On this day in history….25th April 1931

On this day in history : 25th April 1931 – The birth of English artist, author and conservationist David Shepherd – known for his paintings of wildlife, aviation and steam locomotives – and his wildlife foundation….

David Shepherd mid 1990s – Image credit : NotFromUtrecht – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

David was born in Hendon, London and spent much of his childhood in Totteridge, North London before boarding at the Stowe School in Buckinghamshire…. At the age of eight he won a painting competition in the children’s publication ‘Nursery World’….

He left school in 1949 and travelled to Kenya with hopes of realising a career as a game warden – only to be rejected…. On returning to England he was to face rejection once again – this time when he applied to the Slade School of Fine Art – part of the University College of London – he was told that he had ‘no talent whatsoever’! However, not everybody agreed with this opinion – as David was taken under the wing of and taught by artist Robin Goodwin – a member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists and a lecturer at the Slade School….

David started his art career as an aviation artist – working for the armed services he was given the chance to travel the world…. It was whilst in Kenya in 1960 that he was commissioned by the RAF to produce his first wildlife painting – a rhinoceros on a runway…. It was to prove to be a turning point in his career as an artist….

Whilst in Tanzania and during an excursion into the African bush David came across a harrowing sight – a waterhole that had become poisoned – some 255 zebra lay dead around it…. The experience inspired him to become involved with conservation – and becoming a some what outspoken campaigner…. He always felt it to be his duty to help those animals endangered by human society – elephants, tigers, rhino and so many more – the creatures that gave him so much success as an artist…. He received an Honoury Degree in Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute, New York, in 1971….

David Shepherd, 2014 – Photo credit : Meg Ghyll via Flickr

His first major fund raising success was for Indria Gandhi’s ‘Operation Tiger’ in 1973 – when his painting ‘Tiger Fire’ raised £127K – over £1.4 million in today’s terms…. One of his most famous paintings is ‘Tiger in the Sun’ from 1977…. He is also well-known for his paintings of elephants – especially ‘The Ivory is Theirs’ and ‘Wise Old Elephant’…. Over the years his paintings have raised vast amounts for conservation projects…. In 1979 he was awarded with an OBE….

In 1984 David set up ‘The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’…. With his own efforts and those of supporters and artists from all around the world the Foundation has raised and donated in grants well in excess of £10 million to wildlife survival projects in Africa and Asia….

In 2011 he launched the campaign ‘Tiger Time’ – to save tigers in the wild, receiving much celebrity support including from Sir Paul McCartney, Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervais…. In 2012 David was awarded the Conservation Award in the Wetnose Animal Aid Awards and in 2016 he received the Animal Hero Lifetime Achievement Award…. He was a Member of Honour of the WWF….

Aside from his work as a conservationist in wildlife he was also a steam enthusiast and owned a collection of steam locomotives…. He did much in the conservation of our steam heritage and was involved in the founding of the East Somerset Railway – and also served as President of the ‘Railway Ramblers’….

David Shepherd with wife, Avril, 1991 – Image credit : H.G. Graser – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

David died in hospital on the 19th of September 2017 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease…. He left behind his wife Avril, four daughters, his grand children and great grand children – all of whom share his passion and continue his work….

The Cottages of Helen Allingham….

Recently, via my work in the antiques/vintage field I came across a couple of framed prints from the early 1900s, by artist Helen Allingham.

Photograph from “Happy England” published 1903 (public domain)

Helen was undoubtedly one of the finest painters of the Victorian era, well-known for her paintings of cottages; Helen had close links to this area of Surrey and many of the cottages that she painted were local to here….

Helen was born Helen Mary Elizabeth Paterson on the 26th September 1848 in the small village of Swadlincote, near to Burton-on-Trent, Derbyshire. She was the eldest of seven children; her father, Alexander Henry Paterson was a doctor and her mother, Mary Chance Herford, the daughter of a wine merchant. Before Helen reached her first birthday the family moved to Altrincham in Cheshire. Tragedy was to hit the family when Helen was just 13 years old; in May 1862, after treating victims of a diphtheria epidemic her father caught the disease himself and died, along with her 3-year-old sister, Isabel….

Helen’s mother took her young family to Birmingham to live – to be near to family who could help provide for them. From a young age it became obvious that Helen had talent as an artist; her maternal grandmother, Sarah Smith Herford and aunt, Laura Herford were both successful artists in their own rights – and so it was only natural that Helen was to be encouraged…. She enrolled in the Birmingham School of Design – and then at the age of 17 achieved a place in the Female School of Art, London…. In 1867 she was accepted into the Royal Academy School, where she became influenced by Masters, such as Sir John Everett Millais – co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement….

Having a need to support herself, whilst continuing to study, Helen took on work from engraving companies, sketching figures and scenes.

In 1869 she was commissioned by a magazine to produce a series of full-page illustrations; she also did commissions for other publications and for children’s books…. In 1870 she was employed by The Graphic, a high quality magazine – she was the only woman at the time to be taken on by them – her reputation was gaining and she became more and more in demand…. She finished training at the Academy in 1872, to concentrate on her career producing illustrations – such as those for Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’….

It was around this time that Helen met fellow artist Kate Greenaway, at evening classes and they were to become life-long friends. It was also about this time that she met well-known Anglo-Irish poet and editor of Fraser’s Magazine, William Allingham, 24 years her senior; they were married on 22nd August 1874.


As William was well established, Helen no longer had a need to work; they moved to a house in Trafalgar Square, London and she began to concentrate on painting watercolours, her absolute passion….

Study of flowers…. Public domain – Image: Irina via flickr.com

In 1874 two of her pieces, ‘The Milkmaid’ and ‘Wait for Me’, were accepted for an exhibition at the Royal Academy. Both paintings sold and further commission works came in….

In 1875 she became the first woman to be granted full membership of the Royal Watercolour Society; this was also the year her first child was born. Helen and William had three children, Gerald Carlyle in November 1875, Eva Margaret (Evey) in February 1877 and Henry William in 1882….

Having spent happy family holidays in the countryside Helen started to paint rural scenes…. It wasn’t long before the Allinghams decided to relocate to the country and moved to Sandhills, a hamlet close to the village of Witley, in Surrey. It was here that she gained her fame for painting cottages….

The time at Sandhills was a productive, successful period for both Helen and William. He found inspiration for his ‘William Allingham’s Diary 1847-1889’…. A work that reveals much about Victorian literary life…. William had many great writer friends, such as Alfred Lord Tennyson (a life long friend), George Eliot, Thackeray, the philosopher Carlyle and others….all who feature prominently in his writing….

Helen’s own work flourished; her cottages became particularly popular back in London and were much sought after. In 1886 she was invited by the Fine Art Society in London to hold her own exhibition entitled ‘Surrey Cottages’ – she exhibited 62 paintings. The following year another exhibition, this one called ‘In the Country’ saw her display a further 82 paintings….

However, Helen had another reason for painting cottages…. She was an environmentalist – following the same path as the likes of William Morris and John Ruskin…. Old cottages were being destroyed, either literally by demolition or by unsympathetic restoration – as, with the arrival of the railway network, wealthy Londoners were buying up rural properties for weekend retreats – old cottages that had stood for centuries…. Helen’s way of preserving their memory was through her painting, she would endeavour to capture their image before they were destroyed or changed beyond recognition. She paid great attention to detail and portrayed them with intense accuracy…. Occasionally she would add ‘licence’ by reverting modernised features back to the original; maybe reinstating lattice windows or a thatched roof for instance…. In fact, even today, her works are still studied by architects to understand how these old cottages were built….

William and Helen lived a happy life during their time at Sandhills. Witley and the surrounding area had a large, thriving community of artists and like-minded people. Helen’s friend Kate Greenaway lived close by….as did others, such as printer and engraver Edmund Evans, illustrator Randolph Caldecott and watercolourist Myles Birket Foster. The Allinghams knew Gertrude Jekyll, who lived in nearby Busbridge and Helen painted in Jekyll’s garden; one such piece ‘The South Border’ is now displayed in Godalming Museum….

In 1888 William’s health began to fail. Wanting  to be near their London circle of friends – and where their children could obtain the best possible education – they decided to return closer to the city and moved to Hampstead. Helen however, continued with her work recording the timber-framed cottages and their inhabitants, by travelling back to Surrey and Kent by train….

William died in 1889, leaving the family with little money. Once again Helen had to depend upon her skills to support herself – and now her children too…. Her cottage paintings continued to sell well, often fetching a good price. In 1890 she became the first woman to be elected into the Royal Society of Watercolours….

Sometimes she would travel further a field to paint – such as Ireland, France and Venice.

Once a year she would exhibit in London, her cottages ever gaining in popularity…. A collaboration with Marcus B. Huish on a book, ‘Happy England’, published in 1903 about English country life, featured some 80 of her colourplates. A further book in 1905 with her brother, Arthur Paterson, ‘The Homes of Tennyson’ saw another 20 plates and Stewart Dick’s ‘The Cottage Homes of England’ published in 1909 featured 64 more…. Whilst Helen was never particularly wealthy, she and her children lived comfortably….

The Homes of Tennyson…. Image: emmeffe6 via flickr.com

It was during a visit to a friend in Haslemere that Helen was taken ill; she died on 28th September 1926, two days after her 78th birthday…. An incredibly talented lady – (once remarked upon by Vincent Van Gogh whilst he studied English illustrated journals) – who lived an extraordinary life…. I, for one, am delighted that I came across those prints from 1903….needless to say I have decided to keep them rather than sell them on and I’d love to add to them to make a collection….

As I have gathered together the images for this blog I have been looking closely to see if this old place could possibly be the subject of one of Helen’s paintings…. However, I suspect it would be highly unlikely, as fortunately over the centuries little has really been done to completely change its original appearance…. Who knows, when Helen Allingham was painting her cottages, this one may even still have had its thatched roof…. Sadly it no longer has – but it did have one once – I’d love to have seen it then….

Please…. If you have read this post through to the end – then I assume you have found it of interest and I hope you’ve enjoyed it…. If you have found this via Facebook, a little ‘like’ for the Cottage Capers page would be very much appreciated – a like and follow would be even better…. I’m not trying to sell you anything – I’m simply a blogger trying to establish myself…. Many thanX…. (Below are some more images of Helen’s paintings for you to enjoy)….

Mad March Hares….

If you follow the meteorological seasons Spring is already with us; however, if it is the astronomical method you use, you will have to wait until March the 20th…. Either way Spring will finally be with us this month – and you might be lucky enough to spot a mad March hare….

Brown Hare (Leveret) Smudge9000 via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/smudge9000/34618450662/

Some believe the European hare (Lepus Europaeus) was brought to the UK by the Romans; whilst they most likely did introduce them to the rest of Europe (probably from Asia) there is evidence hares did not actually arrive in the UK until just after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Nowadays the European hare can be found widespread throughout Central and Western Europe and most of the UK – preferring flat countryside with open grassland. As they are more active at night they will rest during the day in woodland and hedgerows….

Mad March Hares oldbilluk via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/oldbilluk/4454938937/

Hares are members of the Lagomorpha family and so are related to the rabbit, but unlike their bunny cousins they have never been domesticated. Although similar in appearance, hares are larger in size than rabbits; they also have longer black tipped ears, longer tails and longer more powerful limbs, enabling them to reach speeds of potentially 45mph – making them Britain’s fastest land animal….

Brown Hare Wimog via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/32750626@N07/3760703539/

Their breeding season is between January and August – and is accompanied by high jinx leaps, bounds and ‘boxing’ – (hares can jump backwards and sideways as well as forwards)…. We associate this mad behaviour with March but this is only because it is more visible to us in March and April. We also often assume the boxing is two males fighting – but more often it is the female throwing the punches….trying to ward off an over-amorous male – she may also be seeing how strong he is and deciding whether he is a worthy mate….

Brown Hares naturelengland via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/naturelengland/14590700893/

A male hare is called a ‘jack’, whereas the female is known as a ‘jill’…. She will produce up to 3 litters a year of up to 4 leverets at a time…. Unlike rabbits, hares do not live underground in burrows but have simple nests; the young are born with fur and open eyes….

Generally hares are solitary or live in pairs; the collective name is a ‘drove’…. Hares are herbivores, eating herbs, bark and twigs but mainly grass in the Winter months….they do not hibernate….

Winter hare Tomi Tapio via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomitapio/4797323020/

The hare population in the UK is under serious threat; since the late 1800s the numbers have declined by some 80%. Predators include foxes, weasels, stoats, polecats, buzzards and golden eagles – but the biggest predator of all has to be man. Traditionally the hare is a game animal – it is also sometimes considered a pest as it can cause damage to crops and cereal. Around 300,000 a year are shot in Britain; unlike much other game the hare is not protected by a closed hunting season, so even during the breeding season they can be shot. This in itself is a double whammy for the hare population as it means by killing the adults their young are left to starve….

Brown Hares in the stubble Ian-S via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/Ian-s/6629931133/

Disease takes its toll; particularly European Brown Hare Syndrome (EBHS) which is highly contagious – (hares are not affected by Myxomatosis)…. Other causes of death include being killed on roads and by farm machinery – especially during grass cutting time…. Another major contributor to their decline is modern-day farming methods….in the last 50 years 150,000 miles of hedgerow have been destroyed in the UK – depriving the brown hare of shelter and food….

These wonderful creatures have been around since the time of the dinosaurs (proven by fossil evidence)…. It would be unthinkable to allow the European brown hare to disappear from Britain altogether – the least we can do is to stop shooting them!

European Hare Sergei Yeliseev via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/yeliseev/4561167961/


Let the Mute Swans have a voice….

It’s that time of year again, our female swan is now resident on the nest, whilst her spouse vehemently guards her – (well, until meal time arrives, then as usual he appears at the backdoor – all this defending business makes for hungry work, don’t you know)…?


During the breeding season Floppy turns into the Devil Swan….ten times more grumpy than usual. To make a quick trip across the track to a neighbour’s house takes careful planning and negotiation; timing is of the essence – it’s best to wait until he’s not around at all, if possible…. Wheels are a particular bug-bear of his, he can’t resist having a go at any passing vehicle; I have seen him launch himself at full pelt in order to get at the milkman’s truck…. As for the poor lady who delivers the newspapers, with her pull along trolley….he just cant help himself….

Floppy showing his dislike of my car….

It’s common knowledge that breeding swans become more aggressive than usual; they are just doing their job, protecting their territory, nest and then once they arrive, their cygnets. There is no denying that a swan in full defensive mode is very imposing – one of Britain’s heaviest birds, at up to 15kg (33lbs) and with a wing span that can reach up to 2.4m (7.9ft), no wonder some people find them terrifying when confronted. Swans don’t attack just for the fun of it though (unless their name is Floppy)…. Generally, if you back away they will retreat, they may attempt to take a bite if you really overstep the mark…. A wing swipe can hurt but unless it’s to a young child or someone frail or elderly, the breaking of arms and legs is a misconception…. It was a myth put about by swan owners in the Middle Ages to stop poaching, when swans were considered a delicacy for the Royal dinner table….a myth that remained long after swan was taken off the menu. Out of the thousands of swans resident in Britain, to hear of a human being ferociously attacked by a swan is the rarest of occurrences….

mute 2
Photo credit: Mute Swan Mick E. Talbot via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/micks-wildlife-macros/5639133028/

The Crown claimed ownership on Britain’s mute swan population in the 12th Century, which is how the Queen now owns the majority of these majestic white birds….

It has been suggested that the mute swan, Cygnus Olor, was first introduced to Britain by the Romans, although remains have been found in East Anglia dating back to some 6,000 years ago. Naturally found in Africa, Asia, China, Europe and the Mediterranean area as well as the UK, the mute swan is adaptable to its surroundings. It can be found in coastal regions, on rivers and at estuaries, on ponds and lakes, grazing on flooded grasslands, in marshland and wetlands…. It has also been introduced to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and North America…. Its diet consists mainly of aquatic plants, snails and it will graze on grass. If semi-tame, it will happily feed on grain and lettuce. Although swans enjoy bread it is not advisable to throw it into the water for them as it does pollute and poison the water….

Thanks to conservation efforts here in the UK the swan is now at ‘least concern’ level on the conservation status. During the 1980s the population was in rapid decline, especially on the River Thames. Numbers had begun to fall in the 60s, the main culprit – lead fishing weights. Since the ban of lead weights in the 80s and with the help of a series of mild winters, the mute swan population has recovered and is now back to the levels seen in the 1950s. Swans have few natural predators; foxes will take cygnets (as our pair found out the hard way last year). The biggest dangers to swans are pollution, discarded fishing tackle, overhead power cables, harsh winters (ponds freezing over, lack of food) and mankind….unfortunately, often through acts of vandalism….

Mute swans are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 – the Act also covers eggs and nests. It is an offence to take or possess an egg and nests are protected whilst being built or used….

Occasionally swans get bad press. Most dog walkers are responsible, they keep their pets on leads when around swans, as they would around any wildlife or livestock…. However, you do hear of the occasional incident. Quite frankly, if a dog owner doesn’t have enough common- sense….well, I’d best not go there….

Sometimes a swan behaving badly makes the news; such as the apt named ‘Psycho Swan’ that terrorised members of a model boat club that regularly use a Suffolk lake…. In July 2016 the swan was responsible for the destruction of several model boats, much to the fury of the boats owners…. The ‘errant’ swan was the proud dad of four cygnets and was obviously taking his duties very seriously….no more needs to be said….

Floppy attending to his parental duties….

As the swan population increases the relationship between swans, farmers and those with fish interests can sometimes become stretched…. Natural food is at its scarcest between late Winter and early Spring – complaints from farmers about foraging swans have increased. Damage to crops, especially winter cereals and oilseed rape are rising, not just from being eaten but also from being trampled on and the ground being compacted. Some farmers plant decoy crops to try to tempt the plundering swans away from the main crop….others resort to bird scarers….

Another area where swans are falling out of favour is with the river management authorities. Studies have been conducted by DEFRA on rivers; for example the Rivers Itchen and Test (Hampshire) and the Kennet and Lower Avon (Wiltshire and Berkshire) and the adjacent agricultural land. Results showed that groups of swans only used part of the river, so damage remained localised. The plant community was the main sufferer, typically water crowfoot, a favourite food source for grazing swans; this effects conservation and angling value. Moving groups of swans away from more sensitive areas may help to manage the impact of their grazing; fencing off areas does not appear to work, suspended tape to deter the birds might help – but this is a pricey option. There is no conclusive answer – however, non-lethal methods do have to be found. At least as a result of the studies, authorities are beginning to understand the impacts on the chalk river eco-system and hopefully a practical, effective solution will be found….

British swans can perhaps thank their lucky stars that as current legislation stands, they are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act…. Which is more than can be said for their American cousins….

The mute swan first arrived in the States in the late 1800s – brought over from Europe to decorate the ornamental ponds and lakes of wealthy landowners. Quickly numbers increased and feral colonies formed….

The majority of American people see the mute swan as a creature of beauty….but there are those who view it as an invasive species that destroys the natural habitats of ducks, geese and America’s own trumpeter swan. They believe wetland eco-systems are put under threat and water is polluted with their faeces. They also cite the swan as dangerous, attacking children and the vulnerable….

mute 3
Trumpeter Swan SeeMidTN.com (aka Brent) via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brent_nashville/6825761442/

An incident that occurred in April 2012 did nothing to help the mute swan’s defence…. An angry swan was blamed for the death of a kayaker on a Chicago pond…. Anthony Hensley was working for a company that used swans to deter geese from its property. Hensley was using a kayak to check on the birds when a swan swam aggressively at him, causing him to tip out of the canoe. Being fully clothed, his sodden clothing made it difficult for him to swim to shore and the swan continued to attack him – tragically he drowned…. He was not wearing a life jacket….

Many states in the US see culling as the only way to manage the increasing mute swan population. Michigan plans to reduce its numbers from 15,000 to 2,000 by 2030; due to the belief damage is being caused to the wetland eco-system. Hunting groups are in support of this proposal; birds they choose to hunt, such as the ring-necked pheasant, could live in the areas vacated by the swans. People have been instructed not to take injured swans needing attention to wildlife centres and existing birds receiving care are expected to be handed over. This has caused an outcry from many people….

In Ohio, the killing of mute swans and the addling of their eggs (coating with oil to prevent them from hatching) has been done discreetly, to avoid a public outburst….

Perhaps one of the most emotive cases is that of New York State. In December 2013 the Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources (DEC), released a draft management plan which proposed the complete elimination of all 2,200 mute swans in New York State by 2025. Slaughter was to be carried out by either shooting or the rounding up and catching of groups to be gassed; nests and eggs were also to be destroyed….and all at the tax payer’s expense…. There was public outrage….

A revised management plan was then produced, proposing that numbers would be reduced from 2,200 to 800. Swans in parks would be allowed to live, only wild swans were to be eradicated, along with their eggs and nests. Landowners could apply for permits but would have to prevent their birds from being able to leave the private land. The State sought permission from private landowners and local county governments to kill swans on their land….

The DEC claimed to sympathise with and understand the public’s view and affection for swans but at the same time stated sentiment could not take precedence and also apportioned some of the blame to the rise in the swan population to people feeding the birds…. The DEC’s concerns included that the ‘invasive’ species was threatening the wetland eco-system and natural habitat of the native trumpeter swan, as the mute eats up to 8lbs of aquatic vegetation per day (the trumpeter eats up to 20lbs)….and that the mute swan poses a danger to children. One of its main high-lighted concerns was that of swans being a hazard to aviation – after the 2009 Hudson incident….

On the 15th of January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 took off from La Guardia Airport, New York, bound for North Carolina. Three minutes after take off the Airbus A320 struck a migratory flock of Canada geese – sucking many of the birds into the ‘plane’s engines. To avoid disaster the pilots successfully ditched the aircraft into the Hudson River, off midtown Manhattan. All 155 people aboard were rescued with very little serious injury….the incident became known as the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’. As a ‘precaution’, thousands of Canada geese living in the vicinity of New York’s airports were rounded up….and gassed. Bear in mind it was a migratory flock (proven by DNA analysis) that collided with the Airbus and not local geese….

mute 4
Photo credit: New York District Responds to U.S. Airways Flight 1549 Crash in the Hudson River USACE NY via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/newyorkdistrict-usace/3748885467/

The revised plan for the management of the mute swan by the DEC still fell well short of public approval. In November 2016 a two-year moratorium was announced, signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The DEC now has to demonstrate mute swans have caused actual damage to the environment and to other natural animal species with fully documented scientific evidence. Also, each area with swan populations is to have two public hearings; and any future proposed management plans must give priority to non-lethal techniques….

So, for now, New York City’s population of mute swans is currently benefitting from a two-year stay of execution…. at the end of this period, the eyes of the World will be upon them….

swan ferry