Saturday, March 24, 2018

Comerford Watson

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

Comerford Watson was a commercial artist and designer from whom book illustration appears to have been a minor sideline. He was, however, known to Percy F. Westerman collectors as the illustrator of three of his adventure stories in the 1930s.

He was born on 14 May 1885 in Longtown, Cumberland, and baptized, as William Comerford Watson, on 31 May 1885 at Arthuret, Cumberland. His father, James Watson, was a house painter, born in Carlisle in around 1855. By the time of the 1891 census, the family had moved 32 miles south-west to the coastal village of Silloth, and within ten years they had moved again, to 13 River Street, Carlisle. William was recorded as a lithographic artist apprentice, which is presumably how he learnt his craft as an artist and illustrator.

By 1906, Watson had moved to Manchester, where he was admitted as an apprentice designer to the Amalgamated Society of Lithographic Artists, Designers, Engravers and Process Workers. He was excluded from the Society in 1913, presumably because he failed to pay his membership dues. He had, by then, moved to London, where in the 1911 census he was living at 19 Fawcett Street, Kensington, recorded as a lithographic artist boarding with Jane Alice Mason and two other lodgers. (For some reason, the census records his birth place as Canobie, Scotland, which appears to be a complete fiction).

During the First World War he served in the Royal Flying Corps, rising to the rank of Lieutenant and acting as a Balloon Officer. He was Mentioned in Despatches in March 1919, although almost immediately after this was he was demobilised. His home address then was given as 55 Redcliffe Road, Chelsea, although he soon moved back to Fawcett Street, lodging with James and Emily Chapman at 3 Fawcett Street between 1920 and 1924. In 1929, he was living at 4 Langham Mansions, Earls Court Square, Kensington, and he had by then also acquired a studio at New Court, Carey Street, Holborn, which he used for at least ten years between 1929 and 1939. In 1930, he was one of the founder members of the Society of Industrial Artists.

This gives a clue as to the nature of most of Watson’s work, which would have been for companies on, for example, product and graphic design. He had, however, done a small amount of illustrative work prior to this, including contributing to Cassell’s Magazine of Fiction, The New Magazine and Britannia and Eve in the 1920s. His book illustration work appears to have begun in 1931, for Blackie & Son – he went on to illustrate a handful of girls’ school stories, plus a few boys’ adventure stories, most notably three by Percy F. Westerman. More in tune with his main line of work were his illustrations for five science books, written by E.N.C. Andrade and Julian Huxley, published between 1932 and 1935.

In 1938 he married Emily Louise Mason (born in Chelsea on 14 October 1872) at Kensington Register Office. They were living at Flat 16, 294 Old Brompton Road, Kensington, with Watson described in the 1939 Register as an “Artist – advertising and consultant.” He was also listed in that year’s Kelly’s Directory at 16 Redcliffe, Richmond Road, Kensington. What, if anything, he did during the Second World War is not known.

His versatility as an artist came to the fore in the 1950s, when he illustrated a couple of books for younger children, both in different styles. He was also probably the “W.C. Watson” who collaborated with the BBC Children’s Hour presenter Derek McCulloch, alias “Uncle Mac”, on a Ladybird book, In the Train with Uncle Mac, first published in 1955 and frequently reprinted.

When his wife died, on 4 January 1953, he was living at 20 Castlenau Mansions, Barnes, Surrey. The last book with his illustrations appeared four years later. He died, at 4 Old Roar Road, St. Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex, on 24 October 1975, leaving a small estate worth just £869 (about £15,000 in today’s terms).


Books illustrated by Comerford Watson
Cherries in Search of a Captain by Catherine Mary Christian, Blackie & Son, 1931
Catriona Carries On by Doris Alice Pocock, Blackie & Son, 1931
Rosemary at St. Anne’s by Joy Francis, Blackie & Son, 1932
King for a Month by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1933
The Corsair of the Skies by Arthur Guy Vercoe, Blackie & Son, 1934
Sleuths of the Air by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1935
Tireless Wings by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1936
Odds Against by A. Harcourt Burrage, Evans Brothers, 1937
The Red Thumb Mark by R. Austin Freeman, University of London Press, 1952 (re-issue)
The Purple Muffin Book by Ann Hogarth, Hodder & Stoughton, 1953 (with other artists)
In the Train with Uncle Mac by Derek McCulloch, Wills & Hepworth, 1955
The Palace of the Ants by Courtney Douglas Farmer, Schofield & Sims, 1957

Science books by E.N.Da C. Andrade & Julian Huxley, published by Basil Blackwell:
An Introduction to Science 1932
An Introduction to Science – Book 2: Science and Life, 1933
An Introduction to Science - Book 3: Forces at Work, 1934
Simple Science, 1934
More Simple Science: Earth and Man, 1935

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