The Blackbourne Album

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Mrs Blackbourne

During the 1890s, when Littlehampton was booming as a holiday destination, one guest arrived who soon began to take a special interest in the town, in particular its residents and their funny little ways.  That guest was called Mrs Elizabeth Blackbourne. Mrs Blackbourne hailed from Eastbourne and holidayed in Littlehampton from the 1890s until, it is believed, sometime towards the end of the First World War.

 All that we know about her comes from one informant, and an album of watercolour sketches which was generously donated to the Museum in 1992.  Her name does not appear in any of the lists of visitors found in newspapers from the period and nor does she appear in any other records.

 The album is a rather tattered, well used leather bound book.  Carefully pasted onto its pages are over 140 watercolour sketches relating to Littlehampton and its people at the beginning of the 20th century.  It also contain a self portrait, which you can see here, from which one can assume that Mrs Blackbourne was no more than 40 years of age, and quite possibly even younger than that.

The album also tells us that Mrs Blackbourne was a talented, non-professional, cartoonist, that she was, middle class, educated and read Punch magazine.  At least some of the cartoons and caricatures in the album seem to have been inspired by stories that were told to her by other people, a couple of cartoons even appeal for stories to be donated.    

The donor of the album was a relative of the landlady from Mrs Blackbourne’s favoured guest house, and from her we have gleamed the only other information about our elusive caricaturist’s time in Littlehampton. The guest house was situated at 131 Victoria Terrace (now Bayford Road), a terrace that was built in the late 1870s, and almost certainly constructed with the hope of capitalising on Littlehampton’s growing holiday trade.  Number 131 was run by a Miss Hayward, though owned by her father, Thomas.  Over the years Miss Hayward and Mrs Blackbourne became great friends, and on occasion Miss Hayward even went to stay with Mrs Blackbourne in Eastbourne. 

 Mrs Blackbourne and her landlady seemed to lose touch sometime in the 1920s and it is not known how long she lived or why she stopped coming to Littlehampton for her holidays.  It is possible of course that she began to visit other places, perhaps there are even other tatty, leather bound sketchbooks in seaside towns all over the country!