Was talented railway engineer artist of clever 1930s caricatures?

MAINONLY A SHORT STROLL..: From Bells Road, Gorleston, to the White Lion Hotel where traders and oth

MAINONLY A SHORT STROLL..: From Bells Road, Gorleston, to the White Lion Hotel where traders and others met socially before the war. On the left of this postcard, snapped early last century, is the shop later owned by newsagent Ernie Spain, a Punch Bowl member who had only a two-minute walk along Upper Cliff Road to the hotel.Picture: DENNIS DURRANT COLLECTION - Credit: Archant

Well, who would have anticipated that a 1937 cartoon of caricatures of local men, featured in this column recently, would provoke a difference of opinion about the identity of the artist? Not I, for one.

VENUE: The White Lion Hotel, pictured pre-war when Mrs F Fowler owned it. “A first-class billiard sa

VENUE: The White Lion Hotel, pictured pre-war when Mrs F Fowler owned it. “A first-class billiard saloon” was one of its advertised attractions, as were its sea and harbour views. Today it is apartments.Picture: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

The cartoon included 33 characters against the background of the stylised capital letters PUNCH BOWL 1937. I speculated that they were Gorleston businessmen who met after work to socialise, possibly at the White Lion Hotel at the corner of Cliff Hill and Upper Cliff Road. They dubbed their venue the Punch Bowl.

ALL-ROUND TALENT: John Holmes (right), pictured with Arthur Barkway at a Great Yarmouth and District

ALL-ROUND TALENT: John Holmes (right), pictured with Arthur Barkway at a Great Yarmouth and District Society of Artists annual dinner.Picture: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

That week’s Mercury was hardly in circulation when old friend John Applegate, of Wadham Road, Gorleston – a talented painter and exhibitor for many years – phoned to declare: “The artist was John Holmes. If you look closely, you can see his monogram (JH) at the bottom right-hand corner.

“He was a clever chap, a top-notch railway engineer and supervisor who lived on Burgh Road and, I think, died at least seven or eight years ago. His son has survived him. He was a member of the Great Yarmouth and District Society of Artists and, apart from his art work, he was also an expert at wood carving.”

According to John Applegate, Mr Holmes was a great friend of celebrated local artist Roland Fisher (1885–1969), both patronising the White Lion.

Problem solved first go, I told myself smugly. But then I was visited by Peter Allard, of Mallard Way, Bradwell, a long-time friend of this column.

He provided another name for the caricaturist after research and consulting his elderly father Ray, of Green Lane, Bradwell.

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They reckoned the artist was H A Moseley, who lodged in Upper Cliff Road and was a regular in the White Lion. “The original was in the possession of my grandfather and, when he died in 1974, it was given to the White Lion by dad. Many of the caricatures were of regulars in the pub and grandfather Tom is depicted on the left side of the W in BOWL. When the pub closed, I believe GOSH (Gorleston-on-Sea Heritage) rescued this drawing and still has the original.

“I have a nice Moseley drawing given to me by my grandfather of a house in Row 128.”

When Peter re-scrutinised the cartoon in the light of John Applegate’s information, he conceded: “It does appear to have a ‘JH’ in the bottom right-hand corner. However, dad still thinks it was done by Moseley.

“Dad’s father Tom had this cartoon and other Moseley drawings on his walls. However, it would be nice to have it confirmed that it was by John Holmes. My grandfather told dad the names of all the caricatures, but at nearly 92 my dad can remember only a few.

“My grandfather had two radio shops (Modern Radio) in Bells Road during the 1930s, and the White Lion was the meeting place for local businessmen. My dad can remember the cartoon well as it used to hang on the wall at Bells Road during the war. When grandfather died, the original cartoon (which had no names on it) passed to my father who later gave it to the White Lion.”

It transpired that both John Holmes and H A Moseley drew cartoons for the Yarmouth Mercury pre-war.

From various sources, I gleaned more information and names of characters depicted in the Punch Bowl 1937 cartoon: Fred Bellamy, butcher, and snuff-taking William Tacon, watchmaker and jeweller, both in Bells Road; Mr French, Barclays Bank manager, father of Hilary and Marcus; Mr Claybourn, men’s outfitter, Bells Road, corner of Upper Cliff Road; Tom Allard, radio dealer, Bells Road; Arthur Dye, of Dye and Rant (builders); Billy Wales, also draper and furnisher, Bells Road; and Alf Lodge, dairyman and hotelier and also a noted amateur boxer...

So, John Holmes was the caricaturist. But who was he?

Margaret Calver and nonagenarian Julian Macey, stalwarts of our local Society of Artists, provided me with information from its archives. When the society was launched 87 years ago, founder-members included none other than White Lion manager Oliver Redgrave whose chum, John Holmes, later drew him into his cartoon.

Yorkshireman John Holmes was born in 1907 and, despite obtaining a scholarship to art school, spent his professional life on the railways, moving to the East Coast in the 1930s and retiring in 1972.

He joined the Yarmouth society began in 1934 and was to become chairman and president while striving “to promote sound artistic standards and preserve the society’s traditions, many of which had their origins in his innovative mind”, according to a tribute delivered at a memorial exhibition of his work promoted by the society in 1984 at the Shrublands Youth and Adult Centre in Gorleston where Julian Macey was long-serving warden.

The tribute recorded that Mr Holmes “for several years was the cartoonist for the Yarmouth Mercury and, in the summer of 1939, just before the outbreak of war, he was being interviewed with a view to being cartoonist for the national press.

“A very early exhibition of his work was at the White Lion Hotel, Gorleston, in the Thirties – caricatures of a number of politicians which are mentioned in the Norfolk Pub Guide.

“John’s beautiful wood carvings have gone to all parts of this country and as far as the Continent, America and Canada. One of his most spectacular works was of a shoal of fish, now in Cambridgeshire.

“Local commissions included a sculpture of the Virgin Mary for St Mary’s Church, Southtown, and one of St Bartholomew for Corton Church. In 1961 he executed a commemorative plaque at the Shrublands centre to former chairman Bert Holmes – a beautiful relief carving depicting its activities.”

John Holmes joined Shrublands in the 1960s, becoming heavily involved in its management as well as leading its art group. Many aspiring local artists owed their achievements in painting and sketching “to his encouragement, untiring effort and patient guidance.”

Despite his gift for wood-carving, John Holmes worked in other media, including oils, and “was equally at home painting portraits, landscapes and still-life subjects. As a complete contrast, he designed and painted scenery for many of the Shrublands drama productions – a task he was engaged in on the day of his death.”