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Watercolour - Fireplace at The George, Colchester; Recording Britain Collection
  • Fireplace at The George, Colchester
    Bayes, born 1869 - died 1956
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Fireplace at The George, Colchester; Recording Britain Collection

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Colchester, United Kingdom (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1940 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Bayes, born 1869 - died 1956 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pen and ink and watercolour on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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The George, a sixteenth-century coaching inn located in what is now Colchester's High Street, has been a genteel hotel since the nineteenth century. Walter Bayes, a founding member of the Camden Town group, depicted all levels of Colchester society in nine watercolours for the Recording Britain scheme in 1940. Here, in what verges on parody, his flair for social observation is apparent in his depiction of the slightly exaggerated animation of the guests chatting politely around the hotel's Tudor fireplace.

Physical description

A watercolour drawing showing hotel guests gathered around the fireplace of the George Hotel, Colchester. Two men and a woman sit in armchairs in front of the fireplace, deep in conversation, as a waiter approaches with a tray of drinks; another woman, in a blue dress, sits reading with her back to them. Signed.

Place of Origin

Colchester, United Kingdom (painted)


ca. 1940 (painted)


Bayes, born 1869 - died 1956 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Pen and ink and watercolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions



Height: 390 mm board, Width: 430 mm board

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

The George Hotel, originally a coaching inn, dates from the early sixteenth century.

Descriptive line

Watercolour, 'Fireplace at The George, Colchester', by Walter Bayes; 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.
The full text of the entry is as follows:

BAYES, Walter, R.W.S.


Fireplace at The George, Colchester.
Signed in pencil - W B -
Pen and ink and water-colour (11 x 13 1/4)

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.
'In 1940 Essex seemed in more urgent need of recording than any other county except Kent. Apart from being an easy target for air-raiders and a convenient dumping-ground for bombs from machines which had failed to reach objectives farther inland, it was also a likely area for invasion, and consequently sure of priority in the attentions of the War Office. Records of Essex, then, were wanted, and quickly, before the county was occupied by the British, or the German, Army.'


Paper; Pen and ink and watercolour


Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Essex; Hotels; Colchester


Paintings; Recording Britain Collection

Collection code


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