Appeal for information about Worthing’s Dr Oliver Gotch

Dr Oliver Horsley Gotch on the beach at Worthing, c1950
Dr Oliver Horsley Gotch on the beach at Worthing, c1950

The prolific painting partnership between Norman Janes, a wood engraver and watercolour painter, and his great friend Dr Oliver Gotch, of Worthing, will be one of the themes of a forthcoming book.

Author Elizabeth Grice will focus the book on the life and work of Janes (1892-1980), but she is also keen to hear from anyone with any memories of Gotch.

Norman Janes sketching by the Thames at Henley, 1976

Norman Janes sketching by the Thames at Henley, 1976

Elizabeth explains: “Gradually, Janes is emerging as one of the key figures in the revival of British wood engraving in the 20s and 30s. His fine watercolours, wood engravings and etchings of the working Thames, the obsession of his long life, are a historical record of a vanished era. They were done alongside his day job as a teacher of etching and engraving at the Slade School of Fine Art and the Hornsey School of Art.

“Janes interrupted his artistic career to serve in both world wars. It was probably after he was invalided home after the Battle of Cambrai that he met Dr Gotch, medical officer of the Queen Alexandra Hospital Home for disabled soldiers in Roehampton.

“For a time, in 1922, Janes seems to have been part of the hospital’s art therapy programme. The two men became firm friends. From Dr Gotch’s home in Heene Road, Worthing, they would set out on painting expeditions to northern France and along the south coast of England. They corresponded regularly and argumentatively about art until Gotch’s death in 1974.”

In 2011, Gotch’s son, Tim, who lives at Bramber, organised an exhibition of his father’s watercolours at the Oxmarket Centre of Arts, Chichester.

Oliver Gotch composing music, c1970

Oliver Gotch composing music, c1970

Elizabeth said: “It would be fascinating to compare the respective styles and output of Janes and Gotch and to know more about their friendship. I would be grateful for reminiscences about Gotch from people who knew him.

“Janes and his wife, the wood engraver Barbara Greg (1900-1983) lived in Hampstead and had three children, Julia, Michael and Marian. In a letter to her father during one of his extended painting expeditions to Le Havre, Julia asks him to give her love to ‘Uncle Gotch.’

“Janes left some 30 sketchbooks and numerous artworks. In one of the sketchbooks from the 1930s, Janes has drawn Gotch, in wide hat and mackintosh, at a railway station.

“Gotch was responsible for transferring Queen Alexandra’s Hospital Home for disabled soldiers (Gifford House) from Roehampton to the cleaner air of Worthing in 1933 and he remained its medical director until his retirement in 1959. He was born in 1889, the son of Francis Gotch, a pioneering neurophysiologist.”

Oliver Gotch with pipe, pens and portfolio, on a sketching trip in France

Oliver Gotch with pipe, pens and portfolio, on a sketching trip in France

Son Tim remembers Oliver Gotch as having a detached serenity: “He was hard of hearing, and I think he played on that a little bit. He was a gentleman with quite high-brow interests. He spoke three or four languages. I remember him as a father who was considerably older. He had me when he was 60. Everyone had fathers half his age!

“He served in World War One as a naval doctor, mainly based in the Mediterranean. I don’t think he saw much action. And then immediately following the war, he had a great affinity with the disabled ex-servicemen who were really apparent at the end of the war.

“Gifford House was originally in Roehampton. When they moved to Worthing, they took the name with them. He thought it would be beneficial to the residents I should say, rather than patients. It was a hospital home rather than just a hospital. He saw a lot of benefits in the sea air. He was a great walker himself, and he definitely saw Worthing as a good venue.”

Dr Gotch was born in Oxford on February 2, 1889. He was the eldest of four children of Francis Gotch who was Professor of Physiology at Oxford from 1895 until his death in 1913.

Oliver went to Bedales School, and then studied medicine at New College, Oxford (1907-1912) and St Thomas’s Hospital, London (1913-1915). He married in 1947 and spent the rest of his life in Worthing until his death in 1974.

Please call Elizabeth Grice on 07836 255782, or email: lizgrice@talktalk.net, with any information.