The Call of the Sussex Downs

John Hitchens Downland View
‘March Colours, Downland View’, an oil on canvas by John Hitchens from 1970

The swiftly changing light on the Sussex Downs has always challenged artists seeking to capture the character of these ancient hills.

Rupert Toovey in his office at Toovey’s with Chanctonbury Ring in the distance
‘Chanctonbury Ring from Washington, Sussex’, a watercolour by Edwin Harris from 1945
Watercolour by Harry George Theaker
‘Summer on the Downs’, a watercolour by Harry George Theaker

As I sit writing, the rat-a-tat of the gavel falling and the rhythmic cry of the auctioneer rise from the saleroom up to my office at Toovey’s. The bustle and excitement of the fine art auction contrasts with the scene from my window. I can just see Chanctonbury Ring above a line of poplar trees. Along the ridge of the Downs, scudding clouds in a blue sky cause light and shadow to move across the landscape.

The scene before my eyes is reminiscent of the landscape shown here by Edwin Harris (1891-1961). Harris played first-class cricket for Sussex between 1922 and 1924, whilst working as an artist. In 1939, he married Mary Edwards and they lived in Washington until 1955. Titled ‘Chanctonbury from Washington, Sussex’, the watercolour drawing was painted in 1945, at the end of the Second World War. The Downs are depicted in those greyer hews that they acquire as autumn and winter approach. We sense the chill wind in the branches. But there is nothing chill about today; the Downs are a warm green hue, reflecting the start of an early summer’s day.

The illustrator Harry George Theaker (1873-1954) brings a graphic quality to his painting. His watercolour ‘Summer on the Downs’ uses these qualities to dramatic effect in displaying light, shade and movement. There is no doubt that this is a summer scene, reflected in the warmth displayed in the artist’s palette.

These two artists’ representational style grounds us in the familiar, reminding us of our Sussex landscape and the seasons of the year. However, the qualities in the oil by John Hitchens (b.1940), titled ‘March Colours, Downland View’, not only allow us to see the familiar dance of light and shade upon the Sussex Downs but also command our other senses. The painting captures the smell of the earth and crops, the sound of wind playing on cornfields and pasture, the deep blue of the ridge separating the landscape from the sky. John Hitchens, son of the famous Sussex artist Ivon Hitchens, invites us to engage all our senses, to inhabit the vitality of this scene in our imaginations. The picture is at once representational and abstract. It seeks to allow us to glimpse or give voice to what lies beyond our immediate perception, to enrich our experience of the scene. Today, John Hitchens’ works are abstract, though still inspired by landscape.

Although I travel to London and across the country valuing collections of fine art and antiques, my heart always races when I return and catch sight of the Downs. After thirty years, nothing delights me more than a day travelling down familiar Sussex lanes beneath the gentle folds of these ancient hills, visiting collectors across our beautiful county.

Scenes of the Sussex Downs like these remain accessible, with prices at auction ranging from hundreds of pounds to the low thousands.

Toovey’s next sale of fine paintings and prints will be held on Wednesday 10th September 2014. If you are considering the sale of your pictures, contact Toovey’s for free and confidential advice.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 25th June 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

At the Bluebell Railway

The Southern Railways U class 2-6-0 mogul steam locomotive, no. 1638
The Southern Railways U class 2-6-0 mogul steam locomotive, no. 1638

All my whole life I have adored steam locomotives: the drama of their scale and speed, the smell and whoosh of steam and the characters of the different engines.

You will remember the classic Ealing film ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’, in which Sam, the vicar, becomes the engine driver in an attempt to save the line from closure. When someone has the temerity to exclaim that the Canterbury Line has closed, Sam responds reverentially: “Perhaps there was insufficient faith in Canterbury.” Well, there was sufficient faith on the Bluebell Line. The Bluebell Railway was the first standard gauge preservation railway in the world. Work on it began in earnest in 1961. 2013 saw the completion of the massive extension to connect the Bluebell Railway with East Grinstead and mainline Network Rail services. It was an extraordinary achievement, involving teams of volunteers and huge capital investment.

Bruce Steer, David Tandy, Rupert Toovey and Steve Squire
On the footplate, from left to right: Bruce Steer, David Tandy, Rupert Toovey and Steve Squire
Driver Steve Squire on the footplate, heading up the Bluebell Line
Driver Steve Squire on the footplate, heading up the Bluebell Line
Gordon Hatherill on the Talyllyn Railway during the 1950s
Gordon Hatherill on the Talyllyn Railway in North Wales during the 1950s

I have been invited to ride on the footplate of this magnificent Southern Railways U class 2-6-0 mogul steam locomotive by Ann Hatherill. Designed by Richard Maunsell for passenger duties on the Southern Railway, fifty U class locomotives were built between 1928 and 1931. Four of these engines have survived.

I can barely contain my excitement as I stand in my ‘dog collar’, bib and jacket on the platform of Sheffield Park Station. I am introduced to Steve Squire, the driver, who invites me on to the footplate. I explain how I come to be with him on this grey, late spring afternoon in May. I was blessed to take the funeral of a railway design engineer and model engineer, Gordon Hatherill. I have been friends with Gordon’s family for many years. Gordon volunteered on the pioneering Talyllyn Railway in North Wales during the 1950s and 1960s. Railways are romantic places. Gordon and Ann met on the Talyllyn as volunteer firemen and were married in 1965. Ann, wanting to thank me and mark our friendship, has arranged for me to be standing on this footplate. Steve nods with an understanding smile and we are joined by fireman Bruce Steer and cleaner and trainee fireman David Tandy.

Bruce begins to shovel coal into the enormous firebox in preparation for the off. “You always have to anticipate when more power will be needed and make sure that the fire burns evenly,” he says. The shovel scrapes against coal dust and steel with a gravelly note emerging from the laden tender. With an easy swing, each shovelful of coal is distributed across the fire. Bruce explains: “It’s the fireman who balances water against the demand for steam and heat.” Steve watches for the guard’s signal and smoothly the locomotive pulls out of Sheffield Park as he nudges levers. Underway, I ask Steve what it is that he most enjoys about driving a locomotive. He thinks for a moment and replies, “Their foibles – each has a different character.” This U class 2-6-0 mogul steam locomotive, to my eye, appears to have fine lines and proportion. Steve agrees, saying: “This is a lovely engine to drive. It’s workmanlike and epitomises steam. It’s a nice environment for the crew, which isn’t the case with all engines.”

Some of the gradients are steep for steam and, in anticipation, David is stoking the fire before we reach them. He grins and says, “Nothing beats this job!” There is an obvious delight in working on the footplate. As the train begins to pull harder uphill, the fire flashes in time with each turn of its wheels and expulsion of steam. It is important that both fireman and driver know their line.

As we approach Horsted Keynes station, Bruce dampens the fire with primary air to cool it. After a brief halt, we journey up the line to the tunnel. We all stand under the shelter of the cab, our faces illuminated by the light of the fire. David strains his gaze towards the water and pressure gauges by the light of an ancient torch, checking they are balanced on this gradient. I look out at the tunnel and glimpse the bricks in its arch rushing by. As we emerge into daylight, Steve sounds the whistle and we journey onwards towards Kingscote and East Grinstead stations.

I am struck by the excitement of pulling in to East Grinstead alongside a modern Southern electric train and it seems to echo that marvellous moment at the end of ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’ when all the train whistles are blown in celebration of passing the railway inspector’s tests.

As we make the return journey, Steve talks about his love of the landscape and the changing seasons. He recounts, “On a return journey last winter, we got covered in snow. It still hadn’t melted from my overalls by the time I got home!”

Travelling in reverse now, the wind is in our faces and, with the noise and smell of steam and the shovelling coal, we all feel truly alive, like this dear old locomotive. The countryside opens up as we puff through copse and fields, where cattle graze seemingly unaffected by the passage of our train. The landscape flashes by. Although we are only travelling at 25mph, it seems much faster. We pass through Kingscote, the tunnel, Horsted Keynes and on to Sheffield Park. It is apparent that there is great camaraderie on this footplate, a shared joy in the locomotives and the Bluebell Line. I feel deeply grateful to have shared this journey with them. My thanks go to Ann and all at the Bluebell Railway, whose passion and hard work keep this remarkable railway running.

The Bluebell Railway is always delighted to welcome visitors, new volunteers and friends. There is a lively program of events, often with visiting engines, though the line has one of the best collections of locomotives and rolling stock in the country. To find out more and check out the timetables, go to

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 18th June 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Toovey’s Cafe this June

Cakes at Toovey's Cafe
Cakes at Toovey's Café
Lemon Tart brulee at Toovey's Cafe
Lemon Tart Brûlée

Three months have passed since our last blog post on the Toovey’s café. Visitors viewing and participating in the forthcoming antique and fine art auctions on the 18th, 19th and 20th June will once again be tempted by the creations of Will Murgatroyd.

He will be serving a collection of light lunches: sandwiches, jacket potatoes and seasonal specials, including a soup and salad of the day. However, it is the cakes and sweet treats that are the biggest temptation. Firm favourites such as Eccles cakes, Ma Toovey’s rock cakes and Valerie’s lemon drizzle cake remain as staple offerings. Other treats offered in June are gluten-free flourless chocolate cake slices, Ginger Parkin Cake, Chocolate chip shortbread and coffee and walnut cake. New to the menu this month are Sour cherry cookies, apple crumble cake, banana loaf and a particularly tantalising individual lemon tart brûlée with a raspberry.

For those without a sweet tooth, Will is offering home-made asparagus, goat’s curd and chive tartlets, cheese scones and home-made herby sausage rolls as light savoury bites.

Please note: the café is only open when we are open for viewing and on our sale days.

Click on an image to enlarge.

Horsham and the Hendersons

A view of the 18th century Yonghe Lamasery Buddhist temple in Beijing taken by Rupert Toovey on a business trip to China for Toovey’s

Travel in our own times has become much more democratic and a younger generation’s fascination with exploring the world with their backpacks should, perhaps, be unsurprising given the British nation’s international mercantile history as traders, explorers and adventurers.

The Chinese bronze censer in the form of a temple dog, brought back by the Hendersons
A view of a 19th century Chinese street taken from one of Robert Henderson’s albums

Robert Henderson was born in 1851, the year that Prince Albert proclaimed the importance of international trade to wealth, peace and understanding between nations through the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Crystal Palace was designed by Sir Joseph Paxton and first erected in Hyde Park. The exhibition inspired a series of trade expositions across the globe including Paris and Philadelphia. It seeded the idea of the Global Economy. Robert Henderson was himself part of the 19th century global economy. He was a director of numerous companies including R & J Hendersons East India Merchants, The Bangalore Jute Factory Co. Ltd, India Rubber, Gutta Percha & Telegraph Works Co. Ltd and the London Assurance Corporation. This influential business leader was to become a director of the Bank of England.

Emma Henderson’s father, Jonathan Hargreaves, owned a printing firm and in 1862 the family had moved from Hampshire to Rome for his health. He did not recover and died in the January of 1863. The family returned home to Cuffnells in Lyndhurst, Hampshire. When her mother died in 1872 she left Emma £12,000.

There are four albums of remarkable photographs at the Horsham Museum which are thought to have been collected by Robert Henderson. The photos reflect Robert’s extensive tours of the Far East and America in 1874 and 1875. He travelled in India, Singapore, Jahore, Java, Borneo, Siam, China, Hong Kong, Japan and America. Many of the photographs chosen were produced by the company Bourne and Beato. Photographs by this firm are highly regarded by today’s historians and collectors. They speak of the international lives led by Robert and Emma Henderson (neé Hargreaves) whom he married on 24th September 1878. In 1880 they moved to Sedgwick Park, near Horsham.

In 1885 Robert and Emma travelled to Japan. It was during this trip that they bought the large Satsuma earthenware vase and cover now in the Horsham Museum’s collection. I particularly like the quality of the Buddhistic dragon chasing the flaming pearl which encircles the body of the vase. The Henderson’s large 16th/17th century Chinese bronze censer in the form of a temple dog is exquisite and a jewel in Horsham District’s cultural crown.

These and the other Henderson artefacts were donated to the museum’s collection by Emma’s daughter Violet. Violet was born in 1902 and was to marry Lord Leitrim. It was as Lady Leitrim that Violet made this extraordinary gift in 1931. Patronage and generosity are always qualities to be celebrated and honoured over the passage of time.

In an age where modern travel is accessible and relatively inexpensive it is easy to forget how international Britain’s outlook was in the 19th and earlier centuries. Our nation has always prospered when we return to international, mercantile trade. Perhaps it is time for us to rediscover from our past the confidence to once again become an international trading nation. To take up a central role in a global economy which was articulated here in Britain back in 1851.

A detail of the Buddhistic dragon decorating the large Japanese Satsuma earthenware vase and cover brought back from Japan by the Hendersons

Our shared history and culture gifts us with a common narrative and identity. This is vital to the building of healthy societies and communities. It is equally vital to have passionate and knowledgeable custodians of the stories and treasures of our District and the world. Jeremy Knight at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery continues to celebrate, preserve and proclaim our heritage. He should be applauded for his important work in this field. The Horsham District Council is to be commended for its continued support too.

For more information on the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery’s wonderful permanent collection and excellent program of exhibitions, including the current ‘Women of Horsham’, go to

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 11th June 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Preview of Toovey’s June Select Fine Art Auction

Lot 71 William Russell Flint's 'The Model with the Fringe'
Lot 71 William Russell Flint's 'The Model with the Fringe'

On the 18th June, Toovey’s will host their second Select Painting Sale of 2014. Prior to the printed catalogue landing on doorsteps around the world and in advance of the online catalogue being uploaded to Toovey’s website, we thought a preview of five of the highlights might be in order.

Firstly we look at the £3000-5000 sanguine drawing above, it is by an artist who needs no introduction, William Russell Flint (1880-1969). While most people are familiar with his colour prints, his original works are not often seen for sale at auction. This sanguine comes with a letter from the artist dated 9.12.68 which states ‘the rubbing must be my own unless the drawing has been taken from its frame and smeared’, referring to the minor smudging to some lines. Having no sign of being taken out of its frame, this can no longer be seen as a condition flaw, instead it is part of the drawings character. The work on paper measuring 38cm x 56.5cm is titled ‘The Model with the Fringe’. Other works by Flint in the auction include three drypoint etchings and a scarce line block.

Lot 27 Henry Ryland's 'Calm of Evening'
Lot 27 Henry Ryland's 'Calm of Evening'
Annie French original watercolour and ink
Lot 123 Annie French's 'A Lady with a Bouquet'

Another painting included in the sale is an original watercolour by Henry Ryland (1856-1924), which in subject matter is certainly similar to that of Flint, albeit a little bit earlier. The soft quality and palette reflects the tradition of classical scenes of the late 19th Century, popularized by the likes of Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Albert Moore. ‘Calm of Evening’ by Ryland measures 38cm x 56cm and is offered with a pre-sale estimate of £1000-1500.

An original watercolour and ink by Annie French (1872-1965) is included in the June auction of Select Fine Art. Titled ‘A Lady with a Bouquet’ this beautiful work measures 25cm x 8cm. The labels on the back show that it has previously been retailed by Kaye Michie and the Maas Gallery prior to being offered in Toovey’s auction. It is presented in a bespoke mount with ink stylized flowerheads to reflect the artist’s hand. This work by a leading member of the Glasgow School and talented book illustrator carries a pre-sale estimate of £2000-3000.

‘It’s all in the name’ is a phrase often associated with the Fine Art market. Perhaps the inclusion of two works by Noël Coward (1899-1973) in the sale reflects this. The works by the English playright, composer, director and singer show an amateur charm. In his diary Coward wrote: “Compared with the pretentious muck in some London galleries… my amateur efforts appear brilliant.” Many of Coward’s paintings feature in a work by Sheridan Morley, who wrote:

“In his lifetime, Noël always reserved his own paintings as first-night or birthday gifts, allowing only one or two to go for the very occasional charity auction and fearing, as he once wrote, that a kind of ‘celebrity snobbism’ might otherwise make them valued more for their autograph than for their intrinsic worth.”

Lot 101 Noël Coward's View of a Villa
Lot 101 Noël Coward's View of a Villa, one of two works by Coward included in the June Auction
Alfred Oliver's depiction of children picking flowers
Lot 70 Alfred Oliver's depiction of children picking flowers

The view of a villa above, presumably depicts an unidentified home in Jamaica. It is estimated at £800-1200, but will the purchaser be associating the value to the picture or the autograph? Hopefully a bit of both!

The final work in our preview is a tondo view of two children picking flowers in a landscape. It is by Royal Academician Alfred Oliver who flourished between 1886 and 1921. From this period is the oil on canvas shown here. Measuring 38.5cm in diameter, this work had previously been retailed by the Macconnal-Mason gallery, today, it carries a pre-sale estimate of £500-800.

Toovey’s Select Sale of Fine Art starts at 10.00am on Wednesday 18th June and is the opening session of Toovey’s June specialist auctions. Viewing times for the select painting sale is as follows:
Saturday 14th June 9.30am to 12.00 noon
Monday 16th June 10.00am to 4.00pm
Tuesday 17th June 10.00am to 4.00pm
and on the day of the auction, Wednesday 18th June, 9.00am to 10.00am (the start of the auction).