Lytham St Annes Art Society celebrates centenary

It's 100 years since this thriving art society was formed and it has had some weird and wonderful homes, writes member Barbara Waitetoday

Finding a new home is never easy but when you get offered one for �15 it’s hard to resist. Of course, like all rock bottom offers, there are usually strings attached – expensive ones.

That was the case when Lytham St Annes Art Society, which this year celebrates its centenary, snapped up a bargain headquarters only to find it money down the drain because it was going to costs thousands to repair and renovate it.

Harry Channon, president at the time , laughs as he reveals he is still owed the �15 for his spur of the moment purchase – a surplus-to-requirements army hut which came from an officer not unlike Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses.

Harry, one of the longest-serving members with 50 years under his belt, worked as chief experimental engineer at BAe systems at Warton and lived at Wrea Green with his wife, Lucy. He was president three times in different decades and has many happy memories of those earlier days.

And the society as a whole has been in nostalgic mood unearthing stories from its extensive archives and from recollections of some of its 400-plus membership to produce a booklet marking its 100th birthday.

The thriving society owes its existence to a chance meeting in Lytham’s Green Drive between Thomas Alfred Clarke and James Terry. Those men, together with professional artist Walter Eastwood, held the first committee meeting in his studio in Market Square.

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In fact, Walter was voted in as the first president and Thomas Clarke was the secretary. Both men were the mainstays of the early society which held its first exhibition in the Market Hall, Lytham, in March 1913. From its inception it ran workshops, lectures and gallery visits - a tradition which continues.

Over the years, the society’s base moved around. Exhibitions were held in the Ansdell Institute, the Woodlands Institute, the St Annes Caf�, St Annes Technical College, going back to the Market Hall in Lytham after World War II. The society faced a crisis with falling numbers, but rallied and in the 1950s held its annual exhibition in Dicconson Terrace, loaned by the Clifton Estate.

Caf� society, so popular in Lytham today, could be said to have been invented by the members. The meetings moved around between St Annes, Ansdell and Lytham using Listers caf�, Kiosk caf�, Crescent caf�, Dickinson’s caf�, Lantern caf�, Dalton’s caf� and, post-war, Queens Caf� in Wood Street, St Annes.

There was still no permanent home, but by the 1960s an unusual studio was leased from Booths in Market Square. As Harry remarks: ‘Access to the studio was through a door in Chapel Street and across the roof of the Booths shop. It was very Bohemian!’

It was opened by Arthur Leslie, better known as Jack Walker landlord of the  Rovers Return in Coronation Street, who was an amateur painter, but the quest for a proper headquarters continued. It was even suggested that investing in Premium Bonds might be the answer, but the committee rejected the idea!

Twenty years later the society paid �20,000 for the former senior citizens’ hall in Haven Road. Home at last. Over the years the timber building was extended and improved – they even acquired a carpet from Skelmersdale Brewery to complete the decor.

It was to be a happy home remembered by many with affection. But then, a development company bought up property in Haven Road. Hard bargaining with supermarket group Booths concluded in August 2007 when the society moved across the road into its architect-designed new home.

As former president and long-term member Jean Adams said: ‘Our super new studio is every artist’s dream come true and we share our good fortune by raising money for other charities.’

And centenary president Alan Bealey, who led the negotiations which resulted in the society’s new home, added: ‘We owe a great debt to those early members who had the energy and determination to keep the club going. I’m sure they would be delighted that we can celebrate our centenary in this splendid studio.’

Not bad for an organisation which almost ended up in a �15 hut.

The founders

Thomas Alfred Clarke: Moved to St Annes as a toddler and ran a small art shop in Lytham with his sister which gave him the opportunity to sketch local landmarks like Old Tom - a tree outside the County Hotel now replaced by Young Tom – Lytham Hall and, of course, the windmill. He and his family gave lectures with musical accompaniment which entertained troops while they were waiting to be shipped to France. He wrote a book on artist Richard Andsell and an illustrated guide to Lytham.

Walter Eastwood: Moved to Lytham after he married and as well as landscapes and portraits he quickly became a distinguished photographer. He is represented in many art galleries and St Annes Town Hall holds five outstanding works. He contributed greatly to the social life of the town and is buried at St Cuthbert’s Church.

Society exhibitions

July 14 and 15: Art in the Park exhibition at the entrance to Ashton Gardens, in St George’s Road, St Annes – open-air sale of work

July 20-August 4: Summer Exhibition in the Studio, Haven Road. Original artwork on display and for sale.

August 18 and 19: Art in the Gardens, Lytham Memorial Gardens will host a display of artworks for sale.


The print version of this article appeared in the July 2012  issue of Lancashire Life  We can deliver a copy direct to your door – order online here