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The Rowland Emett Society

Founded in 2012

Copyright for Rowland Emett's work rests with the Artist's estate.

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His cartoon career had blossomed and it wasn't long before almost every issue of Punch included one of his half-page drawings. He also turned his hand to book illustration producing 'decorations' for two books of poems by Walter de la Mare in 1941 and collaborating with his wife, Mary, to produce 'Anthony and Antimacassar in 1943.


 He had developed an interest in railways that had manifested itself in his cartoons and in the 8th March 1944 edition of Punch, 'Nellie' his famous, whimsical steam locomotive first appeared. He had visited a light railway run by the rather eccentric Colonel Holman Fred Stephens, the 'Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramway' which was later to inspire his Festival of Britain Railway and, it looks possible that some of the bizarre locomotives that ran on the Colonel's railways were the stepping off point for Emett's more Gothic designs. One of these engines 'Gazelle' still exists and made an appearance at 'Railfest 2012' in York. The resemblance to Emett's engines is unmistakable.


By this time he was living in London and, during the summer, at a rented harbourside cottage in Polperro in Cornwall. He continued to produce cartoons and illustrations.


In 1950 the country was recovering from the devastating effects of the Second World War and he was approached by the government to work on an exhibition designed to raise the spirits and aspirations of a weary nation: The 1951 Festival of Britain. Emett's major involvement was the design and construction of the Far Tottering and Oystercreek Railway at the Battersea festival site based, as noted above, on one of Colonel Stephens's eccentric and out-of-time railways.


The 'Far Tottering Railway' carried over 2 million people around the Festival park and made his reputation as a maker of mechanical 'Things'. The railway was based on the 'Far Twittering and Oyster Perch Railway' that had appeared in his earlier books but the name was subtly changed to avoid clashing with the radio comedian Gillie Potter who 'broadcasted' from a fictional 'Twittering'.


Putting aside his success at the Festival, what he described as his 'first big break' came in 1954 when he was commisioned to tour America for six months sketching his impressions of the country. He produced a 12 page colour spread in Life magazine entitled  'An Englishman's Answer to 'Yorktown'' and was paid the enormous sum, for the time, of $12,320 - which just happened to be the price of Wild Goose Cottage in Ditchling which is where he settled down at long last with his wife after years of moving from house to house.


In 1960 he was approached by Honeywell, the major American computer manufacturer, to build his interpretation of the 'computer'. At this time computers were rare and huge. They were also mainly contained in large anonymous metal cabinets. Not so Emett's. The 'Forget-Me-Not Computer' was used to promote their products turning the 'computer' into a memorable complex machine whose moving parts each described a process. At this time he also gained his only commission for an outdoor artwork; the mosaic on the side of the Marlowes car park in Hemel Hempstead. This still survives but the building that it is on doesn't look as if it will survive for much longer.


In 1968 the Ian Fleming book 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' was turned into a musical film and the 'phantasmagorical' mood of the film was enhanced by Emett's wizardry. He turned his hand to designing the car and a series of eccentric inventions for the character 'Caractacus Potts'. The props were duplicated for promotional purposes (about 37 were said to have been made) and a number of these still exist in collections around the world.


The machines captured the popular imagination and commissions were received to market everything from potatoes to aviation to car parts. He was also called upon to create installations for static sites, probably the most prominent in the UK being the 'Rhythmical Time-Fountain' or 'Aqua Horological Tintinnabulator' a water feature and clock, in the Victoria Shopping Centre, Nottingham. This installation still exists and has recently had its musical  accompaniment reinstated. His machines for commercial clients were generally leased rather than sold "It's called having your cake and eating it part time" he told an interviewer. It was an arrangement suggested by his wife Mary and it gave them a comfortable lifestyle with Emett overseeing his staff in his 200 year old Forge or drawing in his studio.


Alongside his machines Emett produced illustrated books through most of his career. In 1943 'Engines, Aunties and Others' appeared with some of the first cartoons to feature his trademark trains. This was followed in 1946 by 'Sidings and Suchlike' and set the pattern for his later books ending with 'Emett's Ministry of Transport' in 1981.


In 1978, Emett was awarded an OBE for 'Services to Art and Science' and died in a Hassocks, Sussex nursing home on 13 November 1990 at the age of 84.





The Featherstone Kite

Nellie Wild Goose Neptune



Wild Goose

Featherstone Kite Cartoon

A typical Punch cartoon.