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Picturesque St Albans Edwardian Art

“ The pictorial features of our quaint City are gradually but surely disappearing…”

These were the words of Charles Ashdown and Frederick Kitton in 1893, local residents angered by the destruction of the older buildings which provided St Albans with its special character.

  F.G. Kitton - F.G. Kitton - "Old Cottages, Holywell Hill, St Albans" c.1900. Pencil sketch.

Just over 100 years ago, very broadly speaking the Edwardian period, much art was being produced by the vibrant community of artists living in St Albans City and District. Many of the artists had moved to the thriving market town as it was the perfect picturesque country base from which they could commute into London. For others, it was simply where they had friends or family. The Edwardian period was a time of great change for the city with an enormous amount of building activity and an impressive number of civic events, such as pageants.

Frederick Kitton, famous Dickens biographer, was amongst the artists. He moved to St Albans to focus on his writing about Dickens and became heavily involved with civic activities campaigning for the preservation of various old buildings including the Moot Hall, curating the archives at the City Museum (now the Museum of St Albans) and illustrating various publications including the Hertfordshire Advertiser.

H. Mitton Wilson - The Clock Tower, St Albans. 1905. Oil on canvas. H. Mitton Wilson - The Clock Tower, St Albans. 1905. Oil on canvas.

Two of Kitton’s personal friends, Holmes Edwin Cornelius Winter and Henry George Moon were also prominent artists. Henry George Moon formed the Moo-Kitt sketching club with Frederick Kitton. He is most well known for the artwork he produced for F. Sanders great publication on Orchids the ‘Reichenbachia’. Moon eventually married Sanders' daughter and together they worked at the farm in Camp Road.

At the same time that Moon was becoming acquainted with the Sanders family, Frederick Kitton was embarking on a series of walking tours. Some were related to Dickens and his travels but one rather unusual one was with his friend Holmes Edwin Cornelius Winter. Together they toured the country dressed as itinerant musicians and it was this trip that introduced Winter to St Albans. He produced a series of etchings entitled ‘The last of Old St Albans’ showing many of the old buildings which Kitton was campaigning to save. Some of these were knocked down, such as the Woodman’s Cottage at the bottom of Albert Street.

Other contemporaries of Kitton include Phipson, Griggs, Dunning and the Hines. Dunning was another friend of Kitton and was also part of the Moo-Kitt sketching club. However it is Dunning’s friend Henry Mitton Wilson who is perhaps better known. He was interested in French impressionism and was part of a movement of artists concerned about the change in the nature of the countryside resulting from depopulation. Mitton Wilson’s oil paintings feature country lanes, gypsies and fields alongside the predictable views of St Albans such as the Clock Tower.

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