Saturday, May 19, 2018

Frank E Wiles

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

Frank E. Wiles was a minor illustrator of children’s books, in particular girls’ school stories, although he was perhaps best-known as a painter and for his occasional illustrations in The Strand Magazine between 1912 and 1915 and 1926 to 1931.

Born in Cambridge on 11 September 1881 (and christened Francis Edmund Wiles), he came from an artistic family. His grandfather, John Wiles (1812-1908) was a stonemason who established a company in Cambridge, specializing in gravestones and monuments. His father, Henry Wiles (1838-1930) was a well-known sculptor, who had been educated at the Perse School in Cambridge and who, in 1869, had won a travelling scholarship from the Royal Academy, which he used to study in Rome and Naples. After returning to England he set up a studio in London, where he and his wife Mary Ann (née Harper), whom he had married in Cambridge in 1868, had the first five of their nine children: Clara (1870, Ruth (1872), John (1873), Walter (1875), and Mary (1876). They then returned to Cambridge, and had a further four children: Gilbert (1880, Francis (1881), Bernard (1883), and Rosina (1884).

At the time of the 1881 census the family was living at 11 Brunswick Walk, Cambridge, with Henry working as a sculptor and drawing teacher. (One of his pupils was C.E. Brock, who became a prolific illustrator between 1890 and 1930). Ten years later, the family was at 7 North Terrace, Cambridge, with Henry recorded as a sculptor and a Baptist Minister.

Francis Edmund Wiles studied at the Cambridge School of Art between 1897 and 1903. He was one of the best students of his generation, winning numerous prizes in a variety of artistic disciplines. As a professional artist, much of his early work was portraiture, but by 1905 he was also working as an illustrator, contributing to Cassell’s Magazine, and, later on, to Everybody’s Weekly, Printers’ Pie, Black and White, and, most notably, The Strand Magazine, beginning in 1912. In that year he also exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy of Arts, continuing to do so regularly until 1930. In 1909, he had been one of many artists (who included Lewis Baumer, Walter Crane and Edmund J. Sullivan) who had produced black and white advertisements for Selfridge’s, announcing the opening of its store in Oxford Street. (He later produced advertising posters for companies such as Raleigh (cycles) in the 1920s and Nestlé in the 1930s).

He had also, by this time, illustrated a handful of books, including one of Percy F. Westerman’s historical adventure stories, and two girls’ school stories by Angela Brazil and Olivia Fowell. These, and all his subsequent books, were published by Blackie & Son, and he was not to work for any other book publisher.

By 1911 Wiles had moved to London, living with his brother John (a designer) and his family at 37 Erpington Road, Putney. Om 4 June 1914, having moved to 9 Castlenau Mansions, Barnes, he married Mabel Spencer Troughton (born on 1 February 1883, the daughter of Walter Troughton, a journalist) at Christ Church, Mortlake, Surrey. They went on to gave two children: Janet Rosina, born in 1921, and Richard Francis, born in 1925.

In September 1914, Wiles was asked to illustrate Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Valley of Fear, a nine-part Sherlock Holmes story which ran until May 1915. Wiles went on to produce 31 black and white illustrations for the story, and in doing so depicted Holmes almost as exactly as Doyle had imagined him. The first illustration was a portrait of Holmes, with receding hairline, aquiline nose, jutting chin, and smoking a straight-handled pipe, studying a piece of paper filled with numbers and words. (This appeared first, in black and white, in a pronouncement for the story in the issue before the opening instalment, and was repeated, this time as a full-page colour illustration, alongside the first installment, as well as on the magazine’s cover). When The Strand Magazine folded in 1949, a small colour print of this illustration was found in the magazine’s archives, with a note in Arthur Conan Doyle’s handwriting on the back which read “This comes nearest to my conception of what Holmes really looks like.” (Daily Express, 14 December 1949).

During the First World War Wiles joined the Army Service Corps (later the Royal Army Service Corps), serving with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, and ending up with the rank of Captain.

It is not clear what he did after the War. He sporadically continued to illustrate books for Blackie & Son, with his work appearing not just in novels but also in annuals such as Blackie’s Girls’ Annual, A Real Girl’s Book and The Boys’ Budget. In 1924 he provided illustrations for The London Magazine and Pearson’s Magazine, and in 1926 he returned to illustrating stories in The Strand Magazine.

At the time of the 1939 Register he was living at 72 Stanley Road, Barnes, Surrey, described as an “artist, painter and illustrator”. In the late 1940s he moved to South Africa, where his brother Walter Gilbert Wiles had been working as a professional artist since 1915. He began to work as a portrait painter, and received commissions from the governors and prime ministers of Southern Rhodesia and South Africa. He became a member of the South African Society of Artists, exhibiting in the Society’s annual exhibitions in 1947, 1848, 1949 and 1950. He died in Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape, in 1963.

Of his three brothers, two, Walter and Bernard, became artists. Walter was the most successful – he moved to South Africa with his father in 1902, and worked briefly as a lecturer in art  before taking up art professionally (after a brief dalliance with ostrich farming). He was founder-member of the Eastern Province Society of Arts and Crafts and later the South African Society of Artists, exhibiting widely. He specialized in landscapes and coastal scenes, painted in oils. His last solo exhibition was in 1942, and he died in 1966.

Bernard Harper Wiles became an official war artist during the First World War, and later travelled widely throughout the Middle and Far East, working as an artist, before returning to England and settling in Norfolk, where he became a fruit grower. He died in Norwich in 1966.


Books illustrated by Frank E. Wiles
A New England Maid: A Tale of the American Rebellion by Eliza Francis Pollard, Blackie & Son, 1911
The Quest of the Golden Hope: A Seventeenth Story of Adventure by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1912
Stella Maris by William John Locke, John Lane, 1912
A Fourth Form Friendship by Angela Brazil, Blackie & Son, 1912
The Doings of Dorothea: A School Tale by Olivia Fowell, Blackie & Son, 1912
Twin Sisters: An Irish Tale by Rosa Mulholland, Blackie & Son, 1912
Margery Dawe by Katharine Tynan, Blackie & Son, 1916
Mother and Dad and the Rest of Us by Archie Fairfax, Blackie & Son, 1920
The Princess of the School by Angela Brazil, Blackie & Son, 1921
The First Fifth Form by Evelyn Smith, Blackie & Son, 1926
The Small Sixth Form by Evelyn Smith, Blackie & Son, 1927
Milly in the Fifth by Evelyn Smith, Blackie & Son, 1928
St. Catherine’s College by Angela Brazil, Blackie & Son, 1929
Ensign Lydia Gaff by Violet M. Methley, Blackie & Son, 1930
The Little Green School by Angela Brazil, Blackie & Son, 1931
Emma by Jane Austen, Blackie & Son, 1932 (re-issue)
Jean’s Golden Term by Angela Brazil, Blackie & Son, 1934

Wiles’s illustrations from The Strand Magazine were also reprinted in several collections of Sherlock Holmes stories.


  1. Just wanted to say thanks again to you and Robert for this great research work and freely available! I have seen Wiles' name on my travels and it's always great to see more. That image of the two girls on the roof beam is brilliant with the lighting and faded background. Thanks

  2. My great grandfather bernard Harper wiles was so very talented. Great write up thank you



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