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The Story of Alfred Horton
A cockney artist in pastels, who lives and works in the glow of the sunset—morning, noon and night. He is part of the London street scene.
You will see him any fine day on the Thames Embankment, near Charing Cross Pier, kneeling on a little pad, and rubbing the crimson and orange glow of the setting sun into the paving stone with a grubby finger. This week his pastels have won for him the title “Screever Number One, London.”
The word “screever” isn’t defined in Webster’s. In a cockney slang book, however, you would find it means a pavement artist, one whose canvas is the sidewalk. London’s seven top screevers were invited to compete in the National Hobbies and Handicrafts Exhibition at the Central Hall here this week. Seven great slabs of paving stone were taken along as canvases.
Alfred got down to work. He took nearly three hours, much longer than usual, to complete his picture, “Running Water.” What with the mike, and the lights, and the flashing bulbs, and the questions of the news-papermen, it was hard to concentrate,” he told me later. But Alfred knew his subject. And his colleagues applauded as he took off his French beret and rubbed his stubbly beard on receiving the cash prize of £5 from Jean Carson, Actress.
“I joined the merchant navy when I was 14,” he said. “I’ve seen sunsets all over the world. When I pick up a piece of chalk, the pictures all come crowding back to me.” He was doing a repeat of his prize-winning picture on the pavement the next day when I visited him, just a stone’s throw (pavement stone) from Cleopatra’s Needle.
A battered old felt hat had a few pennies in it. I dropped in a coin. It chinked, but Alfred didn’t look up. He selected another crayon from hundreds on a piece of sacking on the pavement. Two sprightly white lambs gambolled into the picture. Alfred took a black crayon and etched in a gate. “Bit bright, ain’t it—that sky?” a voice behind me said. Alfred dropped his chalk. “Time and time again I’ve seen it.” He said. “Where?” the critic asked. “In Scotland when I was in the Army.”
Alfred joined the Army in the last war, he told me. Maybe it was on manoeuvres among the heathered banks and braes he had seen the golden sunsets. The wooded copes, the sheep, the water dashing up from black rocks.
‘Just a Gift’
He had a precise, well-ordered way of doing his picture—starting with the sunset. “Never ‘ad a lesson in my life. It’s just a gift,” he said modestly. I could see the faint outlines of the sunsets of other days on the pavement.
“Do you have to rub them out each night?” I asked. “Well—yes,” he said, “but often the rain does it for me. It’s late when I leave.” My own feeling was he couldn’t bear to part with his sunsets. “Oil paintings—yes I do them, but not for sale. I might do a masterpiece one day. Where would I be if I sold it?” So Alfred parts only with pastels—as pictures and trays. He is sending one to Jean Carson, “so she can remember the screever she gave the prize to,” Alfred said.
Published in the Christian Science Monitor (19th September 1953)
Here’s another take on the same story……….
Seven pavement artists competed yesterday for a £5 note at Central Hall, Westminster. They were provided with paving stones and set to work at 10.30am Judging started at 1.30pm.
The winner was Alfred Horton of the Oval, Kennington. Whose normal stand is outside Charing Cross Station. His picture—a lush Highland scene called “Running Water.”
Horton, 51, said: “I spent 30 years in the Merchant Navy, another six in the Army. After that I felt I wanted to do something more creative.” But like most artists he doesn’t think much of the English public. . . .“Englishmen don’t appreciate art nowadays. I have to rely on foreign visitors for a living.” His takings—30s. a day in the summer, down to 5s. a day in winter.
Published in the Daily Express (Friday 18th September 1953)
Just on a side note; the competition judge was American Actress Jean Carson, who starred in many US film and TV productions, including The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason & The Untouchables, to name but a few. Later in life, she developed a drinking problem which limited her acting career. Her last film role was 1977′s Fun with Dick and Jane. On November 2nd, 2005, Carson died from complications of a stroke; she was 82 years old.
Related blog: FLAGSTONES FOR SALE (1953)
Written and researched by Philip Battle
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