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British Empire Exhibition 1924 – Wembley Park April – October – Its Situation Described in Relation to the Railways of London

  • Author: KENNEDY NORTH, Stanley (artist)
  • Publisher: British Empire Exhibition (publisher) - Dobson Molle & Co Ltd Colour Printers (printers)
  • Date: [1923] 1924
  • Dimensions: Unfolded: 73 x 49 cms


Stanley (Kennedy) North’s striking map of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, part of an illustrated folding guide

About this piece:

Stanley Kennedy North (artist) : British Empire Exhibition 1924 – Wembley Park April – October – Its Situation Described in Relation to the Railways of London

Printed colours. The map forming the back of a British Empire Exhibition guide, originally folding down concertina fashion to circa 17 x 10cms. Now preserved unfolded for better presentation. Some of the original folds and fold junctures reinforced with fine archival tissue, without affecting verso text and photographs. The verso entirely printed with black and white text and photographs describing the different Exhibition areas and dominion pavilions and also incorporating several adverts.

A decorative and increasingly uncommon piece of British Empire Exhibition ephemera, this finely designed pictorial map by Stanley Kennedy North [1887-1942] provides a symbolically rich & vibrantly colourful delineation of the 216 acre site of the 1924 Exhibition at Wembley in North London. The map draws many stylistic comparisons with Max Gill’s cartographic designs of this period, with its use of antique strapwork cartouches, compass spurs and other traditional motifs. It also includes an unfurled scrollwork banner inscribed with a note from Edward Prince of Wales and an elaborately embellished titlepiece and coat of arms upper right, encircled with red roses and inscribed with the names of all of the Dominions and territories of the Empire. Alongside this, a distinctly modern rendering of the Wembley site, with its gardens, avenues, lakes, exhibition pavilions and amusement park, the latter hidden from public view beneath a blue and white striped big top tent, in the upper centre of the image, with the accompanying note that: The unrivalled and entrancing mysteries & miles of smiles in the Amusement Park will be disclosed when this fine dustsheet is removed on the opening day. That sense of thrusting modernity  & a comparison with Gill is further enhanced by the schematic diagram of the London Underground railway network that North has included in the lower section of the map, with the Hammersmith & City, Circle and District Lines, providing a circular focal point, lower right, in which he has placed a silhouette of Nelson’s Column and the Westminister and City skyline, with the inscription “Heart of the Empire”, words echoed on the inscription banner that surrounds Gill’s smaller Wonderground map, which we now believe to have been published at this same time in 1924. A series of underground and overground trains are shown making their way via the new Metropolitan line extension, around the periphery of the site, to the new Wembley Park Station in the upper left of the map and along the new overground railway extension from Marylebone to Wembley Hill. The “Motor Park” at the Wembley, adjacent to the Empire Stadium (the former Wembley Stadium with its renowned facade) is filled with an array of London omnibuses and saloon cars, which along with trams and taxicabs, also populate the surrounding roads around Wembley. Given Stanley North’s origins as the son of a London omnibus driver, there is perhaps something of the personal in the adjacent inscription that fills the lower left carouche: The Exhibition is 6 Miles from Marble Arch by road. There are 126 stations in the London area from which it may be reached in an average time of 18 minutes and from 120 it is possible to travel without changing. Trains from Baker Street and Marylebone take 10 minutes; Piccadilly Circus 15 minutes; and Charing Cross 18 minutes. Trams pass the South Entrance from Finchley, Hamsptead, Paddington, Willesden, Hammersmith, Putney, Acton, Ealing. Omnibus services run to all the entrances.

A small cartouche lower left reveals North as the author, with the inscription: Done by Kennedy North 1923.

The verso of the map offers a comprehensive printed guide to the Exhibition itself, with descriptions of the site and the different Palaces (of Art, Industry, and Engineering) and of the individual pavilions erected by the different Dominions and Colonies from around the World. It includes numerous sketches and photographs.

Stanley Kennedy North [1887-1942] was an immensely colourful and enigmatic bohemian figure in the early 20th Century art world. An artist, illustrator, manuscript illuminator, stained glass designer and maker, picture restorer and conservator (latterly holding the post of Keeper of the King’s Pictures), folk music aficianado, piper, inveterate womaniser and organic composter, he was born in 1887 in North London, the son of Charles and Fanny North. His father Charles was originally a native of Wiltshire, born in Patney and residing in the Chippenham area, where in his youth he worked as a groom, before marrying and moving to London in the 1880’s. He settled with his wife and growing family in West Kilburn, where Stanley was baptised at St.Luke’s Church on 13 July 1887. Stanley was the only boy of the family, sandwiched between an elder sister Annie and two younger sisters, Alice & Elsie. The family subsequently moved to South West London, residing in May Street, Fulham (1891 Census) and ten years later in Farnell Mews, Earls Court Square (1901 Census), where Charles is recorded as being a London omnibus driver (1891) and London Cab proprietor (1901). By 1911 Stanley himself is recorded as an arts student living in digs in Chelsea with a fellow arts student, Francis Spendlove. Like Macdonald Gill he would be heavily influenced by the prevailing Arts and Crafts revival of the period, which is particularly evident in his stained glass work and manuscript illumination. It was very shortly after this, in the early summer of 1911, that North married his first wife, Vera M Rawnsley [1889-1974], a chic arts student training at the Slade, the daughter of a retired Army Colonel, Claude Rawnsley, who looked upon his new son-in-law and the union with considerable disfavour, particularly when North subsequently avoided military service during the First World War. The couple had one son, Paul born in 1912, but would subsequently split. Vera remarried twice, in 1918 and 1927, the second time to Otto Bax [1886-1962], the famous writer and playwright. In 1914 North illustrated “The Child’s ABC of War”. Following his own second marriage to a prominent figure in English Folk Dancing, Helen Dorothy Kennedy [1886-1975] in December 1920, the couple changed their surname to Kennedy North. The marriage and a deep mutual interest in folk dancing may well have inspired his book, “Mr North’s Maggot”  – English Folk Dances, published in 1921.  A son Roger was born in 1922, and throughout the 1920’s the couple lived at Bassett Road, W10, moving in the early 1930’s to nearby Ladbroke Grove. Richard D North, Stanley North’s grandson provides some insights into his grandfather’s liaisons with numerous other women, including Margaret Gardiner and Edie Nicholson, wife of painter and illustrator, Sir William Nicholson. North apparently spent much time at the Nicholson’s country home at Rottingdean during the course of the First World War. He would later write a brief critique of Nicholson and his work.

Author Eleanor Farjeon [1887-1965], for whom MacDonald Gill illustrated Nursery Rhymes of Old London Town in 1916 and its sequel in 1917, in later life wrote a much-acclaimed retrospective biography of her friend, the poet Edward Thomas [1878-1917] whom she had first met in 1912 and with whom she struck up an immediate and deep-seated friendship. Thomas was tragically killed in April 1917 during the first hours of the Arras offensive in France. In her book, Edward Thomas: The Last Four Years [OUP, 1958] she manages to capture, in a brief yet insightful character sketch, the elements of Stanley North’s eccentric iconoclasm, that made him so endearing & captivating to so many throughout his life:

“Stanley North was a mercurial artist in stained glass whom Edward had met at [their mutual friend, the writer] Clifford Bax’s, and whose company he usually enjoyed. Stanley’s ribald songs, appalling language, and atrocious manners could be extremely amusing or quite inexcusable, as you chose to take him. At this time [1915] he was hard up, but in his successful later years his work brought him into High Society; and Princess Louise [Queen Victoria’s artist daughter] was enchanted to be told by him, ‘Look here old girl, come off it, you’ve no bloody taste at all.’”

Stanley Kennedy North of 31 Ladbroke Grove Kensington died on June 16th 1942. According to the National Probate Register, Administration (limited) was granted at Llandudno on November 3rd 1942 to the chartered accountant Gerald Brown, attorney of his widow, Helen Dorothy. He left effects of £970. The Times published a rather sketchy obituary notice on June 23rd 1942, which focused heavily on his work as a picture restorer. The final paragraph of the obituary gives a glimpse of North’s richly varied experiences throughout his life in the Arts:

In keeping with his habits, little about North appears in books of reference, but he had his first artistic training under William Morris, and he accompanied Sir Edwin Lutyens, P.R.A., to India in connexion with his work at New Delhi. He was one of the successful competitors for the decoration of Chelsea Town Hall and he assisted Mr Philip Connard, R.A., in the decoration of the room containing the Queen’s Doll House at Windsor Castle.

Here again a connection with Max Gill, who also worked closely with Lutyens. In 1909 Gill had received his first ever professional commission from the great man himself – a painted wind dial map (one of Gill’s specialities) – designed for the newly-built mansion of Nashdom near Maidenhead. He would also serve with Lutyens at the Imperial War Graves Commission in the immediate post-war period and work closely with him to design a standard and universal template for the distinctive white gravestones (and their lettering & engraved military insignia) that have become such a defining feature of all British & Commonwealth War Cemeteries. It was also Lutyens who designed Queen Mary’s wonderful Doll’s House, an archetypal English aristocratic residence, constructed on a scale of 1:12 between 1921 and 1924 and now preserved in the Royal Collections at Windsor. Gill was one of numerous contemporary authors, writers, artists & designers, who provided miniature books and decorations for the interior and exterior of the Doll’s House. In Gill’s case, it was a charming slightly tongue-in-cheek watercolour, entitled The Fairies’ Dolls House, c1922. Lutyens’ finally completed Doll’s House was exhibited to immense popular wonderment in the Palace of Arts at Wembley during this same British Empire Exhibition in the summer of 1924 (where it attracted some 1.6 million visitors), before finally being removed to Windsor in July of the following year. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 14 September 1929, describes the final completion of the special room at Windsor selected as the permanent abiding place of the Queen’s Dolls House and notes Stanley Kennedy North’s own individual contribution to the project:

For the last seven months she (Queen Mary) has been particularly interested in the mural decorations, which have been done by Mr. Philip Connard, R.A., for the room which has been finally chosen as the permanent abiding place of the doll’s house. These decorations are just completed, and the room will shortly be open to the public. The general architectural scheme of the room was entrusted to Sir Edward Lutyens, who designed the miniature lodges and pavilions which are attached to the walls. These are in reality cupboards, and contain thousands of replicas of famous pictures and furniture, sufficient to refurnish the doll’s house many times over. Round the top of the walls is a frieze by Mr Kennedy North. This represents the coronation procession, with the Royal coach escorted by “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men,” the men in this instance being quaint toy soldiers in all their bravery of scarlet and gold, forming an appropriate guard of honour for this miniature palace. It is the mural decorations which call for the greatest admiratlon. They are so perfect that it is said they will help to prove that British artists can hold their own with the finest work of this kind to be found on the Continent Many of the paintings depict the Royal palaces and their gardens – Buckingham Palace, Holyrood, St James’s, and Windsor itself are all shown, and they are treated with a delicacy which is reminiscent of a classic, eighteenth century elegance. The Wolsey Gate is shown, with the Cardinal and Henry VIII talking together in the background, while in the foreground are men and women in past and present-day garments, reclining amongst flowers. Windsor Castle is seen in the background of a picture which shows a glimpse of the river, with pleasure boats sailing upon it. On the bank are fishermen and lovers and children, swans are at rest by the bank, and among the trees are deer and rabbits. Festoons of flowers unite the scenes of Hampton Court, where Watteau-esque groups disport themselves, and the central cartouche shows lovely bathers at a fountain. Altogether, you can derive almost as much interest from inspecting the walls as you can from making a survey of the house itself.

Refs: Obituary for Mr Kennedy North, The Times, June 23 1942, p.6; Richard D North website: http://www.richarddnorth.com/archive/elders_betters/stanley_kennedy_north.asp ; National Portrait Gallery website (Stanley Kennedy North, picture restorer); Eleanor Farjeon: Edward Thomas: The last Four Years [OUP, 1958]. Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, 14 Sept 1929, p11 (Article: The Queen’s Dolls House).