“The World made merry”: 20th Century designer, poster artist & pictorial mapmaker, Herry Perry [1897-1962]

Herry Perry [1897-1962]

Until 1960, on May 6th each year, the Catholic Church traditionally celebrated The Feast Day of St John the Apostle or St.John before the Latin Gate. In AD 95 the Roman Emperor Domitian had ordered the Saint, who had been brought in chains from Ephesus, to be condemned to death: he was to die by immersion in a cauldron of boiling oil outside the City’s Latin Gate. Thrown into the boiling oil, the watching crowds were amazed to witness the Saint miraculously step out of the cauldron totally unscathed. His death sentence was immediately commuted and he was instead famously exiled to the Mediterranean island of Patmos.

So it is on the this very day, May 6th 1930, exactly 87 years ago today, as the above inscription in the lower corner of a beautifully designed pictorial map reveals, that the popular female artist & illustrator, Herry Perry, completed this delightful gem, which we were particularly excited to recently acquire.

This captivating map appears to have been commissioned as a promotional advertising piece by the prorietors of a Gloucestershire private school newly established on the small country estate known as Ferney Hill (now Ewelme Manor) located in the Cotswold village of Dursley, near Wotton-under-Edge. The house & estate had been purchased in early 1930 by former Royal Engineers Officer, Captain Abram Cottle & his wife Clementine, who became the school’s Principal. Offering boarding facilities for boys up to the age of 9 and girls up to the age of 14, the School remained at Ferney Hill until early 1937, becoming an important & much-loved part of the local community. Following the death of her husband in 1936, Mrs Cottle finally closed the establishment and sold the estate, complete with the house and its contents.

Perry’s design wonderfully evokes the almost mystical beauty of the Cotswolds – a healthy natural environment for learning and education – as well as providing a practical & useful guide, highlighting the school’s convenience & proximity to local road and rail links. Prominently featured are a young boy in shorts and girl in school uniform standing in front of the new School:

A second complimentary work by Perry, also purchased recently, further highlights the versatility and creative talents of this remarkable female artist, who during the early 1930’s became one of London Underground’s most prolific and popular poster designers, but whose private life and personal biography has hitherto remained almost entirely unknown. Today’s blog post will hopefully go some way to filling that unwarranted gap in our knowledge.

This second piece by Perry dates from later this same year 1930, and was completed on the Feast Day of Saint Melchiades (Dec 10th).

A promotional 150-piece pictorial jigsaw map of the World, with wonderful Art Deco motifs & imagery, it advertises the services of Imperial And International Communications Ltd, the operating company of Cable & Wireless, which had been formed following the merger of Eastern Telegraph and Marconi in 1929, in the wake of the 1928 Imperial Wireless and Cable Conference. This jigsaw & design was presumably commissioned to commemorate Imperial and International’s creation.

As a leaflet of the time noted, Imperial and International was now The Most Comprehensive Telegraph Organisation in the World, operating 164,400 nautical miles of cables, 13 cable ships, 253 cable & wireless stations and offices, and employing a staff of 13000. Its aim was to link as closely as possible all the distant parts of the British Empire, providing the best possible strategic communication in the event of war whilst also facilitating the rapid exchange of business, press and  social messages. All with the encouragement to follow the practice of “telegraphing Imperially”!

Cable & Wireless would itself be restructured in 1934 and Imperial And International Communications Ltd would disappear, adopting instead the name of its Cable & Wireless holding Company.

It would, of course, be ten years later, at the end of the Second World War, that MacDonald Gill would design his remarkable Cable & Wireless Great Circle Map [1945]. Interestingly traces of the defunct Imperial and International Communications Company still survived as Gill’s map includes the instruction to “Mark your cables Via Imperial”

Herry (or Heather) Perry was in fact born Anne Erica Thackeray Perry in Bolton, Lancashire in 1897. The name Heather probably derives from her second name Erica (the Latin name for the heather plant) and Herry presumably became a catchy abbreviation that naturally & easily rhymed with Perry.

An online search shows how poor the fact-checking of Herry Perry’s dates has been and how easily this error has been compounded and replicated in the internet age. Almost all notable bibliographies & authorities, including even the London Transport Museum catalogue, give her birth year as either 1892 or 1893. Both dates are incorrect!

[NB – As a direct result of this blog post and due to the support & input of colleague David Bownes of 20th Century Posters & Herry’s important contribution to the forthcoming LTM Exhibition Poster Girls (opening Oct 2017), I am delighted to hear that her date of birth has now been officially revised & corrected to 1897!]

Herry Perry was in fact born on the 16th October 1897 at Eagley Brow near Bolton and subsequently baptised at the Church of St.Peter, Bolton-le-Moors on 24th November 1897. She was the eldest daughter of Ottley Lane Perry [1845-1924] and Viola Perry (née Travers) [c1874-1943], the inclusion of Thackeray amongst her several Christian names pointing to a  proud familial connection with the Victorian novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray [1811-1863].

Herry’s father, Ottley Lane Perry, F.S.A., F.R.G.S., F.R.Hist.S., was a prominent Bolton cotton merchant and local councillor. One of his principal claims to fame is as the designer of the coat of arms of the County Borough of Bolton in 1890, which incorporated many new (and perhaps slightly spurious) heraldic embellishments & symbols onto Bolton’s traditional red & gold banded shield. Perry also included the motto “Super Moras” which translates as “Overcome Delays” but which was also a doggerel Latin pun on Bolton being “on the Moors”.

Image courtesy of www.boltonmayors.org.uk

Ottley was also active in the local Lancashire Militia and published several instructional books and pamphlets regarding local Volunteer Battalions and their organisation. His most enduring published work is an encyclopaedic reference entitled Rank And Badges, Precedence, Salutes, Colours And Small Arms, In Her Majesty’s Army And Navy And Auxiliary Forces [1887].

In about 1900 the Perry family moved South and at the time of the 1901 Census were resident in Phillimore Gardens, Kensington. The family moved again, to the London suburbs, and at the time of the 1911 Census were residing at Roxwell, Green Lane, Northwood, Middlesex. Ottley is described as a retired Colonel of the Volunteers and Justice of the Peace for both the County of Middlesex and the Borough of Bolton. Both Herry and her younger sister, Rosamund (b.1902) are recorded as being home schooled by a resident Governess. We know little more of Herry’s upbringing & early education

However by the mid 1920’s, Perry is recorded as a student at London County Council’s Central School of Arts & Crafts located in Bloomsbury’s Southampton Row.

She was part of a post-war cohort of immensely talented young female artists and designers. One of her fellow students, who also studied print-making at the Central School between 1924 & 1927, was Joyce Clissold [1905-1982]. In the 1930’s she would become one of the School’s teachers. Clissold is referenced in one of Perry’s surviving woodblock print designs as a student – a country town street scene entitled Safety First, High Street, Ellesmore – preserved in (what is now) the Central St.Martin’s archives. Several other prints from Perry’s time at the Central School also survive and point to her evident talents as a highly expressive & skilful print maker & designer.

The 1919-20 prospectus for the School noted:

The Central School of Arts and Crafts was established by the London County Council with the object of helping British handicrafts and industries by maintaining their ancient traditions while furthering their modern development in design and workmanship. It is a school solely for the training of art and craft workers, and the fundamental aim and method of the education is production.

Perry’s time at the Central School is also recorded in this now exceptionally rare & wonderfully humorous woodblock print, probably dating from the about 1925-6 (& subsequently reprinted in the 1990’s). It shows the internal layout of the Central School’s Southampton Row premises with its numerous studios, ateliers and design workshops extending from the basement up to the building’s fifth floor.

After completing her Central School training, one of Perry’s earliest professional commissions seems to have been as book illustrator and map designer for poet Robert Graves’ tribute to T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence and the Arabs, published  by Jonathan Cape in 1927:

Book illustration work would remain a significant part of Perry’s output throughout the rest of her career.

London Underground’s Frank Pick [1878-1941], ever eager to bring on talented young artists to expand & enhance the company’s increasingly popular poster design work, quickly recognized Perry’s talents.

In 1927 she produced her first poster design for Pick, appropriately an attractive pictorial World Map design promoting the Imperial Institute (near South Kensington Underground station) with the strap line “The Empire under one roof”. Further commissions quickly followed, including The Zoo Alphabet (London Zoo):

and Derby Day, published in 1928, the latter an amusing reworking of Paolo Uccello’s 15th Century Italian masterpiece depicting the Battle of San Romano.

Perry’s skills as a cartographer, were further in evidence the following year, when a new series of five London Underground poster designs focused on the outer London suburbs and the attractions of the areas surrounding the terminus Stations at Hounslow, Edgware & South Harrow and Morden & Kew. These detailed & engaging pictorial maps (for which Perry’s original artwork also survives in the LTM archives) are very much akin to those of fellow designer & cartographer, Leslie MacDonald Gill. The pair would undoubtedly have known each other and moved in the same artistic circles, though how much Gill may have influenced Perry’s map design work is very difficult to assess. All that can be said is that there are undoubtedly close stylistic similarities.

The fundamental objective of London Underground’s posters during this period was to promote leisure travel – to get people out and about on the Underground network at all times and in all seasons – not least to increase Company revenues outside peak weekday commuting times.

In this same year, 1929, Perry produced another equally attractive pictorial map design for Great Western Railways (GWR) entitled London, Thou Art the Flower of Cities All:

Throughout the early 1930’s Perry’s posters became a regular feature of the London Underground and London Transport station billboards.

In total between 1927 and 1938 she produced over 50 London Underground & London Transport poster designs.

They promoted major sporting events – Derby Day, The Football Cup Final, The Rugby League Cup Final, Cricket at Lords, The Boat Race and  Wimbledon – as well as Trooping the Colour, The Lord Mayor’s Show, Cruft’s Dog Show, The Royal Tournament, and Horse Shows at Richmond & Olympia.

Other Perry designs [1931 & 1935] followed the rhythm of the Seasons with colourful and appealingly bright designs drawing attention to the easily accessible natural beauty of Crocus Time, Bluebell Time, Chestnut Sunday (Bushy Park)  and the especially striking Blackberry Time.

Further posters referenced the potential for London Transport Pleasure Outings and Country Rambles especially on Public Holidays. Notable amongst these is the charming Whitsun in the Country [1935].

Perry was also closely involved in the influential Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and exhibited a number of estate & house maps in their Royal Academy Exhibitions of 1928 and 1931. One of those in the November-December 1931 Show was a house map exhibited by kind permission of the Nottinghamshire entrepreneur & philanthropist, Sir Julien Cahn [1882-1944]. It is possible the map depicted Cahn’s own country house residence and estate at Stanford Hall. Another exhibit was a “Map of Fruit Farm in coloured inks.”

[N.B At about this same time, Perry had received a commission to design a large mural map for the agricultural Experimental Station at Rothamsted near Harpenden in Hertfordshire (see April 2024 footnote and images at the end of this blog.)]

In 1933, Perry was commissioned to work as the book illustrator for Entertaining with Elizabeth Craig.

Craig [1883-1980] was the Isabella Beeton of inter-war Britain and an immensely popular Scottish-born home economist, journalist & cookery writer.

Perry’s sumptuous & vibrantly coloured plates ooze 1930’s Art Deco style and offer an insight into a certain class & type of social entertaining seemingly unaffected by the impact of the 1930’s Depression.

The years 1933-35 probably mark the high point of Perry’s artistic career, as they also included important commissions for interior design work on Cunard’s new Transatlantic passenger liner, the RMS Queen Mary, first launched in September 1934.

Perry’s principal commission was to design a series of tropical murals (with an amusing Noah’s Ark theme)  to decorate the walls of the ship’s Second Class Children’s Playroom (& which sadly no longer survive, due to later refurbishment of this part of the ship):

A further commission undertaken by Perry was a striking decorative map fitted below the clock in the forward section of the Tourist Class Smoking Room:

It inevitably draws comparison with fellow artist MacDonald Gill’s much larger Atlantic Map  for the Queen Mary‘s First Class Dining Room:

Courtesy of David Rumsey Collection

Other artists who worked on the Queen Mary included Anna Zenkeisen, Dame Laura Knight, Duncan Grant, Cedric Morris, Charles Pears, Kenneth Shoesmith, Rebel Stanton and Tom Webster.

In 1939, Perry was commissioned by the GPO to produce a Valentine’s Greetings Telegram design, as featured on this Lambert & Butler cigarette card (one of series focusing on the work of the GPO) published the same year. The verso text reveals that in the previous year, 1938, over 52,000 Special Greetings Telegrams had been sent on February 14th!:

Shortly after the outbreak of War in September 1939, Perry, a qualified VAD nurse, working with fellow medic, David York, published an amusing & light-hearted medical guide, entitled First Aid for First Aiders or What I’ll do? [Hutchinson & Co, London, 1939], embellished with Perry’s ever-humorous illustrations:

Perry would remain on the official UK register of Assistant Nurses after 1945 and seemingly continued to work in the profession, perhaps part-time, during the economically depressed post-war years.

After the Second World War, Perry finally moved from her long-time pre-war residence, 18 Hilgrove Road in South Hampstead/Swiss Cottage, to 160A Haverstock Hill in North London’s Belsize Park, a short distance from Belsize Park Underground Station. During this period she was commissioned as sign artist for inns and public houses, a skill that she appears to have first developed in the late 1930’s, when the frontages of several East End hostelries are known to have been graced by her highly distinctive artwork.

New Zealand writer, Bill Pearson [1922-2002], spent three years as Perry’s tenant in Belsize Park in the early 1950’s. As recounted in Paula Millar’s fine biography of Pearson, No Fretful Sleeper [Auckland University Press, 2010], Perry appeared a kind-hearted and sociable landlady, albeit slightly over-intrusive & possessive. In 1952 she painted Pearson’s portrait, which features on the cover of Millar’s book. He also stood in as a model for the scenic inn signs that Perry completed for the Hearts of Oak public house in Dock Street and the Load of Hay in Haverstock Hill during his stay. Other notable signs designed & painted by Perry in this early 1950’s period included The Queen’s Head and Artichoke in Albany Street, Marylebone and The Saracen’s Head in Margate, Kent. It would be intriguing to know if any of her pub & inn signs might have survived the relentless battering of the British weather, local bird life and recurrent brewery refurbishments during these past sixty years.

Perry never married and sadly passed away in Hampstead on September 6th 1962, at the all-too-young age of just 64. Her only surviving close relative appears to have been her younger (married) sister, Rosamund, who resided in Scotland.

Perry’s wide ranging artistic talents, her facility & flexibility in working in numerous different artistic styles & genres and her prolific output of posters, maps and book illustrations, particularly during the late 1920’s and 1930’s, deserve far wider credit & recognition.

Anne Erica Thackeray Perry aka Herry Perry [1897-1962] has left an unrivalled artistic legacy, visual celebrations of a now lost pre-war age which she brought humorously & vibrantly to life & made so inimitably stylish & merry.

April 2024 Footnote

As a belated footnote to my original 2017 post, I am very grateful for the staff at Rothamsted Research at Harpenden for allowing me to include the following images of one of Herry Perry’s finest mural maps, which now hangs in the Conference Centre at Rothamsted, and which was sadly omitted from our original study of Herry Perry’s work.

This wonderful lunette map of Rothamsted was commissioned by the Director of what was then the Experimental Station, Sir John Russell, in 1932. Its unusual lunette design was determined by the curved roofline of the so-called Demonstration Room in which it originally hung.  It was completed on June 1st 1932 (Derby Day). Perry also produced a set of  illlustrations of the four Seasons which originally decorated the Demonstration Room doorway, immediately below the lunette map.

Heather ‘Herry’ Perry painting the mural map in Rothamsted’s Sample Room in 1932

© Rothamsted Research (Rothamsted Library Archive RUS 2.7)

Perry’s map currently on display in the Rothamsted Conference Centre

© Rothamsted Research (Rothamsted Library Archive RUS 2.7)