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Watercolour - Chipping Hill, Witham
  • Chipping Hill, Witham
    du Plessis, Hercules Enslin, born 1894 - died 1978
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Chipping Hill, Witham

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Witham (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1940 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    du Plessis, Hercules Enslin, born 1894 - died 1978 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pencil and bodycolour on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H, case RB, shelf 10, box E

Witham lies at the geographical centre of Essex. Chipping Hill, which now lies to the north of the town centre, was the site of the first settlement, dating from the Iron Age. H. E. Du Plessis may have been aiming to capture the spirit of Essex by painting the heart, literally and historically, of the county. Progress has not bypassed this otherwise idyllic scene, however, and sadly, neither has the war: the 'Air Shelter' sign (indicating the location of an air-raid shelter) fixed to one of the houses is one of the few explicit references to World War II in the Recording Britain pictures.

Physical description

A watercolour drawing of a group of small houses with slate tile roofs clustered at the intersection of two streets. The sky is sunny, with scudding clouds. On the wall of one house hangs a sign that reads 'Air Shelter', with an arrow pointing right.

Place of Origin

Witham (painted)


ca. 1940 (painted)


du Plessis, Hercules Enslin, born 1894 - died 1978 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Pencil and bodycolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'du Plessis'
Signed in pencil, lower right corner

'Chipping Hill - Witham'
Inscribed in pencil by the artist, left of signature


Height: 11.75 in, Width: 16 in

Object history note

As Witham is the geographical centre of Essex, and Chipping Hill is the oldest settled area of the town, Du Plessis may have been trying to capture the county's 'heart', both geographical and historical, in this picture.

This work is from the ‘Recording Britain’ collection of topographical watercolours and drawings made in the early 1940s during the Second World War. In 1940 the Committee for the Employment of Artists in Wartime, part of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, launched a scheme to employ artists to record the home front in Britain, funded by a grant from the Pilgrim Trust. It ran until 1943 and some of the country’s finest watercolour painters, such as John Piper, Sir William Russell Flint and Rowland Hilder, were commissioned to make paintings and drawings of buildings, scenes, and places which captured a sense of national identity. Their subjects were typically English: market towns and villages, churches and country estates, rural landscapes and industries, rivers and wild places, monuments and ruins. Northern Ireland was not covered, only four Welsh counties were included, and a separate scheme ran in Scotland.

The scheme was known as ‘Recording the changing face of Britain’ and was established by Sir Kenneth Clark, then the director of the National Gallery. It ran alongside the official War Artists’ Scheme, which he also initiated. Clark was inspired by several motives: at the outbreak of war in 1939, there was a concern to document the British landscape in the face of the imminent threat of bomb damage, invasion, and loss caused by the operations of war. This was allied to an anxiety about changes to the landscape already underway, such as the rapid growth of cities, road building and housing developments, the decline of rural ways of life and industries, and new agricultural practices, which together contributed to the idea of a ‘vanishing Britain’. Clark also wanted to help artists, and the traditional forms of British art such as watercolour painting, to survive during the uncertain conditions of wartime. He in turn was inspired by America’s Federal Arts Project which was designed to give artists employment during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Over 1500 works were eventually produced by 97 artists, of whom 63 were specially commissioned. At the time the collection had a propaganda role, intended to boost national morale by celebrating Britain’s landscapes and heritage. Three exhibitions were held during the war at the National Gallery, and pictures from the collection were sent on touring exhibitions and to galleries all around the country. After the war, the whole collection was given to the V&A by the Pilgrim Trust in 1949, and it was documented in a four volume catalogue published between 1946 and 1949. For many years the majority of the collection was on loan to councils and record offices in each county, until recalled by the V&A around 1990. The pictures now form a memorial to the war effort, and a unique record of their time.

Historical significance: This is one of relatively few Recording Britain watercolours to make explicit reference to the war.

Historical context note

Chipping Hill is the oldest settled area of Witham, dating from the Iron Age. Witham itself was located on the Roman road from London to Colchester, and was a prosperous market town from 1215. Chipping Hill now lies half a mile north of the present town centre.

Descriptive line

Watercolour, 'Chipping Hill, Witham', by H. E. Du Plessis; from the 'Recording Britain' Collection (Essex); England, ca. 1940.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Catalogue of Drawings in the 'Recording Britain' Collection given by the Pilgrim Trust to the Victoria and Albert Museum published by the Victoria and Albert Museum, Prints, Drawings and Paintings Department, 1951.
Palmer, Arnold, ed. Recording Britain. London: Oxford University Press, 1946-49. Vol 2: Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, Northhamptonshire and Rutlandshire, Norfolk, Yorkshire. p.1.
Bettley, James and Nikolaus Pevsner. The Buildings of England: Essex. New Haven and London: Yale, 2007. pp.845-846.


Pencil; Bodycolour; Paper


Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Villages; Topographical views; Air-raid shelters; Houses


Recording Britain Collection; Paintings


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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