A little watercolour in the ownership of my family draws my eye. It is of Dovedale, a notable beauty spot in the Derbyshire Peak District. The signature at the bottom reads H. Gresley. A bit of research soon reveals the artist as Harold Gresley, born in Derbyshire in 1892 and died in 1967. Although he painted in other media as well, it is for his watercolours that he is remembered and they often featured Derbyshire scenes. He studied at Derby School of Art, breaking off to fight in the First World War with great distinction. After the War he studied in Nottingham under the landscape artist Arthur Spooner. He taught art for thirty years at Repton School. Later in his career had a studio in central Derby’s Irongate.
He came from a dynasty of artists. He was the son of another Derbyshire artist Frank Gresley who was also the son of an artist, James Stephen Gresley. His uncle was Cuthbert Gresley, a notable ceramic artist who worked for at least part of his career for Crown Derby.
My grandfather, Frank Elliott Birks, loved Dovedale and, an ardent rambler, would have known the area well and often walked the nearby peak, Thorpe Cloud. Ashover and Stoney Middleton were villages associated with his family and part of the same area. As a photographer he often took pictures of Dovedale. My guess is he had bought the painting because it depicted a place he loved. It is also possible he knew Gresley since he was active in photographic circles and was himself a good amateur artist.
The picture hung in the front room of my grandparents’ house in Leacroft Road, Derby. It stayed in the possession of my family and now is in my custody. Possessions are of little value without knowing the ‘story’ that underlines them. Family history adds value to these items because of the links it creates. We should always view these family treasures as sources of information, telling us more about our ancestors.