Who can resist a peek into someone else's sketchbooks? But when they belong to a significant 20th century British designer like John Seymour Lindsay, this experience is not only a very personal insight into the creator's life and the particular time in history to which he belonged, but an important historical record.
L. Watercolour on paper sent as postcard 27 September 1904. Reverse says: 'Arrived quite safely and very fresh, am writing tonight.' R. Vibrant portrait in chalk and crayon. Identity of sitter unknown.
John Seymour Lindsay - Designer, Artist, Author
John Seymour Lindsay, was a designer and metalworker born in London in 1882 who - showing early talent for drawing and painting - was apprenticed at the age of seventeen as a designer and draughtsman in St John Street, Adelphi.
From this simple beginning, Seymour would later go on to create metalwork designs for the Battle of Britain Chapel in Westminster Abbey, the Tudor kitchens of Hampton Court Palace and the restoration of St Alfege church in Greenwich.
L: Boy in street, pencil on paper, 1911 | R: The “Pip” (a workmate of Lindsay's), pencil on paper, 1910
Lutyens’ Metalwork - Not All His Own Designs?
Seymour's contribution has been - until now - largely submerged beneath the reputations of his famous architectural patrons – Baker, Lutyens and Richardson. Commentators generally accept the metalwork as theirs, although it's likely that some, perhaps much, was designed by Lindsay.
One example is the Lutyens house at Little Thakenham, Suffolk, which has distinctive iron door-latches remarkably similar to those drawn by Lindsay in his book An Anatomy of English Wrought Iron (1964).
Pencil on paper, dates unknown. Left sketch is inscribed 'this was for Sir E Lutyens'.
At the bottom of the sketch are the letters VA, probably standing for Victoria and Albert Museum.
Digitalising Social History
Whilst delving into family archives, my close friend, Paul Middleton - a British independent publisher interested in social history - discovered a stash of unpublished sketchbooks belonging to Lindsay who turned out to be the grandfather of his wife, Pippa.
Paul, whose career in publishing spanned 30 years at Reader's Digest and Times Books, has been gradually digitalising the treasure trove of Lindsay's images and converting them into an eBook series: The hidden art of John Seymour Lindsay.
All watercolour on paper - L: Hotel Cecil from No.5 John Street, London WC1, 1910. | TR: Seascape, date unknown. |
BR: Ditton, Langley, Bucks 1905. On reverse: ‘This is Mr Mayus (?) place at Ditton, Back of house from orchard'.
Although some of the books in the series feature Lindsay's formal metalwork designs, my favourites are the sketches and watercolours, which offer a privileged peek into a time most definitely gone by; a time when sending digital postcards instantly from your smartphone was not an option and it was advisable to do like Lindsay and always travel with a sketchbook, watercolours and a good selection of pencils.
Postcard to Mildred Williams JSL's fiancée, from Auchnagairth, Corriegills, Brodick. Watercolour on paper, 1914.
Reverse reads: 'The sketch is of the old Druid's stone up on the Lamlash Road ... How I hope for peace'.
(An ironic comment in view of the date of sending the card and JSL's subsequent involvement in the Great War.)
All images by John Seymour Lindsay and © Paul Middleton