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From High Art to Dan Dare

by Andrew Wainwright


Andrew Wainwright

Andrew Wainwright

There have been a number of associations with the arts and artists in my family over the years. The article is about two of my more illustrious forebears: Thomas Simmonds, my great great grandfather and Eric Bemrose – my half grand uncle. As the story develops I will indicate how we became related and how we are linked to the Craxford family tree.

Leonard Cotterell Wainwright (my great grandfather) was born in Church Stretton in Shropshire in November 1865. The census of 1901 shows that he had moved to the Chesterfield area and was living with his sister's family. He was a mechanical engineer. He married Minnie Constance Bemrose (nee Simmonds) at St Giles Parish Church in Normanton, Derbyshire in April 1905. She was the fifth of seven children born to artist Thomas Charles Simmonds. Her first husband, Frederick Edward Bemrose died in 1901.

Leonard and Minnie moved back to the West Midlands and had two children; a son, Leonard Keith, born in 1906 and a daughter, Phyllis, born in 1911. Leonard Keith had medical problems in his early years and spent some time as an in patient at the Childrens' Hospital, Broad Street, Birmingham. He was troubled with his leg throughout his life. Leonard Cotterill Wainwright died in Birmingham in 1944.

Thomas C. Simmonds (1842 – 1912)

Thomas Charles Simmonds

Thomas Simmonds (1)

Thomas Charles Simmonds was born in 1842, the older of two sons, to Thomas Simmonds and his wife Alice Cook. By the time of the 1861 census (2) the family was living in Alstone, Cheltenham. His father was employed as a railway pointsman and his mother, a milliner. Nineteen year old Thomas was working as a pupil teacher. There are records which suggest that he was on the staff of the Cheltenham School of Art during his early years. He may also have taught Drawing at schools in Birmingham.

In the early 1860s he married Sarah Phipps and between 1865 and 1897 had nine children (five boys and four girls). He initially moved the family to Chaucer Street in the Sherwood District of Nottingham where he was described as a Government Art Master. Notable from the census return of 1871 (3) is that one of her near neighbours, John Rawle, was Headmaster of the Nottingham School of Art. In the 1870s he moved again to a large house which was called Ravenshire in Burton Road Derby. During this decade he became a master at the Derby School of Art teaching Art and Science subjects. By 1881 (4) he was described in the census as a landscape and figure artist.

A Headmaster in Glasgow 1881-1885

The McLennan Galleries, Glasgow.

The McLellan Galleries Building. The Glasgow School of Art was housed at the east end of the block. (5)

In 1881 he took over the post of Headmaster at the Glasgow School of Art from Robert Greenlees. Simmonds was described as being very businesslike and his career records suggest he was a good Headmaster in a managerial sense. Whilst at Glasgow School of Art he was instrumental in convincing the governors of the need for a new building, and regularly complained to the committee of management about the conditions that the students had to work under. He also attempted, unsuccessfully, to promote links between Glasgow School of Art and the Woollen College, a small independent textiles college. This venture came to nothing but the College was subsequently absorbed into the Technical College le4ading to the establishment of a Diploma in Textiles.

Thomas remained in Glasgow for four years. The School of Art archives (6) contain many letters documenting his complaints to the governors about facilities and the accommodation given to students. A gowned portrait remains on display in the building.

He went back to his familiar surroundings in the midlands where he returned to his post at the Derby School of Art. His ever-growing family lived in accommodation at 270 / 272 Burton Road in the town. His census declaration (7) shows him to be an artist, painter and designer and art master. On the same return, his 26 year old son Henry was working as an Art Master, his daughter Annie was a painter of watercolours and his son Ernest was a photographer. It has been commented that almost nothing has been recorded about his artistic abilities and that it has not been possible to trace any of his work in a public collection.

Continued in column 2...

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Added: March 17th 2006
Last updated: September 1st 2019

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Eric and Cyril Bemrose

Eric and Cyril Bemrose

Eric and Cyril Bemrose 1905

I shall now follow the fortunes of Thomas Simmonds second daughter, Minnie Constance. Born in 1873 she was to marry Frederick Bemrose, a publisher, in 1895. They set up home together in Duffield, Derbyshire and had two sons; Eric, born in 1897 and Cyril 1899. By the time of the census of 1901 Frederick had been taken ill. Minnie was joined at the house by her sisters Nellie and Ethel and they also employed a cook and a residential nurse. He died in the summer at year.(8)

Four years later Minnie married again. Leonard Cotterill Wainwright (my great grandfather) had been born in Church Stretton in Shropshire in November 1865. He was the son of Rachel Kate Craxford and aspects of this family history are told in my previous article From Gretton to Barrowden - From Craxford to Wainwright. He became a mechanical engineer and by the turn of the century he had moved north to Chesterfield where he lived with his sister's family. The marriage took place at St Giles Parish Church in Normanton, Derbyshire in April 1905. In time they moved back to the West Midlands where Minnie had two more children including my grandfather Leonard Keith Wainwright.

Leonard Cotterel Wainwright

Leonard Wainwright

St Giles Church, Normanton, Derby

St Giles Church, Derby (1)

The Eagle comic

The Eagle (9)

Dan Dare

Dan Dare (10)

Little more is known of the early years of the Bemrose boys. Eric grew up and moved away to Liverpool where he ultimately founded a printing company, Eric Bemrose Limited of Aintree. There are several other printing firms which share the name Bemrose, one of which is based in Derby, but it is not known whether they have any direct relationship with this family.

Cyril Bemrose and Vernon Holding at Hulton Press 1955

Cyril Bemrose with Vernon Holding at Hulton Press 1955

In the early 1950s he achieved some notoriety and recognition in the industry when he received the order to produce a new weekly publication for children, ‘The Eagle’. This was a comic requiring high quality, full colour, high volume production runs at a time when science fiction was in its infancy.

There were two major hurdles to overcome with the first issue of Eagle: getting the material to the printer in the first place, and then actually printing it. This saga is a story in itself of a supreme example of craftsmanship and engineering skill overcoming apparently insuperable difficulties. Eric was faced with the problem of printing one million copies of Eagle for its first issue and to do so he designed, built and worked a new ten-unit photogravure rotary machine. With flair and improvisation he created the plant in twelve weeks from start to finish and trained a team to work it. On publication day there were long queues outside the newsagents. Eagle was a success and a sell-out, almost one million copies.


Eric Bemrose was indeed a member of the Derby Bemrose printing family and worked in the firm until he moved to Liverpool . My father, Alfred Parfitt, also worked for Bemrose in Derby and he and Eric set up the Liverpool works together. Unfortunately they had some sort of disagreement and my father left, much to Eric's dismay.



1. Thomas C Simmonds - Headmaster 1881 - 1885: Glasgow School of Art Archives
2. England Census 1861: Cheltenham RG9/1801 27 48 19
3. England Census 1871: Nottingham Sherwood RG10/309 11 25 44
4. England Census 1881: Derby RG11/3400 33 14 27
5. The McLelland Galleries: Glasgow Architecture: Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. Information and images
6. Thomas C Simmonds Archives: Glasgow School of Art
7. England Census 1891: Derby RG12/2732 37 9 12
8. Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths: Frederick Bemrose: Belper 7b 370 (JAS 1901)
9. The Eagle: Wikipedia
10. Dan Dare: The Dan Dare web site

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