Sunday, 28 August 2022

Britain says : "Farewell" to Mike Burrows, the unrecognized and unfeted genius, whose bicycle designs changed the world


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Mike, who has died at the age of seventy-nine, was born in the middle of the Second World War in St Albans, Hertfordshire, in the early summer of 1943 and picked up his craft skills from watching his father at work in his spare time. Richard Burrows was a pattern maker in the de Havilland Bomber Factory, skilled in moldmaking and fine woodworking. 

Like many boys growing up in the 1950s, Mike had an interest in making wooden model aeroplanes. He said that : "The nice thing about it was that : "It's all down to you. You understand the aerodynamics, the mechanics, the structure of things and you could learn very quickly, because something like a real aeroplane you can't afford to take risks, but with model aeroplanes you can churn them out by the week, you can experiment - they break, they break. You can learn how to do it right". (link)

At secondary school Mike's forte was probably metalwork. He said : "I can do things with my hands, I can't understand that. I never learned one of my times tables at school. I can never recite a times table, yet I can pick up a piece of metal and know exactly how thick it needs to be to do something". In fact, he probably had the condition known as 'dyscalculia' and when he left school, without qualifications at the age of fifteen in 1958, he began working with his hands in a machine shop and it was here that he honed his skills as an engineer. He recalled : "One toolmaker called Ron, rebuilt antique guns for a hobby and I was fascinated". He himself now flew model aeroplanes for Great Britain and said : "You could make planes and indoor helicopters and single-bladed helicopters and things you wouldn’t imagine, some of it illegal".

Married and at the age of twenty-six, he moved with his wife to do, as he said 'boatyard stuff’ on the Norfolk Broads. He later worked at Beaver Machine Tools in Norwich, which had been founded by Victor Baldwin in 1951 and had risen to become Britain's main exporter of precision milling machines, mainly to the USA. Mike moved from there to work for Mayflower Packing, before setting up his own engineering business. 

Mike said his interest in bikes only started when his car blew up : "I stole the wife’s bike, a 'Raleigh Palm Beach', to cycle to work and I loved it, so I bought a 'Carlton Corsa 5 Speed' and then a 'Higgins tandem tricycle' when the nipper (his son Paul) came along and that was it, I was a cyclist. Then I started getting into the black art of frame building. It was all frogs and cauldrons and very exciting". It was now that his ability to work with and make intuitive judgments about metal came in. He said that he : "Couldn't make satellites or aeroplanes, because that is much too technical, you have to have a computer. But bicycles you can operate at this level and it works for me".

He became part of the 'Human Powered Vehicle' scene in the 1980s, which was free from stuffy design restrictions, electrified his interest and led him to build his own models. It was his 'Windcheetah Speedy SL Recumbent Bike', a trike with a stable, two-front-wheel design that would take him to several international championship victories and help Andy Wilkinson set a Land’s End to John O’Groats speed record of 41 hours, 4 minutes and 22 seconds.  

He said he thought : "I was doing 45 miles an hour laying on my back in these stream lines body shells. Why didn't we do something like that on my bicycle ? So my bicycle started to be designed logically. I started to analyze why bicycles didn't go faster". (link) 




Mike said : "All I was trying to do was go faster and ideas spilled over. What triggered the monocoque idea was when my friend Simon Sanderson, whose father worked in aerospace at Hawker Siddeley, got hold of carbon fibre. At the time you didn’t see that in the real world, but it was so strong and light, the monocoque became possible". He said : "There was never a bicycle which wasn't made, that wasn't made out of tubing. That was the essence of a bicycle. Basically the traditional bike was a collection of tubes and suddenly I realised it didn't need to be".

He then made the imaginative leap : "With this new material, carbon fibre, you made the bicycle directly in one piece. You simply joined the wheels up with the material directly and you could make it any shape you wanted. It was wonderful". (link) He said he had doodled on paper and came up with some dimensions and then in 1982 rushed off to his father and asked him to make a model frame in wood, in one piece.(link) He now took this to Mike and Sylvia Melthorp who cast the frame in carbon fibre and said : "It was really satisfying because I'd designed a faster bicycle and no one had done that in a hundred years".(link)

Confident that his bike was a winner, Mike would now face years of disappointment in his quest to see it in production and was devastated in the initial negative response from both the industry and the racing world. Jim Hendry of the British Cycling Federation said
: "We took the bike, in 1983, to the World Champion for the International Technical Officials to look at and they had a bit of a laugh and said : "No. You can't use that". We tried again in 1986 when they were a little bit more interested but said : "It's still outside the rules".(link)

Mike himself said : "I could not see how people could not see its advantages . I don't want to be conceited, but it must have been a bit like Einstein : "Look at E = mc² you fools. Can't you see this ?" And : "Maybe I am too far ahead of the game. I'd jumped such a big step that maybe because people are used to looking at collections of tubes, I'd just made something else".(link)

Disappointed by the failure of recognition, Mike went back to work on '
Human Powered Vehicles', as can be seen in his 'cyclops doodles' dated 1985. However, his monocoque was revived when Rudy Thomann, who was a cycling clubmate of Mike and who was a Formular 2 driver and a consultant for the car manufacturer, Lotus, told Mike that the World Cycling Regulations had been relaxed and he thought Mikes's bike was now legal. He asked Mike : “Why does it have to be a bicycle company making it? Let me take it in”. With the Barcelona Olympics just twelve months away, Rudi now showed Mike's bike to his bosses at Lotus, the car company famed for their production of luxury sports cars and molded one-piece bodies.

The Head of Engineering at Lotus, Roger Becker who saw himself as 'Mr Lotus' and said that at the time he carried : "The flag of Lotus and understand what a Lotus must be. That's what I saw in that bike originally. I saw it as a Lotus. There is a mark of performance. There is a mark of style, There is a mark of charisma about the Lotus that I saw in that bike".(link)

Mike himself was clear that it was the prestigious name of Lotus which now earned his bike its professional recognition. He recalled : "I’d almost given up. Jim Hendry from the British Cycling Federation had taken my original version to the UCI in 1983 to get permission but was rejected. The Lotus name made it work. They wrote to the UCI on Lotus headed paper and it made them feel important so they agreed in 1990".

The prototype was now built with its monocoque carbon frame which worked on the principle that the best way to avoid weak spots, especially at the joints, was to have no joints at all. To find out if Mikes's bike had an aerodynamic advantage, it needed to be tested in a wind tunnel where a jet of air was passed over the bike and the driver and the further it went without breaking up, the less aerodynamic drag and the faster the bike would go.

With cyclist Chris Boardman now on board, Mike recalled : "We were going to the wind-tunnel at midnight because it was cheaper, and Chris was so cold we picked up his shivering on the computer". The initial results were  disappointing with the bike producing 6.5 more aerodynamic drag the Chris's conventional bike. Then, the Lotus aerodynamic expert, Richard Hill, solved the problem by lowering the handle bars and the bikes speed potential was realised.(link)

Mike was not invited to the process of molding at Lotus. He said : "I wanted to see some of the molding. Lotus are world famous for their expertise and I thought : 'It would be nice to see what they're doing' and I never got to see any of the early stages of the molding. I never got to see what shape the shape the bicycle had changed to to and I thought : 'That was a bit odd'. I would have thought if someone said : "I've done so and so. What do you think of that ?" That never happened". In the event, Lotus made minor modifications to Mike's model, but the method they used to build the frame was almost identical to his. (link)

When Chris Boardman and the 'Lotus Bike' appeared in the final of the '4 km individual  pursuit' at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, millions of viewers watched it live in Britain. Mike called this his "Warhol moment" and confessed that he : "Started to well up" when he watched Chris, riding the 'Lotus 108' win Britain’s first Olympics cycling medal for 72 years, with a speed of 4:27.357 minutes in the '4 km Individual Pursuit' at the Velòdrom d’Horta, 29 July 1992.(link)

Needless to say, Mike was not present at the Velodrome. He recalled : "When Boardman was about to win gold at the 1992 Olympics, the media were pestering me and wanted to come and watch me watching him on my TV in my tiny house. It was ridiculous. So I said, “No, you can’t.” I ended up watching it on the big screen at the Lotus factory. Everybody wanted to interview me. Then a few days later a weightlifter was busted for drugs and nobody cared. That’s fame and success for you".

Mike celebrated his success at Jim and Julie Linehan's café on the A12 in Norfolk.(link) Mike said : "I'd done, what in a sense I'd always wanted to do. I'd designed the world's fastest bicycle and that was it. I'd done it". He said that it suddenly clicked that they were : "Scratching a name on the wall and making history". At this point he found that instead of congratulations, the Cycling Federation shunned him. He said : "I didn’t get an invite to dinner or anything. They didn’t like it that the bike made the headlines".

His explanation of the bike's success was : "This was a wonderful series of coincidences, that everybody and everything came together; we had Rudi, the wonderful co-ordinator who spoke French; Richard the pure technician who understood all the things I didn't understand about aerodynamics; Lotus with the technical back-up and the name to push the project forward and Chris, the greatest rider Britain has ever produced and that was this magic. The thing just gelled together perfectly at the time and a bit like the Beatles, we've all fallen apart and we're all slagging each other off afterwards".(link)

In 1994 at the age of fifty-one Mike was recruited to work for bike manufacturer 'Giant', the Taiwanese bicycle manufacturer and saw the opportunity to place his inventions in world wide markets. His first creation was the 'MCR Racing Bike', which featured a full monocoque composite frame, wheels with flat composite aero spokes and an adjustable stem. Mike said : "The nicest thing anybody ever said to me was the boss of Cinelli, Antonio Colombo, who said : “I wish I designed that adjustable stem". 

Next, with his extra-light, super-stiff Total Compact Road, the 'Giant TCR', with its compact frame and revolutionary sloping top tube, Mike said : "That bike just has an X-factor". Subsequently, his design was copied by bicycle company manufacturers throughout the world and today's road bikes with the sloping top tube he pioneered all tend to be based on his 1994 design.

Chris Boardman offered insight into Mike's character when he said : He very much did everything on his own terms and accepted the consequences of that as well. It didn’t put him in the limelight and it didn’t put him into the everyday life of people. He was a fascinating bloke. He didn’t do emails, he didn’t do mobile phones, so people communicated to Mike on his terms, which was infuriating but also quite endearing. He was just a character that never quite got the credit he deserved, in my opinion”. 

At the peak of his creative powers, Mike now turned to mountain bikes and his 'Giant Halfway Folding Bike'. A trademark feature of his designs was the monoblade in place of forks. He said that the idea came to him when he saw an '1889 Invincible' in the Coventry Transport Museum : "It is more aerodynamic, stronger, cheaper and easier to work with. Only road bikes need forks because they need quick tyre changes".



Mike now found that the regulations of the the Union Cycliste Internationale, the world governing body for sports cycling, was now strangling his creativity and said : "I left Giant in 2000 because the UCI was stopping me building better bikes". 

He now channeled his energies into creating new Human Powered Vehicles such as the 'Ratcatcher' : a fast tourer with aluminium tubes bonded into cast lugs, with a monoblade, aerodynamic tailbox and hydraulic brakes. This was followed by the 'Ratracer', with its light and fast frame made from a single tube that ran from the pedals to the back wheel and a carbon aero monoblade. Mike said : "I like the recumbent scene because I can win with my brain. I can have more influence on my performance with design than with my body".

He also turned his attention to his utility bikes and his skinny '2D Commuter Bike' was a single-speed, 10kg urban bike with an enclosed chain that only needed oiling every six months. It fitted flat against a wall for easy storage in cramped city homes and featured a stop to prevent the seatpost being stolen. His load-carrying '8-Freight' with its stable two-metre wheelbase, strong aluminium alloy and small 20-inch wheels requiring minimum effort weighed just 20kg , but could handle 100kg loads. It was used by couriers, florists and companies such 'AV2 Hire', which used a specially made version with ‘batwings’ to transport pop-up screens. Mike said : "They are the nicest customer base because people are buying it to do something. It’s not just a shiny toy’.

When he was seventy Mike said : "Cycling would get a real boost if the UCI opened its eyes and allowed exciting new bike designs to be used in race prologues. That is what sells cycling. It’s not the 'Olympic Effect', but the 'Boardman Bike Effect' : the fact that people can actually go and buy nice bikes they have seen. Today’s bikes, with the diamond frame, were defined by Thomas Humber back in 1890. You can’t see Dura-Ace or Di2 or complex carbon frames. We need to get people excited with innovation. The motor industry understands that. The cycling world doesn’t".

When he considered his own creative process Mike said : "Adopt, adapt, improve – that’s what I do. John Cleese said that phrase, it’s the motto of the Round Table, a business and networking foundation, so it must be right". Mike was referring to the Monty Python sketch in which a bumbling bank robber walks into a lingerie shop and comes out with a pair of knickers. He continued : "I take my inspiration from life. You see ideas, shelve them in the back of your mind then pull them out and make them better".

Stuart Dennison, owner of Bikefix in London, wrote : 'To break free from the norm requires some imagination, a critical mind and some stubbornness. It helps if you like to question accepted conventions and are not afraid of a few failures. These are characteristics that Mike Burrows has in bucket-loads. My favourite quote : “That’s a really stupid idea, I know because I tried it” '.

Chris Boardman has described Mike's the ground-breaking 108 with Lotus, as : The most elegant, beautiful piece of machinery that’s ever been designed”. “He went to Lotus because he wanted to see it become something bigger but in some ways it was sad that it became known as ‘The Lotus Bike’, because it was ‘The Mike Burrows Bike’, in polished form”. On Mike's passing he reflected : 
“My life wouldn’t have been the same without Mike Burrows. There wouldn’t have been a pointy helmet and the amazing bike I rode at the Olympic Games in 1992. Without that, it would have just been a bike race. I can’t imagine – my life would have been very different without Burrows”.

Mike himself said : 

"I always say that bikes are the only piece of sporting kit that has more of a role outside the sport than in it. Tennis rackets, footballs – waste of time. But bicycles make the world a better place".

* * * * * * * * * 
For an expert appraisal of Mike's career : John Stevenson : 'Mike Burrows was much more than a legendary bicycle designer' in 'CyclingTips'. (link)

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Britain is a country which still needs to appreciate the work of the Talented Mrs Ravilious, the artist Tirzah Garwood

This year interest in Tirzah's work as an artist has grown as a result of the part she was seen to play, as the wife of the Second World War artist, Eric Ravilious. To mark the 80th anniversary of his death, the documentary film, 'Drawn to War' was met with success when it was shown at selected cinemas around the country this summer. Nevertheless, within the film, her work as a gifted artist in her own right was still overshadowed by the role she played as a wife. (link)

In fact, her work as a professional artist began as a wood engraver when she was nineteen in 1927 and three years before she married Eric. It was was praised in both 'The Times' and the 'New Statesman' and was followed by commissions from the Curwen Press, the Golden Cockerel Press, the Kynoch Press and the BBC. By the end of the 1920s she was considered to be a rising star in the world of wood engravers, but that side of her work appears to have gone into abeyance and after marriage she describes herself making chair covers and cushions. She did, however, work in painting partnership with Eric when they produced a mural which he had designed for the wall of a tea room of a hotel owned by Midland Railway in Morecambe. 

She switched now her attention to producing pattern papers before, at the age of twenty-six she was pregnant with he first child in 1934 and in the next seven years of he life was taken up with raising her three children and her life was progressively blighted by the effects of her breast cancer. It was after the death of Eric in the War, in the last seven years of her life, in which she was married to Henry Swazy, that were marked by a final burst of creativity in which she had successfully turned to oil painting and making model houses set in box frames. 

Except as the wife of Eric Ravilious, Tirzah was almost forgotten. She has no place, for instance, in Albert Garrett's 'British Wood Engraving of the 20th Century'. Patricia Jaffé's Women Engravers reproduces 'The Dog Show', but does not mention her in the text. Only Joanna Selborne in her ;British Wood-Engraved Book Illustration 1904-1940' describes the 8 prints completed by Tirzah for an unpublished Curwen Press calendar, to be titled 'Relations', as : 'Probably her finest wood engravings and among the most vivid portrayals of 1920s middle-class life by a contemporary practitioner'. After being neglected for eighty years, her work fully deserves the recognition that Eric's has now received. 

* * * * * * * * 

Tirzah was born in the spring of 1908 in Gillingham Kent, the third child of Ella and Frederick. The family lived in neighbouring Chatham, where her father, who was an Army captain in the Royal Engineers, was temporarily based. She acquired the nickname 'Tirzah' a year later, when her grandmother wrote enquiring after 'Little Tirtia', a reference to 'Tirzah', one of the five daughters of Zelopherad, a Hebrew name which appears in the Torah, meaning 'she is my delight'. Tirzah said that she was pleased when her mother reading to her from 'The Song of Solomon' said : 'Thou art beautiful, O my love as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners'.

She remained in the Medway Towns until she was six years old and in 1914, the family, now comprising six children, moved to Glasgow, where her father, now 'Colonel Garwood, was based with the Engineers. Hers was a favoured, upper middle-class childhood, bathed in Edwardian affluence. There was money on both sides of the family, with her mother, the daughter of John Corry who ran the London branch of the prosperous, Belfast-based, 'Star Line' which ran sailing ships to India and Australia. As a result, the children were supervised by the lived-in governess and tended to by the lived-in nurse. 

In an early reference to her artistic bent, she recalled the day she was given a text to paint titled, 'Jesus Loves Me' and said : 'I finished it quickly and said : "Can I have another with 'I love a sailor' on it ?" She said : 'I used to have trouble getting the stripes the right way on their collars. To teach me Margaret (her elder sister), sent me a postcard pretending that a sailor was proposing to marry me on Wednesday. I took the quite seriously and was worried that I wouldn't be grown up enough by Wednesday'. 

With the outbreak of the First World War her father was ordered to join the 7th Division at its camp at Lyndhurst in Hampshire and the children were transported to Uncle Herbert's farmhouse on the outskirts of South Croydon. Tirzah revealed her sensitivity to her surroundings as a child when she reflected that : 'The thing that I chiefly associate with these early Croydon days was the change of smell. The oak trees and bracken on Shirley Common had a very strong smell and occasionally the horse trough at the corner of the road used to smell more foully than I can remember anything ever since. The Common land was shingle and we often found fossils there. The trees were not tall and were in consequence very good for climbing'.

She now attended Croham School and said : 'It was a Quaker school and it was lovely from  my point of view because we were encouraged as much as we liked and any homework or essay could be illustrated. I still remember the pleasure I got painting Absalom in a royal purple cloak ; the royal purple was Mummy's idea'.

The Garwood children in 1915 from left to right : John, Tirzah, Betty, Margaret and Billy. Of the children only one, John, the eldest and only son, was expected to have a profession and Tirzah, as one of the four girls, her parents considered her only ambition to be - to make a 'good' marriage.

Her mother, in particular, would have disapproved if she had known, as Tirzah said of herself and her sisters in Glasgow : 'We all loved sailors and would talk to them, when we could. I wanted, when I was grown up to be a school mistress and marry a sailor'. 

In 1918 when, at the end of the War and Tirzah was ten years old, her father was in Mesopotamia and was ordered to India for five years to finish his foreign service and the she would not see him again until she was fifteen. 

As a result, the family moved yet again this time to 'Elmwood', a large house on the salubrious Arundel Road in Eastbourne, East Sussex. She wasn't there for long because when her mother decided to join Tirzah's father in India, she went with her two younger sisters to stay with aunts in Kensington in London. While there, visited the Natural History Museum in South Kensington and said : 'This I loved doing and made drawings, always being grateful that I was unobserved while doing them. I didn't like being watched'.

When her mother returned from India and then returned again, Tirzah, at the age of twelve became a boarder at West Hill School in Eastbourne. She reflected that the girls there : 'Were middle class and their politics, like those of their parents were conservative and had I known at the time that I was going to marry a 'muny boy', as we called them, I should have been the most awfully upset'. Despite the fact that, as he said she was : 'Better than other girls at drawing, tolerably good at mathematics, very bad to languages and hated French and Latin', she rose to become Head Girl at the school.

As a teenager she said : 'I fell in loves with a film star called Richard Barthelmas and with another girl wrote to him a fan letter, to which he replied with a photograph of himself. He was wearing an overcoat with a fur collar which, had he been an Englishman, I should have condemned as being very common and even as an American, I didn't like it'.

In the 1923 her father returned from India with the rank of 'Lieutenant Colonel' and she said that, for the children, at first, he was : 'A stranger to us'. Now, a teenager and with her adult character emerging she said : 'My brother was still my favourite of the family. He taught me to ride his motor bicycle and later on, when I was old enough to have a licence, to drive a car. I remember how proud I felt when he said : "For a girl, you're really very efficient". I preferred the 'Boy's Own' comic to the 'Girl's' and hadn't much interest in pretty clothes or jewelry'.


Tirzah left school at the age of seventeen and was enrolled at the Eastbourne College of Art where she first met the artist, Eric Ravilious who was a Teacher of Design at the College and who, over the next seventeen years, until his death in active service as a War Artist in the Second World War in 1942, was to shape and change her life. She said that Eric, who, like her, was strikingly good looking, was naturally flirtatious with the women in the College and said : 'I quickly spotted that he wasn't quiet a gentleman and as he took no particular notice of me, conceited as well. He flirted with most of the girls in turn, but he never went so far as to kiss any of them'.

She recorded that she made friends with him on one of his sketching parties, mostly of female students, where they enjoyed themselves, but did very little work. She recorded : 'We lay back to back with one another on the Downs in our bathing suits and were photographed in this position by another student while we were dozing'. She omitted to include herself when she said that : 'One or two girls were badly in love'. As part of their friendship she said that she : 'Commiserated with him on the trials and embarrassment of having to teach'. The key point in her development as an artist was that : 'He liked the drawings and engravings of people that I made which he loved. He liked my work because it was personal and didn't imitate his own'.

As a student Tirzah formed a relationship with Bob, the son of parents who were fiends of her parents and and they all clearly thought, that in terms of marriage, they were 'a good match'. She said that they went for a walk in in the park and she got kissed in an ornamental rock garden. Then :
'Looking up I saw Eric Ravilious watching us from a tennis court. I apologised next time I saw him. but he said : "Why ?  You looked charming, like Krishna and Radha in an Indian painting". Tirzah said "No" to Bob's proposal of marriage, but promised to write to him when he was posted with his job to Nyasaland. She recorded that she : 'Loved him dearly' but 'had a sudden feeling that I could never marry him. I didn't tell him this, I couldn't make him more unhappy than he already was'.

When it became clear that, at the age of eighteen, Tirzah's relationship with Eric was now more than merely that of tutor and student, her father, in particular made it clear that he didn't like Eric at all and hoped that she would marry Bob. At the age of eighteen and after a family row in which her father had first ordered and then wrestled he out of the room, she said : 'This made me more determined that ever to go to London to earn my own living if I could. My father was particularly against my going and bluntly said : 'Before we know where you are, you'll start living with that fella Ramvillas'.

At the age of eighteen, Tirzah’s first two wood-engravings, in 1926 were ‘March’ and 'Spring' as part part of her ‘Four Seasons Series’. Together with 'Summer', 'Autumn' and 'Winter', the following year they rewarded her with her first professional recognition. 

She recalled : 'I had sent some of my wood engravings to the 1927 'Exhibition of the Society of Wood Engravers' and they had been liked by the Committee of which Eric was a member and 'The Times' had given them a kind review'. Apparently, it was this that convinced her family that they should let her go. She said : 'They thought my subjects hideous and that Mr Ravilious was perverting a nice girl who used to draw fairies and flowers, into a stranger who rounded on them and did drawings that were only too clearly caricatures of themselves'.

Her 1927, 'Barcombe Mill Interior' was an example of her virtuosity in the use of water colours and her 'Penny for the Guy', in ink drawing. Having left the Eastbourne College of Art and gone to London she said : 'I was installed in an attic room at the top of a very tall house in Hornton Street, Kensington. It was a 'Ladies' National Club', I was surrounded on all side by relations and there were eighty-five stairs to climb to reach my room'. Eric became a frequent visitor and to continue her studies, she enrolled in a life drawing class at the Central College of Art which she didn't enjoy. What she did enjoy was that : 'Through being introduced to the Curwen Press by Eric, the BBC started giving me work : wonderful, wonderful evening, when I was asked to do my first job, I danced round the room with joy. I managed to earn enough money not to feel that I was costing my parents any more than that it had been at home'.

The work for the BBC consisted of her producing a new rendering of their coat-of-arms. She said that the reaction of her parents was that her success was less to do with her talent and more to do with the influence of Mr Ravilious. In 1928 she also illustrated composer Granville Bantock’s oratorio ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ written for the BBC Orchestra and Choral Society. Her three engravings were 'The Dream', 'The Defeat of Apollyon' and 'Vanity Fair'. In the late 1920s, at the height of the popularity of wood engravings, Tirzah was considered one of the most promising, skilful and original practitioners of the day, with her work feted for its sense of humour and touch of eccentricity. 



Tirzah's 1928 wood engraving, 'Cat Into Wife' might well have featured Eric. In 1929, at the age of twenty-one, she returned to Eastbourne to have her appendix removed and as part of her convalescence she went with Bob's sister, Barbara, to a little village, Lanvallay, in Brittany and said : 'Our bedroom was large and square with yellow wallpaper, green shutters and maple wood furniture. I did a picture of myself and called it 'The Wife'. It was one of a series of engravings I was doing called 'Relatives' for a calendar for the Curwen Press'.

Her 1929 engraving, 'High Street Kensington' show her crossing the road behind one of her London aunts and clutching her suitcase, bearing her initials. About this time, she said, that when she wrote to Eric and told him that she had decided to marry Bob and had better not see him any more she said : 'When I got back to London, he was, quite naturally  furious'. However, the 'friendship' resumed and as she said : 'Love making resumed'. What Tirzah meant by this, in the 1920s was at this stage in their relationship, a physical embrace. However, when Bob returned from Africa she said : 'It was as though Bob stood for my family's idea of life and Eric for my freedom and independence'. When she told Bob that it was over she said : 'We spent the morning weeping on my bed, till we were utterly exhausted'.

When it came to sex, when Tirzah became engaged to Eric and were duly photographed together in the garden. She said : 'Now that Bob had gone and we intended to to get married, there wasn't any reason for my refusing any more'. She noted that, when they visited the family home at 'Elmwood' in Eastbourne that Eric : 'Seemed to recede into his clothes and sat in our chairs with the apprehensive expression of a shitting dog'. They were married, when Tirzah was twenty-two, in the summer of 1930 and settled in Hammersmith in a flat which overlooked the River Thames and socialised with Eric's close circle of friends from the Royal College of Art and struggled with the cooking. Tirzah had failed to get her Domestic Science Badge and the Girl Guides and Eric could only manage boiling potatoes and making custard and omlettes. In this year Tirzah made her last engraving to be published, when she supplied 
the frontispiece for the novel 'The Big Man' by L.A.G. Strong, which was published in 1931.

She wrote in her autobiography : ' We were very happy and we both worked away at different jibs. Eric was illustrating 'Twelfth Night' for the Golden Cokerell Press and I helped him cut away white backgrounds and make prints and I made chair covers and cushions'. He was still very much her tutor and encouraged her to visit museums and look up books. 
It was not to last. The following year, Eric and his friend Edward Barden, wishing to get away from London, took to their bicycles and searched for a quiet base to rent in the Essex countryside and found it in the shape of the Georgian, 'Brick House' in village of Great Bardfield. They now moved in with Edward and his fiancé, Charlotte Epton. Tirzah captured the 'Brick House Kitchen'.



Eric was now commissioned to paint a mural decoration on the walls of the tea room of a hotel which he designed in Morecambe for the Midland Railway and he enlisted Tirzah's help with the painting. She said : 'We were annoyed when we discovered that we couldn't start work as the wall hadn't yet had the three undercoats of white paint that it should. We should have to wait a whole week in this sad town that was only meant for visitors in the proper seasons ; now it lay like a sluttish prostitute who hadn't yet bothered to get out of bed and paint her face'. 

Tirzah said that : 'Eric fumed at having to waste so much time when he was longing to to paint watercolour pictures and be away from  this ugly place, but nobody seemed to care when we complained that the painting hadn't a hope of lasting, so long as it looked alright on the opening day, that was all that mattered'. In 2013 it was faithfully re-painted by the artists, Jonquil Cook and Isa Clee- Cadman as part of the hotel's restoration.

It was now that Eric began the first of his affairs with Charlotte's friend, Diana Low. Tirzah recorded : 'I had been used to Eric being in love with other girls at Eastbourne, but this the first since our marriage and I felt rather strange, but not unduly disheartened'. She also said that she didn't hate him : 'But didn't have again that part of being part of him and that four years had been precious and I realised we'd been lucky to have loved each other as long as four years'.

The artist John Aldridge, came to Great Bardfield in 1933 and Tirzah said that he wasn't at all interested in either the pictures of Edward or Eric pictures and couldn't tell the difference between them. Her own work now centred on the design for patten paper papers and she said : 'I was learning how to marble by a new method of using petrol which Charlotte and Edward had discovered'.  Six years later she would work with John to make wallpapers from linoleum blocks. Her delicate, repeating designs on thin paper were also used for lampshades and books and her work was noted for its delicacy and it was said that her ethereal designs brought to mind leaves, grasses, flowers and other dream-like natural forms. Her needlework and wool embroidery, 'The Vegetable Garden', also originates from this period.


It was on one of his visits to 'Furlongs' the house of the artist, Peggy Angus that Eric met his second lover, the artist Helen Binyon. He had previously written to Tirzah about the impact that Furlongs had on his work. (link) Eric and Tirzah now moved into their own rented, 'Bank House' in the village of Castle Hedingham in Essex. Now pregnant with their first child, Eric told Tirzah about his affair with Helen and she said : 'Eric was very repentant, but still determined to continue making love to Helen. He said they couldn't refuse to have this wonderful experience, it would be like denying life itself. He continues to sleep with me at home from habit and sense of duty, till the baby arrived.'

After her first child, John, was born in 1935, she told Eric that she was in love with John Aldridge and said : 'During that summer, John made love to me every two or three weeks. We made love so perfectly together, that it was impossible to think of it as wrong or harmful to anyone else'. 'I would have liked to have a baby by him, but Eric would not allow this and I saw that it wasn't really a good idea, but I longed to give him something back for the happiness he had given me, but Englishmen don't usually accept a present of a baby with gratitude'.

When Tirzah broke up with John and he wrote to her : 'People like you are a dark menace to ordered lives'. She discussed it with Eric and he said : 'I suppose you really are a menace to him, while to me you're just "the good old beast". By this time Eric himself had started his new affair with the artist Diana Tuely. 

The graphic designer, Robert Harling, described Tirzah at the age of thirty-one and said : 'From the moment I first glimpsed Tirzah Ravilious, she seemed to me to have stepped straight out of one of those brilliant, brittle yet poignant novels by Michael Arlen. For starters she looked the part : a slim extraordinarily pretty heartbreaker, somehow touched by sadness. A gleam of fateful gaiety seemed always to attend her enchantingly fey persona'. When he got to know her better he said : 'This impression of carefree sadness was enhanced by her vivacious chitter-chatter, well-laced with zany throwaway lines, wholly captivating to listeners, especially more susceptible males'.


Her friend, the artist, Olive Cook, said of her : 'Light boned and quick moving, she had the figure of a Botticelli angel, a pale, mobile, rather long face framed in wavy brown hair, a wide mouth and dark vivid eyes, shining with intelligence and full of half mocking humour”.

Just before the Second War broke out in September 1939, Tirzah's second child, James, was born. Eric had been enlisted as one the artists enlisted by the Government to cover the War and was frequently away from home and wrote to her when he was promoted to the rank of captain. (link) Meanwhile, Tirzah who had discovered a lump in her breast was pregnant with her third child, Anne, who was born in February 1942. She now moved with the children, out of Bank House which was often cold and sometimes flooded and moved to Ironbridge Farm, Shalford, Essex. She was four months pregnant with her fourth child when she was told that a mastectomy was urgently needed and when she was told that she may not stand up to another pregnancy, she had an abortion.

While she was recovering she received from the Admiralty reporting that Eric was missing while flying with the RAF over the seas around Iceland. Three weeks later she received the details that Eric was in one of the three planes sent up to search for a missing patrol plane. She recorded : 'Someone offered to take Eric and so without asking his commanding officer, had accepted and went to sea in an air rescue craft to patrol 300 miles of coast and sea'. 

Tirzah said : 'I found myself walking about the house crying and had to pull myself together to stop because it would have been so awful for anyone passing to hear' and 'I did feel he wasn't dead while I could vividly remember him and because in living with him for so long and being influenced by him, I was in part just like him, so he would always be there'. 'I never felt unfaithful to him if I loved other people because so long as he knew and approved of them, there was no necessity. The good thing about our marriage was that we had at any rate been truthful towards one another, even though we owned to hating each other which we had at times'.

In the evenings she continued to write her autobiography, 'Long Live Great Bardfield', which was published in 2012, sixty-one years after her death. She said she wondered whether she ought : 'To start working again at designing, because it was doubtful if  I should be given enough money to look after the children'. It was not until September 1943, a whole year after his death that Tirzah had been finally recognized as the widow of an officer and was given a widow's pension. 

In 1944 she left Ironbridge and moved with  the children to Boydelis Farm, near Wethershield, Essex. It was now that Tirzah restarted her career as a professional artist, made her first oil paintings and became engrossed in making houses set in box frames which were a mixture of 3D, collage and print and inspired by houses in Essex. She exhibited this new work at the annual 'Pictures for Schools' exhibitions run by Nan Youngman. Their aim was to improve, by example, the aesthetic  awareness of children.

She met and became engaged to Henry Swazy and they married when she was thirty-six in 1946. He worked at the BBC at Bush House where, form 1946-54, he produced the radio programme, 'Caribbean Voices' which sponsored young West Indian writers. In the spring of 1948 her cancer returned, she was treated at the Royal free Hospital and nearly died. In the summer of 1950, secondary cancer of the spine was diagnosed and she died suddenly and without pain at the age of forty-three on Easter Monday 1951. 

During her last twelve months, she was sometimes in bed and often in pain, relieved by deep ray therapy and testosterone. Despite this she completed no fewer than twenty small oil paintings like 'Hornet with Wild Roses' and 'Springtime of Flight'. She continued to amaze her friends by her determination, courage and unquenchable gaiety in what she declared :
'The happiest year of my life'.



Originally made in 1929, Robert Harling, at the Shenval Press, re-released Tirzah's 'The Dog Show' in 1950. Similarly her 1939 and her evocation of 1930s privately educated school girls, walking together in 'The Crocodile' in the following year.
Tirzah had recalled that once, in the midst of a Garwood family row, when she was eighteen and had been working on a wood engraving and as she said : 'Was in that rather tense and irritable mood that one is in if you are trying to concentrate in a room full of conflicting noise' and when her father had ordered her to leave the room, she had defied him a stayed where she was : 

'Fearing for the safety of my wood block, which at that state of gestation was a precious to me as a foetus in my womb, its birth, that magic moment when I should lift the Japanese paper on which it would be printed'.


and for Eric :

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Does Britain, after all these years, finally recognise its brilliant Second World War Artist, Eric Ravilious ?