Henry George Hoyland was young when his hairdresser father George, decided to ‘up sticks’ and leave his wife Rosa and their children to fend for themselves. No one knew why, where or with whom (if anyone) he left. Fortunately Rosa was a resilient and tough woman who saw to it that the family of three boys and a girl, though poor, survived to lead productive adult live.
Henry was born and brought up in Sheffield, his interest and talent for drawing and painting manifesting itself at an early age. When he was just sixteen (in 1911), he was awarded a place at the Sheffield School of Art. This was a wonderful opportunity to develop and hone his skills and he continued to study there until the outbreak of WW1. Not much is known about his subsequent movements except that he remained in Sheffield and worked as a laboratory assistant at some point.
By 1916 Henry decided to commit himself to the war effort and attempted to enlist for military service, hoping to serve with the Royal Flying Corps. He was not however called up until 1917 when he served as a private in the 5th Rifle Brigade in France and where his brief service proved eventful. He was gassed, lost in ‘No Man’s Land’ for two days and finally shot in the shoulder, causing his discharge from the army and a return to Britain. The injury was so serious that Henry spent nearly a year in a nursing home. It was only at the insistence of his formidable mother that his right arm, his drawing arm, was saved from amputation.
It is believed by close surviving members of Henry’s family, that after his time in a nursing home, he studied art in London and Paris. Unfortunately it has been impossible so far to confirm where or when. It would probably have been between 1919 and1921. Although Henry was not an official war artist, he painted while he was in service, including the portrait of an army chaplain. Many of his paintings are owned by the Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum and one, The Connoisseur, has recently been hung in the main gallery collection.
Three years after the war ended. Henry returned to live in Sheffield and in 1921, he was appointed Professor of painting at the Sheffield School of Art. This was a productive and happy time for him. He was able to paint and develop his style, doing figurative and portrait paintings, flower paintings, landscapes and woodcuts. He also became accepted in the art world, becoming a member of the Royal Society of British Artists, the Society of Graphic Artists and the Sheffield Society of Artists, his work being exhibited in galleries all around the country - in London, Cambridge, Liverpool, Sheffield and Scotland.
This productive time for Henry became an especially happy one when he fell in love with a beautiful young student called Margaret Mitchell-Withers. They married quite soon after meeting and formed a productive partnership. Margaret encouraged Henry’s interest in painting circuses and accompanied him on circus tours around the country. Henry in turn illustrated a book of poetry Margaret had written and helped her when she decided to become a puppeteer. In 1929, Margaret gave birth to their first daughter Rosemary. Very soon afterwards, Henry decided to give up his teaching in Sheffield to spread his wings and try his luck in London. So, on 9th October 1930, he took on the lease of Pickwick Cottage Dulwich.
While in Dulwich, Margaret and Henry met and became friends with Jim and Peggy Fitton, both painters, who had moved to Pond Cottages a couple of years earlier as a newly married couple. Peggy and Margaret became especially close, Peggy having lived in North London all her life felt isolated and Margaret as a young mother at home with a small child felt similarly cut off.
Henry found work in an advertising agency and continued to paint, using a room in Pickwick Cottage as a studio. This was not entirely satisfactory as the rooms were rather small and dark so he hired a studio in Charing Cross Road over the Zwemmer Gallery. Eventually Henry built a studio in the garden of Pickwick Cottage without the permission of the Estates Governors. He had probably sought permission and been refused as had Jim Fitton many years later when he also had a studio installed in Pond Cottages without gaining permission first.
The next few years were unsettling. In 1936, Margaret gave birth to their second daughter Karen. She had an extremely difficult confinement and was very ill indeed. Three years later WW2 was declared and Henry, unfit to fight but anxious to contribute to the war effort, decided to join the Camouflage Unit, a group of two hundred and fifty or so landscape painters, set designers, Royal Academicians, technicians and others, whose aim was to disguise vulnerable targets from Hitler’s bombs. It was based in Leamington Spa and by 1941, Henry had underlet Pickwick Cottage and moved the family to Arlington House, Leamington Spa.
Asked recently asked what life was like at Arlington House, a Georgian mansion, Karen said it was ‘horrible and haunted and there were musty bags containing crinolines and old clothes in the cellars. Leamington was however an interesting place to live because of the numerous artists employed by the Camouflage Unit and the actors from nearby Stratford-upon-Avon visiting the town.
Henry in the meantime was hard at work with the camouflage unit, working with and for such people as Hugh Casson, Robin Darwin and Christopher Ironside, designing plaster cows to place on the top of armament factories and fake swimming pools on other vulnerable targets. Henry often went on sorties in a small plane to identify potential targets. After one such trip, he arranged for lights to be installed on the Yorkshire Moors to deflect Hitler from the Sheffield Steel Works. One of Henry’s sorties proved to be unusually hazardous - his pilot had an epiphany en route and believed he was Jesus Christ. Fortunately they returned safely after hedge-hopping back to base where the pilot was arrested and taken to hospital.
Meanwhile, at Arlington House, Margaret’s health was declining and she was constantly tired in spite of the fact she had a housekeeper (provided by her parents). In 1942 she had an operation for cancer and Auntie Mabel (Henry’s older sister) moved in to look after the children. A year later Margaret’s health deteriorated drastically and she was taken to hospital to have another operation. Sadly she did not survive and died in hospital leaving Rosemary aged fourteen, Karen aged seven and a devastated Henry who could barely look at his younger daughter because she so resembled his wife.
After the war in 1945 Henry moved the family back to Dulwich. At first they lived in Alleyn Road because the lease had not run out for their tenant at Pickwick Cottage. When they did return, routine was established in the household with Auntie (Mabel) very much in charge. One evening two years later, Jim and Peggy Fitton (my parents) received a visit from Henry, having resumed their friendship with him after the war. Although I was very young at the time, I vividly remember seeing their grim faces afterwards, my mother holding back tears. Henry had come tell them that he had cancer and had three months to live. Henry was only fifty-two when he died and had many unfulfilled years ahead. I am happy that Dulwich will again be aware of him, his painting and his contribution in the two world wars.
I hope I have done him justice.