In the footsteps of the Start-rite twins: Who were the models for the famous footwear poster? And who drew the artwork? John Windsor, gumshoe extraordinary, finds there are more clues than answers
Saturday 08 August 1992
Sylvia Galpin, of Knowle Hill, near Reading, Berkshire, and her twin brother, Gervase Craven, a college lecturer, had posed for the poster used in the London Underground, according to Mrs Galpin's daughter Fenella, who visited the firm's factory in Norwich to break the news.
It was the twins' uncle, William Grimmond, who did the artwork for the Underground poster, displayed for 20 years from 1947. Mrs Galpin confirmed that he used to sketch her plaits in his studio. And later, when he took the twins for a ride on the Underground, he had pointed to the poster and told them: 'There, that's it.'
But when Ken Holmes, a retired industrial reporter and now a consultant to Start-rite's public relations company, was given the job of writing a book to commemorate the company's bicentenary this year, he found that the origin of the famous image was not clear. Rudyard Kipling could have had a hand in it. So could a woman artist who died aged 102 in 1980. And then there was the Frinton connection . . .
A ripple in the backwaters of history? Not at all. A good product implies a good provenance. Which is why many firms have begun to look to their 'roots'. Start- rite is justifiably proud of its record. It was the first company to make sized shoes in 1792. Its pioneering multi-width children's shoes appeared in 1923. During the war, when other shoe firms were aiming for mere survival, it invested heavily in research into the growth patterns of children's feet. The medical profession was delighted and the royal family is still a customer.
No matter that, as winkle-pickers and trainers made their appearance in the Sixties and Seventies, some kids had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the Start-rite shop; the shoes were the first to spare children's feet from the danger of being deformed by ill-fitting footwear. But the mystery of the twins' identity has yet to be unravelled.
James Hanly, chairman of the company for 45 years until 1970, knew a wealth of anecdote about Start-rite. He could probably have told a tale or two about the original twins, but he carried most of his memories to the grave.
The new breed of managers who succeeded him in the Seventies, including the current chairman, his nephew David White, appear to have gathered a completely different collection of company stories.
Mr White's theory was that the image had been conceived by the company's advertising agent as he drove back to London from Norwich through a forest in 1947. The trees had reminded him of a drawing by Rudyard Kipling illustrating one of his Just So Stories - The Cat Who Walked On His Own. But then Mr White was sent a pastiche of the Start-rite twins illustration which had appeared in an RAF magazine, Tee Emm, one of a series of humorous adaptations of well-known advertisements of the day. The trouble was that it had appeared during the war - years before the adman's vision on the road to London.
A further complication arose a couple of years ago, when Bill Wilkinson, a travelling salesman, told Mr White that his father, Joe, had painted the original poster in 1938. At the time, Joe had been production manager at Stanley Studios, Sheffield, a lively advertising agency.
Joe's widow, Louise Wilkinson, who lives in Frinton, told me - just as she told Mr Holmes when he was trying to unscramble the story - that she remembered the original artwork. Her husband, a watercolour artist, had not been good at drawing hands or faces, hence the back view. She had pulled his leg about it.
Stanley Studios? Bombed in 1940, said Mrs Wilkinson. She remembered it clearly. And the London Press Exchange advertising agency, which employed Sylvia and Gervase's uncle, William Grimmond? Also flattened in the Blitz. After that, Mr Grimmond worked at his own studio at Rowledge, Surrey, where the twins visited him. But no original artwork for the poster survives.
When Ken Holmes began poring over the bundles of documents in the company safe he found a lead to another suspect. This was a letter written in 1978 by Start-rite's old boss, James Hanly, congratulating an artist named Susan Pearce on her 100th birthday. In it, Mr Hanly recalls that the Start- rite twins poster was his idea 'many years ago'; and he congratulated Mrs Pearce on her 'very fine work of art'.
The firm's own advertising department could not elaborate. Its records were lost in a flood in 1987. But one undated illustration on the back cover of a pamphlet survives - showing an altogether different pair of twins. They are clad in summer rather than winter clothes. The boy is carrying a fishing rod and tiddler jar. The girl has plaits, and slung over her shoulder is a lunch box - or is it a gas-mask case?
The slogan is not the familiar 'Children's shoes have far to go', which appeared on the posters until they were retired in 1970, but the words 'Well begun is half done]'
So who did draw the original? Mrs Wilkinson says her husband Joe would never have used the type of lettering which appears on it. And the foliage and purplish colouring do resemble that of a surviving watercolour by William Grimmond showing the road between Rowledge and Frencham.
The players in this historical mystery take it lightly - even Sylvia Galpin and Gervase Craven, who thought they were Start-rite's originals until Mr Holmes put some tactful words in their ears. Neither has ever been a combative claimant.
Mrs Galpin says: 'I don't think we were the originals. It was just that over the years there were different versions of the poster and our uncle worked on the Underground one.'
But she is convinced she once saw a twins poster with her Uncle William's signature on one of the trees. None of the public and private archives I consulted could come up with a copy.
I also consulted a professional company historian, Dr Andrew Duncan, who suggested, besides the sources researched by Mr Holmes, that I consult the poster's printer (if known), put appeals in trade journals and the reference book Picture Sources UK (edited by Rosemary Eakins, last published in 1985 by Macdonald at pounds 45 and now out of print) which lists picture agencies, libraries, archives, collections, galleries, museums and universities.
'Of course,' Dr Duncan said, 'if all that was required was a copy of the picture, then I would go to a colour magazine of the day.'
If any collectors think they can throw light on this mystery, I would be glad to hear from them.
Meanwhile, twins who were dressed as the Start-rite twins in fancy-dress contests still half-believe they were the originals. Some Start-rite employees, Mr Holmes said, have always been convinced they were the models. The saga indicates that company directors should avoid bombing and flood, think twice before having company records chucked into the skip, and should remember that even the most august boardroom can breed modern myths.
If, in some attic, archive or magazine, a Start-rite twins poster should appear with a tree signed by William Grimmond, it would make one particular pair of Start- rite twins very happy.
Two Centuries of Shoemaking: Start-rite 1792-92 by Ken Holmes ( pounds 14.95 post free from Start-rite Shoes, Crome Road, Norwich NR3 4RD).
Dr Andrew Duncan, 19 Rainham Road, London NW10 5DL
24 April 2015 07:30 PM
01 May 2015 12:00 AM
More than £60m was paid out to more than 2 million prizewinners this month
28 April 2015 05:20 PM
Why can’t we just have open and honest charges, without all the cross-subsiding?
28 April 2015 03:50 PM
With the pound at a high against the euro, it pays to buy now before uncertainty post-election
17 April 2015 06:00 PM
23 April 2015 12:00 AM
Experts disagree about the 7% increase over the past year
22 April 2015 07:29 AM
Too many mortgages are being sold with misleading gimmicks
21 April 2015 09:54 AM
The firm’s revenues slumped by a third to £217 million in 2014
21 April 2015 12:00 AM
The average quote for a buildings and contents policy has fallen by 3.6 per cent
10 April 2015 07:00 PM
15 April 2015 12:56 PM
Joining Barclays Blue Rewards costs £3 a month but then lets customers in for handouts of up to £15 a month
15 April 2015 07:27 AM
A charity is urging anyone struggling financially to see if they could get help from the state
13 April 2015 11:39 AM
Video: With an election looming, a hung parliament could hit sterling
03 April 2015 08:00 PM
03 April 2015 08:00 PM
Q&A: What’s the best way to invest for our baby?
Crowd-to-let: How crowdfunding sites can give investors a slice of the property market for £500
Simon Read: 'Seven Families campaign offers an escape from financial and emotional distress'
After the election: What will Britain's financial future look like on 8 May?
General Election 2015: How you vote next week could affect your finances
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 4 The top 50 cities for young people to live in
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
iJobs Money & Business
£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...
£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...
£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...
Day In a Page
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
Surrounded by the Western fells, this five-bedroom Georgian home retains many original features including panel-plastered ceilings, sash windows and fireplaces.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park