In March 2012, my colleague Mark Thres, published a piece on the Benfleet Community Archive website, on a relatively obscure artist, G. E. Hobbs, asking if anyone had any further information. There were quite a few comments added.
In particular, a Mrs Wade commented in December 2018, that George Hobbs, who was born in London, came from a family of artists, and that he was a self-employed artist and illustrator, doing work for Raphael Tuck, the greetings card manufacturer, and for children’s Annuals. It is humbling to see how the gift of art touches lives, with many comments from his neighbours in Fleet Road.
One of the people who commented, was Alfred Jiggens, whose family lived opposite the Hobbs in Fleet Road for many years.
A few days ago, the Archive was contacted by the late Alfred Jiggens’s nephew, David Jiggens, who adds to the story as follows:
“My family lived in No. 3 Stanley Villas (now No. 32 Fleet Road) for many years. I was updating my family tree and needed a photo of the building. I was pleased to find when I got there that the house had been nicely decorated with bunting to celebrate King Charles III’s Coronation”.
David Jiggens supplied us with that photograph, together with a copy of the painting George Hobbs did from his front garden of No. 4 Stanley Villas, where David’s Great Grand Aunt, Alice Styles lived. Alice is standing in her back garden with her flock of geese.
David also discovered that he and his mother were in two photos on our site, of the street party in Melcombe Road. In the photograph of the children seated at the table, he is the two years, nine months’ old toddler, seated in front of the Mayor, ‘tucking into food while everyone else was smiling at the camera!’ In the group photograph, he is in the back row, far right, in his mother’s arms.
David Jiggens, when he was a boy, took art lessons from the local artist, May Bettany, and I hand you over to the young David to tell you about it:
“In 1959, aged eight, I was a ‘2nd South Benfleet Wolf Cub’ and in order to gain my Artist Badge, I was sent along one afternoon to local artist May Bettany, in her bungalow in St. Mary’s Drive, South Benfleet. For a small boy from an austere council house, it was an amazing place full of large, dark, mysterious furniture and unusual ornaments. In her conservatory, where I think that she probably produced her lovely artwork, it smelled of oil paints and geraniums. Whenever I smell either of those now, I am immediately transported back there.
Mrs Bettany was a very kind and encouraging person, and she judged my feeble attempt at a ‘cartoon’ that I produced nervously in front of her, to be acceptable, and I proudly gained my badge. Tactfully, she then suggested that I join her weekly art lessons that were held at her home on Thursday evenings for the cost of 2s.6d.
I was very nervous on the first evening that I went along. In the bright conservatory, with window sills lined with geraniums in flower pots, there were two middle-aged adults already sitting at easels, and they were to my child’s eyes, obviously confident and experienced painters. I was very self-conscious, but Mrs Bettany and the others soon made me feel very welcome and they gave me lots of praise and encouragement. I enjoyed my art lessons there.
Over the months, I learnt drawing skills in pencil and charcoal, and how to paint in watercolour and oils. We were given colourful postcards and photographs to choose from, of exotic (well, they were to me) Italian waterside villages with small fishing boats casting colourful reflections, sun-bleached foreign architecture, landscapes or a still life to copy. Sometimes, we would paint a still life arrangement of her potted plants (I often went home smelling of geraniums if I had touched or accidentally brushed past them).
I am proud to have known Mrs Bettany and am now a keen amateur artist, who often wonders what she would think of my efforts …’