A Stevenage Picture Book

The art of Miss Mabel Culley 1880 to 1965

By V Richards

A view of the High Street
Miss Mabel Culley
A view of the High Street
Miss Mabel Culley
Old Cottages, Bowling Green
Miss Mabel Culley
The Old Castle PH, Middle Row (now number 37 - Nat West)
Miss Mabel Culley
The Red Lion PH, High Street
Miss Mabel Culley
The back of the Old Castle PH
Miss Mabel Culley
Red Lion Yard, High Street
Miss Mabel Culley
The White Lion PH, High Street
Miss Mabel Culley
Pound Farm
Miss Mabel Culley
Rats' Cottage
Miss Mabel Culley
The Old Workhouse, Letchmore Road
Miss Mabel Culley
Trinity Road Cottages
Miss Mabel Culley
Gates' Cottage (The Old Swan), Trinity Road
Miss Mabel Culley
Gates' Cottage (The Old Swan), Trinity Road
Miss Mabel Culley
Stevenage Bury
Miss Mabel Culley
The Old Bury - this is an alternative drawing that does not appear in the book but is taken from a greeting card.
Miss Mabel Culley
12th Century steps to the Belfry at St Nicholas Church
Miss Mabel Culley
Norman Arch at St Nicholas Church
Miss Mabel Culley
Stebbing's Farm
Miss Mabel Culley
Stebbing's Farm - a watercolour. Date unclear but possibly 1957
Miss Mabel Culley
Dye's Farm, Near Langley
Miss Mabel Culley
Dye's Farm, a watercolour dated 1946
Miss Mabel Culley
The Bucks Head, Little Wymondley. This sketch does not appear in the book but is taken from a greeting card. I am indebted to Hugh Madgin for identifying the pub.
Miss Mabel Culley
The Pest House, Weston Road
Miss Mabel Culley
A coastal scene - location unknown, not signed or dated
Miss Mabel Culley
Framingham Pigot, Norfolk - an unfinished watercolour
Miss Mabel Culley
"The Family" - a watercolour dated 1952
Miss Mabel Culey
A beach scene - taken from a greeting card
Miss M. Culley
A watercolour showing the Pool of London, believed to date from the 1930s. This is not in the Pcture Book, but was obtained from a gallery.
Miss Mabel Culley

Mabel Culley was a very well regarded artist who lived in Stevenage from (approximately) 1932 until her death in 1965.

She was born Lucy Mabel Culley in Costessey, Norfolk, in 1880, but always appears to have been know as “Mabel”. Her father was John Culley, a prosperous mill owner. He had at least seven children by his first wife Ellen who died in 1869. John then remarried to Katharine Dexter in 1871 and had a further four children. Mabel was the youngest of the whole family.

Mabel attended the Slade art school (now part of University College London) from 1898 to 1901. In her second year at the Slade she was awarded 2nd prize in Figure Drawing and received a certificate for “Antique Drawing”. In her final year she won a £4 prize for Figure Painting.*

Mabel is probably best known locally for her drawings and watercolours of local scenes, but she was also an accomplished portrait painter.

According to information held by Stevenage Museum, Mabel taught at various places including the Sherborne Girls’ School and Berkhamsted High School before coming to Stevenage. It appears she spent time in Cornwall during the war. She placed an advertisement in the Cornishman on 31 Oct 1940, when she was living in Mousehole, offering drawing lessons for children “by an experienced teacher and artist”. As a result of this, Mabel is listed on the Cornwall Artists Index.#

Presumably Mabel came to Stevenage to join her elder sister Ruth who had started the private Westover School in the town with her cousin Gertrude Turner. Westover School was at 1 Hitchin Road, on the corner with Julians Road.

“Miss Culley”, presumably Mabel, is recorded living at 72 Fairview Road in a directory of 1933 and according to information from Stevenage Museum, she had bought the house when it was “newly built”.

After Westover School closed, Mabel and Ruth lived together at 72 Fairview Road. Ruth died in 1958, at the age of 84.

It was planned that Mabel would illustrate a book on Stevenage that was to be written by the local historian Reginald Leslie Hine. Sadly, he died on 14 April 1949 before the project could go ahead. Sometime later, probably in the early 1950s, Mabel published the booklet entitled A Stevenage Picture Book which included the pictures she had already completed. There were two slightly different versions of the booklet published, both with black and white plates. The Hertford Archives holds copies of both. The following illustrations include the complete set from both versions, plus a couple of additional images taken from greetings cards.

The forward to the booklet was written by Lord Jowitt (born William Allen Jowitt in 1885 in Stevenage, created 1st Earl Jowitt in 1951; died 16 August 1957; buried St Nicholas churchyard, Stevenage) and reads:-

I have been asked to write a foreword to this picture book of Stevenage.   I can claim at least one qualification for the performance of this task: for I was born at Stevenage and I got to know every inch of the area of some ten miles round Stevenage, and that district brings back to me in a way no other district can the idea of Home.   This book contains a series of sketches by Miss Culley which have been executed with loving care. She will receive from all those who love Stevenage and its traditions grateful appreciation for the marked success she has achieved.   The inspiration which happily induced her to publish this book came from my old friend and contemporary, R. L. Hine.   He was indeed a most “uncommon attorney”. Those who know his writings would agree that to him can be applied that famous epitaph “He touched nothing that he did not adorn”.   Such a book so inspired and so carried out will I feel sure achieve the success it so richly deserves.   Jowitt.

In addition to the images from the Picture Book and greetings cards, I have also added a few of Mabel’s watercolours.

Mabel died at Benslow Nursing Home in Hitchin on 22 March 1965. She had been a great character who enlivened the lives of everyone who knew her.

I will correct and improve this text as more information becomes available to me.

* I am grateful to the Archivist at UCL for this information.

# http://cornwallartists.org

This page was added on 22/10/2011.

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  • I remember Miss Cully had a studio on North Road alongside the First Stevenage Scout Hut and the ATC meeting hut. I was a cub then scout 1951 to 1961 and have clear memories of entering the studio after vandals had broken in and left the door ajar. It was full of artist materials and had sadly been left in disarray.
    I am pleased to have come across this site and to see the pictures of old Stevenage buildings which has evoked many memories of my early years in the town.

    By John Barker (11/09/2020)
  • Message for G Coiley:
    The site editors have received a message from another contributor who would like to get in touch with you about your comment. Please email admin@hertsmemories.org.uk and we will set this up if you are happy to do so.
    Thanks Ed.

    By Marion Hill (05/11/2019)
  • The unfinished painting of the house at Framingham Pigot is the house that belonged to my grandparents and the figures in the picture are my grandmother, great aunt and aunt and cat! I remember “cousin” Mabel when I was a child. I should very much like to know where the original of this unfinished painting is?

    By G Coiley (31/08/2019)
  • I lived at Dyes Farm for yrs in the 70’s, and it was wattle and daub with red brick.

    I have pictures of my visit back there in approximately 2003.

    They do not correlate tot he water colour and pencil drawing.

    It was indeed Dyes, Farm, Nr Langley, Hitchen Herts

    By Samantha (29/08/2018)
  • An interesting comment about Pound Farm. The captions under the pictures are taken from the books, so the error must have been made when the book was published.

    By V Richards (02/04/2015)
  • The drawing described as Pound Farm is actually Southend Farm (also known as Trinity Farm). Pound Farm was in Letchmore Road a hundred yards or so away.

    Also, it is White Lion Hotel (not pub).

    By Hugh Madgin (03/03/2015)
  • 16/02/2013 Hi reference to Pound Farm which was demolished around 1970-73 my grandparents Sydney & Dorothy Browne lived there up until then , I was brought up there as a baby until my parents were housed in Wigram Way , have many fond memories there , it had two staircases one closed wooden spiral and a secret one which took you down into the dining room which was really spooky so I never went down it , the window to the left of the front door was the living room going back to the kitchen , the window to the left was the parlour , upstairs left was my grandparents room , the dormar window was my mums and the one to the right was her sisters which had the spooky staircase . It had a cellar with meat hooks in it so I was told by me mum , yes another spooky place. Not so spooky was toasted crumpets by the open fire in the living room , Christmas in the parlour . Playing in the yard at the back which was full of old barns. Trips to the sweet shop where my grandad A.K.A.Dan Dan would by me and help me spend my half a crown on sweets , my favourite sweets were jamboree bag / liquorice pipe / sweet knecklace, and in the evenings at the weekend we would go down to the Coach and Horses to get a bottle of coke sometimes. Many of happy times , when my grandad sold Pound Farm if he had known they were to demolish it , it would have still been here today 🙁 but i still have great memories 🙂

    By Mark Whaymand (16/02/2013)
  • One of the pictures by Miss Culley (The Red Lion PH High St.) is definitely dated 1933????????

    By Nicholas Forster (08/03/2012)
  • I think these drawings were done in the 1950s. I will be adding more details to this page so check back!

    By V Richards (01/02/2012)
  • I would like an approximate date on these pictures – sometime in the thirties?

    By Fiz (31/01/2012)