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Happy Birthday Alfred Daniels!

October 8, 2013
by the gentle author

“Edward Bawden taught me how important it is to sharpen your pencil properly!”

Alfred Daniels, the celebrated painter from Bow known as ‘the Lowry of the East End,’ is eighty-nine years old today and still painting with undiminished passion. I went over yesterday to take this birthday portrait and I found him in the throes of preparing his new exhibition that opens at the Russell Gallery next week, including all the paintings shown below.

“I saw a film of myself walking and I thought, ‘Who’s that bloody old man?’ Because I don’t feel old, even though I look like my grandfather – the one from Plotsk,” Alfred admitted with a weary grin, contemplating his venerable age. Alfred confided to me that he is astonished to be alive, having cheated death three times.

“My brother Sid & I were walking down the Whitechapel Rd trying to pick up girls. We only had a bit of bombing in Bow, it wasn’t intensive like in Whitechapel and Stepney,” Alfred remembered, “Sid wanted to take the underground from Stepney Green but I had a funny feeling about it, so we walked home instead and I learnt next day that Stepney Green station had been hit.”

“My father was an air raid warden and my mother was a nurse, so they told us both to sleep in the shelter while they went to work at night,” Albert told me, recounting his second brush with mortality, “And when next door got bombed, the blast blew the wardrobe on top of the bed in our room and would have killed us.”

“Then I got a mastoid at the base of my skull when I was in the RAF and it had to be removed, so I dropped out of my squadron,” revealed Alfred, “and they were all killed, except for my friend who was invalided out, and me.”

We sat in silent gratitude in Alfred’s first-floor kitchen, admiring the autumn leaves in the neighbouring gardens and considering Alfred’s near misses of so long ago, that had permitted him to survive to see this annual spectacle on the eve of his eighty-ninth birthday.

And, taking this moment to look back over such a prolific career, he recalled how it all started.

“I began my career at the age of fourteen and a half, in 1939, by working in Commercial Art Studios. One in Chancery Lane, then at Clement Dane Studio and finally at my Uncle Charles’ studio in Fetter Lane which got bombed in the big raid on the city in December 1940.

The value of working in a studio was that nobody taught you anything, so you taught yourself by observing how the other artists worked and tried it for yourself. You were told what to do but not how to do it. Working in a studio was a unique experience for a fifteen-year-old: the atmosphere, the bright light, the smells of paint and cow gum – and learning the use of soft and hard brushes, coloured inks, poster paint, pencils and crayons, ruling pens, set squares and T squares, Bristol board and fashion card. Quite different from my Grammar School, which my Uncle had persuaded my parents to let me leave.

At the Clement Dane Studio in the Strand, I had to file the work of the illustrators and poster designers they represented, and I was greatly impressed by the way they told stories. Alas, they closed after Dunkirk and I went to work for my Uncle Charles in Fetter Lane, on the top floor of the Vogue magazine photographic studio. I was his only assistant and I did lettering, layouts, paste-ups and various illustrations both comic and serious, and when photographic retouching was needed I did that too, all for one pound a week.

It helped me to draw better and so I went to Life Classes at Woolwich Polytechnic Art Department at weekends, since all the London Art Schools were closed at night because of the intense bombing. The Head of the Department, Mr Buckley, was so impressed by my efforts he suggested I apply for a Scholarship to Art School and I was given one at ten shillings a week which upset my mother because it was less than the pound I was earning from Uncle Charles.

During the war, I served as a wireless operator and gunner in the RAF and in 1947, after I was demobbed, I went to the Royal College of Art where I received a first class degree and stayed on for a year to study mural design. The college was crowded with demob students like myself and I indulged in inactivity in the Student Common Room and was elected Social Secretary. I looked after the theatre group, the film society and the weekly dances. For my efforts, I was rewarded fifty pounds which I spent on a student visit to Italy and what I saw there made me want to become a mural painter.

Over the years, I have carried out many public commissions including paintings, murals for Hammersmith Town Hall, calendars for Oxford University Press and posters for the General Post Office. But my future career grew from what I learnt working in those Commercial Art Studios. To do things on your own initiative, to stick to your objective, and to work to a deadline and deliver to the client on time.”

Billingsgate Market

Gramophone man on Brick Lane

London Coal Exchange with St Mary-at-Hill and St Margaret Pattens

The Yellow Cello in the Portobello Rd

Vanishing London

Religious Revivalists

St Paul’s from Bankside

Southwark Cathedral and London Bridge

Tower of London

Boat Race at Hammersmith Bridge

Old Shepherd’s Bush Station

On Hastings’ Beach

Alfred’s cat, Flinty, who died on July 2nd

Flinty’s successor, Pushkin, who arrived on July 4th

In Alfred’s studio

Happy Birthday Alfred Daniels!

Paintings copyright © Alfred Daniels

Read my other stories about Alfred Daniels

Alfred Daniels, Artist

A Return Visit to Alfred Daniels

13 Responses leave one →
  1. October 8, 2013

    What striking images: I love the way Alfred Daniels learnt his style, and so good to hear he’s still in fine health.

  2. Terry Basson permalink
    October 8, 2013

    Happy Birthday Alfred – you may see an old man when you look at your photo but I see a young man full of the wish to communicate with hogs hair and fine sable.

    God Bless you Alfred Daniels

  3. October 8, 2013

    Happy Birthday Alfred. I hadn’t heard of Alfred’s work before and, being a lover of Lowry, I am delighted to discover him. Thank you!

  4. October 8, 2013

    Happy Birthday to a great painter! Valerie

  5. Rosie March Smith permalink
    October 8, 2013

    Happy Birthday indeed to Alfred! What a lovely blog to read this morning: the name Daniels hit me first and then something familiar about his face – or am I imagining it? My maiden name was Daniels and my grandfather Joseph John Daniels was a one time Master of Spitalfields. (His own father, Joseph Samuel Daniels founded the fruit and vegetable business there in the mid 19th Century). My grandparents lived at 2 Fournier Street… Joseph John married Rosabel SENECAL, of 37 Spital Square, of course!

    A chance in a thousand, but just in case Alfred and I are related, I would dearly like to make contact with him. Would it be possible to give me his email address, or perhaps pass mine on to him? Very many thanks, Rosie.

  6. October 8, 2013

    Charming, lovely illustrations ♥ Many happy returns of the day! ♥

  7. John Campbell permalink
    October 8, 2013

    Happy Birthday Alfred! Your pictures have brought enormous pleasure to a great many people, thank you.

  8. Neville Turner permalink
    October 8, 2013

    I realy liked Alfreds pictures you could connect with them.I wish him many more
    years of painting ,just what is needed to make us like art.Good and many more pictures.

  9. William Sovie permalink
    October 9, 2013

    Happy Birthday Mr. Daniels !
    Your work is wonderful.

  10. Jean permalink
    October 9, 2013

    Happy Birthday Alfred, I hope you live to celebrate many more!

    I find your paintings are very interesting, every time you look at them
    you see something else.

  11. Robert Daniels permalink
    April 13, 2016

    Happy Birthday Alfred
    my tree comes from Spitalfields in 1841 was fruit sellers in Keates street and spud in east Great Grandfather Umbrella maker DNA tells me all cousins and Daniels went to Covent Garden and bought flowers then sold them other things too round around Thrawl street

  12. gkbowood permalink
    January 4, 2017

    REALLY enjoyed all these pieces on Alfred Daniels! I am sad this fine artist will no longer be a part of your blog. I do wonder where Pushkin went after Alfred’s passing…

  13. November 16, 2021

    I got married surrounded by his murals at Hammersmith Town Hall. I am happy to be learning about his life and work. I remember the murals and the walk afterwards (gingerly across Great West Road) to the Dove pub. We took more wedding pictures by the boat launch that appears in one of the murals.

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