Walter Spradbery, artist and pacifist, founder of the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, was married to my great aunt Edna’s sister, the opera singer Dorothy Horsey, known musically as Dorothy d’Orsay. They had a house in Buckhurst Hill called the Wilderness, just north of St John’s church and primary school, now (on the instructions of Walter) reverted to forest. Between the wars the Spradberys hosted all sorts of cultural activities – mainly musical; the Wilderness became a well-known venue. Willow Cottage Theatre at Curtis Mill Green (which some years ago I discovered for myself) is a conscious continuation of the Wilderness spirit: now I really have to go there (their programmes are online).
John Spradbery’s book [update – he died very recently: obituary] is a tribute to his father, brought out partly to help save the William Morris Gallery from closure, but mostly to preserve his father’s memory. It’s compiled mainly from letters Walter Spradbery write to various people, particularly an old friend James Berry, interleaved with comments and history from John, photographs from the time, and reproductions of some of Walter’s work, especially beautiful and oddly familiar posters for the London Underground – perhaps Walter’s most important artistic work.
There are some wonderful anecdotes. One which struck me particularly was Walter’s refusal to remove a Red Cross badge from his uniform in the First World War, and how the army dealt with this: at first by discipline (though tempered with private words of support even from those carrying out the discipline) and finally by giving in.
It’s a well-produced and important book: how many more of these talented and principled people have we forgotten about?