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Saturday, December 16, 2017

E E Briscoe

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

E.E. Briscoe was one of the most prolific artists employed by the Amalgamated Press between around 1903 and 1925. Some sources say that he was also a notable book illustrator, although only a handful of books which credit him as an illustrator have been traced.

He was born in Battersea, London, in 1882, his parents being Edward Briscoe, a printer and compositor (born in Ashton, Northamptonshire, in 1855, and the son of a labourer), and Emma Jane (née Scaldwell, also born in Ashton in 1855), the daughter of a shoemaker – they had married in Islington in June 1879. Christened Ernest Edward Briscoe, he was the second of four children, the others being Herbert (born in 1881), Florence (1884), and Oliver George (1885), all born in Battersea. At the time of the 1881 census, the family was living at 9 Queen Square, Battersea; ten years later, they were at 30 Pickets Street, Clapham.

Briscoe learned his craft at the Clapham School of Art, founded in 1884 by a group of local residents (one of its most notable alumni was the illustrator Margaret Tarrant, the daughter of the illustrator Percy Tarrant). He illustrated his first book, A New Guide to Lichfield Cathedral, in 1902, and at the same time he began working for the Amalgamated Press. He went on to draw countless black and white illustrations for several of the company’s boys’ story papers, beginning with The Boys’ Friend, followed by Cheers Boy Cheer and, perhaps most notably, The Boys’ Realm, for which he illustrated numerous sporting stories. He was also closely associated with The Nelson Lee Library, for which he drew a lengthy series of sketches of public schools – indeed, his drawings of the Nelson Lee’s fictional St. Frank’s school were based on his sketches of Eton College.

Other Amalgamated Press story papers he worked for included The Union Jack, The Gem, The Boys’ Herald, The Champion, The Dreadnought, Sport and Adventure, The Penny Pictorial, The Rocket and Little Folks. His work also appeared in The Boy’s Own Paper, Chums and Our Kiddies, and in annuals and similar large-format books such as The Pip and Squeak Annual, The Adventure Book, Our Boys’ Tip-Top Book, Hullo Boys: The Wireless Uncle’s Annual, Our Girls, The Best Book for Schoolgirls and The Greyfriars Holiday Annual. He was also an occasional contributor to Punch and, rather unusually perhaps, Peace News.

In an interview recorded in The Collectors Digest (August 1956) Briscoe recalled that while he enjoyed drawing the school buildings for The Nelson Lee Library, he was not keen on doing “sketches illustrating common expressions such as ‘grinding his teeth’ – I thought them very cheap and childish. However in those days I wasn’t able to pick and choose although later I was able to refuse such commissions that I thought were vulgar or not in accord with my beliefs – for instance I several times refused any work in connection with blood sports and in time that type of thing was not offered to me.”

He also occasionally turned his hand to writing – one of his short stories appeared in The Boys’ Realm in July 1920, and he also wrote for, as well as illustrated, a number of stories for The Pip & Squeak Annuals. He was also responsible for the text and illustrations in Byways of London: Picturesque Nooks and Corners Sketched and Described by E.E. Briscoe, published in 1926.

As far as is known, he illustrated only two children’s novels: an edition of Tom Brown’s Schooldays published in the 1920s, which contained 16 full-page black and white illustrations and a colour frontispiece; and Scouts of the Prairies by Wingrove Willson (the pen-name of Walter H. Light), published in 1925.

In addition, he was a member of the Royal Academy and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours.

At the time of the 1901 census, Briscoe was living at 58 Fernlea Road, Steatham, with his parents and three siblings – his father and brother Oliver were both working as printers, and Hebert was an engraver, with Briscoe himself described as a newspaper artist.  He married Rosie Lilian Conner (born in Gibraltar in 1883, the daughter of Frank Conner, an innkeeper) at Chard, Somerset (where she was an assistant mistress in the Infants’ Department of the local National School) on 16 May 1907. He was living in Balham at the time, and the wedding notice in the local newspaper noted that the couple intended to settle in Warlingham, Surrey. However, at the time of the 1911 census the couple were living with Briscoe’s brother Herbert, who was working for a photo engraving company, at 10 Linden Avenue, Thornton Heath, Surrey.

In his Collectors Digest interview Briscoe described how he was stationed in Cairo during the First World War, where he was able to mount three art exhibitions. Unfortunately, there are no online records confirming his military activities at this time (bearing in mind that many of the army’s records were destroyed). After the war he placed his work with the artists’ agents the Byron Studios, in Farringdon Avenue, London.

In the 1920s and early 1930s he and his wife lived on the Isle of Wight, moving to Felbridge, Surrey, in 1932. They later moved to Tonbridge, Kent, where his wife died in December 1953. He had long given up illustration work, and was focusing on watercolour paintings of towns and landscapes. He died three years later, on 27 September 1956, at the War Memorial Hospital in Edenbridge, Kent (his home address was Littlecote, Uckfield Lane, Hever, Kent).  He left an estate valued at £3,905 (around £85,000 in today’s terms).


Books illustrated by E.E. Briscoe
New Guide to Lichfield Cathedral,  1902
Picturesque London, The Anglo-American Oil Company, 1920 (with Jessie Currie)
Byways of London by E.E. Briscoe, John R. Battley, 1924
Scouts of the Prairie edited by Wingrove Willson, Goodship House, 1925
Tom, Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes, T. Nelson & Son, (1920s, re-issue)
Our Girls’ Yarns by various authors, Renwick of Otley, 1930
Ourselves and Our Neighbours by B.G. Hardingham, T. Nelson & Sons, 1934
Richard Jefferies’ London by Samuel J. Looker, Lutterworth Press, 1944
Shakespeare’s Stratford-on-Avon by Laurence Swinyard, Charles F. Kimble & Sons, 1946

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