Fordingbridge kills famous artist

It isn’t often that we find somewhere that almost instantly turns us off, but that’s exactly what happened today when we made the instantly regrettable decision to visit Fordingbridge. Another memorably awful place we visited was Hällefors back in March 2021. Oddly enough, the one thing I really liked about Hällefors was a statue. And, that’s the only thing I liked about Fordingbridge today.

The statue is of the artist, Augustus John OM RA (1878-1961), who died in Fordingbridge. In fact, one could say that Fordingbridge killed him. Well, Mirinda said that.

The statue was made in 1967 by Ivor Roberts-Jones CBE RA (1913-1996) and stands just the other side of the medieval seven arched bridge across the River Avon. You can see it just behind Augustus in the photo above.

Actually, I’ve visited Fordingbridge before. That was back in 2005 when Mirinda, Claire, Bob, and I stayed at Woodpecker Cottage in Woodgreen. Back then, I thought that Fordingbridge was quite nice. But, it would seem, the introduction of the automobile and freely available alcohol, has been the ruination of the town.

But, enough of the awfulness, the story of Augustus is way more interesting.

Born in Wales, he was filled with a love of drawing by his mother. While she died when he was but six years old, he continued to pursue art. He spent some time at the Tenby School of Art before heading for the lights and high times of London.

He studied at the Slade, along with his sister, Gwen John, who was also a talented artist.

In 1897, disaster almost struck when he dived into water at Tenby and struck his head rather seriously on some submerged rocks. (Remember, kids, always check what lies beneath the water before leaping into it – a valuable Australian lesson.) Rather than give him permanent brain damage, the rock collision spurred on his artistic output.

In 1901, he married the brilliantly named Ida Nettleship (1877-1907) and they had five children. This was the beginning of his massive brood of kids by an awful lot of different women.

In 1903, the family moved back to London where, along with William Orpen, Augustus co-founded a private teaching studio called the Chelsea Art School. It is here that Dorelia McNeill enters the picture. Between 1903 until Ida’s death in 1907, she, Augustus and Dorelia lived in a ménage à trois. Dorelia, while being one of Augustus’ favourite models, also had a load of his children.

Poor Ida, who had to give up any thoughts of being an artist as she had to become a stay at home mum, died in Paris of puerperal fever. Augustus continued to co-habit with Dorelia until his death in 1961. In that time, she gave him four more kids.

In 1917, Augustus was attached to the Canadian forces as a war artist. It’s seen as memorable that he was allowed to keep his beard.

He lived in Provence for a bit, saying how much he loved it, which makes me wonder why he ended up in Fordingbridge. Mind you, back in the late 1950’s, it was probably a lot nicer than it is these days.

Now, it’s almost impossible to cross the road. And the exit from the big car park is unnecessarily complex. It’s fair to say that we’ll probably never return to Fordingbridge. I think it can be left to the almost constant stream of cars and the drunks in the car park.

We also passed very slowly through Lyndhurst where the snail’s pace traffic allowed me to take a photo of the cutest camper van I’ve ever seen.

That would make touring a pleasure.

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