Sunday, May 19, 2019

Leslie Cresswell

Leslie Cresswell was known as one of the leading technical illustrators working on The Motor between the 1930s and the 1950s, most notably for his cutaway drawings. Beyond this, little seems to be known about him. It was something of a surprise to discover that he was local to Colchester (indeed, his funeral service took place at Colchester Crematorium on Wednesday, 16 May 1979).

He was born Leslie Harold Cresswell Cresswell in Holborn, London, on 5 May 1896, the son of Harold Cresswell and Eliza Ballinger Cresswell. Harold, born in Louth, Lincolnshire, was an engineer, working as a draughtsman for the Metropolitan Water Board. He Eliza Ballinger Hayward at St James Church, Grimsby, Lincolnshire, on 4 June 1892.

The family lived in Highgate, north London, where Leslie and his younger sister, Catherine Margaret Cresswell Cresswell (born Hornsey, London, on 4 April 1899), went to school.

At the age of 19, Cresswell was attested for service in the Territorial Force on 12 November 1914, in the 9th London Regiment (Queen Victoria's Rifles). He served with the BEF in France between 29 June 1915 and 3 January 1916, before returning to England, suffering from shell shock.

 He was attached to the Command Depot in June 1916 and then to the Record Office in November 1916, at the same time being promoted to Acting Corporal. He was discharged from the army on medical grounds on 26 September 1917, suffering from neurasthenia (described as a weakness of the nerves, and characterised by physical and mental exhaustion). He was permanently excluded from liability to reexamination under Military (Review of Exceptions) ACT 1917.

After the war, Cresswell trained as an artist at Regent Street Polytechnic and subsequently joined Temple Press as a technical artist with The Motor and The Aeroplane magazines. There, his drawings of Grand Prix classics of the 1930s and of Britain's "post-war hope", the BRM V16, earned him a reputation as one of the finest artists working in that field. He exhibited as a Temple Press artist in the wartime exhibition of motoring art at the Rembrandt Rooms, London, on 5 October 1941.

One of his best known images is a cutaway drawing of the Bluebird CN7. Writing in Bluebird CN7: The Inside Story of Donald Campbell's Last Land Speed Record Car (Dorchester, Veloce Publishing, 2010), Donald Stevens relates how Cresswell's drawing came about:
There was obviously a great deal of press interest in the project, but it was agreed that no press should be allowed any information until the official release. However, I decided that, for the sake of accuracy, it would be safe to allow Leslie Cresswell, the cutaway drawing artist for The Motor magazine, to visit Motor Panels to draw the insides of the car before it was skinned. He agreed in writing to keep his drawings and knowledge to himself until the agreed date, and spent three days tucked into a corner of the Motor Panels' workshop before deciding he had sufficient data to finish the task at home. Two days after he left, I was called into Jim Phillip's (Motor Panels' managing director) office, and received a massive blasting because I had allowed 'the press' in. The fact that it enabled an accurate drawing of the car to be done did not occur, or matter, to him. Leslie later sent me the accompanying 'pull' of his drawing, autographed by him and with the words: "It could not have been done without your help."
Assignments for The Motor took him all over Europe and Cresswellwas a familiar figure at the racing circuits.

After retiring from Temple Press, Cresswell continued to work as a freelance, notably for BLMC, until failing eyesight forced him to give up drawing in around 1970.

Cresswell first visited the village of Tolleghunt D'Arcy,  Maldon, in Essex in 1937 and settled there in 1966. He was living at 3 Wheatsheaf Cottage, Kelvedon Road, when he died, at St Mary's Hospital, Colchester, on Saturday, 5 May 1979, on his 83rd birthday. He was survived by his sister, Margaret, who died at Allandale Nursing Home, Burnham on Sea, Somerset, on 10 April 1981.


Books illustrated by Leslie Cresswell
Aeroplanes and aero-engines in Detail, illus. with others. London, Temple Press, c.1945.
The Grand Prix Car, 1906-1939 by Laurence Pomeroy. Radley, Berks, Motor Racing Publications, 1949; revised, two vols., London, Temple Press, 1954.
Look at Fire Brigades by Kem Bennett. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1963.

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