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Watercolour - Freston Tower
  • Freston Tower
    Reeve, Russell , born 1895 - died 1970
  • Enlarge image

Freston Tower

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Freston (painted)

  • Date:

    31/07/1941 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Reeve, Russell , born 1895 - died 1970 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pencil and watercolour drawing on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case RB, shelf 27, box C

Follies, free-standing structures whose purpose is primarily the creator's self-expression, have dotted England for centuries. Freston Tower, a six-storey folly built in the sixteenth century (making it possibly the oldest folly in England), has long intrigued artists. Russell Reeve's watercolour belongs to a tradition of prints, drawings, and postcards depicting the tower that dates back to at least the eighteenth century. The tower's origins remain mysterious, and speculation thereon inspired an 1850 novel of the same name by local parson Richard Cobbold; Cobbold conjectured that it had been built by a Lord de Freston for his learned daughter Ellen, who studied a different subject on each of the tower's floors.

Physical description

A watercolour drawing of the six-storey, sixteenth-century folly of Freston Tower seen from the side, backed by trees, overlooking the River Orwell.

Place of Origin

Freston (painted)


31/07/1941 (painted)


Reeve, Russell , born 1895 - died 1970 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Pencil and watercolour drawing on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Russell Reeve 31/7/41'
Signed and dated by the artist, lower right corner


Height: 15.50 in, Width: 19 in

Object history note

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 context note

Freston Tower, which dates from the mid-sixteenth century, may be the oldest folly in England. Its origins remain mysterious. It was the subject of an eponymous 1850 novel by the local parson Reverend Richard Cobbold, who suggested that the tower was build by Lord de Freston for his daughter Ellen, who studied a different subject on each of its six floors. Freston Tower was also a popular subject for prints and photographs in the nineteenth century. In private hands up until 1999, it was taken over by the Landmark Trust, restored, and converted into a holiday home.

Descriptive line

Watercolour, 'Freston Tower', by W. Russell Reeve. Recording Britain, Suffolk.

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. Introduction to Suffolk, p.49.


Pencil; Watercolour; Paper


Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Topographical views; Follies


Recording Britain Collection


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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