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The Livermore Tombs, Barnston, Essex; Recording Britain Collection

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Barnston, United Kingdom (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1940 (Painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Rowntree, born 1915 - died 1997 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case RB, shelf 43

These tombstones in the churchyard at Barnston, Essex, tell a sad tale. Four of the daughters of Edward and Sarah Livermore died young: the first, Martha Susannah, died of 'a slow decline' at the age of fourteen in 1827. Thirteen years later, in 1840, Emma, age 22, was thrown from her horse. Eight months after that, Jane, nineteen, died of a heart attack, closely followed by sixteen-year-old Maria who succumbed to smallpox.

Kenneth Rowntree's deliberately prosaic and finely detailed view not only gives an insight into the fates of the Livermore daughters, but also provides a valuable record of the appearance of a typical country churchyard before the mass clearances of the 1950s and 1960s. Not only was much local social history lost, the gravestones themselves, fine examples of the mason's craft, were often broken up.

Physical description

A watercolour drawing of a grassy churchyard, with four tombstones belonging to the daughters of one family. The names and the rest of the text on the stones are legible, thus allowing the sad tale of the early deaths to be understood. The wooden fence around the churchyard is seen in the background, and further one can see trees and part of a building. Signed.

Place of Origin

Barnston, United Kingdom (made)


ca. 1940 (Painted)


Rowntree, born 1915 - died 1997 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Kenneth Rowntree'


Height: 12 7/16 in, Width: 18 7/8 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 significance: Many country churchyards were clared in th 1950s and 1960s, and the gravestones broken up (or, at best, preserved as flagstones). This watercolour provides a valuable record of a typical country churchyard in the pre-war period.

Descriptive line

Watercolour of the Livermore Tombs, Barnston, Essex, by Kenneth Rowntree; from the Recording Britain Collection (Essex); England, ca. 1940.

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

D. Mellor, G. Saunders, P. Wright, Recording Britain: A Pictorial Domesday of Pre-War Britain, 1990, p. 69.
'Country churchyards such as Barnston act as a valuable index of social history, offering a vivid insight into the lives - and deaths - of earlier generations. Sadly, such fine examples of the mason's craft, such evocative fragments of our past, have been stripped away in the wholesale clearance of churchyards, in pursuit of order and easy maintenance, which began in the eighteenth century and reached its height in the 1950s and 1960s. Churchyards have all too often been reduced to dull suburban lawns in which the church is stranded in incongruous isolation. The stones themselves are at best preserved as flagstones, at worst broken up and used as hard core.'
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:

ROWNTREE, Kenneth, A.R.W.S.
The Livermore Gravestones, Barnston, near Dunmow.
Signed in pencil Kenneth Rowntree.
Water-colour (12 7/16 x 18 7/8) Neg.No.A.173
(Reproduced Vol.II)

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.'
Palmer, Arnold, ed. Recording Britain. London: Oxford University Press, 1946-49. Vol 2: Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, Northhamptonshire and Rutlandshire, Norfolk, Yorkshire. pp.12-13.
'At Barnston there stands one of the longest consecutive rows of family gravestones that a connoisseur can hope to meet with...The four stones shown here are near the left end of the row and commemorate four of the daughters of Edward and Sarah Livermore...To the visitor a hundred years later, these four stones are more dramatic, or pathetic, than their neighbours; but all share equally, all combine, as evidence of a local continuity to which the modern world looks back with some wistfulness.'
Vikutoria & Arub?to Bijutsukan-z? : eikoku romanshugi kaigaten = The Romantic tradition in British painting, 1800-1950 : masterpieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum / selected by Mark Evans [Japan : Brain Trust], 2002. 185 p. : ill. (chiefly col.) ; 30 cm.

Exhibition History

Recording Britain (DLI Museum & Durham Art Gallery, Durham 29 March 2013-30 June 2013)
The Romantic Tradition in British Painting 1800-1950: Masterpieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum (Prefectural Museum of Art, Hyogo, Kobe, Japan 28/01/2003-06/04/2003)
The Romantic Tradition in British Painting 1800-1950: Masterpieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum (Koriyama City Museum of Art 22/11/2002-27/12/2002)
The Romantic Tradition in British Painting 1800-1950: Masterpieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum (Matsuzakaya Museum, Nagoya, Japan 19/10/2002-11/11/2002)
The Romantic Tradition in British Painting 1800-1950: Masterpieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum (Chiba Prefectural Museum of Art, Japan 24/08/2002-06/10/2002)
Recording Britain: A Pictorial Domesday of Pre-War Britain (V&A 01/08/1990-18/11/1990)


Paper; Watercolour


Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Topographical views; Essex; Tombstones; Churchyard; Barnston


Recording Britain Collection; Paintings

Collection code


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