Today is the anniversary of the death of William Heath Robinson (1872 – 1944), illustrator and cartoonist. Regular readers will know that I love cartoons and cartoonists, so let’s celebrate the man who gave the English language his name as the common expression for overcomplicated contraptions.
W Heath Robinson, as he signed himself, was born in Islington in 1872. His father and brothers were also commercial artists. Trained at the Royal Academy Schools, the young Heath Robinson had planned to become a landscape painter, but the imperative to earn soon side-tracked him into following his father and siblings into commercial illustration. Long before creating the cartoons which became synonymous with gadgetry, Heath Robinson enjoyed a successful career illustrating children’s stories, magazines and advertisements. He took his influences from many sources, but was particularly enamoured with Japanese woodblock prints, which informed his early style.
Heath Robinson was a mild-mannered, dapper introvert who rarely ventured from the capital all his life. In 1908, he and his wife settled in leafy Pinner where they lived for 10 years. The people of Pinner are particularly proud of their talented former resident. There is a blue plaque on his house in Moss Lane, but more importantly, the William Heath Robinson Trust has secured a home for over 500 original illustrations at West House in Pinner Memorial Park. The property is partially restored and hosting exhibitions; fundraising to complete a purpose-built gallery remains ongoing.