J Armitage, Dramatist

J Armitage
My first drawing using a vector pen in Clip Studio Paint.
Leeds Mercury, 7 June 1913, copyright Johnstone Press, image created courtesy of the British Library Board.

J Armitage was a dramatist, whose plays ‘received the compliments of many distinguished people’ according to a photo feature in the Leeds Mercury, dated Saturday, 7 June, 1913.

A Jesse Armitage appears in the 1911 census for Horbury; then aged 24, he was employed as a railway clerk. He lived in the family home, at 4 Mortimer Row, Westfield Road with his parents Sarah, aged 50, and John, aged 55, a railway platelayer. Also still at home, his younger brother Harry, aged 20, worked as a house painter and decorator.

Ten years earlier, in 1901, Jesse, then aged 14, was working as a railway telegraph boy. When Jesse started at school, aged 4, the family had lived on Queen Street, Horbury. In 1913 he married Amy Bower, aged 25 or 26, a dressmaker from nearby Tithe Barn Street.

There’s a record of the death of a Jesse Armitage, aged 40, in the Wakefield area, registered in the first quarter of 1927.

And that’s about all I’ve been able to find out about our local dramatist so far. I’d love to know whether he wrote dramas or comedies.

Leeds Mercury
Leeds Mercury, Saturday, 7 June, 1913, copyright Johnstone Press, image created courtesy of the British Library Board.

Rickaro Bookshop

Bookshop window

Book coverIf you’re trying to track down one of my books, this bookshop on Horbury High Street is a good place to start. In addition to my local booklets, walks guides and sketchbooks, bookseller Richard Knowles often has copies of my long out-of-print titles such as my first, A Sketchbook of the Natural History of the Country Round Wakefield; I spotted two copies of the paperback version on his shelves recently.

This is the first time that I’ve tried the Adobe Illustrator trace option on a colour photograph. The results remind me of the British Library’s reprints of vintage detective fiction, which often have a period travel poster or similar artwork on the cover, hence my book cover design (all I’ve got to do now is write the mystery novel to go with it).


I could learn something from Illustrator when it comes to being bold and confident in the use of colour. In comparison with this posterised effect, my watercolour is soft and tentative. Not always a bad thing but bold and confident would be good from time to time.


Rickaro Bookshop, High Street, Horbury

William Baines Leaflet

Following a discussion on the Horbury and Sitlington History Facebook page, I looked out a copy of my leaflet, The Yorkshire of William Baines, produced as part of my Major Project on the Communication Design (graphic design) course at Leeds College of Art.

The project grew and grew until it included an exhibition and a recital by pianist Eric Parkin at the Harrogate Festival in August 1972, followed by another recital in Horbury, Baines’ home town, in the November (the 50th anniversary of his death, aged just 23), when Parkin was joined by contralto Caroline Foster, who performed five songs by Baines. I transcribed the songs from copies of the original manuscripts but fortunately pianist and singer were able to perform despite my inevitable errors.

Since my degree show days, my enthusiasm for pen and ink drawing and my interest in local history remain undiminished, but I’m so glad that my struggles with Letraset Times New Roman are a thing of the past. Letraset was rub-on lettering supplied on a plastic sheet, which was almost impossible to apply successfully. I wish that I could have had access to a time machine to pop forward 46 years to set up the project on my current iMac!

Victor Ambrus

My pen and ink style was heavily influenced by Victor Ambrus, at that time a prolific illustrator of history and children’s books, and later a regular on Channel 4’s Time Team. He incorporated finger prints into his drawings, so, so did I. I felt that if I could use the same pen and the same paper as he did, I might be able to achieve the assured springiness of his line.

I was lucky enough to get a chance to ask him about his technique when he did a session at a Children’s Book Fair in Leeds. I remember him telling me that he used layout paper for pen and ink work, and some readily available dip pen nib (if I remember rightly, he didn’t use a mapping pen).

Gathering material for the leaflet, I borrowed photographs and drawings from residents and former residents of Horbury and ordered copies of documents and photographs from the Baines archive in the Additional Manuscripts department of the British Library, which was then housed in the British Museum.

The publication was to be a booklet, but one of my graphic design tutors, John Daffern, persuaded me at a late stage to try something more adventurous, so it became two broadsheets in a card cover plus a facsimile of a career-changing telegram that Baines received from composer Arthur Eaglefield Hull. All this in a decorated envelope, that I sent out mail order, stamp stuck over the price tag – 5p – in the top right-hand corner.

The leaflet is currently available from the Rickaro Bookshop, Horbury.


Rickaro Bookshop

Horbury and Sitlington History Page Facebook group



Continuing to experiment with drawing comics in line only, I’ve made a start on trying to capture memories of my class teachers from junior school days.

Miss Andrassy – I think she was ‘Miss’, not Mrs – was our teacher when we started at St Peter’s Juniors in Horbury.

Miss Andrassy was keen on art and I remember her setting up a still life for us to draw.

In our second year, Mr Harker, then in the pre-fab in the playground, was the teacher who first introduced us to dip pens and joined-up writing.

I’ve got strong mental impressions of these characters but some details of their appearance are guesswork, for instance did Miss Andrassy wear glasses?

I’ll come back to her after I’ve drawn Mr Thompson (third year) and Mr Lindley (fourth year), as I’m sure I could get nearer to the character I see in my mind’s eye.

Mr Harker didn’t tax my memory to the same extent as I saw him earlier this year in Debenham’s cafe in Wakefield, and he’s very much the same personality that I remember from almost sixty years ago.

Newsagents, 1938

Tracing from a vintage postcard in Clip Studio Paint.

I recently joined a local history group on Facebook, focussing on Horbury and neighbouring Sitlington. This newsagents caught my attention; it appears in the left-hand corner of a postcard of Queen Street, Horbury, one of series which Helen Bickerdike, administrator of the group, has been posting.

I’ve been doing a bit or research into the film titles on the poster for the Savoy Cinema and into what I can decipher of the newspapers and journals. I’ll explain more when I finish the picture and can pick out some of the details but it must have been taken a year or two before the outbreak of World War II, perhaps in January, 1938.

The shop, which was Noble’s Newsagents in until the late 1960s, appears, second from the left, on the cover of my booklet.

Like the digital painting of Coxley Beck which I posted the other day, I’m doing this as a way of getting thoroughly familiar with the program Clip Studio Paint.

When I was writing my local history booklets, such as Around Old Horbury (1998), I did a lot of drawings like this, initially by sitting on street corners with my sketchbook, but later using my own photographs as reference.

I had a unique opportunity when I redrew the cover illustration as a wrap-around design for a china mug. When I arrived in Horbury, one Sunday morning, I discovered that they’d closed the High Street for resurfacing and I was able to sit on my fishing stool in the middle of the road, to get a perfect view of the sweeping curve at the lower end of Queen Street.


Around Old Horbury on my Willow Island Editions website (£2.95, post free in the U.K.)

Getting it in Proportion

Sitting in the dentist’s waiting room, looking up Queen Street, I’m attempting to draw the spire of St Peter and St Leonard’s Church, Horbury.

The proportions are so subtle; the tower’s structure reminds me of a four-stage Saturn rocket, about to soar skywards but it might so easily, with the addition of an extra foot or so of girth, start to appear crushingly earthbound or, conversely, if too slender, become too spindly and emaciated to inspire confidence.

It’s the same with the individual pillars: there’s such a slim ‘Goldilocks zone’ between undernourished and elephantine. I think that he got it just right.

The architect, John Carr(1723-1807), started his career working the stone in local quarries. As far as I know, he never had any formal training in architecture, nor did he ever make the Grand Tour, to absorb the classical influence of Italy but as bridge surveyor to the West Riding of Yorkshire, he had an eye for structure.

I walked past the church every day when I attended St Peter’s Junior School, which in those days stood close to where the dentist’s stands today. As I looked up at that wedding cake of a spire, so unlike anything else in Horbury, I’d imagine the kind of character that might be living in there, in the pilastered penthouse apartment above the rusticated clock section. Shutters and a the mini-balcony made me think of Spain or Mexico, so a mantillared señorita or a caballero.

The rotunda of columns could be a home for a minor Greek deity.

Hands and High Street

High Street
handI’m feeling relaxed enough, as we wait for our bagels in the Caffé Capri, to draw a high-speed sketch of the view up Horbury High Street. After all, if it doesn’t turn out to be precisely in the correct perspective, what does it matter? It’s not like me to say that, is it?!

handNo vase of flowers to draw in the hairdressers today, so it’s back to hands.

Hands, yes my perennial subject but not a bad one to mug up on with my Waterton comic strip project looming. Twelve pages, eight frames per page, and average of, say two people in each frame, that’s 12 x 8 x 2 figures, about 192 figures, each with two hands so that could be a total of 384 hands to draw!

I need to keep practicing.


uniglazeI enjoy drawing bits of buildings, often the side that the architect didn’t intend us to see. This window showroom at the top end of Cluntergate, Horbury, was drawn with a fine Faber-Castell Pitt artist pen as we sat in the Caffe Capri opposite.

The watercolour was added later using a photograph I took on my Olympus Tough as reference.

The Baines Family, 1912

Baines family
The Baines family, c. 1912; George William (who would then have been 39), William (13), Edward Henry (5) and Mary Alice (37).

plaque2While researching the life of composer William Baines for a college project in 1972, I was lucky to be able to interview a number of his contemporaries including a friend of the family, Nora Naylor.

Mrs Naylor who lived at 45 Cooperative Street, Horbury gave me this photograph of the Baines family, sent as Christmas card c. 1912.


It looks to me as if William has written the Christmas message as I’m sure that I recognise that handwriting from his early manuscripts and possibly the ‘To Nora Radley’ (her maiden name) in pencil.

Born in 1908, Nora told me that she remembered William and his tragically early death on 6 November 1922. Just as she was telling me this, her aunt, then aged 96 walked in and said ‘I remember when his parents were married.’

In the 1911 census, Nora’s aunt, then 35, is listed as a yarn reeler at a worsted manufacturer. Nora’s father, a widower aged 34, was an iron turner at the railway wagon works.


I didn’t keep meticulous records but I’m pretty sure that this photograph of Alice and George William was also given to me by Nora. It might have been taken at a roadside or railway cutting somewhere near Horbury – or perhaps on an excursion to the coast?

In the 1911 census the Baines family were living at 16 Church Street, Horbury, since demolished. He described his occupation as ‘Grocer and Music Teacher’. Considering their modest circumstances, I was surprised that the family employed a domestic servant; Annie Elizabeth Bradbury, 17, who was born at New Whittington, Derbyshire.

William Baines

William evidently learnt his musical skills from his father but I get the impression that his creative side owed a lot to his mum.

From these photographs you can also see that William inherited a certain sense of style from his father. In the earlier photograph George William reminds me of Pagget’s illustrations of Doctor Watson in the Strand Magazine.


Rickaro bookshopIT’S RARE for me to have a whole hour free so to make the most of it, while I wait for Barbara to finish work, I draw the  bookshop, starting with the door frame and working across the double-page spread, running out of ink halfway and borrowing a pen from Barbara to finish.

With any complicated subject I have to establish an anchor point before I can start mapping everything in its place. Those long verticals of the door frame that I started with on the left weren’t much help and it was only when I established the leaded window above the door that I was able to get a grip on proportions. The 45° pattern made a useful grid.

You can see where this went slightly wrong as the window started going into perspective on the right, my drawing equivalent to the distortions you’d get if you were photographing the scene with a wide-angle lens.