Watercolourist and Radical Socialist
Watercolours by Evacustes Phipson are in the collections of numerous county museums and archives as well as the V&A, London.
Shropshire Archives has two volumes of his paintings ref 6001/1235 and 6. There are also examples of his work in the archive’s postcard collection.
Phipson’s subject matter was principally old buildings and architecture. However, he did not focus on grand municipal buildings or churches; instead, he recorded more modest streets and domestic houses. He often painted the rear of buildings and courtyards off the main thoroughfares. These are important records of buildings that may have gone unrecorded, or have since been altered or demolished.
Phipson was born on 9th February 1854 at Kings Norton, Birmingham. He was named Edward Arthur Phipson and his father, also called Edward, was a partner in Phipson and Warden, manufacturers of brass and iron bedsteads. It has been surmised that he had a grammar school education. His adopted name “Evacustes” is from the Greek meaning “ready listener”. He may also have been articled to his uncle who was an architect. As a young man he travelled in Europe, the V&A holds paintings he did in France and he also painted in the Low Countries.
It seems Phipson was greatly involved in socialist politics and utopian colonies inspired by the economic ideas of Henry George. In 1879, George had published “Progress and Poverty” which proposed a single tax on land as a means of social and economic reform. This book sold over 3 million copies and was very influential.
Phipson invested a £16,000 inheritance in a single tax colony in Australia in 1881. When this failed, he was involved in a similar scheme at Topolobampo in Mexico. Despite losing a small fortune he remained committed to such experiments, in The Labour Annual, 1896, he encouraged readers “Let one single community acquire a tract of land, however small… let them organize themselves in miniature as a real Socialist State”.
Perhaps as a means of earning a living, Phipson became a prolific watercolour artist. He wrote to regional newspapers and approached the local authorities of many historic towns, offering his services recording their ancient buildings.
Most of Phipson’s paintings of Shropshire date from 1898 and 1906. He may also have worked from photographs and engravings. Buildings in Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Bridgnorth, Ironbridge, Whitchurch and Oswestry are all represented.
Phipson continued to hold radical views, and published his opinions in pamphlets and articles on topics as diverse as spelling reform and the Garden City movement. He died at Winchelsea, Sussex, in 1931.
For more background, consult Phipson Notes. Ref, C74 v.f. and Hertfordshire Genealogy
We’ve digitised the volumes 6001/1235 and 6001/1236 and you can now see the images online. Either search for the reference numbers or to jump straight into the thumbnails, search for Phipson and then use the filters to narrow to show results with ‘images only’. You can request high resolution copies by using the ‘view record’ and ‘view or purchase’ tabs.