and Marjory Lester
The work of Marjory's son Charles Lester and daughter-in-law Patricia, see the bottom of this page
|Book 1 'Memories of Banbury'
|Book 2 'These Golden Days'.
Click on Each Picture to Enlarge
Marjory Lester was a Quaker and did not start painting watercolours until she had to retire from her business due to ill health. Like many people when they reach their later years - she had a passion for stepping back into the past. She felt that she had a responsibility to tell her family what life was like, because once she had gone there was no-one left of her generation to relate the stories from an intimate family point of view. But unlike most, she conjured up the past by painting pictures of the town that she lived in as it had been in her earlier years. Her reason for painting was similar to Helen Bradley who started painting at the age of 65 in order to show her grand-daughter what life was like at the beginning of the 20th century. Majory Lester decided to recreate the atmosphere of Banbury in Oxfordshire, the town where she spent most of her life, as a way of remembering and telling the story of her own life, anecdotes of the many people who were part of it and the national dramas that changed the town and that lifestyle forever. It is a personal and valuable social history of a family and a town that was typical of families living in small towns throughout the British Isles during the early and middle parts of the 20th century. Having completed the paintings, she decided to write explanations and added to her own life story is all the gossip and reminiscences of her contemporaries that were still living when she wrote the book.
Helen Bradley reason for painting was similar and she later became internationally recognised for the paintings showing details and memories of her Edwardian childhood. She was influenced by a mixture of art - her principal interest at Oldham School of Art being embroidery and jewellery. Painters such as L.S.Lowry inspired her and her passion for early Persian and Moghul Art resulted in a vivid and vibrant use of colour. She painted holiday scenes in Southport and Blackpool. Manchester street life is also represented as well as many other locations across the North West of England. She drew her relatives and friends, placing them in stories such as 'And Miss Carter Wore Pink'. Helen Bradley's later years were filled with television appearance, magazine articles and this interesting grandmother became a celebrity - all through wanting to tell a story.
Marjory Lester was a shy person and had no thought of actually publishing her work; which was more of a nostalgic journey into her past. Both her writing and her painting were intended as occupational therapy while she was recovering from a serious illness - they were undertaken for her own amusement and to describe to her children and grandchildren, in pictures and words, what life had been like, particularly in the 1920s through to the 1940s. However, this absorbing hobby soon led to pressure from her family to try to get a book published. The first volume 'Memories of Banbury' was published as a Limited Edition of 3000 copies in 1986. Marjory thought that no-one would be interested in the book or her paintings and much to her surprise both the book and limited edition prints sold all over the world.
Marjory Lester's paintings are charming and have a similar naive genre to L.S. Lowry, one of the most celebrated of British artists. Lowry, the only child of an Irish born father, was born in Manchester in 1887. He attended painting and art classes at the Municipal College of Art and pursued a successful career in art. At the Salford School of Art he started to notice the beauty of the streets of Manchester and his fascination for urban and industrial landscape resulted in an interesting historical record, in thousands of pictures, of the architectural and industrial landscape of post World War II northern industrial life. Often his famous matchstick men, children and dogs were secondary to his observations of buildings and industrial atmosphere. It was not until later in life that he started producing paintings and sketches of people, either individually or in groups against a simple white background. He lived in Pendlebury in Salford for nearly 40 years. An art centre is now named after him in Salford - Manchester's premier gallery, The Lowry Centre in Salford Quays and this gallery now holds a major collection of his work.
Marjory Lester had a similar fascination for buildings particularly those of the Midland market town of Banbury; which lies 20 miles north of the University City of Oxford. Her paintings were on a much smaller scale, as the town itself was a more modest urban conurbation - a rural market town and outlying villages, in contrast to the drama of Lowry's heavily industriallised North of England. Where Lowry might paint a massive warehouse or factory with dramatically smoking chimneys, Marjory Lester would paint the local cinema - showing 'Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush', perhaps the shopping emporium entitled 'The Workers Boon', or the Flour Mill looming over the Oxford canal. Each picture graphically depicting aspects of ordinary domestic life. In these three pictures alone she tells us where someone might work, where they could buy their working clothes and what film was currently showing at the local cinema. Her sense of humour and skill in describing in pictures 'the silence', is shown in her painting of the R.A.C. patrol scout at Banbury Cross standing on a traffic free road by the side of his bicycle, clearly illustrating the vast difference between then and now.
Marjory painted many of the old Inns and Hotels of the town as they had been before they were standardised for today's fast moving population. These taverns are painted to convey the atmosphere of gentle liquid recreation - in contrast to the modern anxiously grabbed refreshment in an anti-social noisy atmosphere.
After publication of the first book, Marjory continued to paint and write. She explored different mediums, experimenting with pastels as well as watercolours, she spent many hours researching and talking to people of her generation, adding their memories to her own. Her painting style, now firmly established and distinctive, gave her courage to undertake more ambitious and demanding illustrations. The front cover of her second book "These Golden Days" shows new energy in the bustling life at the Michaelmas Fair held in Banbury Market Place. The second book was also published as a Limited Edition, but only half the number of books were printed, 1500, making it a rare find.
It is interesting to note that many people wander back into their past when they reach their later years. A number of successful authors only start writing when they are in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Most older people, however, just tell stories and chat amongst themselves. It takes a very special kind of courage to allow the world to see these private recollections and observations. Thank goodness people, such as Helen Bradley and Marjory Lester, undertake such enormous tasks in order to give us a genuine and realistic glimpse of life in their time. It allows us the pleasure of stepping back into the recent past and enjoy for a while the time that is the foundation of our own lives and often answers can be discovered in these personal memories and diaries that are not found in formal historical records. They provide a valuable historical research tool for those wishing to learn, in greater detail, how people were affected by the changing politics and economics of the time.
The books of Marjory Lester demonstrate the kind of dramatic change in Banbury that is echoed in many towns throughout Britain. The town is now a sprawling mass, industrialised, busy and seeminly lacking in the character that made it so charming in the past. A journey back to the town is a journey into a strange place, even for those who spent their youth in the vicinity. It is now a busy overflow for the London city population and as such has almost overwhelmed the unique quality of a once romantic middle England town. Yet it should not be dismissed for there are many gems still standing proudly in the town making it an interesting place to visit for the contrasts of history and modern living needs. Old buildings and modern shopping centres sit shoulder to shoulder showing in a single street the evolution of the town. For the visitor it makes an excellent centre from which to explore exciting and easily accessible places such as the dreaming spires of Oxford, Shakespeare's Stratford-upon-Avon and the unspoilt Cotswold towns and villages.
Charles and Patricia Lester and their work in the world of international fashion, dressing the rich and famous. Charles and Patricia's work in oscar nominated films, operas in London and New York. More information about Patricia Lester and More information about Charles Lester.