Ernest Shepard: A Victorian Boyhood during the 1880s


Figure 1.-Ernest Shepard wears a lace collar with his velvet Fauntleroy party suit in a photograph taken about 1885. His older brother and he wore dresses when younger, but do not appear to have worn kilts. For everyday wear, Ernest usually wore sailor suits.

One of the most delightful childhood memories of Victorian England is Ernest Shepard's lovely book, Drawn From Memory. Shepard is the artist who illustrated A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh. Shepard grew up in London during the 1880s. He recalls remarkably detailed images of horse-drawn London where a penny was wealth for a child. A warm, delightful view of Victorian England emerges from the book, recollections of the Jubilee, seaside bathing at Eastbourne, hop-picking in Kent, the Drury Lane Pantomine, aunts and illnesses, hansom cabs, hobby horses, park outings, and pea-soup fogs. Shepard details the experiences of he and his brother and describes them through their childhood eyes.

Birth

Ernest was born in 1879. His brother appears a couple years older. The boys spent their childhood in London. He was born only a 5-minute walk from the birthplace of A.A. Milne, a boy with whom Ernest's life would bcome inextricably tied. But it would be many years before their first meeting when their names would be linked for all time to one of the most loved of all bears.

Family

Shepard's mother's father, William Lee RA, was a watercolour painter and Ernest followed in his footsteps by drawing as soon as he was able to hold a pencil. When he was ten years old, his mother died and the family moved from St. John's Wood to Hammersmith.

Childhood

Ernest was a cheerful boy, fond of practical jokes and, in the current slang of the day, was described as a "giddy kipper." Kipper was a nickname which clung to him all his life.

Boyhood Clothing

The text and the delightful drawings, some done as a child, convey a great deal of information about boys' clothes during the 1880s. Some of the outfits pictures are mentioned in the book:


Figure 2.--Even as very small boys, Ernest and his brother Cyril were taken to the park. The boys in a pram are pictured in this drawing. Ernest at this age was wearing dresses. Note the broad-brimmed sailor type hat that Ernest is wearing.

Dresses

Most of the book is set around the mid-1880s when Ernest was wearing Fauntleroy suits and sailor suits. Some of the drawings show him in dresses. In one he appears to be wearing short pantalettes. Unfortunately he does not mention wearing dresses in the text, but he must remember because of the drawings. The dresses he wore appear relatively short with the hem above the knee. In the drawings he wears them with short white stocks and strap shoes. One of the drawings is a summer image. I do not know what he wore with dresses during the winter, presumably long stockings. The dresses depicted in Shepard's drawings are relatively short dresses with the hem above the knee. The fact that Shepard does not comment on wearing dresses means we do not know what he thought of his dresses as a boy. He clearly remember's wearing dresses as a little boy because he depicts scenes with him in dresses. I am not certain how long he and his brother wore dresses. The drawings show him at about 4 years of age in dresses and then at about 6 years of age in sailor suits and Fauntleroy suits. Thus he was probably was breeched at about 5 years of age.

Smocks

While we know that Ernest and his brother wore dresses when they were little boys, we do not know for sure if they wore smocks. He does not include any mention of smocks in Drawn from Memory or include any drawings of either him or his brother wearing smocks. This it would seem that neother boy wore them.

Sashes

One available image shows Ernest in a white dress at about 4 years of age. He wears a plaid sash.

Socks and stockings

Ernest appears to have worn short white socks with his dresses, at least during the summer months. I'm unsure what kind of socks he wore with his dresses during the summer. As older boys, Ernest and his brother appear to have worn long stockings with kneepants. All of their outfits Fauntleroy suits, sailor suits, and Norfolk suits were worn with knee pants and long dark stockings. While Ernest wore his dresses with bare kegs, he never seems to have bare kegs with his Fauntleroy suits or sailor suits. With these outfits he always wore ling stockings. even during the winter.

Shoes

Ernest wore strap shoes with white ankle socks with his dresses as a little boy. I'm not sure what type of shoes the boys wore when older. The drawings seem to suggest high-top shoes or boots.

Hair styles

Ernest appears to have worn longish hair, covering his ears, but not long-shoulder length or curled hair. His brother appears to have worn a similar style, but much shorter hair cut as a somewhat older boy.


Figure 3.--Ernest and his brother are depicted here reading in the parlor. Ernest wears a Fauntleroy suit with a lace collar. Cyril wears a jacket with an Eton collar. Both boys wear kneepants with long stockings.

Fauntleroy suits

Much of Shepard's book deals with the time when he was about 6 or 7 years old which would be about 1885-86, just when Mrs Burnett published Little Lord Fauntleroy. I'm not sure if Ernest's mother followed boys fashioned trends closely, or if she choose a velvet suit and lace collar even before the Fauntleroy craze. It is not known, for example, if Ernest's older brother Cyril also wore A Fauntleroy suit when he was Ernest's age. Ernest appears to have worn a rather plain Fauntleroy suit His jacket is a quite large front buttoning garment, completely covering any blouse or jacket he might be wearing. Many early Fauntleroy suits had very small jackets to better display the elaborate blouses and lace collars that the boys wore with them. His Fauntleroy suit had kneepants and were worn with long dark stockings.

Kilts

Neither Ernest or his brother appear to have worn kilts as boys. Ernest tells of one incident at a party where a boy outfitted in a kilt took issue with Ernest's Fauntleroy suit and lace collar. Ernest who wasn't to impressed with the other boy's kilt told him so. A party stopping fight ensued and Ernest had to go home in disgrace.


Figure 4.--Ernest as a boy mostly wore sailor suits for everyday wear, a white suit for the summer and a heavier blue suit for the fall and winter. He had several different hats. Here he wears a soft cap with his winter sailor suit.

Sailor suits

Sailor suits were one of the most popular outfits for Victorian boys. Ernest appears to have primarily worn sailor suits for everyday wear. His brother Cyril, also presumably wore sailor suits when he was Ernest's age. Ernest had both white or light-colored sailor suits for summer wear and blue suits for fall and winter wear. All of his sailor suits were worn with kneepants, always with long stockings. While Ernest wore dresses with bare legs and ankle socks, he always wore long stockings with his sailor suits, even during the summer. Shepard provides us little information about school. He does indicate a few details about the school he attended at 7-years of age. There was not required uniform. He appears to have worn his sailor suit.

Collar

Ernest wore a lace collar with his Fauntleroy suit. In fact it is the only article of clothing he specifically objects to. Apparently other boys teased him and he says he was very sensitive about it. Ernest does not appear to have been a blouse with a lace collar, but rather a lace collar sewn on his velvet jacket. With his sailor suit he wore sailor collared middy blouses. His brother appears to have worn Eton collars with both his Norfolk and other jackets.

Reefer jackets

Ernest, during the winter and fall, wore a reefer jacket over his sailor suits.

Hats

Hats and caps for men and boys were much more common than is the case today. Victorians did not go out without the appropriate head gear. I'm not sure what kind of hats the boys wore while still in dresses. One drawing of the boys in a pram show Ernest, who was still wearing dresses. in a kind of wide-brimmed sailor hat. That is probably representative of the kind of hat he would have normally worn while still in dresses. I'm not sure what Ernest wore with his Fauntleroy, probably a broad-brimmed sailor hat. With his sailor suits he often wore wide-brimmed hats with streamers during the summer with his white suit. During the fall and winter, a soft cap was common with his heavy blue suits or reefer jackets. His father once took him to the store to purchase a new cap. His father chose a peaked cap. Ernest was dubious, but his father assured him it looked fine. When they got home, his mother took one look and sent them right back to the store to purchase a more suitable hat. Older brother Cyril had graduated from sailor hats and mostly wore schoolboy peaked caps or straw boaters on dressier occasions.


Figure 5.--Ernest mostly wore white sailor suits during the summer with wide-brimmed sailor hats. Note the streamer. Even during the summer he wore long stockings with his kneepants.

Norfolk suits

Ernest's older brother is usually depicted in a Norfolk or other jacket with an Eton collar. Like his younger brother he wore kneepants with long stockings.

Age differences

The Victorians commonly made obvious and subtle differences between the clothes of children based upon their age. Earnest and Cyril were relatively close in age, but Cyril dressed much differently. In the years depicted by Shepard his brother was not wearing either sailor suits or Fauntleroy suits, nor did he wear boyish sailor hats. Shepard did not comment on the more mature styles his brother was permitted to wear. Presumably this was quite accepted by Victorian boys.

Education

Ernest he attended St. Paul's School where, contrary to the school's reputed philistinism, he was "forced" to draw and paint. From St. Paul's, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools, where he met Florence Chaplin, his first wife, whom he married following the acceptance of an oil painting by the Royal Academy.

World War I

Ernest like many patriotic Britains of hos day enlisted in the Army in the World War I, rose to the rank of Major and was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in the field. During the war years, he sent jokes about the battles to Punch. Shortly after his return from the front, he was invited to join the Punch Editorial Table, where he met E.V. Lucas, who would later introduce him to Alan Milne. Tragically his beloved brother was killed in the War.

Career

In the early days before World War I, Milne had described Shepard as "perfectly hopeless" as an artist, but the years between had fortunately made him realise the exceptional brilliance of Shepard's line drawings and to show his delight and pleasure he inscribed Shepard's own copy of Winnie-the-Pooh with this verse:

"When I am gone
Let Shepard decorate my tomb
and put (if there is room)
Two pictures on the stone:
Piglet from page a hundred and eleven,
And Pooh and Piglet walking (157) . . .
And Peter, thinking they they are my own,
Will welcome me to heaven."

Shepard contributed a weekly drawing to Punch for many years. He was perhaps the most-loved illustrator of "children's" books, best remembered for When We Were Very Young, the first Winnie the Poo book. It was followed with other A.A. Milne trasures: Winnie-the-Pooh, Now We Are Six and The House At Pooh Corner, Kenneth Grahame's classics The Wind In The Willows, Dream Days and The Golden Age and a book which later became the favourite reading of Christopher Robin Milne, Bevis, the Story of a Boy by Richard Jefferies. His drawings in over fifty books frequently poked fun at social contretemps and domestic perplexity, especially where children were involved. His illustrations continued to show extraordinary vigour and vivacity throughout his long working life.

Book Illustrations

The drawings seen here are depictions of what Ernest and his brother wore as little boys. Of course Shepard as an artist drew hundreds of illustrations of boys wearing a wide variety of outfits. The most famous are his depictions of Cristopher Robin for AA Milne's books about Christopher and Winnie the Poo. Shepard's drawings of Christopher Robin wearing smocks, short pants, sandals, and Wellies are some of the most beloved drawings of childood ever published. Shepoard illustrated many other books with depictions of boys wearing many other outfits.

Later Years

In his 89th year, Shepard visited old friends and relations in Cape Town, Durban, Perth, Sydney and Tasmania, returning through Tahiti so that he could look at Gauguin relics. In the same year, he completed some new Pooh drawings for a revised edition published by Dutton in the United States; these remained lost and forgotten until dicsovered some years later by the now President of Dutton Children's books, Christopher Franceschelli, in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string.

In his 90th year, Ernest Shepard donated 300 of his preliminary sketches for the Pooh drawings to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where they were exhibited in 1969 -- an event attended by the original Pooh -- and Peter Dennis! These drawings, since exhibited in many galleries in Britain, as well as in Holland and Australia, are now published as The Pooh Sketch Book, edited by Brian Sibley. Apart from the small exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1969, England has still not considered Shepard important enough to mount a major exhibition in his honour. But Japan, realising the great talent of this major artist, mounted a retrospective exhibition of his works in the mid-1980s.

In his later years, Shepard was heard to describe Pooh as "that silly old bear" and to resent his close identification with Milne's books, but the collaboration of these two giants produced immortal works that have lived in millions of homes throughout the world.

Interestingly, Shepard's sketches of Pooh were not based on Christopher Robin's bear, but on Growler, the much-loved bear belonging to Graham, the artist's son. Shepard's granddaughter, Minette, took the tired and worn Growler with her to Canada during the war, where, sadly, he lost a battle with a Scottie dog in a Montreal garden. Piglet had suffered a similar fate years before in an English orchard, but lived to tell the tale!

Drawn from Memory

Shepard's autobiographical books, Drawn from Memory (1957) and Drawn From Life (1962) are joyfully written and present a superb picture of England's upper middle classes. Much of Drawn from Memory is set about 1886 when Ernest was about 7 years old.






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Created: September 10, 1998
Spell checked: July 15, 1999
Last updated: 6:15 AM 8/22/2004