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Art in the park: The life and legacy of W.H. Robinson

Art in the park: The life and legacy of W.H. Robinson
By Bella Macdonald
An imposing structure, made of clean lines and glistening glass standing amidst the quaint foliage of Pinner Memorial Park; This is the Heath Robinson Museum, named after illustrator and former Pinner resident William Heath Robinson, the building itself defining the local area with its innovative style much in the same way Mr Robinson himself defined an era of satire. 

W.H. Robinson was born to a middle class, artistically inclined family in 1872. Quickly his two brothers, Thomas and Charles, found success in illustration, whereas William has ambitions of landscape design. Alas Robinson’s own creativity would be the greatest challenge to his early career. Finding his course tedious, Robinson left The Royal Art College London before completing his degree to pursue a new focus – illustration.

Though popular and well received before, Robinson came to prominence around the 1910’s when he began to draw variations upon what came to be known as the ‘Heath Robinson Device’. These drawings depicted incredulous, extravagant and bizarre inventions usually created to complete mundane, day-to-day tasks. This set the stage for the final step in Robinson’s evolution to a household name, as when the great war began in 1914 Robinson was in prime position to offer his unique humour and absurdity to the leagues of cartoon satirists. 

Published in magazines such as ‘The Sketch’ and ‘The Bystander’, Robinson’s cartoons proved to be exceptionally popular. Though not due to their grit or realism but because they pandered to a need for escapism during that time of crisis. Whilst not matching the vitriol of modern satire, William Heath brought levity to the day of the average man and continues to do so to this day with the permanent exhibit of his art work that is available to see at the Heath Robinson Museum on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 11am-4pm.

Though small and relatively quiet, Pinner has a history of creativity and an underlying uniqueness of the characters that have graced our streets over the years. William Heath Robinson’s life perfectly encapsulates the eccentricities as well as the ambition of our little former hamlet.

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