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Welwyn Garden City Henry Stringer (1903-1993)

 

 
 

I think the picture above was painted soon after the Coronation Fountain was constructed in 1953. The view in the picture is from just south of the fountain, looking northwards, up Parkway, with the campus and the White Bridge in the distance. This bridge carried Digswell Road over the Luton and Dunstable branch single-track railway line. I lived beyond the White Bridge at 36 Digswell Road for the first 17 years of my life (1945-1963). Our house was number 36, about 300 yards past the bridge on the right hand side. A million times I walked from our house, over the bridge, to the Welwyn Department Store shown in the centre of the picture. Sometimes I was trundling a basketwork trolley to do the shopping for my mum. Sometimes I was on metal-wheeled roller-skates which made an enormous clatter on the granite paving slabs. If I was really lucky, I would see a steam train chuffing under the White Bridge. There was very little traffic on the roads at that time, which was before the Knightsfield Estate in the north of the town had been developed. The Luton branch line, closed under Beeching, is now a footpath. Welwyn Stores is now John Lewis. The campus has been built up, and the place is, unfortunately, not quite the same.

From directory records I have found that Henry Stringer lived at 3 Longcroft Lane, Welwyn Garden City, from at least 1948 to 1984. A street map from the 1948 WGC directory (part of which is shown below) shows his house on the eastern side of Longcroft Lane, just to the south of the junction with Church Road. The houses on that side of the road had very long gardens, bounded at the bottom with a long line of poplar trees beyond which was a stretch of waste land owned by the railways and partly used as allotments. Beyond that was the main L.N.E.R. line from King's Cross to Doncaster. Henry's garden was only yards from the southern end of the WGC station platform, and he must have had a good view of the railway line and station from his rear upstairs windows. From the front of his house, looking northwest, he may have just been able to see the site at the junction of Parkway and Howardsgate where the fountain was built (marked "Town Square" on the map below). So he lived only a stone's throw from where he must have stood with his easel to paint the picture.

Birth and death records from the GRO have his name as George Henry Stringer. He appeared as G. H. Stringer in WGC handbooks, but as Henry Stringer in telephone directory listings.

I came across Henry Stringer's painting from Greg Norden's carriage print website. From Mr Norden's website, I have learned that originally, railway carriages were decorated with framed photographs and advertisements in the space between the top of the seat and the luggage rack. Then, from the mid-1930's onwards, the railway companies began commissioning artists to paint scenes from Britain, and the carriage photographs and advertisements were gradually replaced by prints of these paintings. The subjects of the paintings were towns, cities, rural villages, churches, country landscapes, seaside towns and ports of Great Britain. This process continued after railways nationalisation (1948), but for a variety of reasons, by the end of the 1970's the carriage prints became a thing of the past.

Greg Norden has collected these carriage prints, and has made them available to all, through his website, and through his book Landscapes (under the luggage rack), first published in 1997. I have the 2001 edition of this excellent book. It has reproductions of a selection of the carriage prints. Stringer's WGC picture is not in the book, but there is one of Welwyn Viaduct by artist S. R. Badmin. The WGC picture is the only painting of Stringer's used as a carriage print, but some artists contributed many. For example, Claude Buckle produced 25 wonderful paintings which were used for carriage prints. Many of these are in the Landscapes book.

The homepage of Greg Norden's website can be reached by clicking here. He lists his collection of prints by artist, by area, and by railway company. All the prints in his collection can be viewed on the website. Also, he sells modern reproductions of all the prints (and original historic prints of some). I bought my copy of the WGC print (framed in original style) from him (click here for the page) and have put a snap of it taken with my digital camera at the top of this web page.

Below is shown part of a WGC street map included as an insert in the Welwyn Garden Citizens' Handbook 1948. Marked in red is Henry Stringer's house (3 Longcroft Lane) assuming I have identified it correctly [see note below map], and also the house where I lived from 1945 to 1963 (36 Digswell Road). The complete 1948 WGC street map can be viewed by clicking here. The 1948 handbook (link via WGC book index at top) also has a directory of residents (heads of household).

Since writing the above I have been contacted by Richard Watts who, as a boy, lived next door to Henry Stringer in Longcroft Lane. This is what Richard wrote to me:

I have a signed copy of Henry Stringer's poster of the fountain in Welwyn Garden City. He lived next door to my parents in Longcroft Lane, so your map identification is exactly correct.

He was a successful commercial artist with a purpose built studio in his garden. I remember that he did some cartoon work for Disney. I still have a number of hand drawn cartoon Christmas cards which he sent to my parents.

Your description of the houses on that side of Longcroft Lane is quite right. I used to play in the long garden and in the allotments beyond the garden. I came to WGC in 1945 as a 2 year old. My father was manager of Boots in Howardsgate from 1945 until 1969. I went to Parkway and Applecroft Schools then to St Albans School and only finally left WGC in 1969.