The following is taken from The Art of Arthur Watts
edited by Simon Watts.Arthur Watts Remembered
by Marjorie Watts*
Arthur Watts was born in 1883, his father being a surgeon-major in the Indian Medical Service. He had achieved this position by hard work and dogged determination, his own father being a chemist in Peckham, and he expected his sons to enter professions. The older brother became a doctor, but Arthur, who ruined all his school exercise books with funny drawings in the margins, only wanted to draw, and sat at the bottom of the class on the Engineering side at Dulwich School for two years, until at 16 he was allowed to go to the Goldsmith's Institute.
His father then died, and his mother, who had a lovely voice and had herself wanted to be a singer, but had not been allowed to train, did all she could for him. In 1900, aged 17, he went to the Slade Art School for two years, and from there to the Free Art Schools in Antwerp, then to Paris and then back to the Slade for a short time under the redoubtable Professor Tonks.
In 1904, aged 21, Arthur began to make a modest living by drawing for such papers as The Tatler, The Bystander, Pearson's
, and London Opinion
, and in 1912 made his first contribution to Punch
. For some years he had been interested in boats and sailing, and in 1910, whilst intending to buy a Great Dane dog through the Exchange and Mart, he saw a sailing boat advertised and bought her instead, with a centre board, mainsail and jib. Arthur rapidly became a skilled small boat sailor and began to write illustrated articles for The Yachting Monthly
. One called `From London to Lowestoft in an Open Boat' was published in 1911, and another, A Three-Legged Cruise
, in August 1913. He now had a bigger boat, "a comparatively fragile affair, O.A. length 26 ft, and beam 6 ft 6 ins, with a centre board—3 tons" (this would be Mave Rhoe
, purchased from Charles Pears
). With two friends in a second boat—"a respectable Itchen Ferry type of 4 tons"—and with a well-read copy of Erskine Childers' Riddle of the Sands
in his pocket, Arthur and his two friends set off in the two boats in June 1913 for a three–week cruise along the Dutch and Belgian coasts. They sailed into a dozen or so harbours, including Dunkirk, Blanckenburg, Veere, the Tholen Creek, Middleburg, Zerixsee, and Ostend and Zeebrugge, together with a host of canals and waterways. A detailed description of this voyage, with drawings of all the harbours they visited, was published in The Yachting Monthly
in August 1913.
And in August 1914, the First World War began.
Meanwhile in 1911 Arthur had rented No. 1, Holly Place, Hampstead, where the landlords, the Catholic Church, built up the two attics to make a studio which overlooked London and enabled their tenant to practice his `birds-eye' style of drawing.
In the autumn of 1914, on calling at the Admiralty to offer his services, he was welcomed without surprise. His Yachting Monthly
articles, detailing the Dutch and Belgian harbours, had not passed unnoticed. He joined the R.N.V.R. and served throughout the war in Coastal Motor Boats and Motor Launches in the Dover Patrol
. He led a smoke-screen flotilla at the attacks on Zeebrugge on April 23rd and at Ostend on May 10th, 1918. He was awarded the D.S.O. and mentioned in Despatches. The citation read: