Collection of original artwork from Godwin school, 1899-1901 discovered - and published!

Tuesday 1 August 2023

A reader of this blog has just supplied us with a unique volume containing 50 pieces of original - mainly watercolour - artwork produced by boys from Godwin school between 1899 and 1901. We are re-opening the blog to feature it.

Caligraphic reference to the school from the book - no artist cited

The volume containing the artwork is in a poor state, and is rapidly disintegrating, but the paintings themselves survive in surprisingly good conditions.

Opening page of the book, featuring the names of the boys' work featured in it.

The school at that time was divided into three departments: boys, girls and infants. All of the paintings are from the boys' department and were collected by teacher Mr H J Earle. For details of him, the boys and a little background of the school, see footnotes at the end of this article.

Although we largely stopped publishing on this blog over four years ago, it still gets over 10,000 visits a month and has notched up almost 1.5 million hits in total since it was establised, a decade ago. We will continue, on an ad hoc basis, to publish material on it, whenever items of significance emerge. If you have collections of documents or photos that you would like to see featured, get in touch ( and we'll see what we can do.


Fifty illustrations, from a dozen boys were collected by Earle during the 1899-1901 period and are preserved in the volume. They are of an extremely high standard, bearing in mind the maximum age of most pupils at the school would have been 14 at the time.

Although the work is meticulous, unfortunately it is all derivative - copies of material the boys were asked to reproduce. There is nothing remotely original - perhaps reflecting the values of the days when children were not encouraged to be adventurous or imaginative, but merely obedient and submissive.

The skills of the boys are clear, and the legend at the front of the volume indicates its purpose (see illustration, below). The motto under the winged, mythical, lion/fish is the Latin phrase "Ars Probat Artificem" (Art is the test of the artsan). The art was regarded as a piece of occupational training, rather an expression of artistic imagination and endeavour.

"Art is the test of the artisan"

There are four or five different styles, or themes in the book, each of which features a number of different versions of the same image, reproduced by different boys.  Most items feature the name of the artist and the date of the artwork.


There are a number of examples of caligraphy on display, which would clearly have been good occupational training for future would-be commercial artists at a time when most artwork for any publication or piece of printed material was hand produced.

Artist: James Ade, 15 December 1899, C13th caligraphic letter "G"


Artist: Stanley Sadler, 30 November 1899, C13th caligraphic letter "E"

Artists: Fred Burdett, undated, C13th French caligraphic "O" and Stanley Sadler, undated C13th caligraphic "H", plus a C13th French border design undated, by Fred Burdett

Some of the examples were fine detailed block work and some reproductions of thirteenth century French work (presumably because this was part of the little reference work the boys had access to).

Still life

This is probably the largest collection of material in the book and covers a range of paintings of items familiar to still life artists today: flowers, birds, insects etc. Again there are several examples of reproductions of the same subject, each produced by a different boy.

Artist: Stanley Sadler, undated

Artist: Robert Godfrey, 8 October 1900

Artist: Stanley Sadler, 16 December 1900

Artist: Ernest Biddle, Xmas 1901

Artist: Stanley Sadler, 7 July 1900

Artist: Stanley Sadler, 26 January 1900

Artist: Robert Godfrey, 7 February 1901

Artist: Robert Godfrey, 9 February 1900

Artist: Stanley Sadler, 28 February 1900

Artist: Ernest Biddle, 9 February 1901

Artist: Stanley Sadler, undated

Artist: Henry Spencer, 6 April 1900

Artist: Henry Spencer, 9 January 1901

 Simple reproductions

These look like copies of postcards, or similar, that the boys had been asked to reproduce. There seems to be no originalty, but a great deal of skill in each of the pieces.

Artist: Stanley Sadler, undated, "Derwentwater"

Artist: Stanley Sadler, undated, "View of Whitby, low water"

Artist: Henry Spencer, undated, another "View of Whitby, low water", presumable copied from the same source as the one above.

Artist: unnamed, undated, "Sailing ships"

Artist: "SS" (Stanley Sadler?), undated

Artist: unnamed, undated

Design features

There are a number of examples of design features, versions of which would have been used to illustrate or enhance a page of text by turn of the centry graphic or design artists - borders, heraldry etc.

Artist: Henry Spencer, 9 December 1899, French C13th border design


Artist:Un named, undated

Artist: Robert Godfrey, 1 October, Heraldry

Artist: Gus Brabham, 19 October 1900 "Copy of Tournament Banner, probably during the reign of Henry V111"

Artist: Douglas Manson, 1 December 1899, "Border of Psalter presented to Edward 1"

Artist: Alfred Albon, 16 December 1899, C13th French designs

Artist: Gus Brabham, 23 November 1900, Five heraldic designs

Frank Butler

One page of the book features two painings by Frank Butler, dated 2 February 1901.  The text accompanying (see illustration) them reads: "The drawings on this page were executed by Frank Butler aged 12 years, who only has the assistance of one hand, his left".

Work of 12-year old Frank Butler, who only had the use of his left arm


Godwin at the time

The school had been in existence since 1885 and by the time these illustrations were made, the boys' department had a roll of around 500.  It is not known how large the classes were, but the school routinely received good reports from its annual inspections by HM Inspectors, For more flavour of the school at the time, see the post here, whose content is taken from the school log, which this blog was given sight of about six years ago.

The boys

We have the names of the twelve boys whose work appears in the book of artwork, but unfortunately know no more about them, or their fates.  Should any reader "claim" one, we would be delighted to hear from you. Stanley Sadler was clearly the star pupil - 19 of the illustrations were painted by him. The other artists were: Henry Spencer (8 images), Edward Sparling (1), Oliver Sheppard (1), Frank Butler - see above (2), Ernest Biddle (5), Robert Godfrey (6), Douglas Masoon (1), Alfred Albon (2), Gus Brabham (5), Fred Burdett (4) and James Ade (1).

Teacher: Mr H J Earle

We know quite a bit about Mr Earle, gleened from the school log, referred to above. He was at the school for at least 25 years (from 1887, at the latest until at least 1912). In addition to supervising the art collection, he was clearly an active sportsman, having been given permission by the West Ham School Board to leave school early one day in 1895, to represent London against Suffolk (presumably at football).

His most long-lasting claim to fame, however, seems to have been in the field of music, where he lead the school choir to prize winning performances over a number of years in the first decade of the twentieth century at the nationally prestigious Stratford Music Festival. He also lead a party of 30 Godwin choristers to an international music festival in Paris in 1912, where the choir was victorious and he was feted (for details, see here for a detailed account of the visit and its aftermath).

We have no further details of Mr Earle from public records beyond that festival and do not know when or why he finally left the school. If any reader has further information, we'd be delighted to hear - and add it to this article.

"Finis" - the book's final illustration, no artist or date cited