Search for story behind painting

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Do you recognise the painting in this picture? Maybe you are a relative of the artist Mr A. Riley? If this is the case, my father Jim Burnage would love to hear from you.

The painting and what it represents is hugely significant to former Horsham resident Jim. Now, 70 years after he first encountered the painting, he is desperately trying to connect with anybody who may be able to shed some light onto its story.

Jim’s connection to the painting began when he was evacuated out of London. When World War Two broke out, Jim was living with his parents in Islington, North London. As the threat of danger grew ever nearer, Jim’s father decided it was time for him to join the exodus out of the capital to safer pastures.

Rather fortuitously, Jim’s aunt and her husband lived in Horsham, and so whilst other children were shipped to all parts of the country, Jim was put onto a train to spend the duration of the war at Oaklands Avenue with his beloved Auntie Gwen and Uncle Bill.

Uncle Bill was better known as Bill Collett, a much-respected train driver working out of Horsham station throughout the 1940s, until he retired in the early 1950s. On many occasions, an excited young Jim was taken down to the railyard by Uncle Bill, where like many young lads of his generation, he dreamt of one day driving a steam engine himself.

To have regular access to the railyard and to also have a steam engine driver in the family, Jim thought life couldn’t get any better; until he was introduced to the picture here of Engine no.855, known as Robert Blake.

Bill had been given the painting, but when he saw his nephew’s reaction to it, he decided to put it on the wall above Jim’s bed.

The painting stayed in Jim’s room until peace broke out, and he had to return to London. Leaving ‘Robert Blake’ behind at Horsham, Jim was devastated. Only many years later, when his aunt died, did Jim get the chance to be reunited again with the painting of Engine no.855.

Now, with the help of County Times readers, Jim is desperately trying to find out more about Mr A. Riley, the artist who painted the picture of the engine ‘Robert Blake’ in 1936. Jim has always understood that Mr Riley was a local artist from the Horsham area, but his own enquiries in the town have not garnered much information.

In an attempt to come up with some information, we are writing to see if any of the County Times loyal and knowledgeable readers can shed any light on the painting.

Maybe you are a relation of Mr Riley? Maybe you or a relative have a similar painting hanging in your house? Maybe you knew or worked with the popular train driver Bill Collett?

If you can help with any aspect of this story, please contact me via email to michaelburnage@hotmail.

Or call 01273 306479.

MICHAEL BURNAGE MBE

Malines Avenue, Peacehaven