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  • The Phillimore Connection

    Jack Haigh

    Published Date : August 1987
     On July 5, 1984, the following notice appeared in the London Daily Mail:

    Given carte blanche to clear piles of “rubbish” from outbuildings at his weekend cottage in Devon my colleague Jack Haigh discovered the paintings and personal papers of the great Victorian watercolorist R. P. Phillimore.

    There were also many of the picture postcards for which Phi]limore is famous, together with their original artwork. Phillimore used to sell the cards for a halfpenny but collectors now pay four pounds a time. Jack [Haigh], the Daily Mail’s cricket statistician, is going to publish a series of books based on the postcards and the many letters and papers he found. He also plans a London exhibition of Phillimore’s exquisite watercolours.

    The Phillimore Cottage

    The Phillimore cottage is situated midway between Torquay and Plymouth in the county of Devon, England. There are eleven outbuildings, two greenhouses, and a garage on the grounds of the large main cottage. In the outbuildings were stored suitcases, wooden boxes, ship’s cabin trunks, tin boxes, along with a heterogenous mass of old costumes, fur coats, etc., which had been there for over 30 years.  The previous tenant, Wilfred Henderson Phillimore, son of the painter, was the last of his male line and had inherited all of his relatives’ personal papers and possessions.  Dealers had removed everything they thought of value from the cottages, and as the new tenant I was told there was nothing left of any intrinsic value. Ordinarily the sheds would have been emptied and everything burned.  However, I had discovered four large files of personal letters, and among the letters were approximately 50 [hand-painted] postcards written by the artist R. P. Phillimore to his nephew, W. H. Phillimore.  I thought the postcards were charming and the work of a highly talented artist.  The letters were also fascinating.  Thus I sorted carefully the contents of the sheds looking for memorabilia of interest.

    An Aladdin’s Cave

    Over the course of the next seven years, on weekend visits while the writer was working as a sports editor in London, the old house was renovated, the sheds emptied, and the grounds restored.  All sorts of treasures came to light during that period.  The estate for me became a modern Aladdin’s Cave.

    Along with the postcard collection I found many watercolor paintings by the same artist.  Although they were unframed, they had been protected from the light and most were as fresh as if just painted.

    I also found the personal letters of W.H. Phillimore, together with family documents, photographs, and other ephemera.  In one letter he says “Some people are too ready to dispose of a deceased person’s goods from no sense of value, or rather, to oblige or give to friends.  Thus many valuable documents, etc., have been lost in the past. . .“  Wilfred Henderson Phillimore practiced what he preached.  From circa 1800 on, he carefully preserved the documents and letters of the Phillimore family, business papers as well as private correspondence.  By the Genie of the Lamp, the following information on the Phillimore brothers is now available.

    The Artist

    Reginald Phillimore Phillimore, the artist, was born at Nottingham. 23 January 1855, went to Oxford where he earned his Bachelor of Arts (honors in History), and later studied art at Nottingham and Oxford.

    In his painting, he concentrated first on watercolor painting and exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Royal Scottish Academy, the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, and the Royal Institute of British Artists and Sculptors.  He next turned his attention to etchings and achieved a high reputation.

    A very fine etching of Lincoln Cathedral has been published by Mr. R. P. Phil]imore in continuation of a series of views of Cathedrals of England…and a more beautiful view of this portion of the noble building we have never seen.
    Lincoln Gazette

    We regard Mr. Phillimore’s interesting and careful work as one of the best representations of our Cathedral (Chester) that we have seen for some years.
    Chester Courant


    Phillimore produced over 100 etchings of various sizes, but around the turn of the century, postcards were becoming popular with the public, and R.P.P. saw a wonderful opportunity.  He formed his own company and began to produce postcards, his newfound metier, using his paintings and etchings.  His first postcard was a view of Fidra Island, which lies off the coast near Edinburgh.  Altogether in his lifetime he produced approximately 670 postcards.

    R.P. Phillimore combined his gifts for painting, drawing, and draftsmanship with his other absorbing interest, history.  His Historical Series of postcards comprises a large portion of his work.  Subjects include cathedrals, abbeys, castles, towers, and reconstructions of battles and legends.  He also published histories of the Bass Rock, Tantalion Castle, and a guide book to North Berwick.

    The average printing for a card was 1,000 copies, but popular subjects such as Bass Rock, Shakespeare’s Birthroom, the storming of Edinburgh Castle, etc., would be printed by the 5,000 and often repeated. Between 1910 and 1912, in order to secure terms for a better quality card, Phillimore would have 10 cards printed per sheet with a minimum order of 2,000.  He also peddled the cards himself, traveling from town to town and to established dealers.

    Considering his paintings, etchings, postcards, calendars, histories, and guide books, there were an estimated one million Phillimore items in circulation during his peak period.  This is an amazing contribution for any one man to make to any form of art.

    The Genealogist

    The artist’s eldest brother, William Phillimore Watts (W.P.W.) Phillimore, was born 27 October 1853, also in Nottingham.  A brilliant scholar, he completely outshined his artistic brother during his lifetime.  He obtained his B.A. at Queen’s College, Oxford, in 1876, and his M.A. in 1880, taking a Second Class honors in Jurisprudence, and also became a Bachelor of Civil Law.

    Working principally on genealogy and records, he advocated the formation of Local Record Offices.  He founded the British Record Society in 1887 and edited the early volumes of its Index Library.  In fact the first three volumes were co-published in America by Cupples & Hurd, 94 Boylston Street, Boston.  The society is now housed with the Department of History, University of Keele, Staffordshire.

    W. P. W. Phillimore also initiated the Scottish Record Society in 1896, the Thoroton Society, Nottinghamshire, 1897, and the Canterbury and York Society, in 1904, all of which are still thriving.  He was a corresponding member of NEHGS, as well as of the Chicago Historical Society and the Virginia Historical Society.

    Phillimore wrote a number of genealogical books, the best known of which was How to Write the History of a Family (1887), which ran to several editions and was said to be indispensable to genealogists who were working on pedigrees and family histories at the time.  He compiled a number of family histories, such as the Family of Smith of Shute (1900), the Family of Middlemore (1901), and the Family of Holbrow (1901).  The best known of his other works are Pedigree Work (1900), Heralds’ College and Coats of Arms Regarded from a Legal Aspect (1904), The Law and Practice of Grants of Arms (1905), and Changes of Name (1906).  He edited an impressive list of publications, including Coram Rege Roll of 1297, Rotuli Hugonis de Welles, 1209-1234, Index to Changes of Name, 1760 to 1901, etc. He also printed marriage registers for various counties.

    In 1897 W. P. W. Phillimore formed his own publishing company, Phillimore & Company, at 124 Chancery Lane, London, which moved in the 1960s to Chichester, Sussex, but continued to publish books in the W. P. W. Phillimore tradition.  In 1986 the company published the first complete translation of The Domesday Book in 900 years, with Latin and English in parallel text, in 35 volumes, each county available separately.

    W.P.W. Phillimore died in 1913.  In a tribute to him in The Genealogist, October 1913, the writer W.G.D. Fletcher, F.S.A., says “Of Phillimore’s work it is impossible to speak too highly.  There is no living genealogist who is not indebted to his publications, and who will not render a tribute of gratitude to his memory.”

    Thanks to Wilfred Henderson Phillimore, who preserved the family documents, there is still much to be written about the Phillimore family.  It is ironical to think that all his efforts would have been for nothing if some 50-odd handpainted postcards of tinted colors had not caught the eye of a freelance journalist, one of whose subjects was the indexing of books on art.

    But, surely, that is what genealogy is all about.

    * * * * *

    Note: The art of R.P. Phillimore was on exhibit at Lavender Hill in London in July.

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