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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Frank Jennens

(* Reposted from 7 April 2009. As you can see, I've just received some photographs of Jennens, so I've taken this opportunity to slightly revamp the piece. Initially there was some question about his full name, which led to various bits of speculation on my part; as I was subsequently able to confirm some of the details, I've been able to tidy things up a bit, although I've tried to retain the flavour of the original post.)

I recently heard from someone looking for information on Frank Jennens and, as he was a comic strip artist as well as an illustrator, I thought it might make an interesting subject for a column. I was told he "was a children's books and annuals illustrator from about 1917 until the 1950s." He also wrote a couple of books, which he illustrated, which seem to be particularly scarce and sought after: Brown Mouse and its sequel Brown and White.

I have no knowledge of these titles, although I believe they were identified by someone on the Collecting Books and Magazines list some while ago where the first book was described thus: "It was a delightful story of a very plain little girl who had 2 beautiful sisters named Muriel and Marina. She was overlooked in her family but the story tells how with the help of friends she eventually wins her family over to love and accept her and ends with her saving her sister's life."

A dig around the web via Google turns up very little, although two lots of Jennens' original paintings have come up fairly recently. One lot was 3 watercolours of 'Young Girls', painted in the 1940s; another was 'Portrait of a young Man Reading', oil on canvas, signed and dated 1909.

Jennens was also a writer, contributing to Hulton's Girls' Annual 1927 with a story "The Scarlet Signal". Around that period, he was also contributing to the Bruin Boys Annual and to the Amalgamated Press's nursery comics, starting with "Little Snowdrop" in Tiny Tots (1927) and various contributions to Sunbeam ("Lily of the Valley", 1929; "Grandfather's Secret", 1930; and "The Miser's Secret", 1934). Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with any images, although Alan Clark believed him "an accomplished artist [who] produced excellent pen and ink drawings. His painting for book frontispieces and plates were always to a high standard."

Frank Douglas Beaufoy Jennens was born in 1893 at St. Pancras, London. The 1901 census locates him at 17 Camden Square, Camden Town, St. Pancras, living with his widowed mother and various siblings (I've added some further notes I jotted down as I dug around):
  • Isabella (b. Birmingham, 3Q 1855)
  • Isabel Ruth (b. Islington, 1Q 1879) m. in 1901
  • Lilian May (b. St. Pancras, 3Q 1883) m. in 1905
  • Maud Ethel (b. St. Pancras, 4Q 1884) m. in 1908
  • Lily Gertrude (b. St. Pancras, 3Q 1886)
  • Alfred Edward F. (b. St. Pancras, 1Q 1889)
  • Frank Douglas B. (b. St. Pancras, 2Q 1893)
  • Lawrence Ewart (b. St. Pancras, 3Q 1895)
Between 1895 and 1901, Isabella Jennens was widowed. Turning to the death records we find a likely suspect in Joseph Jennens, who died at St. Pancras on 27 May 1900, aged 44. This turns out to be correct: Joseph Jennens, born 1 November 1855 in Hockley, Birmingham, the son of William Jennens and his wife Martha (nee Beaufoy), married Isabella Venners, the Birmingham-born daughter of silversmith Charles Venners and his wife Ruth, at the New Christian Church, Argyle Street, St. Pancras on 4 June 1876. Joseph and Isabella were living at 14 Cantlowes Road, Kentish Town at the time of the 1881 census, erroneously listed under the name Jennins. Joseph was then a 25-year-old clock manufacturer. In 1891 (as Jemmons) they were living at 38 St. Augustine's Road, St. Pancras district and had now been joined by Joseph's mother and sister, plus a servant. Joseph's clocks seem to be highly desirable nowadays.

The 1911 census shows Jennens living at Avoncourt, Loom Lane, Radlett, Hertfordshire, with his mother, Isabella, brothers Alfred and Lawrence and sister Gertrude. 17-year-old Frank's occupation is given as artist. If it is correct that he was painting portraits in oil in 1909, it would appear that Frank was quite a precocious talent as he would have been only 15 or 16 at the time.

As a comic strip artist he was active in the 1920s and 1930s, but this was not his only occupation. A clipping from volume 15 of Drama: The Quarterly Theatre Review (British Theatre Association, 1936) includes brief reports from local dramatic societies. One from the Baldock Dramatic Society reads:
Formed in April 1935 only, our infant Society already feels itself to be an integral part of the communal life of this small Hertfordshire town. Favoured indeed were we at the outset to make the chance discovery that a Mr. Frank Jennens, who had but recently relinquished his professional stage career as actor and producer, was actually living in our midst and—what is more—freely placed his expert services and the fine old Manor House at our disposal! Molly Booth, ER Bingham Harriss and he respectively produced "The Man Who Wouldn't Go To Heaven", "Security" and "Playgoers" (three one-act plays) to be followed last April by "Lucky Dip" under Frank Jennens' producership.
This is the same Frank D. B. Jennens as he is listed in the phone book for 1935 at The Manor, Baldock. Indeed, he was listed at various addresses in Kent over the years: phone records show that he resided at Manor House, Baldock [1935], 4 Royal York Mansions, Margate [1937], Palmerston Lodge, Palmerston Avenue, Broadstairs [1938/39], 1 Royal York Mansions, Margate [1941/46], East Northdown House, Margate [1948/50], Elmwood, Broadstairs [1953] and 5 Albion Road, Broadstairs [1954/57]. Frank Jennens' death was registered in Thanet in 3Q 1957, aged 64.

I recently heard from Julie Older and her sister Carol, who remember Frank Jennens from their childhood in Broadstairs. That's Carol and her older sister, Myrna, in the photograph above, reading one of Frank's comics.

Julie and her sisters were befriended by Jennens, whom they knew as Mr. Broadstairs, and Carol had her portrait painted by the artist. Frank lived for many years with his sister, Gertrude, and their ward, Eva Shackleton. The sisters were recently sent some of the annuals that Jennens contributed illustrations to, including the Rainbow Annual 1927 and Tiny Tots Annual 1931.

The above photo, featuring Carol, Arthur Shackleton (Eva's brother), Gertrude, Eva, Frank and Myrna, was taken at Frank's house during a Christmas get-together in 1947.

The following was taken from a book on Broadstairs, the photo originally published in the Broadstairs Guide for 1950. As can be seen from the caption, Jennens (using the stage name Frank Douglas) was still actively involved in repertory.


Novels (illustrated by the author)
Brown Mouse. London, P. R. Gawthorn, 1947.
Brown and White. London, P. R. Gawthorn, 1947.

Illustrated Books
The Bruin Boys' Annual 1927, illus. with others. London, Amalgamated Press, 1926.
The Bruin Boys' Annual 1929, illus. with others. London, Amalgamated Press, 1928.
Tiny Tots. A picture story book for little people, illus. with others. London, Amalgamated Press, c.1930.
What Katy Did and What Katy Did at School by Susan Coolidge. London, P. R. Gawthorn, 1947.
Anytime Tales by Herbert J. Brandon. Watford, Bruce Publishing Co., 1948.
Fun and Frolic Stories by Berta Lawrence. Watford, Bruce Publishing Co., 1948.
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. Watford, Bruce Publishing Co., n.d.
The Life and Strange Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Watford, Bruce Publishing Co., n.d.
The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. Watford, Bruce Publishing Co., n.d.
Bevis by Richard Jefferies. London, P. R. Gawthorn, 1949.
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann R. Wyss. London, P. R. Gawthorn, 1951.
Good Wives by Louisa M. Alcott. London, P. R. Gawthorn, n.d.
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. London, P. R. Gawthorn, n.d.
Masterman Ready by Captain Marryat. London, P. R. Gawthorn, n.d.
Mr Midshipman Easy by Captain Marryat. London, P. R. Gawthorn, n.d.
Peter the Whaler by W. H. G. Kingston. London, P. R. Gawthorn, n.d.
Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes. London, P. R. Gawthorn, n.d.
Robin Hood and His Merry Men. London, Hampster Books (Early Reader Series 28), 1961?
The Twelve Dancing Princesses and other stories from Grimm's fairy tales. London, Hampster Books (Early Reader Series 31), 1961?

Note: Some of Jennens' illustrations appeared in a series of Early Reader books published around 1961/62, some years after his death. It should be noted that Hamster Books was an imprint of Spring Books who reprinted and recycled material endlessly, so it is possible that these were reprints from earlier titles.

(* My thanks firstly to Jamie Sturgeon who initially confirmed my identification of Frank D. B. Jennens as the artist and first spotted his connections to acting. A huge thanks to Julie and Carol for sending me the photos and clipping.)


Rafiq Raja said...

Wonderful analysis about the life and works of Frank Jennens, Steve. You are able to justify your assumptions with facts and real life events, which makes them all the more reliable.

I would love to see some work of Jennens, so will start searching from now on.

Alison said...

I read "Brown and White" as a child, and still have the book. At school I had a teacher of German whose name was Sheila Jennens. She had fair hair and glasses,just like the Sheila in the book, so I used to wonder if she was Frank Jennens's daughter. She was the right age, but I never asked her!

Roger Jennens said...

I was delighted to be able to read about Frank Jennens and to see his photograph. I have no personal direct knowledge of Frank Jennens but I can share some details derived from an interest in all aspects of Jennens family history. As you indicate, Frank’s second forename, Beaufoy, came from his paternal grandmother, Martha Beaufoy. She was born in Knowle, Warwickshire and married in 1839 in Handsworth (now part of Birmingham but then a distinct district of Staffordshire) to a William Jennens. William and Martha Jennens remained in the Hockley district of Birmingham for some years before moving to Clerkenwell, London, at some point between 1855 and 1858. In making this move William was following Ann, one of his sisters, and John Creed one of his brothers. Ann Jennens had married a Phillip Bradford who had moved to the Birmingham area from Devon. He was a clockmaker, almost certainly from a family of clockmakers established in north Devon. By 1851 Phillip and Ann Bradford had moved to Clerkenwell. John Creed Jennens established a clock-making firm in the Hockley area of Birmingham, then between 1851 and 1854 he too moved to Clerkenwell, establishing his clock-making business in Great Sutton Street.

It seems that William became an assistant to his younger brother, John Creed: in 1871 and 1881 the census shows William and Martha living at the “clock shop” after John Creed had moved out to leafy Tottenham. As you indicate, William and Martha’s son Joseph established a clock-making business in his own right, at 4 and 5 Skinner Street, Clerkenwell. The business flourished between 1881 and 1900. Joseph died on May 27th, 1900 at 38 St Augustines Road, Camden New Town. It was at that house, between May 1886 and June 1895 that Joseph and Isabella’s youngest four children had been born. Frank Jennens was born there on 25 April 1893.

PS: I suspect that the teacher mentioned by one of your contributors may well have been the Sheila Jennens who was a great-granddaughter of John Creed Jennens, and thus Sheila’s father and Frank Jennens were second cousins.

Kind Regards,

Roger Jennens

Alison said...

Just wanted to thank Roger Jennens for his informative piece on Frank Jennens, and also for throwing light on the connection between Frank and my old German teacher, Sheila Jennens.

Clive Jennens said...

I am a great-grandson of John Creed Jennens and as a fellow researcher of Jennens family history with Roger, I am fascinated to read about Frank Jennens and add a little extra detail. Frank died on the 22nd September 1957 at his home 5 Albion Road, St Peter's, Broadstairs and his sister Gertrude's death is registered in Thanet in 1Q 1965.

PS For Alison; Roger is probably correct - my cousin Sheila Jennens had fair hair and wore glasses (she had very poor sight from birth) and was a teacher at a girls' school in Reading. If the town is right, she must have been your teacher. She was born in 1927 and sadly passed away in January 2006.

Jo Haines said...

I am delighted to read all this information on Frank Jennens as he was my great uncle (my mother's uncle... my mother was also a talented artist, as was her sister Peggie) I still have original paintings by Frank, in particular one of the little girl with the glasses. I had always felt that Jennens was an unusual surname, but had not looked at the family history before, so it is really interesting to see what has been written here....thanks. Jo Haines (granddaughter of the late Lilian May nee Jennens)

Anonymous said...

Hello - Apologies for being anonymous but I'm a bit paranoid about registering for things on the internet that I don't really need to. I thought previous contributors might be interested to know that my wife has had a copy of Frank Jennens' Brown Mouse since she was a young girl. She can't remember now how she aquired it but inside is written "To my friend Joan (or it might be John) with love and best wishes from the author Frank Jennens ("Uncle Frank") Xmas 1947" I hope somebody finds this interesting. I would be interested to know who "Joan" or "John" is.

Alison said...

I think the post I wrote earlier today did not go through. Clive, I don't know how I overlooked your 2009 post about Sheila Jennens. Yes, I did live in Reading, so my German teacher was definitely your cousin. I had heard that she had died, and was saddened to hear it. There were only three of us at school doing A-level German, so we felt very close to her. Was she your first cousin?

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have only just noticed the comment from Jo Haines, who has an original painting of the girl with glasses.
I would be interested to know if this is the painting I have been trying to track down, and the reason I contacted this site.
The painting in question is of my sister Carol, she is the smaller one of the two girls in the second picture on the site.
At the time of having the picture painted she was a bit older and had her hair in plaits.
She has a photo of herself being painted by Frank, so this would verify if it was the same painting.
I would be grateful of some information about the painting.
Julie Older

wendy said...

I have a book called Anytime Tales illustrated by Frank Jennens and was looking on the internet to see if I could find out anything about it. I was very surprised therefore to come across all this research and information. What an amazing and interesting discovery.

Anonymous said...

hi i am still hoping to hear from jo haines about the painting she has got, as i am pretty sure I am the subject matter, I hope she may come back to this site and see my message
Carol Sherwood Nee Rook

Jo Haines said...

Hi Carol and Julie,

I have a lovely framed watercolour by Frank Jennens, my great uncle, of a young girl with blonde pigtails and blue eyes holding a cereal bowl...perfect condition.
I also have another of Frank's paintings of 2 girls with glasses, I think with a toy gun, by this one has a bit of scribbling on it sadly. He was a very skilled artist.
My mother used to talk about Uncle Frank, but I don't think I ever met him, although I did know his sisters when I was a child, Jo

carol sherwood- rook said...

Hi Jo
I have been trying to contact you.
It doesn't sound like you have the portrait I am looking for. I am posting a copy of the photo taken of uncle Frank and me with him, as he painted my portrait.This was done in about 1947 but I have no idea where it went. I have not looked on this site for a while and I expect you do the same as me and look from time to time, so I hope you pick this up.I am hoping you or another member of the Jennins family may recognise it and be able to confirm its whereabouts and that it still exists. best wishes Carol