Obituary: Beryl Castle

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The Independent Culture
BERYL CASTLE combined her skills as an artist with a keen and lively commitment to such varied interests as the preservation of vintage Rolls-Royce motor cars and the campaign to rescue Britain's inland waterways from decline. With her striking aquiline features and irrepressible laughter, she was a familiar, vivacious figure at exhibitions and events at the Royal Academy in London, where she originally trained as an art student in the 1920s.

She was one of two daughters of the distinguished painter and engraver Harry Morley, who worked from his studio/home in Pembroke Road in Kensington, London. Morley was renowned for his finely observed work, often based on classical themes, and for his many watercolours of Norfolk coastal scenes.

Beryl grew up in a household frequented by artists. She cherished a William de Morgan tile which the great ceramicist gave to her when she was a small child, and she chose to follow in her father's footsteps, becoming an accomplished watercolourist whose work was widely exhibited.

In 1939 she married Captain John Castle, a colourful character who served in the Second World War. He went on to become a representative for the paint manufacturers Dane & Co, concentrating on promoting the then revolutionary Day Glo paint. This mission he carried out in his magnificent 1920s Rolls- Royce open tourer which had a silver chess-set "castle" mounted on the radiator in place of the traditional flying lady. The incongruous combination of the latest paint technology being promoted by a military man in a flamboyant vintage Rolls was irresistible.

For many years, Beryl's art took second place to her duties as a wife and, later, mother but she and John shared many other interests. The Castles were among the first members of the pioneering 20 Ghost Club which was founded not long after the Second World War to bring together like-minded Rolls-Royce enthusiasts. Membership and interest in old Rolls-Royces grew quickly and before long the club was holding magnificent rallies at venues which included Longleat House and Hurlingham Club.

By the end of the 1950s, the Castles owned no less than three vintage Rolls-Royces, all of them immaculately maintained by John in his near- professional garage below their mews house in Linden Gardens, Notting Hill Gate, and presented in sparkling order for rallies by Beryl.

A chance holiday in 1952 on a traditional narrow boat owned by the Bristol artist Leila Reynolds and moored on the Bristol Avon at Keynsham sparked a new interest for the Castles in Britain's then declining inland waterways.

They fell in love with the romance of canal travel and bought a wartime pontoon, which they christened the Maybug, and converted into one of the most unusual vessels seen on the Grand Union and other canals. John designed a novel houseboat structure with rear mounted paddles powered by a Jowett engine and this creation, which was moored near Denham in Middlesex, was soon exploring the canal system in the Home Counties and the Midlands on lengthy voyages.

One of their greatest adventures was an attempt to sail the length of the then almost impassable Oxford Canal at a time when the water weeds grew so densely that propeller-driven craft were next to useless. The only working boat able to complete the journey from the Grand Union system to Oxford was one of the very few surviving horse-drawn narrow-boats. The Maybug's highly original power source made light work of the weeds and she not only reached Oxford but also took a friend's screw-driven boat in tow for the whole journey.

Throughout the blissful weeks of these holidays in the more leisurely days of the 1950s and 1960s, Beryl Castle adored the Bohemian life of a water gypsy, mooring each night wherever the fancy took them and enjoying the conviviality of canal-side pubs. Each evening, whatever the weather, she would prepare delicious meals in the open air on her little Primus stove for her family and any accompanying friends.

By day, dressed in jeans with a headscarf over her hair, she cheerfully tackled the rigours of helping the Maybug through locks and, at quieter moments, completed extensive sketchbooks of the vanishing way of life on Britain's working canals and made careful studies of traditional canal- ware decoration with its repeating themes of roses, hearts . . . and, of course, castles.

Following John's death in 1969 and the death of her mother Lilias in 1973, Beryl Castle devoted an increasing amount of her considerable energies to restoring the reputation of her father's art. Harry Morley was a prolific artist and he left a large body of work, which she now promoted at galleries across the country. She helped organise exhibitions in London, Birmingham, Norwich and elsewhere and successfully drew attention to Morley's skills as a leading pre-war painter and engraver and, later, as an Official War Artist during the Second World War.

The Castles' collection of Rolls-Royces was sold - surprisingly, Beryl Castle showed no interest at all in learning to drive - but, when her daughter Susan was married, she borrowed a vintage Rolls-Royce for the wedding car. John's chess-set castle was lovingly placed on the radiator for the event.

Elinor Beryl Morley, artist: born London 7 September 1912; married 1939 John Castle (died 1969; one daughter); died Kings Langley, Hertfordshire 26 September 1998.