An appreciation of Forest Gate artist Eric Dawson

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Last year's Newham Heritage Week paid a rare local tribute to Forest Gate artist, Eric Dawson, by displaying some of his original works at The Gate, and elsewhere in Newham.

Eric Dawson in his late 80's 
These paintings are normally hidden from public view, in the stack of the reference library and archives. Many of the paintings are specifically of our local area and we felt that they deserved a more permanent public viewing.

Last train leaving Forest Gate station
We are grateful to Newham Library service, to whom Eric donated many of the paintings and to Eric and his family for being able to present them. It should be made very clear that the paintings are the copyright of Newham and Eric's family, who we are sure will be glad that they can be shared with a wider public than who normally has access to them.

Sunday evening in Upton Lane
Eric was born in Forest Gate in 1918, and was educated at West Ham Secondary school and West Ham School of Art. On the outbreak of war in 1939 he joined the armed forces, serving for almost five years.

Sunday School anniversary, Woodgrange
 Baptist church, early 1930's
After the war he joined Carlton Artists as a designer - six years later moving into women's magazines, first as Art Director of Homes and Gardens and later as Art Director to the Women's Own Group.

Woolworth's in Green Street
He later moved back to press and TV advertising, finally freelancing and working for a range of top-ranking agencies and high street companies.

Looking Back
On retirement, in 1988, he began to bring some of the memories of his earlier life back, with a series of watercolor paintings, exhibiting at the National Army Museum, Epping Forest District Museum - where he lived latterly - and about 20 other locations around London.

Grandfather and Eric Dawson, in the kitchen
Eric donated 42 paintings to Newham Council about a decade ago, all under the theme Growing up in East London 1918 -1939. To celebrate the donation, Newham Council published his memoir Looking Back, in 2006, which basically provided a commentary to the donated paintings.

The house Eric Dawson
 was born, 6 Beauchamp Road
Eric was born at the very end of World War 1, but never knew his father, who died following a gas attack in the trenches.

Children watching Dawson's fish van
 leaving Beauchamp Road for their
 shop in Woodgrange Road
The Introduction to Looking Back says of it:

He evokes a comfortable but nor really wealthy Forest Gate of close-knit families and helpful neighbours. There are some chain stores on the busier streets, but every neighbourhood has its small privately-owned shops - butcher, grocer, sweet shop, boot and shoe repairer, oil shop - providing  necessities on a daily basis.

Coffee stall by Forest Gate clock
Sunday schools and Temperance meetings attracted large audiences and it was not unusual for a cinema to seat 3,000 people. At home, evening parties included poetry recitals and songs around the piano. He described families travelling on the criss-cross of local railway lines to spend holidays at seaside resorts where the lodgings were modest, but the home cooking superb.

Horswills were builders in Green Street
Eric described his Forest Gate origins at the start of his memoir, thus:

In 1890, two brothers, joining an accelerating movement away from the overcrowded eastern districts of the City of London, left Bow for Forest Gate. They brought adjoining houses in Beauchamp Road, leasehold for around £200 each. The elder brother was my grandfather, William Robert Buck, the other my great uncle, Arthur. Both were recently married. ...

Grandfather with Eric Dawson
In the early days of the 1920's it seemed as if every other road in Forest Gate was lined with shops. The main thoroughfares, heavy with traffic, much of it still horse-drawn, contained the larger establishments - Woolworth's, The Penny Bazaar, Home and Colonial, the Co-op. Lots of dress shops, haberdashers and milliners, Freeman, Hardy and Willis (shoes), Montague Burton, 'the tailor of taste'.

Dolls' hospital, by Forest Gate station
The back streets provided the daily necessities of the local inhabitants. Just around the corner from us in St George's Road, a group of such local shops existed ...

Kenner -tailor of taste, 36 - 38 Upton Lane,
 painted in 1998
Within five minutes walk was West Ham Park. Here we sped our scooters along smooth asphalt paths, and in the summer learned to play cricket (underarm bowling) in the shades of the leafy chestnut trees. The flower gardens splendidly maintained by the City of London Corporation, were patrolled by stern park keepers, with whistles. Close by was Upton Lane school, which all the family at various times attended. ...

Two Sikh men, by the Gurney
 memorial in West Ham Park
Further north, along Upton Lane, occupying a whole block, was the Forest Gate Sanitary Steam Laundry. The establishment ejected vast clouds of steam across Upton Lane; at night the dramatic effect was enhanced by powerful but flickering arc lights illuminating work areas. Sounds of heavy machinery rent the air, occasionally interspersed with women's voices, raised in song, a truly Wagnerian manifestation. ...

Forest Gate Steam Laundry, Upton Lane
On the far side of West Ham Park was a large house called The Cedars, once the home of the Gurney family (ed: Elizabeth Fry, principally). It was now used by the local Territorials and by the British legion, the ex-servicemen's club ... Outside The Cedars several horse brakes were drawn up, decorated all over with flowers and favours and were filling up with excited children, the atmosphere distinctly of the knees-up variety. ...

Intermission, Broadway Theatre, Stratford
Looking Back - Growing up in East London (1918 - 1939) by Eric Dawson, published by Newham Council 2006, £7.99


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