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Harborough Museum
Mabel Lucy Attwell Illustrations

Mabel Lucy Attwell Illustrations

One of the great things about Harborough Museum is that no matter how often you visit or how carefully you look, you can suddenly see something you never noticed before!

The Symington family business wasn’t just corsets, Liberty Bodices and swimwear.  Another branch of the family also based in Market Harborough produced various processed foods. The most famous of which was the dried pea soup which Captain Scott even took with him on his last ill fated trip.  Whilst this might not be the greatest advert for it he was very complimentary about it in his journal.

An illustration of a cartoonish girl, holding a large box that says 'Symington's soup'.
One of Mabel Lucie Attwell’s illustrations for Symington Soup, at Harborough Museum in the Heritage Gallery

On the subject of advertisements, I suddenly noticed two adverts for Symington Soups in the museum.  What drew my attention to them was their very distinctive style which I could immediately identify.  Both were produced by a very well known 20th Century illustrator: Mabel Lucie Attwell (1879-1964).  She was well known for her drawings of children modelled on her own daughter Marjorie (Peggy).  Some people find them cute and nostalgic whilst others find them a bit too twee! She was active as an illustrator from about 1900 until around 1960.  She produced a huge volume of work; this included postcards, advertisements like these, book illustrations, posters and illustrations for children’s china.

She was born in Mile End in London, the sixth child of a butcher and his wife.  She attended the prestigious St Martin’s School of Art but left early.  Apparently, she didn’t like the emphasis on still life and classical art.  Instead she pursued her interest in imaginary subjects.  Initially she focused on magazine illustration, which she continued throughout her career.  In 1908 she married the artist and illustrator Harrold Earnest Earnshaw and they had three children, two boys and a girl.  After 1914  she developed what would become her trade mark: cute, cuddly and rotund children.  During the 1910s she produced posters for the London Underground featuring children advertising pantomimes and other family entertainment.

A selection of chinaware for children, design by Mabel Lucie Attwell, including cups and saucers.
A selection of chinaware for children, design by Mabel Lucie Attwell. CC-SA 3.0, courtesy of Dducks, Wikipedia

She illustrated several children’s classics which are now sought after collector’s items.  These included ‘Mother Goose (1910,), ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (1911), ‘Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales’ (1914), ‘The Water Babies’ (1915) and ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ (1921)

In 1927 Shelley Potteries commissioned her to produce chinaware for children.  Her first six designs featured children, animals and small green elves.  These were called “Boo Boo’s”, they were used on bowls, cups and mugs as well as other items.  She also designed a mushroom house teapot and sugar bowl with a Green ‘boo boo’ milk jug!  She then produced a series of figurines for children, including many of her green elves in different poses.

From 1922 there was a Mabel Lucie Attwell Annual, due to repeating images this continued until 1974, ten years after her death.   This demonstrates her continuing popularity.  She is probably one of the best known and well loved illustrators of the 20th Century.  Her later work reflected the changes taking place in the post war world. Her distinctive style is recognised around the world.  Perhaps her most famous work was a bathroom plaque bearing a poem beginning ‘Never leave the bathroom wet’ which sold in hundreds of thousands.  She continued to work right up until her death. One of my favourites is one published in the early 1960s showing a little girl sunbathing!  I also still posses a biscuit tin given to me with one of her later designs from the 1960s again showing how she was able to update her designs in line with changing trends.

Thanks to Library Service Assistant, Rona, for this month’s entry!

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Address: The Symington Building, Adam and Eve Street, Market Harborough, LE16 7LT (Car Park: LE16 7XA)

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