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Saturday, November 11, 2017

F. H. Warren

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

F. H. Warren was a minor illustrator of boys’ books and story papers in the post-WW1 period, but was more famous for his posters, for organisations such as the London Underground.

He was born in St. Pancras, London, on 2 March 1886, and christened Francis Howlett Warren. His father was Alfred Turner Warren (born in 1859 in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight), a box attendant at a theatre; his mother was Sarah Juliet Grace (née Howlett – born in Holborn in 1861), who was working as a dressmaker. At the time of the 1891 census, the family was living in Southwick Street, Paddington; ten years later, they were at 10 Caithness Road, Hammersmith., with Alfred working as an insurance agent. By then Alfred and Sarah had had three more children: Frederick (born in 1893), Edward (1895), and Norman (1899).

It is not know where Francis was educated (unless it was at Wilson’s Grammar School, in Wallington, Surrey, where an F. H. Warren was recorded as a pupil in May 1901, in a report on the school’s speech day in May 1901 published in The South London Press, although this is most unlikely if the family was living in Hammersmith), or where he received his artistic training. He was working as a commercial artist at the time of the 1911 census, where he was recorded living in one-room lodgings at 29 Great Percy Street, Clerkenwell, London.

Later that year, on 6 June 1911 in Holborn, he married Dorothy Ada Archer (born on 4 September 1887 in Deptford, Kent, the daughter of a businessman). They went on to have two sons, the first, rather strangely named Fritz Olaf Warren, being born in Lambeth in 1914. Within a year or so the family had moved to The Firs, Beech, near Alton, Hampshire, where their second son, Peter Pax Warren, was born on 16 November 1918. 

On 12 October 1916, Francis enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Service, serving as a mechanic on board HMS President II. He was transferred to the RAF in 1 April 1918, where he served until 22 February 1919, being transferred to the RAF Reserve with the rank of Sergeant. He was finally discharged on 30 April 1920, his home address being recorded as Beechbank, Basingstoke Road, Alton.

Amongst Warren’s earliest known work for children were illustrations for The Boy’s Own Paper in 1916, and for the Amalgamated Press’s story paper The Union Jack, for which he illustrated a handful of Sexton Blake stories. In the 1920s he provided illustrations for a few boys’ hardback stories, mainly school stories, such as Michael Poole’s Barnston’s Big Year and Well Bowled, Grantley, and Jeffrey Havilton’s The School Wins, and the odd historical story.

His main source of income, however, was from his work designing posters – he worked in particular with the London Underground, the London and North Eastern Railway, and the London department store Derry & Toms – and pub signs. He was also a close friend of the painter Augustus John. After Warren’s death, The Birmingham Daily Post (13 September 1960) quoted a story about John that Warren was fond of telling:

The two were talking together at the fireside many years ago when John rubbed a forefinger against a sooty fire brick and made a lightning sketch in a few strokes to illustrate a point he was making. “I have sighed many times since when recalling how that little gem was wiped away a few minutes later,” Mr Warren used to say. Mr Warren was responsible for some of the finest inn signs in the Midlands. He also painted many portraits in oils.”

One of his inn signs, painted in 1938, caused something of a stir – when the National Trust acquired the George Inn in Southwark (London’s only surviving galleried coaching inn, rebuilt in 1676 following the Great Fire of Southwark) it commissioned Warren to produce a new sign. Unfortunately, he was asked to do a painting of King George IV, whereas the inn’s name was actually a shortened form of St. George and the Dragon. The National Trust said, by way of justification, that it wanted to reflect the inn’s role in Georgian coaching days. How long the sign remained is not known – certainly, the George now has a more appropriate sign reflecting its origins.

Nothing else appears to be known about Francis Warren, other than there being a slight mystery as to his family circumstances in 1939. The 1939 Register, compiled before the outbreak of the Second World War to provide the personal details of every British civilian, recorded him living at Woodburn, 60 Evesham Road, Stratford-upon-Avon, working as an artist and illustrator, alongside a Florence I. Warren, born on 6 May 1889. Dorothy Warren was living at Beechbank, Basingstoke Road, Alton, with her son Peter Warren, who was working as a clerk. It appears that Florence was the daughter of a Martha Warren, both born in Grimsby, Lincolnshire. What, if any, family link there was between Francis and Florence is not known. Francis and Dorothy may well have separated, although when Francis died on 11 September 1960, at 60 Evesham Road, Stratford-upon-Avon, leaving an estate valued at just £190, probate was granted to his widow Dorothy Ada, who herself died in 1983 in Alton.

Sadly, on 12 February 1944, Warren’s son Fritz Olaf had been killed whilst serving in Burma as a Lance Bombardier with the Light Anti-Aircraft/Anti-Tank Regiment of the Royal Artillery, and was buried in the Taukkyan War Cemetery, Burma (now Myanmar). Warren’s other son, Peter, died in Basingstoke in January 1997.


Books illustrated by F. H. Warren
Devil Dare: The Story of a Traitor by Alfred Ollivant, T. Nelson & Sons, 1927
The King’s Legacy: A Story of the French Revolution by Kate Whitehead Oxley, Sheldon Press, 1928
The School Wins by Jeffrey Havilton, Blackie & Son, 1928
Well Bowled, Grantley! by Michael Poole, Blackie & Son, 1929
The Boys of Moorfields School by J.P. Milne, Blackie & Son, 1929
The Scouts of Windhaven by Geoffrey Prout, Blackie & Son, 1931
Barnston’s Big Year by Michael Poole, Blackie & Son, 1931
The Vengeance of Gwa by Sidney Fowler Wright, Books of Today, 1945
Jefferson Junior by J.S. Fletcher, Blackie & son, 1938 (re-issue)

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