HERBERT TRUMAN (1883-1957)

by Tricia Whiteaway & Jenepher Allen

     Chatting to Jenepher, a visitor at the Devon Family History Society’s 2012 Summer Special, I (Tricia) was asked whether I had heard of an artist known as Herbert Truman who it was said, spent his boyhood in Dawlish. As I do research for Dawlish, Truman was not a name that sprang to my mind, however I said I would do some research. I was given a birth-date circa 1883 but the parish records show that he had not been baptised in Dawlish, so I tried the census of 1891 – no Herbert found; nor on the 1901.

     There was one detail of a Truman in Dawlish in the 1930s but there was no immediate way of making the connection, however, in further correspondence with Jenepher, she had discovered his name was actually WILLIAM HERBERT (this shows one of the annoying habits of our ancestors preferring their second name) and his place of birth was given as Bermondsey in the St Olave Southwark registration district in the county of Surrey. And happily the 1891 census gives a William aged 8, and his sister Mabel 4, living in Bermondsey (which is in the Camberwell district).

     Their father was HENRY PAYTON TRUMAN (1857-1928) born in Lee, Lewisham, South London, (which is in my neck of the woods when in my youth I would sometimes travel through Lee Station on my way to work in London). Their mother, Marion Mitchell, was born in Kentish Town, and they married in 1882 in St. Pancras and by 1891 Henry was a GPO Overseer living in Camberwell. He had two sisters Mary Elizabeth (a dressmaker) and Alice (a teacher).

     However, another Truman was found living in Bermondsey and he turns out to be Henry’s father WILLIAM SMITH TRUMAN (1829-1902) who in 1851 was a clerk living in Devon with his new wife and his mother in The Strand, Dawlish. His wife was Elizabeth born in Bewdley, Worcestershire and by 1861 they had moved to Church Street, Southwark, South London and by 1881 they were living in Martin Street, Bermondsey where William Herbert (his grandson) was born.

     Turning then to the Dawlish records, this William Smith Truman was indeed baptised in Dawlish in 1829 together with his siblings James (in 1825), Thomas Underhill (1830) and Mary Jane (1827). They were the children of MARY and JAMES TRUMAN (1795-1831), a tailor who had a shop at the top of The Strand, the main shopping area in Dawlish, and on his early death in 1831 his widow turned to keeping a lodging-house in this property called Roseneath that would now appear to be a house called Littlehame (the right hand house in the photograph), for many years owned by the owners and printers of The Dawlish Gazette.

     James’s brother, THOMAS TRUMAN (1796-1880), was also a tailor who had a shop in the centre of The Strand and when this and the adjoining property were up for sale in 1835 Thomas must have bought both. No. 11 was his tailor’s shop whilst No. 10 were lodging apartments run by his wife, Mary Ann (Rogers). His son GEORGE was also in this trade and took over the tailoring business on the death of his father in 1880. The lodging apartments went to the daughters Eliza, Mary and Jane which continued until 1939.

     These shops are some of the remaining Georgian houses built around 1800 that had small gardens in front, set back from the line of the later Victorian buildings. The front gardens remained until the 1950s (one had a palm tree) and the properties still remain that must be due to the Truman’s ownership, for which we must thank them.   The shop on the left (see below) was Thomas’s tailor shop, the apartments on the right.

     Not really expecting to find more Truman ancestors, I trawled through the Dawlish baptism register of the 1790s and found that Herbert’s great-grandfather JAMES TRUMAN was baptised in 1795 in St. Gregory’s church along with siblings Charles (1793) Thomas (1796), Stephen (1798), William (1799), Mary (1801), Sally (1803), Elizabeth (1807) and Charlotte (1809), the children of another JAMES and MARY. Some of these children were baptised under the name Trewman (another small researching problem).

     So Herbert’s great-uncle Thomas born in 1796 was married in 1828, Dawlish, to a girl from Southampton, Mary Ann Rogers. One wonders why she came to Dawlish, and how - possibly popping along the coast by boat! They had six children and most remained in Dawlish, especially their eldest son George who joined his father’s business at No. 11 The Strand. However his sister Mary Ann had in her youth been a lady’s maid to wealthy families both in Belgrave Square, London and Glamorgan, then eventually returned to help run the lodging-house. Her sister Eliza, a dressmaker, had gone one better and spent some time working for the Queen’s dressmaker in London, but she, too, had returned home by 1861 to run the apartments at No. 10 The Strand with her sister Jane.

     And taking another step backwards, Herbert’s great-great-grandfather, JAMES TRUMAN, who was born in 1769 in Chudleigh, came to Dawlish to marry Mary Matterface (a Dawlish name that can be traced back to the early days of Dawlish). It was he who started the tailoring business in 1815 in Dawlish in a Georgian house at the top of the Strand. He died in 1828 and his wife two years earlier and they are buried in Dawlish.

     So it seems that the artist, (William) Herbert Truman, could have indeed spent his boyhood in Dawlish, meeting George in his tailor’s shop at No. 11 The Strand (who died in 1899) whilst staying next door with Eliza, Mary and Jane (they were third cousins once removed) who lived into the first decade of the 1900s. There was another generation as George had a child, John George Truman born in 1861, who was a tutor, and in 1911 was a bachelor living with his 91 year-old mother in their apartments, now numbered 15 The Strand and where a Mrs Truman lived until 1939.

     But Herbert must have visited Devon on many other occasions as shown by some of the scenes of his Dartmoor pictures, below, as well as pictures of the Torbay area given in his portfolio. His career has been described by St Ives Archive Study Centre:

     W. Herbert Truman, painter in oil of landscapes and figure subjects. Brought up in Dawlish in Devon. Studied at South London School of Art and St. Martins School of Art. Exhibited at the R.A. from 1912 also at the RWA. Represented in Plymouth Art Gallery. Lived at St. Ives Cornwall and later in Bristol.

     But that was not all he did. Other reports on him wrote:

“By 1912 whilst his works were being exhibited at the RA, he was in Cairo where he started an art school and a trades school. The Egyptian Government engaged him to help the Secret Service to suppress drug trafficking and two years later Truman joined the Egyptian Intelligence Office becoming head of the political section of the Cairo Criminal Intelligence Dept and was a friend of T E Lawrence. He later transferred to the British General Staff and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
By the mid 1920s Truman was in St. Ives, Cornwall and in 1946 he settled in Clifton, Bristol where he soon joined the Savages, three years later being elected an honorary member of RWA, also showed with Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts and at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Public galleries in Bristol and Plymouth hold examples as does Bristol’s Cathedral and its Lord Mayor’s Chapel. Truman was chosen to design and illustrate the dust jacket of Thor Heyerdahl’s account of the Kon Tiki expedition.”

These pictures are from postcards held by Jenepher (who also has an original oil painting of St Ives by Herbert Truman).(Click images to view)

     Truman’s art was first reviewed in St Ives in a joint exhibition with Bradshaw at the Panton Art Club in June 1925. He worked with George Fagan Bradshaw, RN, DSO, SMA (submariner and marine artist) to found the St Ives Society of Artists , but his stringent criticisms of the committee’s actions during 1927 meant that the two fell out. He was elected to the committee in 1928 and played a leading role for two years. From 1930 he was not re-elected to the committee. He probably moved to Devon in 1936 and had one man shows in Plymouth in 1935 & 1937 but still showing at the St Ives Art Society in 1939.

     Truman exploited the postcard and fine arts market in the 1930s. Apparently more than 60 of his paintings were reproduced as postcards. He probably painted these in the 1930s.