During the Tudor period (1485-1603), especially in the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547) there was a transformation of English medieval design and mapping practice, at first in a military context. There are very few maps of any kind for the British Isles before Henry VIII commissioned maps of English coasts and harbours, then pioneering plans, surveys and designs by leading Tudor engineers appeared. The traditional manner of representing towns was by means of ‘chorography’, typically an elevated, "bird's eye" view of a settlement in a wider landscape. The term had originated in Ptolemy’s Geographia to distinguish world maps from the representations of specific places and regions. As William Cuningham defined it, chorography:
- ‘sheweth the partes of th’earth, divided in themselves. And severally describeth, the portes, rivers, havens, fluddes, hilles, mountaynes, cities, vaillages, buildings, fortresses, walles, yea and every particular thing, in that parte conteined’.
Whereas geography utilised the abstract geometry of the sphere, this science was understood to appeal primarily to the senses:
- ‘as if a painter shuld set forth the eye, or eare of a man, and not the whole body, so that chorographic consisteth rather in describying the qualitie and figure, then the bignes, and quantitie or any thinge’.
Although scale maps of towns and large engineering projects had been used in Italy since the end of the fifteenth century, the technique initially remained virtually unknown in England. The earliest surviving examples occur in a group of four plans or ‘plats’ probably made in early 1541 by Richard Lee and the mason-engineer John Rogers at Guines, one of the English strongholds in the Pale of Calais. In general urban surveyors gave closer attention to prominent buildings than to the mass of ordinary dwellings (see the "Smith Map" as an example). Churches and castles would be drawn individually, while houses might just be indicated by rows of identical roofed boxes. The Military Survey of Scotland was the forerunner of the Ordnance Survey, as a State-produced series of high-standard modern maps. It was launched in 1747 response to the Jacobite rebellion and completed in 1755 under the direction of William Roy. Drawn up at a scale of 1 inch to 1000 yards, the Military Survey provide the first detailed maps of Scotland.
While Tudor Britain was being subjected to military surveys it also came under increasingly close topographical study of a non-military kind: the advantages of scale maps for other situations were quickly recognised. The first measured estate plans from the 1570s and 1580s, for example, are the direct descendants of the drawings produced by Henry VIII’s engineers. In the wake of John Leland’s countrywide explorations of ‘things very memorable’ in his Itinerary of the 1530s and 1540s, educated Tudor gentlemen took to topography in some numbers. The best known work, William Camden’s Britannia (first published in 1586) covered the whole kingdom, but more often surveys did not reach beyond a single county. Illustrations were little used in the printed texts until the beginning of the 17th century. Even before that time, however, the advance of topographical scrutiny in county surveys, heraldic visitations and local histories threw up a variety of pictorial material reflecting the interests of those who were undertaking the work: Roman antiquities, pedigrees, coats of arms, churches and their monuments, maps and charts. Randle Holme of Chester produced copious notes and sketches but never wrote an antiquarian book as such.
The antiquarian topographer enjoyed his real heyday in the 18th century. From 1717 the newly re-established Society of Antiquaries sponsored the publication of fine engravings and its members individually acted as enthusiastic patrons and collectors. The topographers par excellence who catered to this growing market of the learned and curious were the brothers Samuel and Nathaniel Buck. Buck’s "Antiquities" (1774 - Robert Sayer had obtained the brothers' plates, added page numbers to them and published them as Buck's Antiquities) was one of the early symptoms of the ‘Gothic revival’ which was to spread through the country from the middle of the 18th century. Its effect was to convert public taste from the orderliness of classical balance and symmetry to the wild, the ruinous and the romantic, and it made its mark in all branches of art from painting to landscape gardening.
Depictions of the City
Possibly the earliest depiction of Chester is William Smith’s (1588) drawing of Chester from the preparatory work for his “The Particuler Description of England. With the portratures of certaine of the cheiffest citties & townes” (Source: British Library, Harley MS 1046, fol. 173). This formed the basis of the Smith Map of Chester. William Smith was a colourful figure who was in his time merchant, traveller, herald and cartographer – even for a while keeper of the Goose Inn in Nuremberg. The engraver Daniel King was associated with the illustrations to a number of topographical works including the Vale Royall of England published in 1656. This featured a survey of Cheshire by William Smith and William Webb, and included also ‘An Excellent Discourse on the Isle of Man’. Daniel King’s drawings for the ‘Discourse’ are to be found in a sketchbook in the British Library collections. They are stiff, uncomplicated and uncoloured, as befitted work whose main function was a guide to the engraver. The addition of key-lettering confirms them as studies for the preparation of book illustrations. In the opinion of one of his patrons, the distinguished antiquary and herald Sir William Dugdale (the foe of Randle Holme), Daniel King was ‘a silly fellow…an arrant knave’. Certainly he is not noted for the accuracy of his records. Like other British artists of the mid-17th century, King was greatly influenced by the Bohemian Wenceslaus Hollar, a map draughtsman of outstanding quality (see: Hollar's Map), but more importantly a leading exponent of the latest continental import in topography – ground level "prospects" and "landskips".
"Chester and the Roodee" by Pieter Tillemans (1684-1734) is the earliest known oil painting of Chester and falls into the class of the many "equestrian" paintings of Chester.
The architecture of Chester has been the subject of many engravings and paintings. Favoured subjects include the Cathedral, St Johns, the Old Dee Bridge, Chester Castle and (later) Grosvenor Bridge. Many of these illustrations were prepared for the profusion of "guidebooks" on Chester which appeared between the 1780's and the 1880's. These included the works of Broster, Pigot, Hanshall, Ormerod, Batenham, Seacome, Hemingway and Hughes. Others were no doubt sold as single prints to tourists. One such seller was John Gresty of Eastgate Street who published prints by, amongst others, McGahey, famous for his innovative "Balloon View" of Chester.
One apparently popular view was that from Boughton looking downriver. Another favorite for illustrators was the view of Chester from the far side of the River Dee near the brick-fields at Overleigh/Hough Green.
Chester School of Art
Chester School of Art was housed in the Grosvenor Museum from 1886, when the museum was built. It originated in a School of Art, established circa 1850, and in the School of Science, fostered by the Chester Society of Natural Science, Literature and Art, founded by Canon Charles Kingsley in 1871. The Schools of Art and Science were amalgamated in 1886. Although the day technical school, founded at the museum in 1892, developed into the City and County School for Boys, and removed to Queen's Park in 1912, the School of Art remained at the museum. It ceased to exist as a separate school in 1956, when it became a department of the College of Further Education, opened in Eaton Road, Handbridge in 1956. Classes were held at the museum until circa 1960.
Artists Living in Chester
George Cuitt (The Younger: 1779-1854) followed his father's profession as an artist from his youth, and added to it the art of etching, which he developed with great success, being induced to do so by a careful study of Piranesi's 'Roman Antiquities.' At the suggestion of Thomas Harrison (who had studied with his father in Rome) Cuitt came to Chester, where he became a teacher of drawing, and published, in 1810 and 1811, 'Six Etchings of Saxon and other Buildings remaining at Chester,' 'Six Etchings of Old Buildings in Chester,' and 'Six Etchings of Picturesque Buildings in Chester,' and, in 1815, five etchings for a 'History of Chester' (written by Pigot). A sketchbook dated 1821 documents travels in North Wales, Warwickshire, Derbyshire, Durham, and Yorkshire. Cuitt returned to Richmond perhaps in 1821 and built himself a house in Masham. He resumed view painting and published several more sets of etchings, including one of Yorkshire abbeys. His etchings were collected into one volume by Nattali, to whom he had sold the copyright, and published in 1855. Cuitt died in Masham on 15 July 1854.
William Huggins (May 1820 – 25 February 1884) was an English artist, from Liverpool. He was one of the most important and interesting Victorian artists to have lived in or near Chester. In 1861 Huggins moved to Chester where he lived with his brother, Samuel, until 1865. Huggins work at this time moved from animals to buildings (his brother, Samuel was a notable architectural writer). He painted Chester Cathedral which his brother was to go on to defend when it was to be restored. After leaving his brother, he painted the "Stones of Chester, or Ruins of St. John's" (1874) and the "Salmon Trap on the Dee". He partly moved to Betws-y-Coed in 1876 so that he could paint landscapes.He lived in Chester at 4 The Groves from 1861 until 1878 or ’79, although he also took houses in North Wales in 1876 and 1878-79. By 1881 he was living 5 miles from Chester at 90 Holme Street, Tarvin. He spent the last two years of his life 2 miles from Chester at Rock House, Christleton, where he died and was buried in 1884.
Louise Rayner is first recorded as living in Chester in 1869, when she was a boarder with Robert Shearing (who owned a chemist’s in Watergate Street) and his wife Mary Anne, at 2 Ash Grove off the Wrexham Road. From Chester she sent work to exhibitions in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London. In the 1870s and ’80s Louise spent a couple of months each summer in different British towns and cities. In the 1890s her sister Margaret came to lodge with her at Chester, where they taught water-colour drawing. They moved to Tunbridge Wells about 1910, and Louise sold her last drawing in 1918 at the age of 86. The Grosvenor Museum possesses over twenty of Louise Rayner's water-colours, the largest number in any single public collection.
Alfred Bennett Bamford was a hugely prolific watercolourist based in Essex. After retirement from being a schoolmaster (1927) he moved from Essex to Tattershall, near Chester. He died on 21st October 1939, aged 82. His works in Chester include views of the Cathedral.
William Monk (1863–1937) was an English etcher, woodcut engraver and painter in oils and watercolours. Born in Chester, the son of gunmaker William Henry Monk (a business which still exists in Queen Street), he studied art at the Chester School of Art and etching at the Antwerp Academy, Belgium. He was an Associate of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers from 1884 and elected a full member (R.E.) in 1899. He lived in London from 1892 and published the "Calendorium Londonense" or "London Almanack" of his illustrations of London from 1903. He returned to Chester in 1933.
Edward Harrison Compton (11 October 1881 – 6 March 1960) was a German landscape painter and illustrator of English descent. Compton was born in Feldafing in Upper Bavaria, Germany, the second son of notable landscape painter Edward Theodore Compton. He received his early art training from his father, and after a period of study in London at the Central School of Arts and Crafts settled back in Bavaria. Like his father he was inspired by the Alps to become a mountain painter ("bergmaller") working in both oils and watercolour. However, an attack of Polio at the age of 28 meant that he had to find more accessible landscapes to paint in Germany, England northern Italy and Sicily. He provided illustrations for several travel books published by A & C Black. These books included Chester Watercolours, which implies that Compton must have stayed in Chester for some time while he completed the watercolours.
Born in Dorset in 1936, Michael Sandle moved to Douglas on the Isle of Man in 1942, and while on National Service with the Royal Artillery at Saighton Camp in 1954-55 attended evening classes at Chester School of Art, then housed in the Grosvenor Museum. He studied in Douglas, London and Paris, and taught in Britain and Canada. He lived in Germany 1973-99, becoming Professor of Sculpture at Pforzheim and then at Karlsruhe.