The Painter, The Policeman and the Pug

I am in contact with a gentleman whose great-grandfather was an artist William Edwin Pimm (1864-1953) who lived for a few years at the Manor House in Alfriston. He came from a distinguished family, his father James Norris Pimm (1837-1903) was a Deputy and Common Councillor of the City of London and was present at the opening of Tower Bridge in 1897.  His great uncle was James Pimm who invented the famous summer-time drink.

William Edwin married a Belgium girl Marie Louise Van Tongelen in Staines, Middlesex in 1888.

In the late 1800s W. E. Pimm had an artist’s studio overlooking Hampstead Heath. The studio was in the topmost flat of a building known as the Vale of Health Restaurant, although it wasn’t very healthy for a fellow artist Walter Stevens, as in 1894 he fell out of the window to his death whilst sketching the view.  By this time Pimm was known as an artist.  The previous year he received a commission from the City of London Corporation to paint a portrait of the Lord Mayor Sir George Tyler, a commission no doubt secured by his father who at the time worked for the corporation.

By 1901 William and Louise had moved to South London where their address is given as 23, Replingham Road, Southfields. At this time William was the Honorary Secretary of the British Figure Skating Club which met at the New Niagara Ice Skating Rink in Petty France, Westminster.  He clearly liked sport and, as well as skating, enjoyed golf, rowing and swimming. He was a member of the East Finchley Golf Club and the City Rifle Club where he won many prizes for his sharpshooting. In 1912 he even arranged a British tour of Sweden for British shooters. He was a committee member of the National Rifle Association and in 1912 was involved in selecting British shooting participants for the Olympic Games.

William holding a rifle at a shooting competition at Bisley in 1909

William ran an art shop in Brompton Road, Kensington, just across the road from Harrods. The shop sold ‘pictures, prints, china and antiques. The photo shows him at the door.

William’s Art Shop

William and Louise had five children, two girls and three boys. One the boys, Victor, was killed in action on the Somme during the Great War.  Maybe it was the sadness of their loss that caused the family to relocate to rural Sussex where moved into the Manor House on the Market Square in the centre of Alfriston.  The ancient house is a listed building, along with its brew house and garden walls but it was never a Manor House, there never having been a Lord of the Manor for Alfriston. 

William was a member of the Alfriston Conservative Club which met at the nearby Star Inn. On more than one occasion he was the ‘MC’ for their events. Immediately opposite the Manor house was the small East Sussex Police House, the home of the village constable and his family.  In March 1920 when Constable Pursglove retired, the house was taken over by the Pullen family which consisted of Percy (born 1881 in Surrey), his wife Sarah (born 1877 in Crediton, Devon) and their two children Grace and Edward.

Alfriston. The Manor House (left) and the County Police Station, (right)

Percy was a long serving constable in the East Sussex Constabulary. He was initially posted at Brede, near Rye but in 1916 had been transferred to Rushlake Green. He was to be the village constable at Alfriston for just five years before he (and his family) moved to Hailsham. In this short time he clearly had a friendship with the artist William Pimm who lived opposite him. In October 1923, Pimm painted a portrait of the moustachioed constable looking smart, but rather sad, in his police uniform.  A few years after the family transferred to Hailsham he retired from the police. In 1932 his address is shown as ‘Westward Ho”, Marshfoot Lane, Hailsham.

The portrait of PC Percy Pullen

Pimm knew Eastbourne author John Jeffrey Farnol (1878-1952) indeed it could be that the two became friends when they both lived in London as Farnol was also an artist and had attended the Westminster School of Art (maybe the two ice-skated together!)  Farnol had moved to 14, Denton Road, Eastbourne in 1910 and became noted as the author of many romantic novels. Pimm painted his friend’s grumpy looking pug (who went by the unlikely name of ‘Woggins Wiggery-Wag’.  There is now a blue plaque at the house in Eastbourne where Farnol and Wiggery-Wag lived’.

Woggings Wiggery Wag

There are a few family stories about William’s stay in Alfriston. One was that he was an extra in a film shot at the Star Inn.  On one occasion his brother stayed but was strapped for cash. William suggested he go to the village antique shop, chose an expensive item and say that a sketch of it was needed for a rich client in London. Knowing that he was the only artist in the village the dealer asked William to do the sketch and with his commission he was able for the both of them to have a slap up meal! 

William Edwin Pimm at the Market Cross in Alfriston

William Pimm remained in Alfriston until March 1940 when emigrated to the United States and settled in Dade County, Miami Florida. He died there in 1952.

A search of the internet uncovers several paintings by Pimm who was clearly a talented portrait and landscape artist. They have come up for auction around the world including Australia and the USA (where he is described as an ‘Anglo-American artist’.)   One of the pictures however caught my eye – ‘Cattle Grazing’ was sold at auction in Australia last year and I would be very much surprised if the view was not of the Downs near Alfriston. What do you think?

Grazing Cattle by W.E. Pimm


Mr Vic Styles

National Newspaper Archives (Art Auction site)

Kelly’s Directories of Sussex


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