Herbert St John Jones
DURING the first quarter of the 20th century, Herbert St John Jones, an artist in both water colour and oils, was an animal painter with a reputation for excellence throughout the United Kingdom.
He was born in 1872 in Shrewsbury and at the age of four or five moved to Nantwich where he lived until he died in May 1939. The Nantwich Museum Trust acquired a portfolio of his water colours. His output was prolific and there are very many of his paintings in private hands, locally.
In 1956, a local newspaper recorded: “As a boy, Herbert St John Jones would sketch on any scrap of paper he could find and spend hours watching the ‘hunting gentlemen’ who visited the Brine Baths Hotel. Nantwich was then the centre of the hunting world and the boy Jones learned to love horses and hounds. He studied them in every detail, their finer points and temperament. He grew to know them all by name and many of his later portraits were drawn from memory at his Hospital Street Studio”.
He lived with his sister at 13 Shrewbridge Road (now demolished and replaced by a house built in 1939) and had a studio – number 1b – on the second floor above the shops built in 1897 at the end of Hospital Street adjoining the Square approached by an entry next to the yard of G. F. & A. Brown and Sons, wine and spirit merchants (right).
He kept a book into which he copied appreciative letters from his distinguished and aristocratic clients each one embellished with the writer’s coat of arms fully achieved.
“The list of names is long,” said the newspaper, “and includes Lord Crighton, Lord Gough, Lady Holland of Poole Hall, Baron William von Schroeder of the Rookery, Worleston, and the Duke and Duchess of Westminster.”
“King Edward VII (see footnote) commissioned a painting of his Hereford bull, Earlsfield. The Duchess of Teck from Windsor Castle expressed her approval of the painting of her pony, Southern Cross. A portrait of the world champion jumper, All Fours, painted at the 1909 International Horse Show at Olympia, is also recorded.”
Herbert St John Jones was a well known character about the town. He wore a straw boater winter and summer and a very high stiff collar about his neck. Like many artists he was frequently short of cash and locals were often happy to take a painting in settlement. It was believed that Edward Brown arranged that he should be allowed to run his bill up to £40 when it would be discharged by a picture. These were hung in G. F. & A. Brown’s premises, and on its cessation the purchasing brewery transferred the paintings to its new public house in Runcorn.
Perhaps his most outstanding painting is an oil of the thoroughbred called Satan which belonged to Billy Brown who had stables in Marsh Lane. Satan was a most vicious animal and in one outburst killed its groom. In the horse’s expression and posture, the portrait perfectly expresses the acme of equine savagery. Although hunters were the most frequent subject he also painted cart horses, horses in harness, hounds, meets of hounds, cattle and dogs.
His strangest painting, which attracted considerable notice, was entitled “Angels of Mons” and depicted the legend of this spiritual phenomenon in which a troop of flying, white-robed angels turned back the charging German cavalry away from the British infantry during the 1914-18 war.
He also left paintings of old Nantwich created presumably from photographs and later in life he painted many attractive signs for Nantwich inns.