Friday, March 30, 2007

Leslie Ashwell Wood

Cutaways seem to be a dying art in magazines although I'm sure some of the more technical of the motoring and transport magazines still carry them. In the mid-1990s, Stephen Biesty produced a number of titles for Dorling-Kindersley (Incredible Cross-Sections, Cross-Sections Man-of-War, etc.) and it was interesting to find that Biesty admitted that his love of the cross-sections was inspired by the work of Leslie Ashwell Wood in Eagle (see interview here). Biesty continues to produce cross-section books for Oxford University Press to this day.

This little bit of random thought was inspired by a comment by Jeremy Briggs that, for all his popularity, almost nothing was known about the hugely talented L. Ashwell Wood. The Internet offers only one site -- part of the National Archives -- that features any kind of biographical detail:

"Ashwell Wood had a distinct illustrative style that featured in many books and magazines, notably working as Eagle's longest running artist. His intricately detailed annotated sketches, often featuring a familiar 'cut-away' section, were not only artistically clean and sharp but also educational, offering clear explanations to complicated scenes."

The site also gives Ashwell Wood's year of birth as 1913.

Elsewhere we learn that Ashwell Wood was employed as a designer in an aircraft factory (presumably in the 1930s).

The earliest work I've found by L. Ashwell Wood appeared on the back cover of Modern Wonder vol. 2 no. 31 (18 December 1937); he also became one of their regular cover artists from vol. 3 no. 57 (18 June 1938), producing some 24 covers before the magazine switched to photographic covers in April 1939; he continued to produce illustrations for the centre pages and back covers for the magazine on and off until March 1941, by which time the title had changed to Modern World.

A number of illustrations can be found at the Cyberheritage website run by Steve Johnson, for example here (How a Modern Naval Flying Boat is Catapulted from a British Cruiser) and here (A Naval Destroyer). These he says were produced during the war for information leaflets produced by the government but are almost certainly taken from some of the many books Ashwell Wood illustrated for Odhams Press during the war; they are identical to the example below, which comes from Britain's Merchant Navy.

Some further examples can also be seen at the National Archives site, including the colour illustration below.

(For Eagle fans, I also spotted quite a few illustrations by Walkden Fisher on the Cyberheritage site, here and here, for example.)

In the very first issue of Eagle (14 April 1950), Ashwell Wood produced a cutaway of 'The New Gas Turbine-Electric Locomotive'. He went on to produce almost 40 cutaways for the first year of Eagle and hundreds more well into the 1960s.

Ashwell Wood also drew the brief series 'In Her Majesty's Lifetime' in 20 February - 1 May 1953 (vol. 3 no. 46 - vol. 4 no. 4) and made various contributions to the first six Eagle Annuals (one of which is reproduced here).

Twelve books of cutaways later appeared from Benwig Books in 1969-71?. Where the first eight seem to be quite difficult to get hold of, the last four seem to be very scarce (to the point where, until someone actually said they had copies, I was under the impression that they had never appeared... see Comments below).

The problem with discovering hard information on Leslie Ashwell Wood began with the simple fact that nobody seems to know when he died -- sometime in the 1970s or 1980s. I actually struck lucky quite quickly searching the death registers and found that Leslie Ashwell Wood died in early 1973 at Brent (NW London). Then the problems began... according to the register, Leslie Ashwell Wood was born 29 July 1903, not 1913. I'm pretty sure there can't be two Leslie Ashwell Woods. It's a very uncommon combination of names.

Just to double check I went through the birth records for 1913 and could find no Leslie A. Wood listed. However, there were no Leslie Ashwell Woods born in 1903 either! The nearest I could find was a Leslie Alfred Wood, born in Ashby de la Zouch (Leicestershire), who was, at least, born in the right quarter. A further five plain Leslie Woods were born in the same quarter along with a Leslie Charles and a Leslie Justin.

So could 'Ashwell' Wood be a pseudonym adopted by Leslie Alfred Wood or just plain Leslie Wood? Perhaps that's why so little is known about him... everyone has been looking for the wrong person! Or could all this be a red herring? Sometimes parents change their minds between registering a birth and Christening their child, adding or subtracting names.

I tried approaching the problem from another direction and checked an old advertising art book I have which dates from 1939. There's a Leslie Wood listed with very little information: this Leslie Wood was educated at Sir John Cass Institute and his address was listed as c/o H. & A. Dix, 66-67 Shoe Lane, E.C.4 (off Fleet Street... I remember it from my recent walking tour). H. & A. Dix & Co. were an engraving firm that dates back to the turn of the century that I was able to track through the London phone book to various addresses: 25 Farringdon Avenue [fl. 1904-18], 11 Farringdon Avenue, E.C.4 [fl. 1920-27], 66 Shoe Lane, E.C.4 [fl. 1929-39], no address listed [fl. 1943-44], 30 Craven Street, Whitehall W.C.2 [fl. 1946], Adelphi Terrace House, Robert Street, Strand W.C.2 [fl. 1947-53], 12 Great Newport Street, Temple Bar W.C.2 [fl. 1954-58], 87 Shaftesbury Avenue, W.1 [fl. 1960-73], after which they disappear.

In 1939, the company was run by Donald J. Dix and advertised themselves as producing "All styles and types for Showcards, Posters, Catalogue Illustrations, Press Adverts, Etc."

It certainly sounds like the kind of place where Ashwell Wood could have honed his talents for drawing but is that Leslie Wood the same chap who became better know to fans of Modern Wonder and Eagle as L. Ashwell Wood.

One thing I noticed was that the early artwork in Modern Wonder was signed 'Ashwell' rather than in full. Could it be that Leslie Wood adopted the name 'Ashwell' because he was moonlighting from his work at H. & A. Dix? Later illustrations are signed more fully but would his bosses have connected Leslie Wood with the illustrator L. Ashwell Wood?

It's the only explanation I can think of at the moment but, of course, it's all pure speculation.

In 1972, L. Ashwell Wood was living at 68 Chambers Lane, N.W.10. By the mid- to late-1970s that was the address of F. L. Wood. Some of Ashwell Wood's paintings were sold by Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co. at auction in 1978, described as the property of Mrs. Florence Ashwell-Wood who was, presumably, his widow. Florence Ashwell Wood, born on 9 April 1906, died in Ipswich in 1985, at the age of 79.

As you can see from the above, rather than offering Jeremy a nice, neat biography all tied up with a bow, all I've managed to do is muddy up the waters and call into question the one fact that everyone accepted -- that Leslie Ashwell Wood was born in 1913.

Inside Information series:
__1: Inside Information on Civil Aircraft
, illus. by the author. Hendon, Benwig Books, 1969.
__2: Inside Information on Modern Ships. Hendon, Benwig Books, 1969.
__3: Inside Information on Trains Today, illus. by the author. Hendon, Benwig Books, 1969.
__4: Inside Information on Military Aircraft, illus. by the author. Hendon, Benwig Books, 1969.
__5: Inside Information on Space Travel, illus. by the author. Uxbridge, Benwig Books, 1970.
__6: Inside Information on Naval Ships, illus. by the author. Uxbridge, Benwig Books, 1970.
__7: Inside Information on Racing Cars, illus. by the author. Uxbridge, Benwig Books, 1970.
__8: Inside Information on Hovercraft, illus. by the author. Uxbridge, Benwig Books, 1970.
__9: Exploring Under the Seas. Slough, Bucks, Benwig Books, 1971?
__10: Famous Steam Trains. Slough, Bucks, Benwig Books, 1971?
__11: World Car Speed Records. Slough, Bucks, Benwig Books, 1971?
__12: Tanks and Armoured Cars. Slough, Bucks, Benwig Books, 1971?

Illustrated Books
Britain's Wonderful Fighting Forces, ed. Captain Ellison Hawks. London, Odhams Press, 1940.
Britian's Modern Army. An authoritative account of the daily life of a modern soldier and of the work, weapons and machines of the army. London, Odhams Press, 1942.
Britain's Wonderful Air Force, ed. P. F. M. Fellowes. London, Odhams Press, 1942.
Britain's Glorious Navy, ed. Admiral Sir Reginald H. S. Bacon; foreword by Admiral Sir Edward R. G. R. Evans. London, Odhams Press, 1943.
Britain's Merchant Navy, ed. Sir Archibald Hurd. London, Odhams Press, 1944.
The Secrets of Other People's Jobs. The story of Great Britain's industries and the workers who man the machines. London, Odhams Press, 1944.
Warfare Today. How modern battles are planned and fought on land, at sea and in the air, ed. Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon, Major-General J. F. C. Fuller & Air Marshal Sir Patrick Playfair. London, Odhams Press, 1944.
Railways, Ships and Aeroplanes illustrated. Their construction and working fully described in words and pictures [by Cecil J. Allen, J. V. Stone & Norman Macmillan]. London, Odhams Press, 1945.
The World's Railways and How They Work. London, Odhams Press, 1947.
The Complete Book of Motor-cars, Railways, Ships and Aeroplanes. The fully illustrated story of power and speed in modern transport. London, Odhams Press, 1949.
The World's Airways and How They Work, ed. J. W. G. James & John Stroud. London, Odhams Press, 1950.
Odhams History of the Second World War, ed. H. C. O'Neill. London, Odhams Press, 2 vols., 1951.
The Eagle Book of Cutaways, ed. Denis Gifford. Exeter, Webb & Bower, 1988.

Just to stir up a little more mud, there would seem to be a second Leslie Wood who was active from the 1940s to the 1960s. This Leslie Wood is given the birth year 1920 by various libraries. I'm guessing that he would have been called up for service in around 1940 and begins his artistic career immediately after the war. I'm also guessing this is not the Leslie Wood listed in the advertisers book as that Leslie Wood was trained at John Cass and was already working in 1938 (when the book was compiled). I believe a typical art course ran for four years which, I think, rules out anyone born in 1920.

Unfortunately, when you start researching things like this you also start to question everything. Is that 1920 birth year right? Could L. Ashwell Wood have had a parallel career as an illustrator for children's books?

Thankfully, the answer is no. According to the Dictionary of British Book Illustrators, this Leslie Wood was born in Stockport, Cheshire, the son of a master craftsman, and was educated at Manchester School of Art. He worked freelance as a landscape painter, lithographer, book illustrator and designer for advertising and also as a part-time lecturer at Epsom and Ewell School of Art (1965-68) and an associate lecturer at Bristol Polytechnic Faculty of Art and Design since 1964.

Big Red Bus series, with Roy Burden. Exeter, Wheaton, 9 vols., 1978-81.
Six Silly Cyclists. Exeter, Wheaton, 1979.
A Dog Called Mischief. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1985.
The Frog and the Fly. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1985.
Bump, Bump, Bump. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1986.
Tom and His Tractor. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1986.
Sam's Big Day. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1987.
Dig, Dig. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988.
My House. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988.
Our House. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Illustrated Books
Callers at Our House by E. M. Hatt. London, Faber & Faber, 1945.
The Story of the Little Red Engine by Diana Ross. London, Faber & Faber, 1945.
The Little Red Engine Goes to Market by Diana Ross. London, Faber & Faber, 1946.
Whoo, Whoo, the Wind Blew by Diana Ross. London, Faber & Faber, 1946.
Lords of the Isle by Arthur Groom. London & Glasgow, Art & Educational Publishers, 1947.
The Cat with a Guinea to Spend by E. M. Hatt. London, Faber & Faber, 1947.
Singular Travels. Campaigns and adventures of Baron Munchausen by Rudolph E. Raspe; with an introduction by John Carswell. London, Cresset Library, 1948.
Galloway Gamble by John Hubert Newsom. London, Macgibbon & Kee, 1951.
Ebenezer the Big Balloon by Diana Ross. London, Faber & Faber, 1952.
The Little Red Engine Goes to Town by Diana Ross. London, Faber & Faber, 1952.
The Little Red Engine Goes Travelling by Diana Ross. London, Faber & Faber, 1955.
The Little Red Engine and the Rocket by Diana Ross. London, Faber & Faber, 1956.
The Long Flight Home by Erik Hutchinson. London, Faber & Faber, 1957.
The Little Red Engine Goes Home by Diana Ross. London, Faber & Faber, 1958.
Late for School by Carol Odell. London, Faber & Faber, 1960.
The House Next Door by Carol Odell. London, Faber & Faber, 1961.
L'Auto cachee by John Alfred Robinson. London, Macmillan & Co., 1963.
Oxford Colour Reading Books by Clifford Carver & Cecil H. Stowasser. London, Oxford University Press, 1963.
Deliliah by Johnny Morris. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1964.
Jumbo Back to Nature by Helen Cresswell. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1965.
Oxford Junior Wordbook by Clifford Carver. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1965; as Beginning to Read, 2 vols., 1985.
The Football by Charles Molin. London, Hamilton, 1966.
Dormouse Tales by Charles Molin. London, Hamilton, 5 vols., 1966.
Jumbo Afloat by Helen Cresswell. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1966.
The Little Red Engine Goes to be Mended by Diana Ross. London, Faber & Faber, 1966.
Hi-Jinks Joins the Bears by Margaret J. Baker. London, Harrap, 1968.
The Little Red Engine and the Taddlecombe Outing by Diana Ross. London, Faber & Faber, 1968.
Melodia by Antonia Ridge & Miles Bouhuys. London, Faber & Faber, 1969.
Thursday Ahoy! by Michael Bond. London, Harrap, 1969.
The Little Car Has a Day Out by Leila Berg. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1970.
Roddy the Roadman by Phyllis Arkle. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1970.
Teabag and the Bears by Margaret J. Baker. London, Harrap, 1970.
Adventures in Barfield (contains: The Pigeons, Pigs in the Kitchen, Hedgehogs in the Cellar) by Olive Jones. London, Methuen Children's Books, 1971.
The Little Red Engine Goes Carolling by Diana Ross. London, Faber & Faber, 1971.
Pets in Barfield (contains: The Foal, The Rat Hunt, Simon's Rabbits) by Olive Jones. London, Methuen Children's Books, 1971.
Summer in Barfield (contains: Pip and the Seagull, Newts in the Pond, Shetland Ponies) by Olive Jones. London, Methuen Children's Books.
Thursday in Paris by Michael Bond. London, Harrap, 1971.
Boots and the Ginger Bears by Margaret J. Baker. London, Harrap, 1972.
I Love My Love with an A. Where is he?. London, Faber, 1972.
Roddy and the Rustlers by Phyllis Arkle. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1972.
The Rotton Old Car by Geraldine Kaye. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1973.
Grandpa and My Sister Bee by Joan Tate. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1973.
Oxford Caribbean Workbook by Clifford Carver. London, Oxford University Press, 2 vols., 1974.
Roddy on the Motorway by Phyllis Arkle. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1974.
Before I Go To Sleep by Enid Blyton. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1975; as Bedtime Stories and Prayers, London, Granada, 1982; ?as Tales from the Bible, London, Armada, 1988.
Roddy on the Canal by Phyllis Arkle. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1975.


  1. Steve, just to say what a mine of information your blog is fast becoming. Thanks for all the effort. Fascinating stuff.

  2. Steve,
    just to let you know that the 4 Benwig books which you have as not being produced DID actually appear. I have them myself. These little books were produced in hardback but some were also printed in softback (Trains today, Modern Ships and Military Aircraft are the ones I have) with a black cover illustrated with a sort of pictogram defining what the book was about. These seem to be much rarer and I have only ever seen the 3 that I own. I can fetch out copyright data etc. the next time I go an look at my collection if interested? (May not be for a while but the offer is there).

    Richard Sheaf

  3. Hi Richard,

    I obviously wasn't clear: there were eight Benwig books published and four more advertised. If you look in the bibliography you'll see that Trains Today, Modern Ships, etc. are amongst the published titles... the four advertised but unpublished are listed in the text. I cannot find any record of these books whatsoever and it is possible that Ashwell Wood was still working on them when he died.

    ... and for John: now you can see what I get up to of an evening. What I like about the blog is that people can see some of the working out (like in a maths class) so, rather than an answer coming down from on high like it's some kind of commandment that mustn't be questioned, everyone gets to see my utterly confused attempts to answer queries. Admittedly there are occasions when I'll make a bold statement and hope that it will be accepted because I don't always have a lot of spare time to go into footnoting every fact. In other cases where I've found that accepted wisdom is unproven or just plain wrong, I try to let people see why I'm questioning it. Anyone reading will hopefully enjoy the journey because, to be honest, I don't always get to a destination.


  4. To clarify (as my last post may have confused things further!) I have copies of the following Benwig books in hardback:
    1. trains today
    2. civil aircraft
    3. modern ships
    4. military aircraft
    5. space travel
    6. naval ships
    7. racing cars
    8. hovercraft
    9. exploring under the sea
    10. famous steam trains
    11. world car speed records
    12. tanks and armoured cars

    and I have the following titles in softback:
    1. trains today
    2. moden ships
    3. military aircraft

    Hope this helps
    Richard Sheaf

  5. Hi Richard,

    See my comments above about my occasional total confusion! I don't mind admitting that I was convinced that those last four books never appeared. Looks like I will have to update the bibliography. If you can dig out the copyright dates for me I'd be very grateful. Were they also titled "Inside Information on..."?

    Just out of curiousity, were they issued with ISBN numbers?



  6. Steve,About twenty years ago I asked Bill Lofts if he could find out how old the fellow was when he began working for Eagle. I had only managed to find some of his prewar and postwar Odhams work and that for the hardcover Benwig Books. Bill was unable to easily find much about him for the very reason you have come across. But he did come across something in Companies House: there were records of Benwig Books where he was listed as the company's owner and sole employee. The last accounts lodged were for 1970/1971.

  7. Hi Barnaby,

    Interesting... I see that Benwig Books Ltd. was dissolved 17 October 1995 but companies can lie dormant for years before they are finally written off.

    Equally interesting, the company wasn't officially incorporated until 10 March 1970, although their first ten titles appeared in 1969 under the Benwig Books imprint. The first six were a series of fairy stories based on the brothers Grimm, namely...

    0901798002 Snow White
    0901798010 Cinderella
    0901798029 Hansel and Grettel
    0901798037 The Musicians of Breman
    0901798045 Red Riding Hood
    0901798053 The Sleeping Beauty

    Then there was an Ashwell Wood book, then...

    0901798177 The Little White Rabbit

    I can't find any credited artist for any of these. I wonder... did Ashwell Wood have a secret life as a fairy tale artist?

    Something else interesting turned up. Benwig Books was an imprint of a religious publisher called St Paul Publications (based at Langley, Slough, Bucks) who continued to publish until the mid-1990s. Jackdaw Books was another of their imprints under which appeared 'Benwig the Bee' by Mary Kathleen Richardson (1968), which explains where the name of the company came from. But not how Ashwell Wood came to be in charge of it.


  8. Steve,
    Thanks for the very interesting profile of Leslie Ashwell Wood. As an Eagle reader (from just about the first issue) I picked up on his work in 'The Complete Book of Motor-cars, Railways, Ships and Aeroplanes' (1949) however there's another series of cut-away drawings in there signed 'Attwood' - I wondered if this was him under another pseudonym. The Attwood drawing of a prototype Land Rover in the book bears a great similarity to Leslie Ashwell Wood's 'Eagle' drawing of the Land Rover (30 Nov 1951) entitled 'A Mechanical Farmer's Boy'.

    Dave Hanson

  9. grandmas_attack10 Oct 2010, 01:49:00

    I sold some of my hardback copies a while back , so they will be in circulation , but Is the paperback No4 (ISBN 0901 798 096) (C)1969, actualy a separate book , I thought it had fallen out of the hardback cover at sometime in its life. Also have you got anything on 'Orbit' Books , these are not cutaway ones though. PS have borrowed your cover picture , although the paperback I have has a pinker colouring to the non black part,

  10. A somewhat belated reply to Dave Hanson's comment almost 2 years ago. I have been looking at LAW again recently and now have a copy of the Complete Book of Motor-cars, Railways, Ships and Aeroplanes. Comparing Attwood's cutaways to Ashwell Wood's shows that they are not by the same artist. Attwell's style in the book is to make the outer section of the subject transparent so the interior is visible while still showing the limits of the outside shell. LAW's consistent style is to literally cut away part of the outside of the subject so the viewer is looking at the interior of the subject through a hole in the outside shell. The website lists a D Attwood who is probably the same artist as Attwood and who also signed his work Aubois, "au bois" being the French translation of "at wood".

  11. In reply to Grandmas Attack. I too like Collins little 1960s Orbit Books, the older boys version of the nursery level Pixie Books. While I have neither enough information on them for a straight blog piece nor even close to a full set of them, I have used certain Orbit titles in some of my Bear Alley pieces. Check out The Big Delta (, Blue Steel
    ( and Space Race ( If you have Orbit books with illustrations signed GORDON then that is artist Gordon Davies whom Steve has already covered (

  12. I just discovered the work of Leslie Ashwell Wood, this evening, whilst researching info on the Churchill tank! I found his work featured on a National Archives page. And that in turn lead me here. Great stuff! I think I'll start trying to collect his work, as it looks terrific.



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