DAVID ARNOLD - England’s best known, unknown artist

Frank Patterson drawings feature a lot of pubs and very often his bicycle into the bargain. The main drawing here is of the Plough and Harrow in the lovely village of Litlington, tucked away in the Cuckmere Valley. Inset we see the famous Mermaid Inn at Rye

Frank Patterson drawings feature a lot of pubs and very often his bicycle into the bargain. The main drawing here is of the Plough and Harrow in the lovely village of Litlington, tucked away in the Cuckmere Valley. Inset we see the famous Mermaid Inn at Rye

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I have a copy of “The Patterson Book”, first published in the summer of 1948 – four years before I was born.

It’s a marvelous collection of 150 splendid line drawings that date back as far as 1891. They are the work of Frank Patterson, an artist who truly loved Sussex and indeed chose to live in our county.

Frank had a talent for art, particularly drawing. Seemingly it wasn’t something he was born into – his Portsmouth family had a maritime tradition and he might have been expected to become a seaman. Some of his earliest commercial work was of furniture and he produced six volumes in a series titled “The Book of the Home”. The contents featured everything from kitchen utensils to dining room tables and chairs (including Chippendale designs) and the need for painstaking attention to detail seems to have set him up for the next phase of his artistic life.

It was the bicycle that liberated Patterson. It gave him access to the countryside and an inexhaustible source of subject matter. Even before “The Book of the Home”, and a fair few years before the dawn of the 20th century, Frank had been contributing to the weekly publication “Cycling”. Later he also contributed to “The Motor” and “The Light Car”.

“The Patterson Book” was put together by Horace Button who was Studio Manager for Temple Press (publishers of “Cycling” etc) from 1904 to 1946. The book is his tribute to Frank Patterson, a man he clearly massively admired, and it is worth quoting some observations from his foreword: “Patterson’s drawings convey the very breath of the country. His treatment of trees is masterly – a Patterson oak could never be mistaken for an elm. Patterson finds beauty in decayed pollarded trees, rotten thatch and crumbling masses of bricks and mortar. An old five-barred gate with falling posts garnished with barbed wire becomes a thing of beauty and if the gate is pure Sussex it will never appear in a Peak District landscape, for Patterson’s knowledge of the whole country is profound.

“He has made countless references to old castles, old inns, bridges, historic buildings and landmarks. Many of the beautiful spots he has so gracefully depicted have now been modernised out of existence, but Patterson has put on record their original beauty for all to see.

“As for Patterson the man? He seems to belong to his 16th century farmhouse in the heart of Sussex, surrounded by the trees he loves. I am happy to know him as one of my best friends. With memories of him working in front of his open hearth with the logs crackling – his tot of whisky and his snuffbox, I pray that from his present age of 76 he may go on and score a century.”

Frank Patterson sadly didn’t make that century. Following a bout of ill-health he died on 17th July 1952. Still, not a bad innings given he was born on 12th October 1871 in the middle of Queen Victoria’s reign and lived through the two world wars. His ashes are scattered around his beloved Pear Tree Farm near Billingshurst. Because he made his living as an artist it was never used as a working farm and no animals grazed it nor were crops raised. It is recorded he bought the place for £5 in 1902 and that in 2008 it was sold for £1.45 million.

I have read that Frank produced some 26,000 drawings in the course of his life, many of them featuring Sussex scenes.

Sussex was certainly his most favourite county. Examples of his work are reproduced here and in future County Yarns I intend featuring more.