Ye Olde Eastbourne Series & Eastbourne Water Colour Series


Field & Round House, near the present Queen's Hotel, Eastbourne, 1840 (Ye Olde Eastbourne Series)

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An anonymous publisher in 1906 began issuing a series of coloured halftone cards of historic Eastbourne under the name "Ye Olde Water Colour Series". Each card reproduced a watercolour painting of a building or place of interest as it might once have appeared. The paintings were the work of a local artist, James Owen. Dates on the pictures, which seem to have been quite carefully researched, range from 1808 to 1870 and later. A second set of cards, "The Eastbourne Water Colour Series", also went on sale in 1906, again featuring watercolours by Owen, but this time depicting both historic and contemporary scenes. A watercolour of the main street at Westham near Pevensey claims to show the scene in 1790, and another the interior of Pevensey Castle in 1750, whereas one of Eastbourne carries a 1906 date.

A series of cards of Seaford Bay, the chalk cliffs and Cuckmere Coastguard Station constituted the "Seaford Water Colour Series".

When first published, the cards in the Ye Olde series were unnumbered, but they were then given numbers, as were the cards in the other two series. The numbers that have been found range from 500 to 555, but it would be wrong to infer that as many as 56 cards were issued as there appears to have been at least one gap in the sequence.

The publisher of the cards is believed to have been William Brooker of Eastbourne. He gave some of the original Owen watercolours featured on the cards to the Towner Gallery at Eastbourne and at one time had a shop close to one kept by the artist. At an exhibition held at Eastbourne Heritage Centre in Eastbourne from 7 May to 28 July 2012, it was reported that a son of James Owen wrote in a letter to the Eastbourne Gazette in 1939 "The late Mr Brooker of Terminus Road bought a dozen of the originals and reproduced them most successfully in two series". In the same exhibition it was also noted that six of the cards could at one time be bought for six pence.

James Owen was born in 1846 in Glasgow and married his wife, Marion (also from Glasgow), in about 1870. When the 1881 census was held, he had just moved from Scotland and was living with his family at a house in Kingsland Road in Shoreditch (Middlesex) while working as a commercial traveller for a timber merchant. Four sons are listed by the census; later a daughter was born. During the 1880s James Owen moved with his family to Eastbourne. The 1901 census locates him at 2 Archery Terrace and describes him as a house painter and decorator. In the 1911 census, by contrast, Owen is described as a watercolour artist. His address is given as 39 Channel View Road, but in point of fact he had not moved. All that had happened was that Archery Terrace had been extended and renamed, and the houses renumbered.

It is not known how James Owen acquired his skills as a watercolourist, but two of his brothers are said to have been artists. Although he took up watercolour painting late in life, he was no incompetent amateur and is known to have exhibited professionally. One of his four sons, born in Glasgow in about 1874 and confusingly also called James Owen, became an Eastbourne house decorator and gilder. On December 25, 1897, this younger James married a Londoner, Mary Callaghan, at Christ Church in Eastbourne. At the time of his marriage he was living at 28 Melbourne Road in Eastbourne. By 1901 he and Mary had moved to 27 Melbourne Road, but by 1911 they were living at 21 Winter Road. Their eldest child, Miriam Owen, was born in about 1899. She was followed by Lily Owen, a year later, then by John Owen and other children. James Owen, the watercolourist, died at 39 Channel View Road in Eastbourne on January 27, 1929, aged 82.

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