The Story Of The Gadget King of Middlesex Who Inspired The Creation Of Wallace And Gromit

Knowing how best to spend the valuable time created by a 3 day Bank Holiday weekend can be tricky.  As Wallace said to Gromit whilst reading Cheese Holiday Magazine and trying to plan his own holiday weekend –  in the 1989 animation ‘A Grand Day Out’ – ‘We’ll go somewhere where there’s cheese – everyone knows the moon is made of cheese..!’  However, this coming Bank Holiday, it may not be necessary to go to the end of the earth or sit in a long traffic jam to find the ideal place to spend a few hours.  In fact, the best place may be right here in Middlesex in a wonderful gem of a museum in Pinner Memorial Park, which celebrates the life of artist Heath Robinson whose work influenced the animator Nick Park in the creation of cartoon heroes Wallace and Gromit.

In a sense, my journey to writing this post began several months ago.  I had called out an electrician to advise me on installation of electrical sockets at home.  As he surveyed the mass of cabling and adaptors in the corner of my living room he drew a sharp breath.  I tried to explain that I had never had enough electric sockets to furnish the mass of modern appliances that I need to keep going – such as TVs, Sky TV, DVD players, recharging points for ‘phones etc., and he muttered ‘it’s a certainly bit Heath Robinson, isn’t it?’  I didn’t think anything much about the electrician’s phraseology to describe my botched electrical circuitry until some months later, when I had the chance learn more about the life of the artist behind an expression that became so well used it became part of the English language.

The Heath Robinson museum is a few minutes walk from the entrance to Pinner Memorial Park.  It’s quite a new museum having only opened in 2016.  It was funded by the National Lottery so it’s good to know those ticket purchasers who, though failing to become millionaires, actually contributed to the existence of this amazing place.

The museum consists of two main rooms, one room contains the exhibition of the work of Heath Robinson and the other a fascinating exhibition of Rejuvenated Junk which runs until 3rd September 2017.

The Exhibition Of The Work of Heath Robinson

Heath Robinson was born on 31 May 1872 in Finsbury Park, Middlesex. He lived in Moss Lane, Pinner from 1908-1918. He came from an artistic family with his father a regular illustrator for the Penny Illustrated News and his brothers Charles and Tom both book illustrators. Although Heath had initially dreamt of becoming a landscape painter (and some of his early paintings can be viewed in the museum) he found that this occupation didn’t earn him enough to pay the bills.  Therefore, when he left art school he began working as a book illustrator with his brothers from his father’s studio in the City of London.  His early successes included the illustrations for Indian Folk tales from the Ramayana and a selection of the poems of Edgar Alan Poe for Studio Magazine. He gained some financial stability from the success of the 1902 publication called Adventures of Uncle Lubin which he wrote as well as illustrated.  In this book you can see early examples of illustrations of some of the zany gadgets for which he became well known.

During World War 1, Heath Robinson became popular with both soldiers and civilians using gentle satire and ridiculousness as an antidote to pompous German propaganda and the terror of war.

While living in Pinner, he was commissioned to illustrate Shakepeare’s Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

After the War, Health Robinson left Pinner and took his family to live in the country in Cranleigh, Surrey.  At this time, he focussed on advertising and humorous drawings for magazines.  His work highlighted the human condition, the workings of fate and weakness of man.  In the 1930s he published a series of books written with KRG Brown with titles such as How to Live In A Flat, How To Be A Perfect Father, How To Make A Garden Grow, How To Be A Motorist.  The How To Books established him as ‘The Gadget King’.  In these books he illustrated a range of weird and wonderful contraptions poking fun at modernism in design and architecture.  For example, in How to Live In A Flat, there were sections on how to prove there is room to swing a cat in your living-room and inventive space-saving solutions, such as the ‘Combination Bath and Writing Desk for Business Men’, the ‘Bed Dining-table’ and the ‘Dresser-Piano’.  The nearest modern day equivalent of books using this type of concept I can think of would perhaps be something like the Ladybird Series of Books for Adults.

How To Books
How To Book

 

 

In 1934 the Daily Mail asked him to design a ‘Gadget House’ for The Ideal Home Exhibition. A firm was paid to construct a giant doll sized house with the front removed to reveal the inner workings.  Robinson found creative solutions to problems such as middle-class families not having enough money to employ servants by replacing them with pieces of string, so that people could bring themselves whatever they wanted without moving from their chairs — the early 20th-century version of remote control.  Perhaps surprisingly, Heath Robinson never made any actual models himself, but the exhibition does have a fantastic Heath Robinson-esque type model constructed by a local school called ‘An ingenious device for the successful performance of opening ceremonies’.  According to the museum signage when operational ‘music is played to calm children before the dramatic cutting of the ribbon, enabling the Master of Ceremonies to accomplish the task with rapt attention, while appearing to have complete control of time’.

The onset of World War 2 filled Heath Robinson with a sense of foreboding.  His sons went off to fight in the war and it seems that he found the whole situation so difficult to contemplate that he could not directly include it in his artistic output instead choosing to focus his work on poking fun of British soldiers and civilians on the home front.  He died in 1944 and is buried in East Finchley Cemetery.

The Rejuvenated Junk Exhibition

This exhibition is inspired by the series of drawings created by Heath Robinson in 1935 called Rejuvenated Junk, illustrating new uses for unwanted objections.  Some of the drawings were used to illustrate an article entitled ‘At Home With Heath Robinson’, written by KRG Browne and published in The Strand Magazine.  The exhibition features several of these drawings and an incredible collection of upcycled and recycled objects from 33 countries around the world collected by knowtrash http://knowtrash.com/

Nesting box
Stove from Mexico
Stove from Mexico

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Shoulder Bag from Vietnam – newspaper cut into strips and woven with thread

 

 

Bag made from metal drink cans
Boat made from Coke cans

After viewing the exhibition, you may wish to take a stroll around Pinner Memorial Park which has a nice little café, pond and children’s play area.

Pinner Memorial Park
Heath Robinson Museum and Cafe

 

The Heath Robinson Museum,
Pinner Memorial Park,
West End Lane, Pinner, Middlesex HA5 1AE
020 8866 8420

Open from Thursday-Sunday (Check website below for opening times)

https://www.heathrobinsonmuseum.org/

The Museum is less than 10 minutes’ walk from Pinner station on the Metropolitan Line (lifts in station serving both platforms). Four buses stop even closer, on Bridge St: H11, H12, H13 and 183.

If driving, there is a car park next to the entrance of Pinner Memorial Park.

Watch the following to view examples of the work of Heath Robinson:

Wallace and Gromit Plan their Bank Holiday:

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