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Dorothy Bishop in Bethnal Green

July 30, 2017
by the gentle author

Today I present another extract from my new book EAST END VERNACULAR, Artists who painted London’s East End streets in the 20th century to be published by Spitalfields Life Books in October. Click here to preorder your copy

Looking towards the City of London from Morpeth School, 1961

This painting shows the view from the Art room at the top of the school in Bethnal Green where Dorothy Bishop taught for twenty years. It was a formative experience that Dorothy treasured and this painting – which her friend Ruth Richardson kindly brought to my attention –  is one of only a few pictures of hers that are known to exist. Although she painted throughout her life, she did not consider herself a professional artist.

Born in Brockley, Dorothy lived with her parents, her elder sister and younger brother for most of her life. After training as an Art teacher, she taught at a school in the north west of England for the duration of the war, returning south to live in Harefield, Uxbridge with her parents afterwards. In 1947, Dorothy took a job teaching evening classes Stewart Headlam Recreational Evening Institute in Morpeth Street, an employment which was to occupy her until 1968. Recording her memory of these years, Dorothy wrote a diary of her impressions of the people and the place from which we include these excerpts.

“I was there for twenty-one years and it was one of the best things in my life. Now I am old and I must lead a quiet life, I would give much to be back at Stewart Headlam School. I really loved the cockney boys and girls, especially the wit and vitality of the boys. The whole atmosphere was full of life and rough kindness. I loved the wildness of the boys, once it had snowed and they made for me with snowballs and I saw their dark eyes dancing with joy, shining in the lamplight. They did enjoy things. The layabout boys tended to come to Art as in football training you had to do something, whereas in Art you could just sit and exercise your wit on the teacher and thus show off to your friends. The girls then were almost a different tribe and provided me often with members of the class who would work and were also friendly. They always supported me in any trouble with the boys and, on the whole, sex solidarity was more powerful than class solidarity.”

“The class was from 7:30pm to 9:30pm with a quarter of an hour’s break to go to the canteen for a cup of tea. The second half of the class was the most difficult as the boys would become restless, even to throw pencils. Sometimes I was utterly exhausted at the end and thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’ but then I thought, ‘Why should they drive me out?’ also I really loved them and there were some gentle quiet boys and girls who would talk to me. The next week they would be quite different and ask, ‘Did we upset you, Miss? We was only having a bit of a giggle.’”

“I was not approved of by the L.C.C. inspectors. Once they found my class copying Mickey Mouse and painting him in bright colours. I told them I could not change the taste of Bethnal Green for such things, but did not add – as I thought – that it would be impertinent to try to do so. In their report they said I was ‘defeatist’. I got a letter which said, ‘While your qualifications remain at their present level you are not suitable for employment by the L.C.C.” I was devastated. I was not terrific but I had had a full art training. As to drawing Mickey Mouse, the Pop Artists were doing this a few years later.”

Dorothy Bishop (1913-2005)

Painting copyright © Estate of Dorothy Bishop

(With thanks to Esther North, Dorothy’s niece)

Take a look at some of the other artists featured in East End Vernacular

John Allin, Artist

Pearl Binder, Artist

Roland Collins, Artist

Anthony Eyton, Artist

Doreen Fletcher, Artist

Barnett Freedman, Artist

Lawrence Gowing, Artist

Harry T. Harmer, Artist

Elwin Hawthorn, Artist

Rose Henriques, Artist

Dan Jones,  Artist

Leon Kossoff, Artist

Jock McFadyen, Artist

Cyril Mann, Artist

Ronald Morgan, Artist

Grace Oscroft, Artist

Peri Parkes, Artist

Henry Silk, Artist

Harold & Walter Steggles, Artists

Albert Turpin, Artist

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Alastair McNaughton permalink
    July 30, 2017

    I believe that you should contact James Page Roberts (friend to Anthony Eyton) who lived & worked as an artist in Limehouse for many years.He is my uncle & now in his 90′s lives in Hammersmith.Anthony can put you in touch with him or I can let you know his details.

  2. July 30, 2017

    I like her art colour balance is good.This picture looks slightly in 3D to me. As she taught art she must have painted more pics, they must be lost in the fullness of time. Poet John

  3. Helen Breen permalink
    July 30, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,’=

    GA, I can really identify with Dorothy’s plight teaching art classes at night to high spirited boys:

    “I loved the wildness of the boys …They did enjoy things. The layabout boys tended to come to Art as in football training you had to do something, whereas in Art you could just sit and exercise your wit on the teacher and thus show off to your friends. The girls then were almost a different tribe and provided me often with members of the class who would work and were also friendly. They always supported me in any trouble with the boys and, on the whole, sex solidarity was more powerful than class solidarity.”

    Having taught in an inner city high school, I can identify. Although, I taught English so at least the students were sitting down – most of the time. In art class with mobility and supplies (including paint), boys especially can get rambunctious. And their later apologies were typical:

    “The next week they would be quite different and ask, ‘Did we upset you, Miss? We was only having a bit of a giggle.” Boys would never want you to hold a grudge.

  4. July 30, 2017

    I was surprised and delighted this morning to open our local Minneapolis newspaper and find a long article about Dennis Severs house! News from Spitalfields even reaches us here in the northern states.

  5. Helen Webberley permalink
    July 31, 2017

    I loved the work of Barnett Freedman, including the painting you included called ‘Street Scene.’ But I had no idea that the lithographs for Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer were done by Freedman. So we organised a group to be taken around Whitechapel and Bethnal Green a few years ago, to retrace Freedman’s (and others’) footsteps and landscapes.

    Alas no-one mentioned Dorothy Bishop. Delighted she is included in ‘East End Vernacular, Artists who painted London’s East End streets in the 20th Century’

  6. August 3, 2017

    “Rough kindness.” What a lovely phrase.

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