The boys behind the Godwin artwork (3)

Friday 17 May 2024

In August 2023 we were given a unique book of 40 paintings, pieces of caligraphy and illustrations created by a dozen young boys attending Godwin school at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, and we published reproductions of almost all of them here. In two previous articles, here and here, we have presented brief biographies of eight of the pupils, along with a resume of the school's standing at the time and details of Harry Earle, the teacher who compiled thevolume of artwork.

In this, the final of a three part series, we examine the subsequent careers of the four remaining boy artists and draw some tenative conclusions about how the circumstances of each of their births largely affected their subsequent fates as adults.

 Stanley Arthur Sadler (1887 – 1962)

(19 images visit post here, to see them)


Born 1 February, Camberwell

1891 Census

Aged 4. 19 Ridley Road. Son of Arthur Edwin, a banker’s clerk, also born in Camberwell

1901 Census

Could not trace

1911 Census

Aged 24. Mountford, Queen’s Avenue, Woodford Green. Single, Insurance clerk, living at home. Father Arthur Edwin a banker’s clerk, who had been married 26 years and had 4 children, three of whom were still living. The family had a 15-year old, female, live-in domestic servant, born in Bath, Somerset.


Married Mary Allen in West Ham

1914 – 1919

Served as a Private in the 5th Essex Regiment and saw service in the Balkans. Awarded te Victory and Star medals.


Living in Harold Wood

1921 Census

Aged 34. Craven Cottage, Beach Avenue, Westcliffe. A fire insurance clerk with Sun Assurance, working at 63, Threadneedle St. Wife, Mary, aged 33, born Greenwich. Had 5 year old son, Alan Mountford Sadler, born in Wanstead (Middle name, same as name of house in 1911 census!).

1939 England and Wales Register

Living in Southend as an insurance official


Died 21 November in Poole, Dorset; though lived in Swanage. Probate 15 Feb 1963 – left £19,960 – to wife, Mary. (7 times average UK house prices at the time, according to Nationwide House Price Index).


Oliver William Sheppard (1885 – 1957)

(1 image - visit post here, to see it)


Born 15 August, Bow. Baptised 2 Nov, Bow

1891 Census

Aged 3. 44 Graham Rd, Bethnal Green. Father James WS – a clerk and book-keeper, born Poplar

1901 Census

Aged 15. 96 Sebert Road. A solicitor’s clerk. Father, James, a clerk and book-keeper

Sebert Road, 1906?

1911 Census

Could not trace

1921 Census

Aged 35. 150 Windsor Road, Ilford. Ship steward with Royal Mail Steam Packet, but out of work. Wife Charlotte J Sheppard, aged 31, widowed, formerly Bloxham and her 10 year old daughter, Amelia living with them, as are Oliver’s widowed mother, 55 year old Elizabeth and his 15 year old brother, Fred.


Died 23 November, 45 Castle Drive, Ilford. Probate to George James and Laura Osborn, presumably son and daughter. Left £5,342. (2.5 times average UK house price at the time, according to Nationwide  House Price Index.)


Edwin Josiah Sparling (1887 – 1969)

(1 image - visit post here, to see it)


Born 6 September, South Foreland Lighthouse, Kent. C19th lighthouse, run by Trinity House, to highlight treacherous Goodwin Sands, a sandbank near Deal, Kent. The Lighthouse is now decommissioned, but remains as a Grade 11 National Trust listed property.

South Foreland Lighthouse, today, National Trust, Grade 11 listed

1891 Census

Aged 3 27 Tylney Road. Son of Scottish-born James, aged 41, Foreman Engine builder. The 1881 census described him as “Engineer in charge of electric lighthouses”.

1901 Census

Aged 12. 27 Tylney Road. A scholar. Father James now described as 57 year old lighthouse engineer.. His mother, Emily was described as “living on own means” in YWCA in Folkestone. Edwin had a 16-year old sister, Beatrice, described as an “elementary school teacher”


Edwin sails to Canada, on “Sicilian”, arriving on 5 May, en route to Quebec. Resident of Nipissing, Ontario.

1911 Census (Canada)

Aged 22. Lived in Haileyburg, Ontario. Had taken Canadian citizenship and described as an Assistant Surveyor.

1911 Census (UK)

109 Osborne is by now the family home; although Edwin had by now left.


Osborne Road, undated, but about this time

His father, James, 61, was described as “Workshop superintendent to Trinity House at their engineering works for repairs to lighthouses and lightships”.  Mother, Emily, back in family home. Beatrice still a teacher.

Father, James Sparling (Stephen Weller family tree – Ancestry)


Edwin arrived on SS Cedric, a White Star liner, from Liverpool to New York on 11 Jan (Three months before another White Star liner, the Titanic, left Southampton for New York and sunk). He was en route to Ottowa. He was described as a 5’10” emigrant engineer with $20 in his possession, he gave his home address as 109 Osborne (see above).


14 February, Hamilton Ontario, birth of son James Vallance Sparling (2 weeks before his marriage to 17-year old Doris Anna Wiggins). Edwin described as a Methodist draughtsman.


15 June, daughter Eleanor Maruerite, born Hamiliton Ontario.

1931 Canadian Census

Aged 42. Described ah having migrated to Canada 1908. Living in Hamilton. An Advertising manager in building supply industry, with a salary of $3,000. According to a University of Toronto analysis of this census date, this salary was three times the average cited for Ottowa at the time. Two children aged 16 and 17, both students. His house was valued at $5,500 at the time.


House in Burlington, Ontario, where he lived from 1945-1965. House built in 1875 by Robert Lindley, a farmer. (Stephen Weller family tree – Ancestry)

Lived on Maple Avenue, Burlington, Ontario in a house (above) built in 1875 by Robert Lindley, a farmer.


Died Hamilton, Ontario. His wife had died six months previously.


Henry Alfred Spencer (1885 – 1924)

(8 images - visit post here, to see them)


Born October, Stratford

1891 Census

Aged 5. 112 Waddington Road, Forest Gate. Son of William Spencer, 34, a wagon builder born in Birmingham.

1901 Census

Aged 15. 5 Ruth Street, New Town, West Ham. Indistinct occupation. Father still a wagon builder.

1911 Census

Aged 26. 180 Chandos Road, Stratford. Single. A coach builder with British Motor Cab Coy. They were motor engineers, based in Westminster; incorporated 1909 and dissolved in 1950. Father still a wagon builder with Great Eastern Railway. He had been married 31 years and had had 9 children, six of whom were still living


April, married Caroline Crammer, West Ham


11 August – joined Stratford branch of National Union of Railwaymen as a body maker.

1921 Census

Aged 35. 2 Bond Street, Leytonstone. An unemployed coach builder. Also living in the house were his wife Caroline and her widowed mother, Alice Crammer, aged 67.


Died January, West Ham. Buried 18 Jan. 

Final illustration in the volume

 In conclusion

Below are some generalised thoughts on what the subsequent lives of the Godwin boy artists lives can tell us about social and geographic mobility about some people in Forest Gate at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. The sample of a dozen boys is too small to be able to make sweeping generalistions of the whole population, nor do life patterns fit into neat templates, but some broad trends emerge.

Forest Gate, then, as now, was largely a stopping off point in the lives of families. Perhaps that is the fate of suburbs, where few families establish multi-generational roots, as they would in more rural areas, but are much more geographically mobile as they progress through life. That was certainly the fate of all the thirteen people - the boys and their teacher who have featured in these posts.

 Forest Gate – a stopping off point

Although all of the twelve boys and their teacher were living in Forest Gate at the turn of the C19th/C20th, none of their parents were originally from the area and none of the boys were long-term residents of the district.

Five sets of parents originated from south of the Thames (Sadler, Sparling, Burdett, Ade and Earle) and three came from east London (Sheppard, Butler and Brabham). Four were from much further afield: two from Birmingham (Spencer and Briddle), one from Orkney (Manson) and one from Suffolk (Godfrey). Only one originated from West Ham (Albon: Plaistow).

Similarly, none of the 12 boys or their teacher stayed in Forest Gate much beyond their childhoods or working life, in the case of the teacher. Only one emigrated – Sparling (to Canada) – while two-thirds of the others moved reasonably locally, at first, before ending up much further away, as they reached retirement.

Wanstead and Woodford were the most popular initial moves away from Forest Gate, being favoured by five boys (Sadler, Godfrey, Albon, Manson and Burdett). Ilford was a stepping stone for Sheppard and Butler, while Brabham moved to Ilford.

The ultimate destinations were varied, with no discernable pattern. They included: Surrey (Brabham and Manson), Plymouth (Ade), Somerset (Earle, the teacher), Southend (Sadler), Gravesend (Butler) and Hampshire (Albon).

 The boys’ careers

Although the boys were clearly talented artists/calligraphers, none ended up in a related occupation. Sparling may possibly have exercised his artistic talent in his ultimate role as an advertising manager in Canada, and Burdett as a teacher.

The most significant influence on the career destinations of the boys seems to have been their own father’s occupations. Thus, Spencer became a railway wagon builder in Stratford, following directly in his father’s footsteps. Godfrey ended up as a railway clerk, while his father had been a railway inspector. And Ade became a telegraphist with the General Post Office, which had previously employed his father as an inspector.

Harry Earle, the teacher, was the son of a teacher.

Sadler stayed in the finance industry, like his father; becoming an insurance clerk, not too dissimilar to his father's banker’s clerk role. While Butler qualified as a chartered accountant, taking perhaps an upward step from his father’s occupation as a clerk.

Not all the boys mirrored their father’s jobs. Unsurprisingly, Sparling did not become a rather specialist lighthouse engineer, but after a spell as a surveyor, ended up in Canada as an advertising manager (a very new occupation for the era). Equally, Albon did not follow his father’s lead and become a farrier, but became rather prosperous as a self-employed corn dealer. Nor Manson in becoming a master mariner – he settled for the much less exciting role of bank cashier.

Of the others, Sheppard senior had been a book-keeper, while his son was a steward with the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. Biddle’s father had served as an engineer with the London County Council, while the son ended up as a lift operator with London Underground, at Holborn station.

Brabham laid telephone lines for the GPO, unlike his father, who had been a warehouseman; while Burdett, who became a school teacher, chose not to follow his father’s path as a commercial clerk.

Military Service

Given the ages of the boys, they would have been in their prime and ready for enlistment (aged around 28) at the outbreak of World War 1. About half participated in the war and there seemed to be good reasons why the others did not.

We have military records for five of them (see below). Of the others, Edwin Sparling had emigrated to Canada and conscription was only patchily implemented there. Sparling did not enlist. Butler, as a chartered accountant, seems to have had no good occupational reason to avoid conscription, but he was described as only having the use of his left hand as a Godwin pupil, so perhaps he was not medically fit to be called up during the war. 

Spencer was a wagon builder and was probably in a reserved occupation, which meant he would not have been conscripted. We do not know Sheppard’s occupation during the war and he may well have been in an exempt occupation.  Godfrey, as a railway worker, may well have been exempt, as may Brabham as a GPO worker. Biddle was a London underground liftman, which hardly, in itself seemed a likely reason to evade conscription.

Harry Earle, the teacher was 46 when war broke out and probably regarded as too old for military service; he was, in any case working in and exempt profession. At the outbreak of the World War 11, however, he had signed up as a 70-year old Air Raid Precaution warden in Frome, Somerset.

Arthur Albon was a Conscientious Objector during World War 1 (we do not know the grounds), and in August 1916 he was enlisted as a private in the 7th Company Eastern Non-Combatant Corps. We do not know what duties he was posted to, or where.

Stanley Adler was a Private in the 5th Essex Regiment during World War 1, who saw action in the Balkans, and was awarded appropriate campaign medals for his service.

Douglas Manson was a member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during the war, until April 1919. His record describes his conduct as being very good and he was awarded the Victory and British War medals.

Frederick Burdett was called up in December 1915 and held as a reserve. He entered active service in Woolwich on 20 April 1917, where he was deployed as an anti-aircraft gunner in the Essex and Suffolk regiment. He was promoted to sergeant six months later and was finally discharged, to the army reserve in February 1919.

Although working for the GPO, James Ade enlisted with the Royal Engineers Wireless and Telegraphy Service and was sent to Egypt in June 1915, He was later repatriated to England, suffering from Paresis (a loss of motor skills). On de-mobilisation, he was awarded the Victory and Star medals.

 Class, age and life chances

The biographical information we have on the boys is patchy and some of the assumptions in what follows is a little speculative, but, overall, there seems to be quite a close correlation between the economic circumstances of the Godwin artists’ childhood backgrounds, their longevity and how they prospered economically as adults.

We do not know the circumstances of the deaths of any of the twelve boys – indeed we don’t know how long two of them lived; but the “average” life expectancy of boys born at the same time as the Godwin artists was around 44 years. Three of the Godwin boys did not live that long, seven lived longer, including one – Edwin Sparling, who lived to almost twice that age.

Gus Brabham had the shortest life (died age 31) and unsurprisingly we know least about him. He was born of working-class parents and died a manual worker, with no obvious financial legacy. Henry Spencer was also the son of working-class parents and died aged 39, having a manual occupation and suffered a period of unemployment a little before his death in 1924.

The third boy who died young was Frank Butler, and 40 at his death. He bucked the correlation trend, having been born to lower middle-class parents and rose to hold the very solid middle-class occupation of chartered accountant, with the City firm of Deloittes. He left an estate valued at the price of two average houses at the time. He may well have suffered health issues through his life, as his art teacher Harry Earle described him as having a physical disability when he completed his Godwin artwork, 27 years previously.

Frederick Burdett exceeded the anticipated life expectancy of boys born at the time, by almost 10 years (aged 53). His father was a clerk and by 1911 the family had moved to Woodford. He became a teacher and died in Buckhurst Hill, leaving an estate to the equivalent value of two terraced houses.

We don’t know a great deal about James Ade, but – like his older brother, James - he followed his father into working with the GPO in non-manual roles. He moved away from Forest Gate firstly to Dorset and finally Devon, before dying aged 67.

Oliver Sheppard came from a lower middle-class family and had a mixed career, embracing the roles of solicitor’s clerk and ship steward. He lived 28 years beyond the life expectancy of a boy born in 1885, to the age of 72 and left a sum the equivalent to the value of three terraced houses, when he died in Ilford in 1957.

The most prolific of the boy artists was Stanley Spencer. He came from a solidly middle-class home, which during his youth included a live-in domestic servant. He clearly prospered working in the insurance industry in the City, and died in Dorset aged 75, leaving the value of 8 “average” terraced houses to his wife.

Arthur Albon was another trend bucker in terms of age and career progression. Coming from a working-class background, he progressed through a clerical background as a youngster to become the owner of a seed merchants’ business in Hampshire, by the time of his death, aged 79, in 1964.

Douglas Manson had a similar life span, dying in the same year. Unlike Albon, he came from a solidly middle-class background, having been brought up on the prosperous Woodgrange estate, and progressed to become a bank clerk for almost all of his working life. He ended his days in Surrey, but left only a small financial estate.

Edwin Sparling lived the longest life of the Godwin artists, dying aged 82, in Canada. He had an unusual, but comfortable, upbringing, spending some of his youth with his family, and their live-in domestic servant on the Woodgrange estate. He had a successful career, ending in the relatively new occupation of advertising manager (where perhaps his Godwin-acquired artistic skills were put to good use) in Ontario. According to University of Toronto data, he was earning three times the average salary of men in his Canadian province in 1931 and lived in a clearly comfortable detached nineteenth century farmer’s house.

It would be a stretch to conclude that the Godwin boys’ life chances were mirrors of the circumstances of their upbringing, but then as now, there was a fairly close correlation between the two – suggesting a considerable lack of social mobility among that cohort of Godwin artist boys.



No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome comments to all the items featured on this site. However, we reserve the right to omit offensive comments, and edit the length of comments, for reasons of space.