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Watercolour - Interior, Black Chapel, North End, near Dunmow, Essex
  • Interior, Black Chapel, North End, near Dunmow, Essex
    Rowntree, Kenneth, born 1915 - died 1997
  • Enlarge image

Interior, Black Chapel, North End, near Dunmow, Essex

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Essex (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1942 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

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

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour 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 D

Most of Kenneth Rowntree's Essex watercolours for the Recording Britain scheme depicted parish churches and chapels. His usual practice was to drive to them during the week and remain for two days or more, 'absolutely solitary', as he recalled. He represented the interior of the Black Chapel as an elating and intimate place, more closely resembling the Quaker meeting-houses in which he worshipped than an Anglican chapel. He claimed to have experienced an uncanny company here; the chapel was 'the most exciting place I'd been in, with a feeling of being with people', despite its emptiness. Similar thoughts were much on people's minds; the same year, when Nazi invasion of Britain was imminent, an article by Geoffrey Grigson in the July 1940 edition of the Architectural Review cited Thomas Hardy's view of a church as 'a meeting place of the dead, the living and the unborn'.

Physical description


Place of Origin

Essex (painted)


ca. 1942 (painted)


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

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour and bodycolour on paper


Height: 12.50 in, Width: 18.50 in

Object history note

Many of Rowntree's Essex watercolours emphasise the written word; here, he represents the texts of the prayer boards with minute exactitude. He was roundly criticised for this (one reviewer complaining that 'this is surely to follow surrealism dangerously near to bathos'), but it is possible that his motive for doing so was to give pictorial form to his Quaker quietism.

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: Most of Rowntree's Recording Britain Essex watercolours depicted parish churches and chapels. A Quaker (he was a conscientious objector and although he worked for the War Artists Advisory committee, he was continally harassed by military authorities for his pacifism), he represented chapel interiors -- particularly that of the Black Chapel -- as elating and intimate places, almost like Quaker meeting-houses. He later called these chapels 'the most exiting places I'd been in, with a feeling of being with people', despite their emptiness.

Historical context note

Rowntree worked in Essex in his second 'season' as a Recording Britain artist (having been nominated to take part in the scheme by Sir Kenneth Clark in 1939). The previous year, he had worked in his native Yorkshire and Derbyshire, representing secular sites and carefully noting modern interruptions (telegraph poles, scaffoldings, road markings) in the landscape. Many of the churches he depicted in Essex, in his second 'season', were already threatened by dereliction, thus compounding the urgency of recording their appearances before their potential destruction by bombs.

Descriptive line

Watercolour depicting the interior of Black Chapel, North End, Essex by Kenneth Rowntree, Britain, 20th century; from the Recording Britain Collection (Essex).

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

D. Mellor, G. Saunders, P. Wright, Recording Britain: A Pictorial Domesday of Pre-War Britain, 1990, p. 17.
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. pp.20-21, illus.


Watercolour; Bodycolour; Paper


Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Chapel; Interiors (religious)


Paintings; Christianity; Recording Britain Collection


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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