The Painter of History

An excerpt from the history of Thundersley and Daws Heath

In November this year* Southend’s Beecroft Gallery, then in the former Southend Central Library in Victoria Avenue, will arrange an exhibition of works of the Thundersley artist ALAN SORRELL.

Alan Sorrell (1904-1974) settled in the former Peculiar People’s Chapel in Daws Heath Road (almost opposite the woodyard) with his new wife Elizabeth Tanner in 1947. Both were artists. He had started his studies at Southend Municipal School of Art and at the Royal College of Art. From 1928-31 he studied at the British School in Rome. On his return he joined the teaching staff at the Royal College. His first large commission in 1932-6 came from Southend, four tall panels of historical subjects for the central library – one of which was The Refitting of Admiral Blake’s Fleet at Leigh, 1652.

Sorrell travelled widely in pursuit of his art and interests – Iceland, Greece, Istanbul, Egypt and Nubia. His lifetime interest became reconstruction drawings of historical scenes and events of sites both in Britain and on the Continent. Roman scenes, Dark Age, Viking, Mediaeval and monastic, Alan Sorrell helped make the historical past popular. From 1936 onwards for almost forty years he collaborated with archaeologists, reconstructing scenes from the past. His drawings and writings have been collected and published in a number of volumes between 1961 and 1973.

In Thundersley, north of Pound Wood by St Michael’s Road, together with the three children Richard, Mark and Julia, Alan Sorrell put his interests into practice by walking a field and collecting Roman sherds, glass, tesserae, etc., where once must have stood a Roman or romanised habitation. The finds are kept at Southend Museum. Mark Sorrell was later commissioned by C.C. Wiggins to write a history of the Peculiar People’s sect. Richard Sorrell paints from his studio in West Cornwall. Daughter Julia kindly forwarded the photographs.

Alan Sorrell died in Southend-on-Sea on 21 December 1974.

Photos: Alan Sorrell RWS and Elizabeth Sorrell RWS in their studio in the former Peculiar People’s chapel, Daws Heath Road. Both also regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Show. Examples of both of their works can be seen in the Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend-on-Sea and at Chelmsford Museum.

{Ed * 2014;     RWS = Members of the Royal Watercolour Society}

Alan and Elizabeth Sorrell, Artists, in the old chapel in Daws Heath Road
© Julia Sorrell
Alan Sorrell, Artist of historical reconstruction
© Julia Sorrell
A former Peculiar People’s Chapel

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