Posted by Admin on 25 July 2011, 12:14 pm

If you loiter (with or without intent) near the Cowes Police Station, it is quite probable that your eyes will be arrested, not by the local constabulary, but by a plaque which, on the other side of Birmingham Road, adheres to the façade of Westbourne House, a Georgian building formerly a girls’ school, a doctor’s surgery, and now flats.

The plaque, a circular one made of terra-cotta, gives the following information: ‘Thomas Arnold, D.D., Headmaster of Rugby School, 1828-1842, was born in this house, 13th June 1795’.

Similarly, if you stop in the vicinity of a certain cottage in Hillis Lane some two and three-quarter miles distant to the south-east, you will discover an identical tablet, disproportionately large for the building on which it is displayed. So Thomas Arnold, son of a customs officer, was born in two places on the same day! Which, as Euclid would have said, is absurd.

There is, however, a simple explanation. The plaque in Hillis Lane is a duplicate made as a precaution against its fellow cracking during the firing process. Both were made by the late Harry Pritchett, potter, artist, and archaeologist, whose brother owned a firm renowned on the Isle of Wight for many years for its bricks, tiles, land drainage pipes, etc.

At the time when first I met him (in the late nineteen-twenties) Harry Pritchett lived in Northwood, a semi-rural area on the outskirts of Cowes, where a view from the rear windows of his villa embraced the northern corner of Parkhurst Forest, an undulating skyline of the downs near Yarmouth, and far off to the right a glimpse of the Solent.

Immediately beyond his orchard a declivity took the land down to a hidden brickyard which, at that time, was still operative in producing roof-tiles. An older brickyard, no longer in use, lay a mile away to the west – the site of the anomalous inscription.

A tallish man, reserved and scholarly , Harry wore a grizzled beard (unusual in those days) and a slouch-hat of grey tweed. Archaeology was his hobby, and one of his discoveries, a Bronze Age cinerary urn found in Calbourne I.W. was for a number of years exhibited in the Carisbrooke Castle museum.

During a camping holiday spent near his home I became familiar with his work as an artist. With an old Ensign box-camera I photographed a number of his terra-cotta finials and garden ornaments. (see article ‘ARCHAEOLOGIST AND ARTIST’ in the Village People section of this website).

A strong feeling for the grotesque had brought into being some effective gargoyles and dragons. Much of his work was inspired by ancient civilisations, and he specialised in huge vases decorated with coloured clay – a method as old as pottery painting. These were replicas of earthenware current when Egypt was under the Pharaohs.

Endowed with versatility and above-average talent, he also painted in two other media. A water-colour seascape of a wild day off Atherfield, which he put in an exhibition organised by the newly-formed Cowes Art Club, gained press commendation.

Of his oil paintings I can recall only one. It was an ambitious canvas showing a pastoral scene reminiscent of those executed by Claude.

Another facet of his artistic prowess was expressed in wood-carving, of which his furniture showed some fine examples. Once when I called he was working on an overmantel commissioned by someone entitled to carry armorial bearings. The chair of solid oak on which I sat might have been guaranteed for at least another three hundred years.

Baked clay being noted for its durability, if in two thousand years’ time an archaeologist should bring to light those two plaques, they might well start yet another learned controversy.

T. C. Hudson

© T. C. Hudson.
This article may not be reproduced without prior permission of the author.

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