middle of a thunderstorm, upon a ‘blasted heath’. Here the witches share their wicked deeds, voice their incantations and predict Macbeth's future before vanishing into the air. Westall follows the description of the scene closely as the thundering sky and grotesque appearance of the witches give a sense of foreboding and doom.

‘So withered and so wild in their attire,
That look not like the inhabitants o' the earth,
And yet are on't?’

Written by Rebekah Matus, Audience Development Officer

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Hidden Painting Discovered in the Collections

Recent conservation as part of the work on upcoming exhibition, Going to Town – 200 Years of Bedford’s Art, has revealed the discovery of a hidden painting in the collections at The Higgins Bedford.

For every art exhibition at The Higgins Bedford, staff check on the condition of the paintings to identify which will need conservation before going on public display. This exhibition celebrates artists’ views of Bedford and the surrounding area from the past two hundred years, with the artworks forming part of the local landscapes collection. Most of them came to The Higgins Bedford from Bedford Borough Council and many haven’t been on public display in several decades.

Seven artworks were selected and taken to the conservator to be removed from their damaged frames, mounted in museum board and have any foxing that had caused any discolouring corrected.

Whilst working on a watercolour sketch by Bedfordshire artist, Stanley Orchart, the conservator was surprised to discover another artwork hidden behind the frame. The artwork is a fully finished oil painting depicting a picturesque country cottage.

Hidden painting discovered in the back of the frame of a Stanley Orchart painting

No artist’s signature has been found but further investigation has revealed that two sides of the painting had been cut down to make it fit behind the frame. The signature was most likely removed in this way.

While the artist, date of the painting and the location of the country cottage remains a mystery, there will be a lot of fun in trying to finding out more.

Victoria Partridge, Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art, said: “Having artworks conserved is always an exciting process. When works come back they are always so bright and fresh, but this is the first time that a new artwork has been discovered. I look forward to finding out more about it”.

Councillor Doug McMurdo, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture, said: “The discovery of this new, hidden oil painting is really exciting and at the moment, shrouded in mystery. While we don’t know much about the painting at the moment, we’re looking forward to finding out more.

“Make sure that if you do visit The Higgins Bedford, you follow all guidance on slowing the spread of COVID-19, including the ‘Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air’ advice.”

Going to Town – 200 Years of Bedford’s Art opens at The Higgins Bedford on Saturday 10 July 2021 and will feature artworks by JMW Turner, Dora Carrington, Thomas Fisher and Stanley Orchart, highlighting their fascination of Bedford and the River Great Ouse.

Written by Rebekah Matus, Audience Development Officer

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Turbulent Life of Marco Ricci

Marco Ricci (1676-1730), Apollo and the Musesc.1710 © Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford)

While most of the artworks in the Under the Same Sky exhibition are by Britain’s finest landscape artists, Marco Ricci’s Apollo and the Muses offers a taste of Italian Baroque splendour. For all of its serene heavenliness, the dramatically dark life of the artist could inspire the most brutal Caravaggio scene.

Ricci was born in Belluno, Italy, in 1676. His uncle, Sebastiano (1659-1734), was an eminent painter and trained a young Marco in his workshop. Despite receiving acclaim in Venice, Marco had to flee in his twenties after killing a gondolier in a brawl.
During his time on the run, he refined his techniques in Dalmatia (part of modern-day Croatia), the Netherlands, Florence and Rome. In the latter, he became a prolific maker of capricci etchings of ancient ruins, and vedute ‘views’ of cities, both of which were popularised by his famous contemporary Canaletto (1697-1768).
In 1708, Ricci began his two-year stay in England. Generally unexposed to the Italian Baroque style, English patrons admired his work. This popularity secured him a good living painting scenery for the Queen’s Theatre in Haymarket, London.
His talents also attracted many private patrons who commissioned him to decorate their homes Apollo and the Muses is an example of a ceiling design he may have done for a client. Its loose, light brushstrokes show his adoption of the styles from all the places he visited, resulting in a talent of quickly producing vivid yet ethereal scenes.
In 1730, he is said to have taken his own life dressed in a bizarre costume with a sword so that he could die ‘like a cavaliere.’
Despite achieving great recognition and patronage during his lifetime, art history has largely neglected Marco Ricci, preferring instead to celebrate his uncle. However, he has been described by contemporary critics as ‘one the most versatile eighteenth-century Italian artists’.
See Apollo and the Muses by Marco Ricci in the Under the Same Sky exhibition, on until Sunday 27 June. Safety measures are in place and you will need to book a FREE timed entry ticket to visit.

Written by Tom MacKinnon, Curatorial Volunteer 

Marco Ricci. (2000). A Capriccio with Horses Watering in a River outside a Walled Town, c. 1720. Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, 26(1), 28-93. doi:10.2307/4104416
Leppert, R. (1986). Imagery, Musical Confrontation and Cultural Difference in Early 18th-Century London. Early Music, 14(3), 323-345. Retrieved February 9, 2021, from

Friday, May 14, 2021

David Cox: The Mill (1853)

When The Higgins Bedford reopens on Tuesday 18th May, visitors will once again be able to enjoy our current weather exhibition, Under the Same Sky, featuring works by the finest landscape artists in British art history. One of these artists is David Cox (1783-1859), whose pioneering blend of Romanticism and Impressionism results in such charming watercolour scenes as The Mill (1853).

Born in Birmingham in 1783 to a blacksmith father, he was considered too weak for manual work, and so helped out by decorating its products. After a childhood of artisanal painting and some formal drawing education, he moved to London aged 20 to work as a scene painter but gave up after very little success. 

David Cox, The Mill, 1853 © Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford)

A 24-year-old Cox then decided to spend the rest of his working life as a teacher, and was extremely popular as one. He published his Treatise on Landscape Painting and Effect in Water Colours in 1813 due to high demand, and was often praised for his kind, honest character and willingness to help beyond his professional obligation. Meanwhile, he tried to establish himself as an eminent artist by exhibiting his work at the Society of Watercolour Artists. However, he was hindered by his dogged belief in his unconventional style; despite a close social circle that supported him throughout his career, he sold very few paintings. 

Most of his rivals painted in a style that appealed to a public who, according to biographer N. Neal Solly, ‘frequently disliked what was not smooth and highly finished’. Cox, however, despised ‘mere portraits of places’. He championed emotional effect over faithfulness to real-life, as is evident in The Mill.  According to the Dictionary of National Biography, he used ‘few colours and a full brush, disregarding small details in order to greater breadth and brilliancy of effect’. The soft, dream-like qualities can be attributed to his tendency to paint from memory. He disliked directly copying from nature or other artworks, advising in his Treatise that ‘the picture should be complete and perfect in the mind before it is even traced upon the canvas’. 

Cox felt that his best works were painted on a cheap wrapping paper known as Scotch paper. Its roughness allows it to absorb more colour than most surfaces, but leaves little black specks. When asked how he tackled this problem, Cox said ‘Oh, I just put wings on them, and then they fly away as birds’.  

Despite his lack of recognition among his contemporaries, history remembers David Cox favourably. Many consider his style, with its short brush strokes and loose forms, a precursor to the famous Impressionism movement. 

It is no coincidence that his works were fetching enormous sums at auction in the 1870s, a decade that saw the rise of Impressionists such as Claude Monet. From then on, Cox has been considered one of British art’s greatest figures, described by biographer William Hall as ‘second only to Turner… and in some respects, not even second to him.’

See The Mill by David Cox in the Under the Same Sky exhibition when The Higgins Bedford reopens on Tuesday 18 May. Safety measures are in place and you will need to book a FREE timed entry ticket to visit.

Written by Tom MacKinnon, Curatorial Volunteer


Cox, D., Treatise on Landscape Painting and Effect in Water Colours, (London, 1813)

Hall, W., A Biography of David Cox: with remarks on his works and genius, (Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.: London, Paris & New York, 1881)

Stephen, L., National Dictionary of Biography: Vol, XII: Conder-Craigie, (New York Macmillan & co., 1885)

Solly, N. N., Memoir of the life of David Cox, (Chapman and Hall, 1873)

Friday, April 23, 2021

JMW Turner - Norham Castle on Tweed, Sunrise (1798)

JMW Turner (23 April 1775 - 19 December 1851) Norham Castle on Tweed, Sunrise, 1798, © Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, (The Higgins Bedford)

For JMW Turner's 246th birthday, I thought I would show you Norham Castle on the Tweed, Sunrise, painted by Turner in 1798. It is one of the highlights in our weather exhibition, Under the Same Sky. I don’t know when you will get to see it in the flesh, but along with the rest of The Higgins Bedford collection, it will be waiting for you when we reopen.

The exhibition is in two parts, one gallery is devoted to the local impact of weather and the other has artist’s depictions of the sky, drawn from The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery collection.

The art gallery began to collect Turner’s watercolours in the 1950s. We now have nine works by him in Bedford, each covering an area of his output and life. When I first started learning about Turner, it was his oils, not his watercolours that I saw first. One of my Dad’s favourite paintings was The Fighting Temeraire in The National Gallery’s Collection. I don’t know what it was in particular that he liked about it, but I like to think it might be the same as me, not the ship being towed, but the coppery sunset that fills the right hand side of the painting.

When I started working with the Cecil Higgins paintings, I learnt about Turner’s watercolours and his legacy of turning watercolour from a simple tool used for topographical depictions and into an expressive and versatile medium, both equal to oil painting. Norham Castle in Bedford’s collection is an early example of this. In 1798 when it was exhibited at The Royal Academy, along with other northern subjects, it was described as having ‘the force and harmony of an oil painting’.

It is again, the sun that I am drawn to in Norham Castle. When Turner first exhibited the watercolour at the Royal Academy, he included in the catalogue five lines by the poet James Thomson (1700–1748):

But Yonder comes the powerful King of Day,

Rejoicing in the East. The lessening cloud.

The Kindling azure, and the mountain’s brow

Illumin’d with fluid gold — his near approach.

Betoken glad.

Thomson was born only a few miles from Norham, so would surely have seen the same scene Turner had risen early from his lodgings to witness, the mountains ‘illimin’d with fluid gold’. In the Tate’s collection there are studies which show how Turner experimented to get this brilliant effect of advancing light.

Bedford’s watercolour is from preparatory studies Turner made on his first trip to Norham Castle in 1797, as part of a tour of the North of England. The castle was to become a lifelong fascination that culminated in the blazing light of Norham Castle, Sunrise, 1845, again in the Tate’s collection

In 1831, Turner passed Norham again and was said to have taken off his hat and made a low bow to the castle. When asked what he was doing he said, “I made a drawing or painting of Norham several years since. It took; and from that day to this I have had as much to do as my hands could execute”. The painting Turner is referring to, is most likely to be Bedford’s watercolour, or is it? In fact there are two identical versions of Norham Castle. We think that the first one Turner painted is, in fact, in a private collection and that was the one that was exhibited at The Royal Academy in 1798. It was seen by an early patron of Turner, Edward Lascelles of Harewood House, who asked him to repeat the scene again resulting in Bedford’s work. Whichever version Bedford’s is, it is a truly remarkable work which hopefully you will be able to enjoy very soon.

Please keep an eye on The Higgins Bedford website for updates on a reopening date at

Written by Victoria Partridge, Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Bedfordshire's Breweries - Newland and Nash Brewery Part 3

On 5th August 1890, William Pritzler Newland went into partnership with Susan Nash (widow of W.J. Nash – see part 1). W.P. Newland wanted more outlets for sale in the immediate vicinity of his Brewery. He had partly compensated for this by specialising in sales to private customers, but he really needed public houses to be able to expand his trade significantly. The offer of a partnership with the Nash Brewery with a much larger brewing plant than his own in Duck Mill Lane and public houses in Bedford was a heaven sent opportunity for Newland.

Newland and Nash Ltd, Bedford, Stoneware Beer Flagon, BEDFM 2008.42.283, Chrystal Collection

In the years 1890-1900, W.P. Newland was the dominant partner of the firm, and masterminded the increased purchase of existing properties, and the development of strategic sites on the newly built estates as public houses.

Susan Nash died on the 12th May, 1895 and so W.P. Newland went into partnership on 9th October 1895 with her 4 sisters: Emily Cressy Nash (19 in 1871), Florence Mary (12 in 1871), Rosa Gertrude (9 in 1871) and Constance Eveline (8 in 1871). The new partnership bought extensively in the Bedford area, and in 1891 they bought 2 lots of the Queens Park Building estate on the corner of Fairfax Road and Iddsleigh Road. On this, they built the 'Globe'. In 1894 the Coventry-Campions to whom Newland was related by marriage sold off a building estate in Bedford and the partnership bought 4 sites from this.

Newland & Nash Ltd, Champagne Brandy Paper Label, BEDFM 1998.105.38

In 1895, they bought 'The Bell' in Sandy, formerly belonging to George Anstee's Brewery at Eaton Socon. By the late 1890's it was clear that neither family would be able to produce another generation of active partners. It was also clear that the steam brewery in Lurke Street was far too small, as it had since 1890 been carrying the business of two Breweries, the Duck Mill Lane having been sold off in 1889. The site of the future 'Bell' also had not been built on. A large injection for capital was therefore needed and so the decision was made to turn the partnership into a Limited Company called Newland & Nash. On 13th August 1897 the two families conveyed most of their joint property (except that in Pavenham and Stevington) to the new firm.

The report states that there had been a steady and yearly increase in sales since 1890, with 3000 barrels of beer and 1000 gallons of spirits made. The brewing plant had been designed to carry on one business and since 1890, it had carried two. In the past summer they had been unable to brew sufficient beer to meet requirements and the plant needed enlarging with new bottling stores, new cooper's and carpenters shops, and an extension of malting. The report stated that the Brewery had 21 public houses in Bedford alone.

The 'Bell' and the 1900-1902 improvements were certificated by H. Young, Architect of Bedford, who probably drew up the plans. The work on the Brewery was completed by 17th April 1900 at a cost of £1,980, 14s, 8d. In 1898 the 'Bell' was built at Westbourne Road and between 1900 and 1902 new offices and an engine room were built for the Lurke Street Brewery, as well as new stables at the Midland Hotel and rebuilding of the 'Chequers Inn' at Wilden.

Newland & Nash Ltd, Bedford, Fine Old Irish Whiskey Paper Label, BEDFM 1998.105.41

On 24th August 1900 William Pritzler Newland was buried at Kempston.

From 1900 to 1936 Newland & Nash continued as the company Director Richard Summers and Claude E. Clark, the Secretary to the Company, replaced W.P. Newland as the other Director. After Newland's death the property of the Brewery continued to expand, buying 9 public houses and other property during the years 1900 to 1914, including the important 'Greyhound' in Sandy.

The First World War naturally slowed this expansion down with only 4 properties being bought before takeover of Wells and Winch in 1922. For a short while, the Brewery at Lurke Street was mentioned. Soon, however, all brewing was done at Biggleswade and only an office remained to run the Bedford area of Wells and Winch property which included the Higgins Brewery (sold in 1927 to Wells and Winch). The name of Newland and Nash continued to be used until 1936 when full integration with Wells and Winch occurred. A number of properties were added during this time including 'The Swan', Bromham and the 'St. John Arms', Melchbourne.

Thanks to Bedfordshire Archives for their background information – you can find a full description here. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Bedfordshire's Breweries - Newland and Nash Brewery Part 2

This second part of the Newland and Nash story starts with F.T. Young and W.P. Newland running a brewery on Duck Mill Lane. Frederick Thomas Young was born c.1835 at 9 Elms in Surrey. By 1862 he was the manager of the long established St. Paul's Brewery, owned by the Newland family of Kempston House. In 1871 he employed 12 men, making it one of the largest breweries of the town. In 1873 on the death of Bingham Newland, the Brewery was sold up and bought by Thomas Jarvis, owner of the recently built Phoenix Brewery. He wanted the public houses as outlets for his own Brewery and always intended to sell the site of St. Paul's Brewery, which he did in 1875 to the Harpur Trust to expand the site of the school. 

F.T. Young & Co, Bedford, Large Stoneware Beer Flagon, BEDFM 2008.42.275, Chrystal Collection

Being made redundant following the St. Paul’s Brewery land sale, F.T. Young decided to set up on his own. He leased an area north of the Duck Mill Lane, St. Mary's Parish, Bedford, from Anthony Tacchi a Carver, Gilder and Barometer maker on the High Street. Young pulled down the existing buildings and constructed a modern brick built steam brewery.

It was fully completed by February 1873. The Brewery formed part of a major development of the Duck Mill Lane area. A variety of tradesmen set up and developed their yards and factory sites there. Samuel Foster, the important Building Contractor, had offices built here at the same time. In 1870 the Island Skating Rink and Pounds for George B. Lincoln were completed. These years also saw the increased development of housing in the area.

On 29th December 1873 F.T. Young bought a small Brewery based on the 'Old Swan' at Eaton Socon from William Bowyer of Buckden for £3,200. The sale included 5 public houses in the Eaton Socon/ St. Neots area.

On 1st October 1874 ,F.T. Young went into partnership with William Pritzler Newland who was the brother of his former employer Bingham Newland. Because of the terms of his brother's will, W.P. Newland had not been able to inherit St. Paul's Brewery. Before going into partnership with F.T. Young William had already run his own malting on the west side of Elstow Road. F.T. Young  following the expansion of his brewery and holdings was short of ready money and struggling to keep up with his bills, so the merger presented many solutions.

Newland and Young, Brewers, Wine and Spirit Merchants, Bedford, Stoneware Flagon, BEDFM 2008.42.259, Chrystal Collection

W.P. Newland gained the Kempston estate on the death of his brother. He used the estate as security for a loan and provided the necessary finance to start his joint venture with F.T. Young. They purchased a number of existing public houses but interestingly, they purchased nothing in Bedford, near to their Brewery. With 7 other Breweries (of which 4 were recently built or enlarged) the competition for any public houses for sale was keen in the Bedford area. Newland and Young starting a little after the rest were at a disadvantage. After building the Brewery they had little spare finance for developing building sites for public houses.

On 10th January 1878 F.T. Young transferred his share of the business to W.P. Newland. Whether Newland bought him out or there was a disagreement is unclear, as none of the documents relating to the transaction have survived. W.P. Newland expanded the business at a very slow rate. The scattered nature of the Brewery's holdings must have caused high transport costs and it seems as if the venture was not all that successful as the Kempston estate and the Brewery had to be mortgaged.

W P Newland, Stoneware Beer Flagon, BEDFM 2008.42.176, Chrystal Collection

Thanks to Bedfordshire Archives for their background information – you can find a full description here. 

Written by Lydia Saul, Keeper of Social History

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Bedfordshire's Breweries - Newland and Nash Brewery Part 1

Newland and Nash is a story of several breweries coming together. The first is a brewery owned by Peregrine Nash brewing at St. Mary’s and later Lurke Street. His brewing legacy starts on the 6th and 7th May 1783 when he bought the Brewery site described as a 'Mansion house, with Malthouse and Kiln' in St. Mary's Bedford from Thomas Meacher of Barley End, Ivinghoe, Bucks. Meacher, acting as an agent for Peregrine, had bought the property from the descendants of Richard Bell in March. Richard's father, Robert Bell, held the property since 1697, certainly Malting and probably brewing had taken place on the site for many years before Nash took it on. 

Newland and Nash Ltd, Bedford, Green Glass Beer Bottle, BEDFM 2006.359

By 1819, Nash had renovated the brewery and converted the south of the Brewery from a bakehouse into the Windmill Public House. Peregrine Nash increased his public houses steadily by 2 in the 1780s, 5 in the 1790s, 4 in the 1800s and the site of the Peacock, St. Peter's Bedford (built by 1820). Of these 12 public houses, 7 were in Bedford itself and the rest in villages round Bedford, such as Pavenham, Oakley and Elstow, with Wilden and Marston Moretaine being the furthest away from the Brewery. Around 1810, Peregrine's only surviving son, George Peregrine, became a partner and from then on it is clear that George took over almost exclusive control of the Brewery. Almost at once, the Brewery acquired possibly the second largest Inn in Bedford: The Kings Arms on St. Mary Street, Bedford. They also purchased The Ship Inn on St. Cuthberts Street. Throughout the early 1800s, George continued to buy public houses around Bedford and the surrounding area. 

In 1842, George Peregrine I transferred some of his properties to his eldest son, George Peregrine Nash II, making him partner in the Brewery. However, by July 1843 George Peregrine II was living in London having moved there probably due to ill health, he died on 14th June, 1844. It appears that by 1849 although his father George Peregrine Nash was nominally in charge of the brewery it was William Joseph Nash, his younger son, who actually ran it. 

Nash and Son Bedford, Large Stoneware Beer Flagon, BEDFM 2008.42.337, Chrystal Collection

William Nash saw early on the commercial prospects of expanding in the town of Bedford, buying many more sites, including that of the future Midland Hotel which benefitted from the station being completed in January 1859. In 1867 crisis struck. The bank, Barnard & Wing insisted on security for an overdraft in 1867, which resulted in William taking on a further loan at 3% interest. It was this loan that probably saved him from Bankruptcy. He seemed to recover surprisingly quickly, as in 1869 he purchased the Fox & Hounds public house in Kempston and on 29th April 1870, he paid back his creditors. 

W P Newland, Stoneware Beer Flagon, BEDFM 2008.42.176, Chrystal Collection

William was doing so well again by 1874, that he replaced St. Mary's Brewery with a much larger steam brewery at Lurke Street, Bedford in December 1875. By the 7th October 1876, the valuation of the brewery steadily declined and was reduced to zero. William died in 1884 aged 69. His widow, Susan, carried on the Brewery for the benefit of herself and her 5 surviving daughters until 1890. As she was 79 this could only be a temporary measure. She needed the help of an experienced businessman, preferably a brewer, to help her. She found him in W.P. Newland with whom she went into partnership on 5th August 1890. 

Thanks to Bedfordshire Archives for their background information – you can find a full description here.

Written by Lydia Saul, Keeper of Social History

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Frosts and Flurries

With Christmas right around the corner, many of us are holding out hope for a sign of snow. The romantic ideal of waking up on Christmas morning to picturesque snow drifts, like the idyllic scenes on Christmas cards, is as synonymous to the festive season as decked out trees, turkey dinners, and large bearded men dressed in red. Despite the fewer hours of daylight and the increasingly chilly temperatures, a white Christmas is a rare treat for most people in Britain today.

The Higgins Bedford’s current exhibition, Under the Same Sky, showcases artistic interpretations of the skies above, this includes a variety of snow scenes, which demonstrate how snowfall alters our perspective of our surrounding environments. These works capture the chill of the blanketed landscape; the all-consuming white of snow drifts could have proved a challenge for some artists, but here we see how negative space and the absence of pigment has been utilised to portray snow drifts. Regrettably these works have all been “put to bed” for the third time this year, as Bedfordshire is now in Tier 4, so we will have to settle with a digital dose of festive snow scenes instead. 

Arthur Anderson Fraiser
Fenlake, 1889

Arthur Anderson Fraiser (1861 - 1904), Fenlake, 1889, © Cecil Higgins Collection (The Higgins Bedford)

Firstly we have a beautiful watercolour by Bedford born artist, Arthur Anderson Fraiser. Born into a family of landscape watercolourists, the Fraser family produced numerous scenes of the rural East of England, with Arthur having a specific interest in the tranquil, depicting many scenes along the River Great Ouse. Although he was self-taught, Arthur gained national acclaim for his landscapes, exhibiting works at the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour.

Fenlake is a snow day that many of us would recognise, a scant blanket only hours away from being slush. Frasier’s snow scene shows the emergence of greenery beneath the frost, suggesting an oncoming spring. The grey sky above could be considered bleak in other conditions but snow fall always manages to add a picturesque charm to the scenery. 

Ker-Xavier Roussel
L’Education du Chien (Training the Dog), 1893

Ker-Xavier Roussel (1867 - 1944), L'Education du Chien (Training the Dog), 1893, © Cecil Higgins Collection (The Higgins Bedford)

Roussel was a painter and lithographer with links to Les Nabis, a French Post-Impressionist group whose work is often characterised by flat planes of colour and a simplicity of line. Their name was derived from the Hebrew word for prophet. There was a spiritual nature to the group’s principles, as they aimed to revitalise painting as ‘prophets of modern art’, believing that painting was the harmonious grouping of colour and line.

It is this simplicity of line and shape that it utilised in L'Education du Chien, with the negative space alluding to snow drifts, and loose lines depicting a chaotic path made by the unruly dog. With its block colour and stylised composition, this print is reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints, which were considered fashionable throughout Europe in the late 19th century, and comparisons can be made to the snow scenes by Hiroshige.

Much like Fraiser in his snow scene, Russell uses blue tones to suggest a sense of biting cold. In the blue faces of the women pictured, you can’t help but recall bitter winds and numb noses from venturing out into the winters cold. The Les Nabis were big believers in colours being instrumental in conveying experience.

Paul Nash
Snow Scene, c.1943

Paul Nash (1889 - 1946), Snow Scene, c.1943, © Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford)

Paul Nash played a vital role in the development of British Modernism, primarily producing landscapes throughout his artistic career. He is perhaps most well-known for his symbolic war landscapes. His decorative manner of painting, which is present in the works he produced during the First World War, developed into the abstract style which can be seen in Snow Scene, and uses planes of colour and a limited pallet to represent drifts of snow and bowing branches of trees.

Snow Scene would have been painted towards the end of Nash’s life, when he was suffering from a decline in his health due to chronic asthma, a condition that resulted in his death. Although housebound, his love for landscape prevailed, working with a pair of field glasses to sketch the landscapes from his window. In this painting, I think we can share the comfort of viewing the cold weather from the warmth of the indoors.

Under the Same Sky will be on display when The Higgins Bedford reopens until 21st April 2021.

Written by Hannah White, Curatorial Volunteer