New Civic Centre display puts the spotlight on creative artists of Dacorum’s past

Hemel Hempstead from the North East by Lefevre James Cranstone
Hemel Hempstead from the North East by Lefevre James Cranstone

Over the years a number of people from Dacorum have reached prominence in the creative arts.

There are also many unknown creators of objects and paintings which form an important part of our local history.

Now the Dacorum Heritage Trust has created a display at the Civic Centre in Hemel Hempstead which celebrates a few of the most notable.

This is a rare opportunity to see the Trust’s collection of Lefevre Cranstone prints and engravings.

Lefevre James Cranstone was born in Hemel Hempstead in 1822, and developed an interest in art from an early age.

He was enrolled at Henry Sass’s School of Art in 1838 before entering the Royal Academy School as a probationer in 1840.

During his artistic career, he exhibited several paintings at the Royal Academy and at the Society of British Artists, yet he never achieved national recognition from his Victorian audience.

Lefevre is perhaps best known abroad, particularly in the USA, because he visited America in 1859, producing a portfolio of more than 300 sketches.

Today, many of Lefevre’s works are in notable American institutions, such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the White House in Washington and the University of Indiana’s Lilly Library.

Other artefacts on display are a collection of printing blocks belonging to the late Percy Birtchnell, who was a printer as well as being a Berkhamsted local historian.

Percy was a well-known writer of books and articles under the pen name of Beorcham, and was also the owner of Birtchnell’s, the menswear shop which traded in the High Street for many years.

Another case contains cartoons by Fred Brady, the brother-in-law of Tring resident Bert Lawrence.

The cartoons were drawn using the shape of an old penny at a time when Fred was convalescing from his experiences in the Second World War.

Drawings from the extensive Ovaltine collection, currently cared for by Trust, are also on display.

Local authors are represented by examples of their books, dating from the 19th to the 21st centuries.

These include Mrs Humphry Ward of Aldbury and Jennifer Worth of Call The Midwife fame, who lived in Boxmoor in her later years.

The displays and information panels are open to the public on the first floor of the Civic Centre until February.