Charles Wills 1891 - 1959
Charles Wills, a local artist, was born on 28 February 1891, the only son and the youngest of seven children born to Charles and Hannah Wills. Charles Wills Snr. was a house painter and decorator, and they lived at 12 Garden Row, where the family were all brought up in a ‘one up, one down’ cottage. His mother worked as a cleaner at St Mary’s Church, and also at Atherstone Hall. It was perhaps through one of these places that she made a contact with the Rev. Bennett of Gislingham in Suffolk, who became her son’s benefactor. Perhaps she showed the Rev Bennett some drawings her son had done, and he recognised a talent that he wanted to see developed. Rather unusually, Charles left his working class life and went to Dean Close boarding school, spending his holidays in Gislingham.
He left school in 1909, and enlisted in the Army at the outbreak of war in 1914 before moving on to the Royal Flying Corps. After the war he went to Nottingham Art School, returning to Atherstone in the 1930s to live with his mother. At this time he entered into partnership with Keith Marchant who lived with his wife at Brook Farm, Grendon, where Charles assisted on the farm. He and Keith also toured the British Isles in Keith’s car, visiting Stonehenge, the Isle of Skye, Kenilworth and the Lake District which Charles recorded in his beautiful watercolour paintings.
During World War Two he worked at Atherstone Food Office, and from 1946 to 1951 he taught at Nuneaton Art School. His relationship with Keith Marchant came to an acrimonious end when Charles and his mother, who were also living at Brook Farm, were asked to leave the house. The Police took Marchant to court, and successfully prosecuted him for inflicting ‘bodily harm’ on Wills. Not surprisingly this was the end of their long friendship, and Charles Wills came back to Atherstone, living with his sister Dorothy at 73 Coleshill Road, where he died in 1959.
Wills was a familiar figure in Atherstone from the 1930s to the 1950s, in his wide-brimmed hat, silk scarf and fashionable suits. More importantly, he endeared himself to a succession of pupils at Nuneaton Art School to whom he introduced the pleasures of observing and painting in his own academic and traditional style. He left behind hundreds of paintings and sketches, and some fine sculpture. He also left behind a number of ex-students who remember him not only for his inspiring teaching gifts, but also for his gentle and kindly nature.
|Hat making scene|