Ernest Hasseldine (1875-1944): Local Harpenden Artist of Distinction

Designer of the Harpenden War Memorial Cross and the original Harpenden Sign

 Ernest Hasseldine the artist

Born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, he was educated in London and trained there for his profession as a black and white artist. In London he met Edith Mary Barrett. They were married in Kilburn in 1901 and settled in N.W. London. Later Ernest and Edith moved to Harpenden for health reasons and because the charm of the place attracted Ernest who soon began to take an interest in local affairs. He declined nomination for the Urban District Council because he was not robust physically, but he played a useful part in the life of the community in other ways.

Pencil Portrait of Edith Hasseldine in 1903

Ernest and Edith had two children and the family regularly attended the Harpenden Wesleyan Methodist Church, where at various times Ernest served as Sunday School teacher, Sunday School Superintendent, preacher and Society Steward.

Few people today remember Ernest, but one gentleman, Mr Geoff Ackroyd of Batford Methodist Church, says: “My memory of Mr Hasseldine is that he was a regular attender at High Street Methodist Church. His dress was always of an artistic nature, very long hair and a flamboyant colour neckerchief”.

An excellent tribute to the artist and the man was written by Pat Wilson in his article ‘Harpenden Artists,’ which he calls a ‘thumbnail appreciation’ of his work, for the 1979 Exhibition of Pictures by Harpenden Artists and which was based on facts provided by his son Howard. Ernest Hasseldine was a professional pen and ink artist. However, he is better known in Harpenden for his watercolours of local scenes, some of them done for his own pleasure, but many commissioned by local residents.

He always painted or sketched on holiday, especially the mountains and lakes of Cumbria, where his sister Annie Clymo lived and, over the years with particular enjoyment, the scenery of Norway, Switzerland, France and Italy made possible by trips abroad with his brother Wilfred. He had a vivid colour sense and produced many beautiful and arresting pictures.

In the Exhibition of Pictures by Harpenden Artists in 1979, there were a number of Ernest Hasseldine’s local watercolours out of the Council’s Harpenden Collection and one, a particularly rich landscape, loaned by Jarvis the Builders who had commissioned it, showing the open fields of the Carlisbrook/Crabtree area long before there were any houses. A few of his paintings were reconstructed from photographs showing earlier scenes of Harpenden than his own. A small number of his local watercolours are held by the Harpenden and District Local History Society and some are in Picture Gallery on this website.

Ernest Hasseldine the illustrator

Thought to be from the Children’s Encyclopaedia


Although watercolour was his favourite medium, to his regret he was not widely enough known to earn a living in it and his bread and butter was earned by pen and ink drawings. For many years he illustrated various educational publications of the Harmsworth Press such as The Children’s Encyclopaedia (later My Magazine) of which Mr Arthur Mee, the Editor, was a close friend.


Pen and Ink Sketch from an Atlantis Reader

Church Army War Poster

He also produced illustrations for The Atlantis Press for a series of teaching-to-read school books called The Atlantis Readers plus story books in English and African languages which were used in missionary schools in West Africa.

He worked at composing and illustrating publicity material for various religious and charitable bodies and during the First World War he was commissioned by the Church Army to produce war posters appealing for funds to help our troops. These included Hut Day, Recreation Huts Urgently Needed On All Fronts and One Hundred Tents Wanted Immediately for the Advance.

Reproductions of these posters are readily available on the internet. He would surely be quite amazed to know that today his name produces nearly 61,000 hits on the internet for posters, paintings and illustrated books. He also worked for the Salvation Army and, later, the South London Mission in Bermondsey. This latter work was always close to his heart and he spent time in the slums, seeing for himself the need and talking to the people on whose behalf he was appealing. In spite of having to work at his talent for a livelihood, now and then producing a pot boiler, Ernest Hasseldine had a real gift, as well as an enviable technical skill, and with these his love of landscape stayed alive and inspired a number of genuinely moving pictures during his lifetime.

The Harpenden War Memorial Cross

Front Cover of War Memorial Handbook

At home, he was a member of the committee which raised funds for Harpenden’s Nursing Centre and, later, the Field House Hospital. He had a lively appreciation of the local scene and was always concerned to safeguard Harpenden’s amenities.

Following the Great War, a Memorial Cross Committee, of which he was a member, was set up to give expression to the Harpenden peoples wish to remember their war dead and Ernest Hasseldine was asked to design a Cross, which he did in 1920, also visiting Cornwall with Stanley Salisbury, the architect, to choose the granite for it.

Detail of the Cross Design


The selected design of the Cross was based upon Celtic style of art. The Celtic crosses of Scotland, Wales and Cornwall being the earliest Christian monuments of this kind existing in Great Britain.

Much symbolism is expressed in the form of the Cross and its ornament. The wheel or circle enclosing the Cross represents eternity; the central boss indicates the Godhead; the three-cornered knot below the central boss typifies the Trinity; and the intricate interlaced work suggestive of coarsely woven fabrics, basketwork and chain work, symbolises Christian unity.


The War Memorial on Church Green



The War Memorial Cross was completed on the triangle on Church Green facing the main road and unveiled on October 9, 1920.


The Coronation Memorial

Ernest was a member of the Harpenden Preservation Society from its inception in 1930 and designed the Harpenden Sign located on The Common, which was presented by the society to commemorate the coronation of their Majesties King George the VI and Queen Elizabeth on May 12 1937.

Original (Coronation Memorial) Harpenden Sign

The black and white picture (right) of the original Sign is taken from a Herts Advertiser photograph possibly taken on the day the Sign was erected in 1937, note the classic cars in the background.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, in common with national policy the Sign was taken down and re-erected after the war in 1945. However, it was later discovered that the Sign did not comply with heraldic principles and it was taken down in November 1948 and replaced in July 1949 by a Sign with a new shield designed by Ernest’s artist friend Mr Frank O’Salisbury.

The New Shield Design

Comparing the photographs it would appear that the shield was redesigned with the surrounding carved woodwork and wording remaining unchanged.

The Sign was built by Harpenden local family builders Fowlers of Southdown. The shield was carved by Cyril Fowler and the Sign erected by Bernard Allen.

A picture (not shown), that was hanging on a wall of the Old Bell public house, Harpenden in 2012 and entitled ‘Coronation Memorial, Harpenden’, appears to be a black and white photograph of the original Sign with some colour added.


From the time of his arrival in Harpenden Ernest was an active member of the Harpenden Wesleyan Methodist Church, working first at the old church in Leyton Road and subsequently at High Street. At the old church he became associated with another Harpenden artist Mr Frank O Salisbury.

Ernest provided a pen and ink sketch of the Leyton Road church for a church brochure and in 1930 for the 1930 Form and Order of Service booklet for the Opening and Consecration of the new building.

Illustration in booklet for new High Street Methodist Church

Initially Ernest was a Sunday School teacher at Leyton Road and was appointed to the Sunday School Council. He resigned as a teacher in March 1913 but remained a member of the Sunday School Council and at the meeting of 22 September 1915 he offered to assist the Sunday School Superintendent and on 1st December 1915 was unanimously elected as Sunday School Superintendent. He eventually resigned due to ill health on 3 October 1917. In those days the Harpenden Wesleyan Methodist Church was part of the Luton Chapel Street Circuit and the Plan and Directory for January to March 1927 shows E Hasseldine preaching at the 11am service at Kinsbourn Green Chapel on Sunday January 9 and February 27, 1927. Then in the Plan and Directory for July to September 1929 E Hasseldine is listed as a Society Steward for Harpenden and in 1931 as the Senior Society Steward until 1932. In 1932 he was also a Trustee of the High Street new organ fund.


Ernest’s father Joseph Hasseldine came from Raunds in Northants and married Sarah Brawn from Great Gidding in Cambridgeshire.  They then moved to Kings Lynn, Norfolk. The Hasseldine family were Methodists and the Brawn family Baptists. Joseph and Sarah had four children: Ernest, Frank, Wilfred and Annie.

The Page Brawn chest

Sarah’s brother Page Brawn presented his brother-in-law Joseph with a small beautifully made wooden chest and wrote in pencil under one of the drawers: “Presented by Page Brawn to J. Hasseldine Sept 24th 1880”. This chest was passed down to Ernest and then to myself.

Ernest’s wife, Edith Mary Barrett of Hampstead, was related to the Barretts of Wimpole Street. Ernest and Edith had two children, Edith Marjorie and Howard and lived first at “Melrose”, St James Road, Harpenden and then at 12 Elliswick Road. Later Ernest and Edith moved to 33 Fairmead Avenue and then to 4 Overstone Road.

4 Overstone Road, Harpenden 2012

The family regularly attended the Harpenden Wesleyan Methodist Church at Leyton Road, until 1930 when the church moved to a new building at High Street.

One of his brothers, Frank Hasseldine also came to live in Harpenden. His other brother Wilfred became a master builder managing the construction of large projects. These included the Elephant and Castle railway station and the BBC’s Broadcasting House in London described on the BBC website as ‘an iconic building, a jewel of art deco design’.

His sister Annie Clymo was a nurse who served in the trenches in France in The Great War and was presented with various nursing medals for her service.

Annie Clymo’s nursing medals

After Ernest’s death Edith went to live with her sister Eleanor Barrett at 27 Overstone Road.

Sources of Information:

  1. Various items provided by Rev Jenny Dyer, Minister of Harpenden High Street Methodist Church, including construction and erection of the original Harpenden Sign and the Pat Wilson article. 
  2. Dates and detail for new Harpenden Sign from Paul Smith, Harpenden Town Council. 
  3. Offices with dates held in the Wesleyan Methodist Church from the County Archives, Hertford. 
  4. Ernest Hasseldine obituary from Harpenden Local History Society. 
  5. Detail and design of the Memorial Cross from the Oct. 1920 handbook. 
  6. Sketches, paintings and photographs and other detail from information in my possession and personal memories and with some family detail from Patrick Ellis, grandson of Wilfred H.

Shipping at Bergen, an unfinished water colour

Des Summerson (Grandson)   April 2012

Click here for the link to an appreciation by Pat Wilson and obituary from a contemporary newspaper.

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