My great-grandfather, John Bent Wallis, was a self-taught painter and journalist. He painted the picture above in 1901 showing the fields near the village of Alderwasley and the opposite hillside stretching towards Crich. The small figures in the right foreground are my great-grandmother and my grandfather, J B Wallis’s wife and oldest child.
J B Wallis was an interesting man; he had no formal schooling beyond age fourteen, but somehow he managed to become the nature columnist for the Sheffield Telegraph newspaper, writing for many years as “The Rambling Naturalist.” His family had very little money, but his talent for writing became known to his father’s employers, a local wealthy family called the Hurts who made their fortune from lead mining, and they supported him in his writing career (a very Victorian thing to do).
As my mother, Brenda F. Smith, says in her memoir, A Pennine Childhood:
“Granddad Wallis was a handsome man: tall, slender, with a shock of wavy, greying hair and dark brown eyes. He also had the large ‘Wallis’ nose, and a broad, high forehead. He was very quiet and scholarly, interested in and a scholar of everything; he was a typical Victorian. Although he had had no formal education beyond secondary school, he was very widely read.
“Granddad and his family lived on a farm at Alderwasley when he was young; later his father became a keeper on the Hurt estate and the family moved to the Bottom Lodge at Whatstandwell.
The Hurts had a Top, Middle and Bottom Lodge on their estate, each of which housed a keeper or some other servant. Several of Granddad’s paintings are of the Bottom Lodge and of various scenes around Alderwasley.
–Contemporary view of the Bottom Lodge taken from the opposite side.
“After the Wallises had left the Bottom Lodge, it became the scene of one of Granddad’s stories. One day, as he strolled past the Lodge in his daily pursuit of nature, the old woman then living there greeted him. Her young grandson was rampaging about the garden, shouting and brandishing a stick. ‘Eh, Mr. Wallis,’ the old lady said to my grandfather, shaking her head, ‘I’ve rivven and striven with that lad, and now ’e’s racing round and round the garden shouting “pig muck!’’’
“In the Victorian manner, Granddad was self-taught when it came to the natural world; nevertheless his columns were well received. People in the various neighbourhoods he lived in over the years usually came to revere him. Much later, when I was working as a local librarian, an old lady embarrassed me mightily by referring to Granddad as ‘a saint, your Grandfather; a positive saint!’ He had a habit of going out very early in the morning and watching, without moving for an hour or more, some natural phenomenon such as a blackbird building its nest or a mole casting up its little hillocks of soil. He was looking for material for his daily column; ‘contemplating the beautiful’ is what my father called these meditative episodes. Because she lived near the Cromford Canal where Granddad usually took his morning walks, the old lady must have witnessed some of these contemplative moments. . . .
“During the war [World War II] he would become bitterly incensed when, as happened occasionally, his nature column was dropped for the day. The editor would explain that because newsprint was in short supply, and because there had been more war news than usual, he had been forced to eliminate Granddad’s column.
“Mam, [Brenda’s mother, JB Wallis’s daughter-in-law] who was suspicious of her in-laws, (‘Think they’re somebody!’ she would say sniffily) didn’t admire what she considered Granddad’s effete calling. ‘There’s a war on,’ she would say. ‘People want to read about what’s happening to their lads!’ Granddad, of course, in addition to feeling hurt because his column was dropped, thought that the editor had his values backwards. To him, nature was eternal and of greater import than reports of war.”
from A Pennine Childhood by Brenda F. Smith