Peacehaven man’s plea to help solve painting mystery

Jim Burnage with the painting of the engine 'Robert Blake'.
Jim Burnage with the painting of the engine 'Robert Blake'.

DO YOU recognise the painting in this picture? Maybe you are a relative of the artist Mr A Riley?

If you can shed some light on its story, Jim Burnage, of Malines Avenue, Peacehaven, would love to know.

It is 70 years since Jim first saw the painting in Horsham where he was evacuated from Islington, London, when World War Two broke out.

As the threat of danger grew nearer, Jim’s father decided it was time for him to join the exodus.

Luckily, Jim’s aunt Gwen Collett and her husband Bill lived in Horsham, so he spent the war years at their home in Oaklands Avenue.

Bill Collett was a train driver working out of Horsham station in the 1940s and retired in the early 50s.

On many occasions, an excited young Jim was taken down to the railyard, where, like many young lads of his generation, he dreamt of one day driving a steam engine himself.

To have regular access to the railyard and to also have a steam engine driver in the family, Jim thought life couldn’t get any better; until he was introduced to the picture of Engine no.855, known as Robert Blake.

Bill had been given the painting, but when he saw his nephew’s reaction to it, he decided to put it on the wall above Jim’s bed.

The painting stayed in Jim’s room until peace broke out, and he had to return to London.

Leaving ‘Robert Blake’ behind at Horsham, Jim was devastated.

Only many years later, when his aunt died, did Jim get the chance to be reunited again with the painting of Engine no.855.

Now, with the help of Sussex Express readers, Jim is desperately trying to find out more about Mr A Riley, the artist who painted the picture of the engine ‘Robert Blake’ in 1936.

He always understood Mr Riley was a local artist from the Horsham area, but his own enquiries in the town have not garnered much information.

Jim said: “Maybe you are a relation of Mr Riley? Maybe you or a relative have a similar painting hanging in your house? Maybe you knew or worked with the popular train driver Bill Collett?”

If you can help, contact Jim at or call 01273 306479.