Take a journey back to the turn of the last century and into the lost world of the agricultural labourer, the charcoal burner, the blacksmith, the ploughman and the miller, recorded for posterity in the paintings of W H Allen.
Born in 1863, William Herbert Allen spent over 50 years recording the landscapes, traditions and people of North-East Hampshire and West Surrey in his oil paintings, watercolours and chalk and pencil sketches. Covering the period from the 1880s to the 1940s, his work bears witness to a time of severe agricultural depression in the countryside, that lasted from the last decade of the 19th century through to the 1930s.
This was also a time of sweeping changes in agricultural practice, as demand for many of the traditional skills that had served rural communities for centuries, providing livelihoods for many, were in decline. Manufactured goods were replacing artisan crafted products such as ploughshares. Traditionally made by the village blacksmith, the arrival of industrial foundries, such as the Taskers Waterloo Ironworks at Andover, resulted in the production of ploughshares that were more durable, cheaper and quicker to produce.
Allen’s work did not mimic the taste for rural romanticism prevalent amongst so many artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The people in his pictures experience life on the land in much the same way as their forefathers did. Applying the skills passed down through generations to each task set them by the changing seasons, they almost seem part of the landscape they tend. Above all, they look as though this is where they belong.