Saturday, March 07, 2009

Harry Woolley

The Art of Harry Woolley
by Gordon Howsden

Probably the most prolific freelance artist to be involved in the production of cigarette cards was a gentleman enigmatically referred to in the records of printing firm Mardon, Son & Hall as “H. Woolley”. He was responsible for preparing the artwork for some or all of the illustrations appearing on at least 25 different sets of cigarette cards and in addition prepared dozens of sketches for adverts, show cards and the like.

Searches of the main artist directories have revealed little about H Woolley and the only reference I have found is in Johnson & Gretzner’s Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940. This briefly states that he exhibited in 1912-13 at the Royal Academy and the Royal Society of Miniature Painters. They give an address for him of Westwood, Bellerton Road, Knowle, Bristol.

A reference to a Harry Woolley is made in A Checklist of Painters c1200-1994 2nd Edition where he is described as “British, 20th Century”. I strongly suspect that H Woolley and Harry Woolley are one and the same. A trawl through the British Library records and the Abebooks website reveal a small number of publications which Woolley illustrated. These are as follows:

Books by H. Woolley
The Funny Bunnies. London, Raphael Tuck & Sons Ltd., 1944.
Ginger the Cat. The strange tale of a tail. London, Raphael Tuck, 1945.
Playing the Game in Animal Land. London, Ralphael Tuck & Sons Ltd., 1946?
The Piggy Wiggies. London, Raphael Tuck & Sons Ltd., 1948.
Billy Bunting Story Book. No publisher (probably Raphael Tuck & Sons), n.d. (1940s?)
The Adventures of Bunty and Bertie. London, 1949?
It's Grand Fun. London, Tuck, 1955.

Illustrated Books
Animals We Know by E. H. Thomson; illus. with J. Murray Thomson. London, Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1924.
Bow-Wow. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1924.
The Chummy Book: 12th Year, illus. with others. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1924.
The Jolly Book. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1924.
Peep-Bo Stories. London, Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1926.
Wonder Book: A Picture Annual for Boys and Girls, illus. with others. London, Ward Lock, 1926.
My Book of Pets. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1927.
Merrythought Tales. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1939.
Roy the Lion by Madeleine Collier. London & Glasgow, Youthful Publications, 1947.
Baby’s First Book by Brenda Lewis. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird Series 413), 1954; revised by Margaret Borrett with additional illus. by Roy Smith, Ladybird. c.1973.
Puppies and Kittens by Margaret Gagg. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth (Ladybird Books Series 563), 1956.

Not listed elsewhere but in my collection is an illustration of a building being erected which has been signed “Woolley”. This appears in one of Ward Lock’s Wonder Books and it is possible that he may have made additional contributions to this series.

The books listed above are for the juvenile market and most are undated, but those that are cover the years from 1924 to 1956. These closely follow the period during which he is known to have produced work for Mardon, Son & Hall (MSH). As he had exhibited during 1912 this provides a period of operation from 1912 to 1956, with a possible birth date of around 1890.

MSH were based in Bristol and it is from the Knowle district of the city that Woolley submitted his works to the RA and RMS. It is within the bounds of possibility that he attended art school in Bristol and may even have briefly been employed by MSH. However, the only address I can find in their records is Fairlights Cottage, Broadlands, Brede, Sussex, and the name of his Agent is noted as W Partridge. When he moved from Bristol can only be surmised.

The cigarette card artwork that Woolley produced covered a wide range of subjects, which confirms that his skills were wide-ranging. It would be cumbersome to list all the series with which he was associated but the diversity of his output can be gauged from the following:

Cricketers, 1934, a series of 50 (John Player, 1934)
Radio Celebrities, two series of 50 (W D & H O Wills, 1934)
Film, Stage & Radio Stars, a series of 50 (Ardath, 1935)
Famous British Airmen & Airwomen, a series of 25 (Lambert & Butler, 1935)
Football Club Captains, a series of 50 (Ogden & Hignett, 1935)
Famous Irish-Bred Horses, a series of 50 (John Player) 1936
Dogs, a series of 50 cards (Ogden & Hignett, 1936)
Aircraft of the Royal Air Force, a series of 50 (John Player, 1938)
Horsemanship, a series of 50 (Lambert & Butler, 1938)
Stars of Screen & History, a series of 25 (Mitchell, 1939)

(* Additional info: Harry Woolley was listed as living at 12 New Court, Lincolns Inn, London W.C.2 between 1924 and 1939 after which it becomes impossible to confirm his address through the phone book. He contributed colour illustrations to the Illustrated London News .)

Update 24 August 2010

Thanks to John Wilson we now have dates for Harry Woolley, who was born in Hurst, Lancashire, in 1880. He grew up in Ashton Under Lyme where his father, John (also born in Hurst, c.1843), was a waiter in a public house; his mother, Alice (born in Millbrook, Cheshire, c.1842), was a cotton weaver and Harry was their second child, following Eliza Ann, born in 1871. In census records for 1881 and 1891 the family name is given as Wooley (with one 'l'). By 1891, Alice was widowed and taking in lodgers at their Alexander Street home; Eliza was working as a cotton winder and Harry as a weaver, his age erroneously given as 16, although he was only 10. (I will add that it is not unknown for census records to be in error, as any regular reader will know.)

I've not found Alice, Eliza or Harry in the 1901 census but there is a Harry Woolley living in Bristol at the time of the 1911 census, which I don't have full access to. However, by searching in different ways I can say that this Harry Woolley was born in Lancashire and gave his age as 29, so it might be "our" Harry.

Harry Woolley was married twice. His second marriage was to Sheelah A. McCarthy in 1954, by which time he was living in Sussex.

John, related by marriage through this second marriage, tells us that Harry also made miniatures and produced some wonderful water colours of beautiful and elegant women and landscapes, also producing landscapes in oils. One of his oil paintings (The Wave) can be seen above.

He died near Salisbury, Wiltshire, in 1959, aged 78.


  1. Thank you for this post. I have been searching for a picture that i remember vividly from my childhood. I could not find the image anywhere on the internet. My mom finally remembered it was from Puppies and Kittens a Ladybird book. It was a puppy with a broken doll. I searched and found his name and your blog and I am certain it was an illustration by Harry Woolley.

  2. Hi Joy

    You are correct. The illustration of the puppy with a broken doll is from the Ladybird book Puppies and Kittens and is by Harry Woolley.
    If you care to send your email address I can send you a scan of that page.
    Kind regards

  3. I was very happy to find this web page, since it filled in several details of Harry's work that I was not aware of.

    Harry Woolley (1880-1959) was my wife's step-father. We have many of his original paintings and children's books. Among the books, we have:
    Baby's first Book
    Puppies and Kittens
    Ginger the Cat
    Playing the Game in Animal Land
    We're all Dressed up
    Bunty & Bertie
    Merry & Bright
    Roy the Lion

    We also have original oils and water colours in a wide range of subjects, including many original paintings for the children's books, and several beautiful landscapes. We also have one of his miniatures, though it is not in good condition (his maid washed it!)

    Best regards, John

  4. John, Many thanks for your comments and for providing Harry's dates of birth and death. It's wonderful that you have a good collection of his original paintings. If you would like any further details of Harry's cigarette card output please email Steve direct who will pass the message on to me. Kind regards, Gordon

  5. I've long been fascinated by H. Woolley's illustrations in Puppies and Kittens, which strike me as extremely strange, even disturbing, considering the book is aimed at young children under the otherwise bland and innocuous Ladybird imprint. I'd go so far as to detect a paranoid streak in the way the various unsmiling animals stare at each other. It's my hunch that the artist was suffering some kind of nervous breakdown when he drew these pictures (age 75, according to this website, which I've only just discovered.) I've shown the book to various friends who tend to agree that the illustrator must have been in a very odd frame of mind. Can anyone out there verify my hunch?

  6. I'm afraid the amateur psychologist has got his diagnosis all wrong (hopefully, he is not a professional).

    Harry was one of the kindest, gentlist men you could hope to meet.

    We took a fresh look at the "Puppies and Kittens", and found nothing but accurate images of puppies and kittens. Children love the book (as indicated by a previous post).

    Harry was my wife's step father, and she has nothing but good things to say about him. He was the steadying influence in her otherwise very difficult young life.

  7. I don't have the book in question, but I believe this is it should anyone else care to comment.

  8. My husband and I own a painting by a Harry T. Woolley, painted in 1957. Did Harry Woolley ever visit Chebeague Island, Maine, U.S.A.?

  9. Interesting coincidence. Harry never went to the US, and never had a middle name. I hope the painting is up to his standard.


    1. Hello! Iam the great niece of Harry T. Woolley of New Jersey and Maine USA. He was a prolific watercolorist and our family has many of his paintings. I would love to connect with your resondent with the question of the USA Harry T. Woolley.

  10. I was so glad to come across your page to learn more about Harry Woolley. My late father owned a watercolour by him which I inherited. It is essentially a rabbits' tea party, full of fun. My father was a cartoonist and illustrated a few books, not on the same scale as Harry of course. It was given to him by a colleague in the print. I wish now that I had asked more.



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