Sunday, January 07, 2018

J. Ayton Symington

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

J. Ayton Symington is something of an enigma. He was a fairly prolific, and proficient, illustrator of books, in particular children’s historical and adventure stories, between 1885 and 1914, yet his early life, at least as far as online genealogy records go, is a complete mystery. He does not appear in the census records until 1891, when he was 34 years old, and other details of his genealogy are rather sketchy.

All that can be gleaned from the census records from 1891 onwards was that he was born in Leeds in around 1856, and christened James Ayton Symington. In the 1891, 1901 and 1911 census records his wife is recorded as Kate – according to her entry in the 1939 Register, she was born in Leeds on 18 January 1859. She was presumably Catherine Tindall, who married a James Symington at the parish church, Doncaster on 19 May 1889. They had one child, Arthur Ayton Symington, born in Leeds on 30 January 1898 (according to the 1939 Register), but there is otherwise no online record of his birth.

Symington appears to have first come to the public’s attention in January 1887, when The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reviewed Rambles by Yorkshire Rivers, written by George Radford and published by the Leeds publisher Richard Jackson: “… it is Mr Radford’s happiness to have his own very interesting letter-press illustrated by a dozen full-page etchings, drawn especially for the work by a Yorkshire etcher, Mr J. A. Symington.”

Symington appears to have remained working in Leeds, contributing to more books issued by Richard Jackson, until late 1890/early 1891 – in the 1891 census he was recorded at 71 Chelverton Road, Putney, south London, with his wife Kate, and described as an “Artist Magazine Illustrator.” He was also at this time contributing to various periodicals, including The Universal Review, Atalanta, The Art Journal, The Windsor Magazine, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, Chums, Young England and The Silver Link (the last two being published by the Sunday School Union).

In 1895 he contributed a series of pencil drawings to The Wonderful Wapentake, a collection of short stories – sketches of rural Yorkshire life – written by J. S. Fletcher and which had originally appeared in The Leeds Mercury and then the London newspaper The Star. In the same year he also contributed illustrations to The Shadow on the Blind, a collection of ghost stories by Mrs Alfred Baldwin, and several other books, including a re-issue of Michael Scott’s Tom Cringle’s Log. He was later in some demand as an illustrator of re-issues, providing illustrations for novels by Frederick Marryat, Charles Reade, Charles Kingsley, and, most notably, HonorĂ© de Balzac. He was one of numerous artists who illustrated an edition of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, published by George Routledge in 1903. Perhaps one of his best-known collaborations was with H. G. Wells, for whom he provided 40 black and white illustrations for The Wheels of Chance: A Holiday Adventure (later sub-titled A Bicycling Idyll) in 1896. This was a comic novel about a cycling holiday, with faint echoes of Three Men in a Boat.

Apart from a handful of topographical books (such as books on Norfolk, Hampshire, Surrey, Edinburgh and British cathedrals) his main work was in illustrating children’s historical and adventure stories. He was used by several publishers, including Andrew Melrose, J. M. Dent & Co., W.& R. Chambers, S. W. Partridge, George Routledge and Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. Amongst the authors whose books he illustrated were Evelyn Everett Green, David Ker, Robert Leighton, Frederick Whishaw, J. S. Fletcher and William Murray Graydon. His most lasting legacy was his set of illustrations for a re-issue of Robinson Crusoe in 1905, published by J. M. Dent & Co. in 1905. This contained 8 colour plates and numerous black and white illustrations, which were subsequently used in further re-issues up to the 1970s.

By 1901, after apparently returning to Leeds where his son was born in around 1898, he was living at 1 West Park Gardens, Kew. He remained there until around 1915, when he moved to Old Church Lane, Stanmore, in north-west London. His book work then appears to have dried out completely, as no books with his illustrations have been traced after 1914. He may have been involved in some way in World War I, although he was too old for active service – it is, however, known that his son served with the Royal Field Artillery. He later became a civil engineer.

In the meantime, Symington had done some work for a handful of story papers – for example in 1907 he began illustrating Young Folks Tales, published by James Henderson. He also contributed to the Amalgamated Press’s boys’ story paper Cheer Boys Cheer throughout 1913, in particular illustrating a serialization of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow. After the war, he contributed to one issue of The Boy’s Own Paper in 1921, but nothing further by him has been traced.

In the early 1920s Symington and his wife moved to Hillyridge, Uxbridge Road, Harrow Weald, and in 1927 they moved again, to Dale Cottage, Great Bookham, Surrey. They remained there until 1937, when they moved to Yewby, Yew Tree Gardens, Woodcote Side, Epsom, Surrey. They were living there when Symington died, at Epsom and Ewell General Hospital, on 6 February 1939, leaving an estate valued at just £211. He was buried in Lawnswood Cemetery, Leeds, four days later.  His wife remained in Surrey, being recorded in the 1939 Register as a housekeeper at 119 Sunny Bank, Epsom. She subsequently returned to Leeds, where she died in 1944. Their son died in Surrey in 1955.


Books illustrated by J. Ayton Symington
Rambles by Yorkshire Rivers by George Radford, Richard Jackson, 1885
Some Historic Mansions of Yorkshire and their Associations by William Wheater, Richard Jackson, 1888
Yorkshire by the Sea by George Radford, Richard Jackson, 1891
The Poetical Works of Wordsworth by William Wordsworth, Ramage & Co., 1891(?)
Sedbergh, Garsdale and Dent: Peeps at the Past History and Present Condition of Some Picturesque Yorskhire Dales by William Thompson, Richard Jackson, 1892
Records of the Parish of Whitkirk by George Moreton Platt, Richard Jackson, 1892
The Manor and Park of Roundhay by John William Morkill, Richard Jackson, 1893
The Wonderful Wapentake by J.S. Fletcher, John Lane, 1895
Tom Cringle’s Log by Michael Scott, Macmillan & Co., 1895 (re-isssue)
The Lay of the Bell by Friedrich Schiller, Ernest Nister, 1895 (re-issue)
The Shadow on the Blind and other Ghost Stories by Mrs Alfred Baldwin
The Story of a Marriage by Mrs Alfred Baldwin, J.M. Dent & Co., 1895, J.M. Dent & Co., 1895  
Peter Simple by Frederick Marryat, Macmillan & Co., 1895 (re-issue)
Morag Maclean: A Perthshire Story of Fifty Years Ago by M.M. Rankin, Andrew Melrose, 1895
Where Highways Cross by J.B. Fletcher, J.M. Dent & Co., 1895
Mary Mordaunt, or Faithful in the Least by Annie Gray, Sunday School Union, 1895 (re-issue)
Ralph Roxburgh’s Revenge by Evelyn Everett Green, Andrew Melrose, 1895
Joseph Rushbrook, or The Poacher by Frederick Marryat, J.M. Dent & Co., 1896
Olla Podrida by Frederick Marryat, J.M. Dent & Co., 1896 (re-issue)
The King’s Own and The Pirate by Frederick Marryat, J.M. Dent & Co., 1896
The Wheels of Chance: A Holiday Adventure by H.G. Wells, J.M. Dent & Co., 1896
Under the Naga Banner by Charles J. Mansford, John Hogg, 1896
Jackson’s Cyclist Guide to Yorkshire by T. Bradley, Richard Jackson, 1896
Monsieur Violet by Frederick Marryat, J.M. Dent & Co., 1896 (re-issue)
Snarelyyow, or The Dog Fiend by Frederick Marryat, J.M. Dent & Co., 1896 (re-issue)
Swept Out to Sea by David Ker, W. & R. Chambers, 1897
Masterman Ready by Frederick Marryat, J.M. Dent & Co., 1897 (re-issue)
The Settlers in Canada by Frederick Marryat, J.M. Dent & Co., 1897 (re-issue)
The “Rover’s” Quest: A Story of Foam, Fire and Fight by Hugh St. Leger, W. & R. Chambers, 1897
The Squire of Lonsdale by E.C. Kenyon, F. Warne & Co., 1897
The Mystery of Hoyle’s Mouth, or The Adventures of Two Runaway Boys by Mary E. Ropes, Sunday School Union, 1897
Hunted Through Fiji, or Betwixt Convict and Cannibal by Reginald Horsley, W. & R. Chambers, 1897
Wild Kitty: A Story of Middleton School by L.T. Meade, W. & R Chambers, 1898
Curios: Some Strange Adventures of Two Bachelors by Richard Marsh, John Long, 1898
Yule Logs: Longman’s Christmas Annual for 1898, Longmans, Green & Co., 1898
A Picturesque History of Yorkshire by J.S. Fletcher, J.M. Dent & Co, 1899 (part-work)
From the Land of the Wombat by William Sylvester Walker, John Long, 1899
King Radama’s Word, or John Aikin’s Adventures in Madagascar by Robert Thynne, John Hogg, 1899
The Dacoit’s Mine, or A Fight for Fortune by Charles R. Kenyon, John Hogg, 1899
The Redemption of Freetown by Charles Monroe Sheldon, F. Warne & Co., 1899
Selby Abbey: A Short Account of the Ancient Abbey Church of St. Mary and St. Germanus by Archibald George Tweedie, W.B. Ellerby, 1899
Lancashire Humour by Thomas Newbigging, J.M. Dent & Co., 1900
Norfolk by William A. Dutt, J.M. Dent & Co., 1900
The Schoolmistress of Haven’s End by Ella Edersheim Overton, Religious Tract Society, 1900
Hampshire with the Isle of Wight by George A.B. Dewar, J.M. Dent & Co., 1900
It’s Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade, James Nisbet & Co., 1900 (re-issue)
Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley, Andrew Melrose, 1900 (re-issue)
The Oak Staircase: A Narrative of the Times of James II by M. & C. Lee, Griffith Farran Browne, 1900 (re-issue)
The Building of the Ship by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ernest Nister, 1900(?)
Some Literary Landmarks for Pilgrims on Wheels by F.W. Bockett, J.M. Dent & Co., 1901
Surrey by Walter Jerrold, J.M. Dent & Co., 1901
Gabriel Garth, Chartist by Evelyn Everett Green, Andrew Melrose, 1902
The Cathedrals of Britain by P.H. Ditchfield, J.M. Dent & Co., 1902
Gold or Dross? By John W. Kneeshaw, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1902
Fighting Fearful Odds, or The Temptations of Jack Rodney by Robert Leighton, Andrew Melrose, 1903
The Yellow Satchel by Frederick Whishaw, George Routledge & Sons, 1903
Tom Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes, George Routledge & Sons, 1903 (re-issue)
The Stone-cutter of Memphis by William Patrick Kelly, George Routledge & Sons, 1904
Edinburgh and its Story by Oliphant Smeaton, J.M. Dent & Co., 1904
Hurrah for the Spanish Main by Robert Leighton, Andrew Melrose, 1904
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, J.M. Dent & Co., 1905 (re-issue)
Highcroft Farm by J.S. Fletcher, Cassell & Co., 1906
John Halifax, Gentleman by Mrs Craik, Andrew Melrose, 1906 (re-issue)
The Squire’s Grandchildren by Josephine Turle, Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1906
Hugh Larkom’s Sacrifice, or Peaceable Fruit by H. Cranstoun Metclaf, Andrew Melrose. 1906
A Boy’s Visit to Iceland by D.B. McKean, Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1906
The Fortunes of Philip Chester by D.B. McKean, Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1907
The Doctor’s Daughter by Catherine Shaw, John Shaw, 1907
The Adventures of Timothy by E.C. Kenyon, Religious Tract Society, 1907
Paul et Virginie by Bernadin de Saint Pierre, J.M. Dent & Co., 1907
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Routledge & Sons, 1907(?) (re-issue)
The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Browning by Elizabeth Browning, Collins, 1908
In the Van of the Vikings, or How Olaf Tryggvason Lost and Won by Mary Frances Outram, Religious Tract Society, 1908
The Fighting Lads of Devon, or In the Days of the Armada by William Murray Graydon, S.W. Partridge, 1910
A Little Aversion by “Tasman”, Religious Tract Society, 1910
Against the World by Evelyn R. Garratt, Religious Tract Society, 1910
Dickens in Yorkshire: Being Notes of a Journey to the Delightful Village of Dotheboys, near Greta Bridge by Charles Eyre Pascoe, Pitman, 1912
The Story of Daniel by Edward William Osborne, Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1912
The Story of Elijah and Elisha by Helen Louisa Taylor, Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1912
The Story of David by Helen Louisa Taylor, Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1912
The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Coper, Collins, 1912(?) (re-issue)
Daring Deeds by Herbert Strang, Henry Frowde, Hodder & Stoughton, 1913
The Story of St. Peter by G.M., Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1914
The Story of Moses by H.L. Taylor, Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1914

Novels of Balzac    Macmillan  1898-1901(?)
The Seamy Side of History
Parisians in the Country
The Member for Arcis
A Daughter of Eve, and, Letters of Two Brides
A Father’s Curse and Other Stories
A Princess’s Secrets
A Daughter of Eve

1 comment:

  1. I have no experience in the publishing world but I would love to track down one of his drawings in the H. G. Wells, The Wheels of Chance: A Holiday Adventure (later sub-titled A Bicycling Idyll) in 1896. It is a drawing of our house and I would love a high res copy of it to hang on my well! Thanks for any help you can give me. Caroline



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