The Linnell's

As has happened on a number of previous occasions, an email to this site has prompted a new page to be added. This time the contact was from Tim Linnell, a descendant of John Linnell, the artist who lived at Redstone Wood, Redhill, for many years in the second half of the 19th century. Contact details for Tim and his own source for much more information appear at the foot of this page.

The following is a brief article on some aspects of John Linnell's work and family that had resided on my computer since I put it together some years ago. I'm pleased that I have been reminded of it and finally make use of it here.

John Linnell was born on 16th June,1792, and brought up in an atmosphere of paints and paintings, for his father, a carver and gilder, sold such things in a shop in Bloomsbury. The business was not always as profitable as it might have been but John began painting at an early age and producing works which not only showed promise but which were also marketable and aided the family income.
. . . . .The young Linnell first received instruction from Benjamin West, and later from a miniature painter named Robertson. His work was admired by John Varley, an Academy exhibitor and teacher of painting, who also encouraged the young Linnell. Aged 12 John went to Varley's school of painting as a resident. His father still sold his pictures while John's skills advanced to the point where he became a student of the Royal Academy and, at 14, had two small landscapes in oils exhibited there. The following year he exhibited a picture at the British Institution which was sold on the first day. That same year he was awarded the Institution's prize of 50 guineas for the best landscape, 'Removing Timber', and won a silver medal at the Royal Academy for a drawing.
. . . . .It was In this same year - he was still only 16 or 17 - that he painted one of his most famous pictures, 'Quoit Playing' or 'The Quoit Players', and sold it for 75 guineas to Sir Thomas Baring. Thirty-seven years later, in 1848, it was sold at Christies for 230 guineas. A few years later it was sold to Mr G.Simpson of Reigate for 1000 guineas.

When he was 18 John Linnell entered the Baptist Church, being baptised by immersion. His strong religious beliefs stayed with him for life, although he latter quitted the Baptists and joined the Plymouth brethren, and he had a strong aversion to anything to do with the Church of England or Roman Catholicism, and especially to priests. He married Mary Palmer in 1817, when he was 25, and the pair made a three day journey to Scotland so that they could be married before a registrar and avoid a Marriage by a priest. Years later his eldest daughter, Hannah, married Samuel Palmer, the celebrated artist, and John insisted they were also married by a registrar. John Linnell thought every day should be the same so did not recognise birthdays or anniversaries of any kind nor treat the Sabbath as any different from any other day. Because he wanted real and unadulterated truth of the scriptures he learned with his sons the Greek of the New Testament so he could construe and translate for himself. He also learnt to some extent to do the same with the Hebrew of the Old Testament.

Samuel Palmer/Hannah Palmer's grave at Reigate Cemetery (photo courtesy Geoffrey Wright)

John Linnell specialised in portrait painting for many years. People of importance wanted their likenesses captured in oils, if not in standard sized framed canvasses then on ivory miniatures or lockets and bracelets. It is supposed he followed this line because it paid well, portraits being popular in an age before photography. He also painted landscapes, which also sold well. He had a style which encompassed colouring, interest of subject, and effects in sky and cloud that made his works outstanding when compared with those of his contemporaries. He showed regularly at all the best London exhibitions and had about 170 pictures hung at the Royal Academy. His relationship with this body must have been marred by his not being elected to membership when he applied in 1821, for he never again allowed his name to be put down, although his eligibility must have become unquestioned. He said that men who could not sell their paintings without letters would benefit but he could sell, and did not need them.
. . . . .Linnell ceased portraiture and engraving in 1847, and from then on painted historical and poetical landscapes and figure subjects.

By the time he was 55 he was a wealthy man and could afford a house in the country. By chance he came to Redhill. He had time on his hands waiting to change trains there and spent it on a walk up Redstone Hill. It was May, 1849, and he was with his son, James. They had been on their way to Edenbridge to look for a site there, but so taken were they with the views in all directions plus the unspoilt quality of the area - eleven acres of which were up for sale by the owner, Mr John Allsop of the Stock Exchange - that John Linnell decided to buy. There is a story that Linnell chose the estate in part because of the glorious red sunsets caused by the Fuller's earth of Redstone in the atmosphere.
. . . . .He set about designing and building a large Reigate stone house straight away, moving his family into rooms in Redhill while he did so. By 1862 he had added sixty-three more acres to his original eleven, the final thirty-two being the Chart Lodge estate (Chart Lodge itself, a freehold property, was a part of this purchase). By the time he had finished his house, 'Redstone' was a fine mansion with terraced grounds and magnificent views all around.
. . . . .As with religion, Linnell felt strongly about receiving certain sustenance in anything but the most unadulterated form, and at Redstone had installed machinery for grinding, making and baking bread. He also had equipment for home brewing. He built a second house for his son, James. This was called Redstone Wood South, later Redstone Copse, and stood where the Redstone cemetery entrance is now situated. It was pulled down around 1965. He built another house at the top of Redstone Hill for another son, William, a house called Hillsbrow that was to become Hillsbrow School. Another son, Thomas, lived at Earlswood, possibly at Margaret Villa, St John's Road.

John Linnell's first wife, Mary, died in 1863, when he was 71 and she 49. On 18th September, 1866, he was married to Mary Ann Budden by Mr Hart, the Reigate registrar. Mary Ann, who was 49 at the time of the marriage, had lived at 61 Ladbroke Road with her brother, Samuel, who was manager of the marine Department of the Commercial Union Insurance Company. John died, aged 90, in January, 1882 and Mary Ann died nine years later. All three are buried together in Reigate churchyard where close by, are the graves of his sons, William and John.

William, the third son of John Linnell, is said to have been named after the painter William Blake. He became a prolific and talented painter in his own right and exhibited at the Royal Academy and at other art exhibitions. He probably worked and lived more in London and abroad than at Redhill, although he did have an art school in Redhill where he taught many people to draw and paint. The essayist E.V.Lucas wrote in Scattered (Loiterer's) Harvest in 1913 about 'the testy, old white bearded gentleman with a constitutional antipathy to cats'. For many years one of his paintings - 'Aurora in Romagna, peasants from the mountains on their way to Rome', hung over the door to the courtroom at Reigate Town Hall, but after a deprecating remark about it in a council debate it was removed and disappeared. It had been a gift to the council by William's daughter, Mrs Riches.

The Linnell family left their mark on Redhill in no uncertain way, although John Linnell's mansion was demolished in the 1940s and the estate he built up split into small parts again. One building on the estate still exists, being the lovely Redstone Cottage
off Philanthropic Road. Also one of the houses backing onto the wood contains the remains of Linnell's orchard. Other than these there is little left to see of his passing locally except for literature about him in the library, busts of himself and his son, John, in Reigate library, and various paintings that might be available to see on display locally or in major centres of art. Linnell Road is a small road close to Philanthropic and Hawthorn Roads, near to where he once lived.

More information can be obtained from the website of Tim Linnell, Under the section 'John Linnell the Artist' there is a link to John Linnell at the Victorian Web, where there is a full text version of his Victorian Biography by A. T. Story.

Tim Linnell wrote in his email: -
I'm descended from John Linnell the painter who owned most of Redstone Wood from the 1850s, and the estate belonged to the family until the 1920s. I'm interested in the history of Redstone Wood after it was sold. I believe that part of of the estate became housing (including Linnell's own house) but other parts of it, including his sons' houses was used for other purposes, including a school. It apparently burnt down at some point though I have no details. Any information you can provide would be of tremendous interest.. Linnell and his family painted many pictures of the Redstone estate, and I have a couple of them. One particular field was very often painted, and you'll find a nice reproduction of one example, 'Noonday Rest', at the Tate Gallery website.
With thanks and best wishes,

I was unfortunately unable to furnish any of the information Tim is looking for but if any visitor to this site can do so please contact Tim via the contact email he gives above. AJM
Contact author Last updated 30th Jan 2011