Date Posted: 27th July 2020

The Old Smithy, Loweswater
Last illustrated letter 27th January 1993

I have spent the last 30 years trying to identify many of Percy Kelly ‘s locations.  He rarely gave a title or any help at all in identifying them  (he didn’t sign most of them but they are unmistakeable Kelly)   When his work arrived at Castlegate House in 1993 I was totally overwhelmed. Recording  everything was a nightmare in those early computer days. Because Percy didn’t want to exhibit or sell his work there was no point for him to give it a title. Some were obvious like the great West Cumbrian harbours but  others became  variations on Village Street, Cumbrian Cottage or Farm by the bridge etc.  I have always driven around with my eyes open to spot a particular church steeple or a recognisable place – it’s a wonder I haven’t ended up wrapped around a lamppost or in a ditch.

When I gained access to his sketchbooks in 2003 it helped enormously because he when he set off in the morning I could follow his route through the day and relate it to bigger, finished paintings.

 Over the years I have gathered a few people, native cumbrians, Kelly fans with an eye for art  who I can call on when  the location of a drawing or painting defeats me.  

When I got the latest collection of small paintings and drawings  earlier this year (which are steadily disappearing to good homes),   I confidently titled a beautiful early watercolour,  Cottages near Buttermere. It was the beginning of lock down  so I couldn’t check but I thought it was the mountain hut  at Gatesgarth at the bottom of Honister Pass. But I was totally wrong. One of my wonderful researchers has just gently  informed me that it is possibly The Old Smithy at Loweswater. I’ve checked and she is absolutely right - it is on the main road just before the turning down to the Kirkstyle Inn, It was a building that really interested Percy. He even had a deluded ambition to buy it at some point in the 60s.  This is documented in several letters to Joan David when he recounts memories of his past life. He refers to it again in his very last illustrated A4 letter to her  dated 27th January 1993.  The letter is written around  a charming white cottage with a characteristic yellow door. He writes The cottage is located near to The Old Smithy Loweswater. I last set eyes on it when I last visited Cumberland more than ten years ago but the cottage was unrecognisable having been tarted up. I have no wish to return.

He did carry on writing to Joan before he died on 3rd July that same year but he was limited by energy levels, materials and  what he could see from his hospital bed. – he sent her little sketches of birds on the window sill etc.

 Part 2 of my new video series - From the Wardrobe - is progressing. Each one will be the story behind a piece of art I have encountered in the last 30 years – and there are many.  Stay tuned.