Rex Needle: Flats remember a leading farmer and talented artist

Rex's column EMN-140620-143431001
Rex's column EMN-140620-143431001

One of the most imposing modern buildings in the town is Shillaker Court in the Austerby, a block of six flats so named because it celebrates one of our prominent citizens from past times, Harry Shillaker (1865-1924), farmer, councillor and freemason.

The name also perpetuates the memory of his wife, Annie, because she was a talented artist and examples of her work from the early years of the 20th century in still life and portraiture survive and are frequently offered for sale in the London art market and elsewhere.

Rex's column EMN-140620-143441001

Rex's column EMN-140620-143441001

Harry Shillaker farmed at Deeping St Nicholas before moving to Tongue End, near Bourne, in 1892 although he also owned land in the North Fen. He bought a retirement home, a three-storey red brick property with a large garden in the Austerby at Bourne that he subsequently named Shillaker House.

He was a man of a quiet and retiring disposition but suffered poor health in his later years, employing a female nurse to look after him and later, a male nurse when he needed physical assistance. As a result, his activities were restricted but in 1913, after some persuasion by his friends, agreed to be nominated for election to Bourne Urban District Council, gaining second place in the polls and subsequently becoming vice-chairman of the allotments committee. In the normal course of events he could have become chairman of the council but continuing illness forced his resignation from the authority.

Mr Shillaker was a dedicated freemason and a member of the Hereward Lodge in Bourne where he supported many local charities with regular donations to various good causes, particularly to the Widows of Bedehouse Bank and Eastgate.

As his illness worsened, he was confined to his bed for the final twelve months and died on Saturday 11th October 1924, aged 59. The funeral took place at the Abbey Church followed by interment at the town cemetery where members of the Hereward Lodge dropped sprigs of acacia on the coffin as it was lowered into the grave which had been decorated with white flowers and lined with ivy. He left an estate worth almost £12,000 which is more than £600,000 at today’s value.

In the spring of 1894, he had married Annie Jane Wright, daughter of a Spalding ironmonger. She was a talented artist whose work was exhibited and sold in the area and as a result of this passion, her husband built her a studio in the grounds of their home where she could work in comparative isolation from the domestic round.

This was a grand wooden chalet, most probably constructed locally by a Bourne carpenter, with a spacious interior and large windows that caught the daylight necessary for her paintings when work was in progress. The walls were adorned with her pictures and part of the studio arranged as a sitting room and it was here that she entertained her sitters socially before committing their image to canvas.

Mrs Shillaker had an outstanding artistic talent, interesting herself in painting, music and literature. She painted in both oils and watercolours and also achieved a reputation for her miniature portraiture. Four of her works were exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1923 and 1933 while 14 other paintings were shown by the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. She was also widely read and a gifted musician proficient on the piano, organ and violin, and formed a ladies’ orchestra which performed at many social and charitable functions in the town.

She also took a deep interest in her husband’s involvement with the Hereward Lodge of Freemasons which had been formed in 1868, meeting first at the Angel Hotel before moving to their own building in Wherry’s Lane in 1938, and was a guest there at the many ladies’ nights which are part of the Masonic year.

As a result, she completed a series of 12 heraldic paintings on board depicting the tribes of Israel which have a significance in Masonic ritual and are still used today by the Hereward freemasons at their new premises in Roman Bank, one of them signed in red script on the reverse with the date 1928 when they were presented to the lodge in memory of her late husband.

Her other contribution was a series of five banners of oils on silk, exquisite reproductions based on the apostles but sadly these were destroyed when the lodge, then situated in Wherry’s Lane, was broken into in 1984. Intruders got in over the rooftops and then removed a window and once inside they raided the beer store where they consumed large quantities of strong ale before desecrating the inner temple and damaging robes and carpets, all of which required costly restoration but unfortunately the silk banners were beyond repair.

Mrs Shillaker’s home became a veritable treasure trove of paintings, china, glassware and books and she earned a reputation as one of the town’s most gracious and generous residents, one of her most beneficent gestures being the gift of her own organ to the curate of the Abbey Church, the Rev Edgar Fletcher, when he left in 1926 to take up the living at Holy Trinity Church at Bilsby, near Alford, Lincolnshire, where it is still in use today.

She died at home on 14th January 1937 at the age of 74. In her will, she left property worth more than £17,000 [almost £1 million today], the bulk of which was distributed in bequests to various friends and institutions including £1,000 towards the salary of a curate for the Abbey Church, £100 to the Abbey Church itself and £100 to the Butterfield Hospital. The sum of £1,000 was also left to buy tea and sugar every Christmas for 25 elderly ladies residing in Eastgate who she had entertained at her home once a year and kept them supplied with coal during the winter months.

Annie Shillaker was buried with her husband in the town cemetery although there is no headstone. The house and studio were demolished in 1954 to make way for the block of council flats we see today and it was then thought fitting that the Shillaker name should be so perpetuated.