Memories of artist Dorothy Rendell… and her unseen paintings of Castle Hedingham
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Dorothy Rendell at St Martin’s School of Art. 1950s self-portrait. © Estate of Dorothy Rendell.
Introduction Dorothy Rendell (1923-2018) was an accomplished artist and much-loved teacher, who is only now being recognised, after her death, for her vivid depictions of London East End life and the working Thames in the 1950s and 60s.
Her art also encompassed a deep love of the countryside, from vibrant Tuscan landscapes (she had a life-long passion for foreign travel), to depictions of the Essex countryside around Castle Hedingham.
It was here she and her close friend May Parry, bought a retirement bolthole - Camille Cottage on the Sudbury Road, which they enjoyed visiting for long weekends and holidays.
Camille Cottage by Dorothy Rendell. This small cottage on the Sudbury Road, Castle Hedingham was a much-loved country retreat for Dorothy Rendell and May Parry. © Estate of Dorothy Rendell.
Her paintings of Castle Hedingham (with the exception of 4 interiors of Camille Cottage) have never been exhibited. Saved by her close friend Kate Schofield, they are seen here publicly for the first time.
As well as countryside scenes around the village, they include a charming depiction of the village from St Nicholas’ churchyard.
View of St James' St, Castle Hedingham by Dorothy Rendell. © Estate of Dorothy Rendell.
Dorothy Rendell was interviewed shortly before her death by The Gentle Artist for Spitalfields Life.
She was honoured, posthumously, with a solo exhibition at Abbott and Holder.
Philippa Fairbanks who grew up in Castle Hedingham, and now lives on Mersea Island, first met Dorothy Rendell, as a young girl in the early 1960s. Dorothy was a colleague and friend of her aunt, Joan Kelk, who taught at the Harry Gosling School in the East End of London, and later became good friends with her mother Peggy Garge. Philippa and Dorothy remained friends until Dorothy’s death.
Dorothy Rendell self-portrait, circa 1960s, oil on board. © Estate of Dorothy Rendell.
Below are some of Philippa’s favourite memories of Dorothy, including visits to London and her life in Castle Hedingham.
Philippa shared her memories with Martin Crowther, Heritage Engagement Officer with the St Nicholas Church, Castle Hedingham Voices from the Pews project on 23 February 2021. The memories were transcribed over the phone due to the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown.
Dorothy’s life in London Her art was not appreciated until after she died. She was so kind and lovely. She taught at the Harry Gosling School with my aunt Joan Kelk. She taught the actor Henry Goodman, and his brother Stanley, who wrote the most wonderful things about her.
As a round, fat 10-year-old, I used to go [from Castle Hedingham] to the Henry Gosling school for the odd day with auntie [Joan Kelk, who was also a teacher there]. It was here I first met Dorothy. She was a wonderful teacher and would sketch any naughty child who’d been sent out of the classroom to sit in the corridor. She loved drawing people and did they most amazing sketches of workers at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.
Workers at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry by Dorothy Rendell. © Estate of Dorothy Rendell.
When I was 16, I started training at Westminster Hospital… and used to go to supper with her. One of the paintings she did in London was from my Aunt’s flat in Doughty Street... overlooking the rooftops.
When she was younger, to earn extra money, one of her jobs was to do drawings in court, at the Old Bailey, like those you see on television.
I used to visit her in London [when she was quite old]. I always had to take chocolate biscuits and smoked salmon. She was very kind. She always asked how everybody was.
Camille Cottage - a Castle Hedingham bolthole Dorothy retired to Castle Hedingham with May Parry [the headteacher at Harry Gosling School]. It was their bolthole for weekends and holidays, as they also kept their London home. They used to put their toothbrushes in their handbags and jump on the train to Braintree. They’d ring up my mum and say ‘Can you come and fetch us? There are no buses!’
View from the garden at Camille Cottage by Dorothy Rendell. © Estate of Dorothy Rendell.
The painting I have of Dorothy’s is from the end of her garden at Camille Cottage, looking out over the surrounding countryside. I love this view. It’s quite a small painting, but I just wanted something of hers.
Dorothy liked a tipple! My mother and aunt would go up regularly [to Camille Cottage] for a dry sherry.
I never saw her painting. She wasn’t the type to take an easel into the fields, but I did see her sit and scribble cards [while everyone was sat round talking]. She did a fantastic Get Well Soon card for my father, which I still have.
When she came to Castle Hedingham she used to bring Harrod’s sausages as a present.
Little Lodge Farm by Dorothy Rendell. View along the Sudbury Road with Castle Hedingham road sign. Might the two women in the distance be Dorothy and May enjoying a country walk? © Estate of Dorothy Rendell.
Both she and May loved walking. They walked all the footpaths around Castle Hedingham. They were good friends, close companions.
This charming depiction of a lone tree in a wheat field is one of many Dorothy painted in the countryside around Castle Hedingham. © Estate of Dorothy Rendell.
Grazing cows and horses provide interest in this hazy summer scene painted by Dorothy Rendell in the countryside near Castle Hedingham. © Estate of Dorothy Rendell
She was a terrible driver. She only learnt when they bought the cottage in Castle Hedingham, as she had no need to drive in London. She took the test 7 times. My mother gave her lessons, but had to stop because she was so bad. One time she drove round the roundabout the wrong way!
Kate [Schofield] drove Dorothy to Essex for her 80th birthday. She wanted to get out of London. Kate had to drive her round all her old haunts… Castle Hedingham, Sudbury and Mersea Island… where we had a fish lunch, and tea in my beach hut. Back at Mile End Place, all her friends turned out with flowers and gifts. One resident had even called her baby ‘Dorothy’! She was overwhelmed and very happy.
Gardener with watering can by Dorothy Rendell. © Estate of Dorothy Rendell.
Orovida Pissarro Dorothy knew the most amazing people. She was friends with the artist Orovida Pissarro (1893-1968), the granddaughter of Camille Pissarro, who Camille Cottage in Castle Hedingham is named after. As a girl, I remember Dorothy taking me round to see Orovida, who was quite ugly. She gave me a huge tartan dress, which was far too big for me, and was used by my mother as a chair cover!
A love of travel Dorothy loved travelling. She loved Italy and going to far-flung places. I remember her going on a SAGA holiday. ‘They are meant to help you’ she said… ‘but the hotel was at the top of a ruddy mountain!’
Little Lodge Farm, by Dorothy Rendell. This charming summer study shows a boy raking grass or hay. © Estate of Dorothy Rendell.
Dorothy’s funeral After her funeral, we all went round to Mile End Place [her London home] where there was the most amazing feast. Mile End Place is a charming cul-de-sac off the Mile End Road, with beautiful little cottages. All the money went to GOSH (Great Ormond Street Hospital) because she loved children.
Some of us went on to a restaurant called Verdi’s in the Mile End Road. The owner Maria, lived and still lives in Mile End Place. The restaurant had a lot of Dorothy’s sketches on the walls. Dorothy took friends there and they were always well looked after.
At the wake, somebody had brought an old newspaper article from the Halsted Gazette. While at Camille Cottage, Dorothy had caught someone trying to break in, and did a quick sketch of them from memory. She gave it to the Essex Police and they used it to catch the criminal. They were so impressed they presented her with a special certificate!
With grateful thanks to Philippa Fairbanks for her wonderful memories of Dorothy, and to Philippa and Kate Schofield for taking and sharing the photographs of her paintings. Also, to Moira Moles for putting me in touch. We hope to include Dorothy, with other Castle Hedingham artists, in our forthcoming summer exhibition in St Nicholas Church.