▪Coton Hill 1901

Among the works of art by Marga to be found today in Shrewsbury are some of her most significant – but there is one teenage effort there too!

Buried in the collections at the county archives (near the railway station) is to be found a small watercolour, done on sketch paper, about six inches wide – a youthful landscape effort. On the back of it, it is identified as ‘Coton Hill about 1901’.

 

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In 1901, Marga was turning 19 and was just about starting studies at Birmingham Art School.
It is the earliest piece we have by her.

Talent

Marga may well have picked up her liking for watercolour from her uncle, George Thomas Rope.
GT Rope was a well known minor artist, whose work now hangs in some provincial galleries. (See: Margaret family tree).
He was an artist of the outdoors, clearly loving nature, and particularly landscapes – he used the countryside around his East Anglian home for many of his scenes – and his watercolours can be counted among his best works.
His ‘Landscape With A Stream (1894)’ is typical – and is the sort of piece that may have inspired ‘Coton Hill 1901’.

Margaret and her siblings would have spent holidays at GT’s home in Suffolk; and, much later of course, she came to create windows for the Rope family church at Blaxhall.
Perhaps Marga may even have inherited GT’s talented genes.

Two spires

The Coton Hill watercolour looks like it was just something dashed off in the moment, as it has one curious quirk to it.

To find the viewpoint of the artist, it is necessary to walk up Coton Hill (which is the Ellesmere road out of Shrewsbury), then turn into a narrow passageway (or ‘shut’ as they are called in this town) which is, rather quaintly, denoted ‘Pig Trough’, and take the gate off it on to the riverside path.
An artist ‘en plein air’ could then look back along the river-course and see the town beyond.
(The high-angle of the view suggests she may even have been in one of the gardens of the houses which rise steeply up behind the river-path).

Even given the space of over a century, the scene of Marga’s watercolour is recognisable.
Except that… look again at the photos, up the page … she has the spires the wrong way round. The higher one (of St Mary’s) should be to the left, not the right, of the lower (of St Alkmund’s).
It’s a curious mistake.
One can speculate … did rain fall while she was painting, and did she dash away, to fill in the spires later – but misremembering their positions? Perhaps.

Henry collection

The reason that the watercolour comes to be in Shropshire Archives at all is that it is one of the pieces in a small collection there of some effects which belonged to her brother, Henry.

Like Marga, Henry was a convert to Catholicism and he too was fervent enough in his faith to become a religious: in his case, a priest.
It was clear he was too eccentric – despite his learning and his talents as a writer – to make an effective parish priest, and he was often moved about. (See: Henry’s story)
He was even posted to Rome for a long time, which is where most of his archival papers are to be found.

One can only surmise though that this small collection in Shrewsbury – of postcard albums, one-off letters and so on – must have been kept by his mother (who lived in Shrewsbury until her death in 1948), and deposited later with the town archives.

Favourites

Henry and Margaret Agnes Rope as childrenIt’s touching to believe that Henry retained this watercolour by his sister deliberately.

We know from his diaries (which are kept at the Rope Family Archives in Suffolk) that she was his favourite sibling – they were the two eldest children (see pic right), and must have spent a lot of time together. They also did summer walking tours together before she entered the convent in 1923.

The Coton Hill watercolour is hardly a precursor of the great talent that Marga was later to become, so one can only surmise that Henry must have kept it as a kind of remembrance.
Which is, actually, rather a nice thought.

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Stop Press:  Thanks to Ellie Gray who emailed us this painting of The Shrewsbury Severn by Alan R Yates (below), which hangs today in Shrewsbury Library.
Although made many years after Marga did her watercolour, it could almost have been created on the very same spot – though Alan has the spires the right way round…

Painting of The Shrewsbury Severn by Alan R Yates

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Shropshire Archives is open to the public. The document reference number for ‘Coton Hill 1901’ is M1829/4.

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