15 March 2023

William Comerford Watson,
artist and illustrator of
science and children’s books

William Comerford Watson (1885-1975), a commercial artist and designer, is known for his book illustrations

Patrick Comerford

William Comerford Watson (1885-1975) was a commercial artist and designer who is best known for his book illustrations. He illustrated five science books written by Julian Huxley and EN da Costa Andrade and in the mid-1930s, and illustrated girls’ school stories and boys’ adventure stories, including three adventure stories by Percy F Westerman in the 1930s.

Comerford Watson’s versatility as an artist came to the fore in the 1950s, when he illustrated a number of children’s books and collaborated with the BBC Children’s Hour presenter Derek McCulloch, alias ‘Uncle Mac’, on a Ladybird book, In the Train with Uncle Mac, first published in 1955 and frequently reprinted.

He also contributed to Cassell’s Magazine of Fiction, The New Magazine and Britannia and Eve in the 1920s.

Comerford Watson’s illustrations for Westerman’s flying stories may well have been enhanced by his experiences during World War I as a balloon officer in the Royal Flying Corps.

William Comerford Watson was born in Longtown, Cumberland, on 14 May 1885, and was baptised at Arthuret, Cumberland, on 31 May 1885. He was the eldest son of James Watson (1854-1911), a house painter, from Carlisle, and his wife Mary Jane Barrett (1866-1916). Her family had been living in north-west England for generations, but little is known about his father’s family. The Comerford name was also given to a younger brother, James Comerford Watson (1898–1902), who died in childhood. But, so far, I have been unable to discover why either brother received the name Comerford, which William Comerford Watson used as his personal name throughout his career as an artist and illustrator.

The Watson family had moved to the coastal village of Silloth by 1891, and they were living in Carlisle by 1901. By then, William apprenticed as a lithographic artist apprentice, learning his craft as an artist and illustrator.

He had moved to Manchester by 1906, and there he was an apprentice designer member of the Amalgamated Society of Lithographic Artists, Designers, Engravers and Process Workers. He had moved to London by 1911, when he was a boarder at 19 Fawcett Street, Kensington, and working as a lithographic.

During World War I, he served in the Royal Flying Corps, rising to the rank of Lieutenant and acting as a Balloon Officer. He was Mentioned in Despatches in March 1919, before he was demobilised.

After the war, he worked in product and graphic design, lived in Chelsea, Earl’s Court and Kensington, and acquired a studio at New Court, Carey Street, Holborn, where he worked for at least 10 years from 1929 to 1939. He was a founder member of the Society of Industrial Artists in 1930.

By then, Comerford Watson had done some illustrative work, contributing illustrations to Cassell’s Magazine of Fiction, The New Magazine and Britannia and Eve in the 1920s.

His book illustration work began in 1931 with Blackie & Son, and he went on to illustrate some girls’ school stories and boys’ adventure stories, including three by Percy F Westerman. More in tune with his main line of work were his illustrations for five science books, written by ENC Andrade and Julian Huxley, published between 1932 and 1935.

Comerford Watson and Emily Louise Mason (1872-1953) were married at Kensington Register Office in 1938. She was born in Chelsea on 14 October 1872. They were living at Flat 16, 294 Old Brompton Road, Kensington in 1939, when Watson was an ‘Artist – advertising and consultant.’ He may also have had a studio at 16 Redcliffe, Richmond Road, Kensington.

Watson’s versatile work as an artist continued into the 1950s, when he illustrated books for younger children in different styles. As WC Watson, he collaborated with the BBC ‘Children’s Hour’ presenter Derek McCulloch, alias ‘Uncle Mac’, on a Ladybird book, In the Train with Uncle Mac, first published in 1955 and frequently reprinted.

Emily and Comerford Watson were living at 20 Castlenau Mansions, Barnes, Surrey, when she died on 4 January 1953.

The last book with his illustrations was published four years later. He died at 4 Old Roar Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex, on 24 October 1975, at the age of 90.

Comerford Watson’s illustrations for Westerman’s flying stories may have been enhanced by his experiences as an officer in the Royal Flying Corps

Books illustrated by Comerford Watson:

Cherries in Search of a Captain, Catherine Mary Christian (Blackie & Son, 1931)
Catriona Carries On, Doris Alice Pocock (Blackie & Son, 1931)
Rosemary at St Anne’s, Joy Francis (Blackie & Son, 1932)
King for a Month, Percy F Westerman (Blackie & Son, 1933)
The Corsair of the Skies, Arthur Guy Vercoe (Blackie & Son, 1934)
Sleuths of the Air, Percy F Westerman (Blackie & Son, 1935)
Tireless Wings, Percy F Westerman (Blackie & Son, 1936)
Odds Against, A Harcourt Burrage (Evans Brothers, 1937)
The Red Thumb Mark, R Austin Freeman (University of London Press, 1952)
The Purple Muffin Book, Ann Hogarth (Hodder & Stoughton, 1953, with other artists)
In the Train with Uncle Mac, Derek McCulloch (Wills & Hepworth, Ladybird Books 1955)
The Palace of the Ants, Courtney Douglas Farmer (Schofield & Sims, 1957)

Science books by Julian Huxley and Edward da Costa Andrade, published by Basil Blackwell:

An Introduction to Science (1932)
An Introduction to Science, Book 2: Science and Life (1933)
An Introduction to Science, Book 3: Forces at Work (1934)
Simple Science (1934)
More Simple Science: Earth and Man, 1935

Sources and Further reading:

Robert Kirkpatrick, The Men Who Drew for Boys (and Girls): 101 Forgotten Illustrators of Children’s Books 1844-1970 (London: Robert J. Kirkpatrick, 2019, 547 pp).

‘Comerford Watson,’ by Robert J Kirkpatrick (24 March 2018), https://bearalley.blogspot.com/2018/03/comerford-watson.html

William Comerford Watson illustrated girls’ school stories and boys’ adventure stories

A journey through Lent 2023
with Samuel Johnson (22)

The statue of James Boswell in the Market Square, Lichfield, by the Irish artist Percy Fitzgerald (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield-born lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

The Johnson Society, which is based in Lichfield, has over 600 members across the UK and worldwide. The Johnson Society is hosting its Annual General Meeting and Lecture later this month [22 March 2023] at 7:30 in the Guildhall, Lichfield, when Michael Hawkes speaks on: ‘Lichfield’s Statues: To Be or Not to Be? That is the Question.’

Speaking about sculptures and statues, Johnson once said, according to his biographer James Boswell:

Painting consumes labour not disproportionate to its effect; but a fellow will hack half a year at a block of marble to make something in stone that hardly resembles a man. The value of statuary is owing to its difficulty. You would not value the finest head cut upon a carrot.

Johnson, for his part, once said of Boswell:

I lately took my friend Boswell and showed him genuine civilised life in an English provincial town. I turned him loose at Lichfield, my native city, that he might see for once real civility: for you know he lives among savages in Scotland, and among rakes in London.

Both Walter Scott and TS Eliot considered ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’ to be Johnson’s greatest poem. Samuel Beckett was a devoted admirer of Johnson and at one point filled three notebooks with material for a play about him, which he named Human Wishes after Johnson’s poem. However, Beckett abandoned the play after he completed the First Act.

Johnson wrote ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes: The Tenth Satire of Juvenal Imitated’ in 1749 while he was completing A Dictionary of the English Language. It was the first published work to include Johnson’s name on the title page.

As the subtitle suggests, this poem is an imitation of ‘Satire X’ by the Latin poet Juvenal. The poem focuses on human futility and humanity’s quest after greatness like Juvenal, but Johnson concludes that Christian values are important to living properly.

‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’ is a poem of 368 lines, written in closed heroic couplets. Johnson loosely adapts Juvenal’s original satire to demonstrate ‘the complete inability of the world and of worldly life to offer genuine or permanent satisfaction.’

The opening lines (1-10) announce the universal scope of the poem, as well as its central theme that ‘the antidote to vain human wishes is non-vain spiritual wishes’:

Let Observation with extensive View, Survey Mankind from China to Peru;
Remark each anxious Toil, each eager Strife,
And watch the busy scenes of crouded Life;
Then say how Hope and Fear, Desire and Hate,
O’erspread with Snares the clouded Maze of Fate,
Where Wav’ring Man, betray’d by vent’rous Pride,
To tread the dreary Paths without a Guide;
As treach’rous Phantoms in the Mist delude,
Shuns fancied Ills, or chases airy Good.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Then say how Hope and Fear, Desire and Hate, / O’erspread with Snares the clouded Maze of Fate’ … a gargoyle on Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

15 March 2023