Wednesday, August 27, 2008

C. H. B. & Marjorie Quennell

(* Another fine piece from the pen of Tony Woolrich, to whom I offer my thanks. Contributions to Bear Alley are always welcome.)

Charles Henry Bourne Quennell (1872–1935) and his wife Marjorie (née Courtney) (1883–1972) were the authors of a series of well-known illustrated history books for children which they wrote after the end of the First World War and which were still being re-issued into the 1980s.

Charles trained as an architect and set up in practice in Westminster in 1896. He designed numbers of houses, mostly in London and the Home Counties, as well as some churches. He was typical of his time; much into the Arts and Crafts movement. He drew together some like minded friends and formed the Lambeth Guild of Handicraft, making joinery, metalwork etc by hand. According to Charles’s brother, writing after his death, some of their work was for a church at Brith-dir in North Wales. This is probably Brithdir, Dolgelly, Gwynedd, Grade 1 listed, and a fine example of an Arts and Crafts design building. He wrote for Bells a guide to Norwich Cathedral and for Batsfords a book about modern suburban houses. He had the reputation of being a particularly skilful pen and ink draughtsman. He was specially interested in recording craftsmanship, particularly for buildings and farm vehicles.

The First World War virtually killed his architectural practice, and he was employed in 1918 as an architect by the Messrs Crittall Co., makers of metal windows, to design a housing scheme for their employees at Braintree, Essex. He died in 1935.

Marjorie was a painter in oils and watercolour, mostly of architectural subjects and also an illustrator. They had three children, one of whom, Peter, (1905-1993) became a well-known writer and was editor of History Today. After her husband’s death in 1935 she was appointed curator of the Geffreye Museum, London, until 1941, then lived in America for some years working as an illustrator. She died in London in 1972, aged 88.

At the end of the First World War the Quennells conceived the idea of writing a series of illustrated children’s books, A History of Everyday Things in England, 4 vol (1918-1934). It was concluded by The Good New Days (1935), where modern industrial and agricultural processes, together with the problems of the future, were considered. A second series was produced, Everyday Life in… (1921-26) describing living in Prehistoric to Norman times. A third series of Everyday Things (1929-32) covered Greece in antiquity. After the Second World War Marjorie illustrated two more books in the Everyday Life series on Biblical times, the texts being written by others.

All were books about ‘material culture’ and dealt with history from the ground up. They were specially strong on housing, agriculture and the way people earned their livings. They were described by Hector Bolitho as “transforming teaching”. They sold in thousands and were reputed to have been used by more than eight hundred schools in Britain alone and more were in use in overseas in English-speaking schools. Translations of a number of titles have been made into Russian, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Swedish and Danish.

The books were illustrated with some coloured drawings of mostly costume, half tones and a profusion of line drawings made by the authors. All the books went into numerous revisions, with the information upgraded to take account of modern knowledge.

While the work of Charles Quennell has attracted the interest of historians of architecture, the work the Quennells did as writers of children’s books is not discussed in modern academic studies of children’s books. Nor has anything be found about the artistic work of Marjorie Quennell.

The following list of the Quennells has been compiled from the online British Library Catalogue, COPAC and WorldCat augmented by titles noted by book dealers in ABE. Many of the books went into several editions, but the earliest ones traced are the ones noted. More references might be added for Marjorie Quennell’s book illustrations.


C. H. B. Quennell, The new cathedral church of Norwich: a description of its fabric and a brief history of the episcopal see, London, G. Bell and Sons, 1898. [available online in various formats at the Internet Archive]
C. H. B. Quennell, Modern Suburban Houses. A series of examples erected at Hampstead & elsewhere from designs, London, B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1906.
Marjorie & C. H. B. Quennell, A History of Everyday Things in England, London, B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1918-1934.
__vol 1, 1066-1449 [available online in various formats at the Internet Archive]
__vol 2, 1500-1799 [available online in various formats at the Internet Archive]
__vol 3, 1733-1851 [available online in various formats at the Internet Archive]
__vol 4, 1852-1914 [available online in various formats at the Internet Archive]
Marjorie & C. H. B. Quennell, A History of Everyday life in…, London, B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1921-1926.
__The Old Stone Age [available online in various formats at the Internet Archive]
__The New Stone Age, Bronze and Early Iron Age [available online in various formats at the Internet Archive]
__Roman Britain
__Saxon, Viking and Norman Times
Marjorie & C. H. B. Quennell, Everyday things in Greece, London, B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1929-1932.
__Vol 1, Homeric Greece
__Vol 2, Archaic Greece
__Vol 3, Classical Greece
Marjorie & C. H. B. Quennell, The Good New Days, London, B. T. Batsford Ltd., 1935.
Marjorie Quennell, London craftsman: a guide to museums having relics of old trades, London, London Transport, 1939.

Books illustrated by Marjorie Quennell
E. Lucia Turnbull and H. Dalway Turnbull, Through the gates of remembrance: first series: a trilogy of plays centred round Glastonbury, London, T. Nelson & Sons, 1933.
Elisabeth Kyle, Disappearing Island, Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1944.
Gertrude Hartman and Lucy S. Saunders, Builders of the Old World, Boston, D. C. Heath & Co., 1949. [Vol 4 of the History on the March series]
A. C. Bouquet, Everyday Life in New Testament Times, London, B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1953.
Wallace Walter Atwood and Helen Goss Thomas, Visits in other lands, Toronto, Ginn, [1955?].
E. W. Heaton, Everyday Life in Old Testament Times, London, Batsford Ltd, 1957.


Prefatory material to the A History of Everyday Things in England.
Hector Bolitho, A Batsford Century: The Record of a Hundred Years of Publishing and Bookselling, 1843–1943, London, B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1943, pp, 54-55, 85, 127-28.

C. H. B. Quennell
The Times (Obituary) 7 December 1935, with a correction by his brother, W. D. Quennell, 14 December 1935.
Tony Crosby, “The Silver End Model Village for Crittall Manufacturing Co. Ltd”, Industrial Archaeology Review, XX, (1998), pp 69-82, ISSN 0309-02728.
Nick Collins, “In search of C. H. B. Quennell”, Context 89, May 2005, pp 14-18.
Elizabeth McKellar, “C.H.B. Quennell (1872-1935): architecture, history and the quest for the modern.” Architectural History, 49 .(2006) pp. 211-246. ISSN 0066-622X .

Marjorie Quennell
The Times (Obituary) 4 August, 1972.
Sir Peter Quennell, (1905-1993). Article by James B. Denigan, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. [accessed 12 August 2008].


  1. This is exactly where Bear Alley is so valuable! A scholarly article on authors who may be deemed too peripheral to be of interest, but like everyone, have a story that's worth reading
    Thanks guys

  2. Hi, From D'log. The collected first and second volumes (1066-1799) of the series can be found as a 42Mb PDF at the Internet Archive, courtesy of Microsoft's partnership with the University of California Library.

  3. Hi D'log,

    So noted. Thanks for the link.

  4. Wandered onto Bear Alley while doing an online search of above mentioned architect. Ran across the “Suburban Houses” portfolio while on a trip to Wales last year. I can’t find anything online about this guy except for some mention of his various work and the “History Of..” series. Is there serious interest being generated about this guy in England? I love his work – not really sure what to call it – domestic classicism? The examples I have in this portfolio are mostly brick “Georgian-esque.” Would love to be able to see more of his work tho. Any leads you can give me?

  5. Marjorie Quennell was also an important museum curator. She was a curator at the Geffrye Museum, where she introduced the period room settings that are now widely held to be that museum's distinguishing feature - and have become widely adopted in many, if not most, museums

  6. Thank you very much for the above information. I think the Quennell's history books are ground-breaking and wonderful. It's great to know that the books are now on-line - available to everyone.

    Apparently little is known of Marjorie Quennell's pictures: 'Nor has anything [to] be found about the artistic work of Marjorie Quennell' (above Quote). She did a fine profile portrait of her son, (Sir) Peter Quennell, when he was young, with his teddy bear at his side (see website on Artists' Picture Sales).

    I've a picture by her - a portrait in oil. It's signed with a monogram 'MQ' ('M' encircled by a 'Q'). On the back is written:

    'Portrait Not for sale

    Marjorie Quennell
    6 Wallands Crescent

    There's no date on the portrait (19.50"x 15.50"). Interestingly, I bought it along with another portrait in oil by a different artist, signed, 'Elvie' (no date, 22.50" x 19.75").

    What makes the portraits intriguing is that they seem to be portraits of the SAME person - about ten years apart. Both have the woman wearing the same distinctive broach (three rings of encircling diamonds/jewels, like a three-leaved clover) and earrings (two 'dropping' large round pinkish pearls). The portraits are almost full-face with the same grey-green eyes, fine pale skin, full mouth, nose and eyebrows, and dark brown-black curly hair. The Elvie portrait sitter is in an (almost) off-shoulder black dress, and she's looking directly at us. It's of a woman in her late twenties (approximately 28). In the portrait by MQ (Quennell), the sitter looks about about ten years older (aged 38). Here, she's wearing a V-neck green dress - which matches her eyes - and the broach is at the bottom of the 'V'; in the Elvie portrait the broach is high up on her right side, above the breast, attached to the black dress. In the Quennell portrait, she's looking down to her right, and parts of her arms are visible; on her right forearm is a large gold wrist band.

    I bought the pictures in a sale at Eastbourne Auctions about two years ago (2014). The pictures came from the private sale of the contents of a farm house near Polegate, and there were various Bloomsbury Group/Charleston items from this house sale in the Eastbourne Auction (Picture sale) too.

    I've no idea of the portrait sitter's identity. The 'not for sale' notice on the back of Marjorie Quennell's picture suggests that the woman is 'family' (a Courtney or Quennell), or a close family friend. Elvie's picture looks as though it was done in the late 50s or early 60s - and the sitter looks somewhat like Princess Margaret (!) - which suggests Marjorie Quennell's picture of the same person (but definitely not Princess Margaret) was done in the late sixties.

    If anyone has an idea who the portraits are of, I'd be most grateful.

    Patrick Glass
    Tel: 01424-713009



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