Published 2nd January 2009
The watercolour of Honiton High Street was painted by Alfred Leyman in 1901. The picture is a reminder of the passing of time, and depending on your view; either how little things change or indeed how much they change. April Cottage, the house on the right, has recently been on the market, along with many other properties on the high street in Honiton. The unmistakeable square tower of St Paul's Church is clearly visible in the distance and Leyman has captured the characteristic topography and contours of this long straight road which was an important stopping point along The Fosse Way, the Roman road linking Exeter and Lincoln. I particularly like the group in the left foreground which includes a beautifully painted collie dog, demonstrating the skill of this local artist.
Leyman was born in Summerland Street in Exeter in 1856 and was the son of John Francis Leyman, a seaman in the Merchant Service. He moved to Honiton in 1888 and became Art Master at Allhallows School in 1893, a post he filled for forty years until 1933. This seems an extraordinary feat based on the evidence of one pupil who said that Leyman 'had no real teaching ability and he would have been happier alone with his easel, and away from the gathering of rowdy boys'.
Away from the trauma of the classroom and the gang of rowdy boys Leyman clearly loved the Devon countryside and covered hundreds of miles along the lanes and roads with paint box and easel in hand. He clearly enjoyed painting landscapes and landmarks, villages, rivers and coastal scenes, rarely in any other medium other than watercolour. He seldom left Devon, with the exception of short trips to West Dorset and Somerset, to places like Porlock and Lynton. He supplemented his teaching income by painting popular resorts for the visitors and we regularly see Leyman watercolours of The Guildhall in Exeter, The Butterwalk in Dartmouth, Dittisham, cottages in Clovelly and the street in Otterton.
In the period Leyman was at his most prolific, Elands Art Gallery in Exeter were showcasing local artist and staged biannual exhibitions, one in April and one in August. In 1906 sixteen Leyman watercolours were shown and one still finds authentic Eland Gallery labels attached to the old backing boards of Leyman watercolours. Elands were in fact more booksellers than art dealers and the business continued until 2006 when the premises at Mol's Coffee House in Exeter were closed for the last time. I mention this because Frank and Fowler Eland, who were contemporaries of Leyman, did their bookselling apprenticeships with Messrs Bumpus & Bumpus, "the booksellers of Old London Town", and any business with a name like that surely warrants a mention.
Leyman was a true son of Devon with a particular connection to Honiton and the nearby villages. The watercolour of Honiton High Street was sold by Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood in 2008 and good examples by Leyman can be bought for between £300-£1500.
Honiton High Street was written on Friday, 2nd January 2009.