Irene Fawkes

By Dr. E. Charles Nelson

It is with pleasure that DecoWare includes this interesting article with a view to finding out more information about Irene Fawkes. If you can add to this article in any way please contact Dr E. Charles Nelson at

I first came across Irene Fawkes’ work in the form of a 1970s London Transport Museum postcard; it led me on a wild-goose chase because the name given was "Miss T. Fawkes”. Intrigued by it, and by the fact that the artist was evidently not well known (she was not listed by R. Desmond & C. Ellwood, 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including ... flower painters.), I set out to try to gather some information about her.

Irene Fawkes was engaged in the 1920s and 1930s to produce posters for London Underground. Three were reproduced in By Underground to Kew: London Transport posters: 1908 to the present by Jonathan Riddell and William T. Stearn (1994): "Kew Gardens by District RLY Direct” (not signed) (Riddell & Stearn 1994: 44); "Rhododendrons Kew Gardens” (Fawkes 1923) (Riddell & Stearn 1994: 43); and "Bluebells! Kew Gardens” (Fawkes 1930) (Riddell & Stearn 1994: 69–70). Riddell and Stearn (1994) provided some biographical notes, and it has been possible to expand these slightly.

Irene was the only daughter of Frank Attfield Fawkes and Sarah Fawkes. The 1901 census listed the family as comprising:

  • Frank Fawkes age 51, born Camberwell, London (1849): "Manufacturer Of Horticultural Buildings Of Joinery”.

  • Sarah Fawkes age 52, born Woodbridge Suffolk.

  • Marmaduke Fawkes, age 17

  • Attfield Fawkes, age 16

  • Irene Fawkes, age 15

  • Norman Fawkes, age 9.

As there were no other Fawkeses in Chelmsford, and no trace of any other Irene Fawkes at this period, it is safe to assume the records are of her family.

Irene was born in 1886 in Chelmsford, where she was also educated – she attended Chelmsford School of Art (Riddell & Stearn 1994). She was awarded the Silver Medal by the City and Guilds of London Institution, although I have not traced the date of the award. In the 1920s and 1930s, Miss Fawkes worked as a commercial designer and illustrator, and between 1923 and 1935 produced 22 posters and 13 panel posters for London Transport. She was also a teacher of drawing and design in the Sir John Cass Technical Institute, Jewry Street, London (now incorporated in London Metropolitan University) between 1927 and 1935. The courses she taught were in "Poster and commercial design” and "Drawing and design for apprentices” (Peter Fisher, pers. comm. 2005). The London Metropolitan University’s archives do not contain any information about her after 1934–1935, which period coincides with the last of her known work for London Transport. The only other facts that I have gleaned about Irene are that her work was illustrated in the Studio year book of decorative art and Commercial art (a magazine published between 1936 and 1936: after 1932 it was entitled Commercial art and industry), and that she lived in London.

Irene Fawkes was also connected with Poole Pottery "established under Jesse Carter and his two sons Owen and Charles. ... Notable Deco designers working for the pottery and tileworks were Truda Carter, John Adams, Irene Fawkes, Olive Bourne and Ruth Pavely with earlier ground-breaking designs by Owen Carter” (URL Her links seems to have been slight, however. According to Leslie Hayward (1995. Poole pottery: Carter & Company and their successors, 1873-1995), she was responsible for designing the "distinctive menu cover" for the Pottery, while Robert Prescott-Walker (2000. Collecting Poole pottery) stated that she may have designed a seagull motif for one of the Poole Pottery's tiles.

Frank Attfield Fawkes

While information about Irene is sparse, her father turns out to have been an extraordinary individual. His main business was, as the 1901 census recorded, as a manufacturer of horticultural buildings. Kelly's directory for Essex (1910) gives "Crompton and F. A. Fawkes Limited, Anchor Works, Anchor Lane, Chelmsford (horticultural builders)”. In 1881, he published Horticultural buildings. Their construction, heating, interior fittings, &c., with remarks on some of the principles involved and their application.
Yet Frank Attfield Fawkes was not simply a Chelmsford businessman: he was an author of at least 17 different books( fideThe British Library integrated catalogue) ranging from Babies: how to rear them in health and happiness, etc. (1883) to Adventures of a Chemist ... A series of unusual detective short stories (1930). He also wrote under the pen-name "X” – Marmaduke, Emperor of Europe. Being a record of some strange adventures in the remarkable career of a political andsocial reformer who was famous at the commencement of the twentieth century was published by the local firm E. Durrant & Co., Chelmsford, in 1895.

Like his daughter, Frank Attfield Fawkes seems to have slipped into obscurity, although the works of both daughter and father fortunately survive in libraries and archives. As for Irene’s brothers who might have been expected to keep the family name alive into another generation, no further traces of them have been found.


I am grateful to the following for their assistance: Peter Fisher (Records & Compliance Officer, London Metropolitan University), Hugh Robertson (Curator (Photographs), London’s Transport Museum), Roger Johnson (Chelmsford Central library); Bill King (Salt Lake City, USA), Geoff Hassell (Manor House Gallery, Cheltenham), Walter Fawkes, Richard Shackle (Local studies, Colchester Library), John Clarke (National Railway Museum, York), and Dr E. J. Diestelkamp (The National Trust).

Note: An illustrated version of this article by Dr Charles Nelson has now been published in the 2006 Yearbook of The Heather Society: E. C. Nelson, 2006 Miss Irene Fawkes' Heather: the "cover story". Heathers 3: ii, 19-21 (2006).
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