A FASCINATING collection of old drawings featuring the diverse characters of a North East market town in the early 19th century has been made available to a wider audience.
Self-taught artist Percy Forster used his sketching skills to create the pencil portraits of more than 100 people, from all walks of life, in Alnwick, Northumberland more than 180 years ago.
Mostly males, they were all drawn in the period around 1830 and include a wide range of local landowners, professionals, tradesmen and working class toilers – from singer to chemist, and building labourer to the Duke of Northumberland.
Now an album showcasing scores of Mr Forster’s sketches has been made available to history and culture buffs online, thanks to the work of staff at the Northumberland Archives centre at Woodhorn Museum near Ashington.
Assessing and cataloguing the eye-catching drawings has been a refreshing change from poring over many of the dusty and dry documents and records which are deposited at the archives each year.
The task – described as “an absolute pleasure” – fell to student archivist Andrea Cameron, who is currently on placement at Woodhorn as she works towards her professional qualifications.
Mr Forster’s portraits were the subject of a book by Alnwick-born Keith Middlemas , emeritus professor of history at the University of Sussex, called As They Really Were: The Citizens of Alnwick 1831.
It explores the social, cultural, economic and political structures of Alnwick in the first part of the 19th century, and copies are available from Woodhorn.
Andrea said: “I’ve really enjoyed cataloguing this album. The drawings are such a beautiful and interesting record of a community. It’s been fascinating to work on, and now we’ve been able to make the individual images available through the online catalogue.
“So many people will find them interesting: those investigating their family history or the story of Alnwick, those with an interest in art, and even those with just a curiosity about the past.”
Percy Forster was born in Alnwick in 1799, when his father worked as a gamekeeper for the duke and the family lived in Hulne Park. He showed a great talent for painting and drawing from an early age and, as a young man, worked from a studio in Chapel Lane on private commissions.
He became increasingly well-known as a sporting, animal and still-life painter in oil and watercolour, and worked as a professional artist across Northumberland, the Scottish Borders and Cumbria.
He was made an honorary member of the Scottish Academy in 1828 and also exhibited there, as well as at the Royal Academy in London, the British Institution and the Suffolk Street Gallery.
To see his drawings, visit www. experiencewoodhorn.com/collections and search for images by Percy Forster.