A celebration of Aylesbury WW1 cartoonist Bruce Bainsfather who had Charlie Chaplain to visit

Bruce Bairnsfather at Waldridge Manor in 1920
Bruce Bairnsfather at Waldridge Manor in 1920

Mark Warby, a historian has spent 40 years researching the life of a famous cartoonist, Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather and has shared some interesting insights into the man and his time in Aylesbury.

Captain Bruce Bairnsfather became famous during WW1 for his 'Fragments from France' cartoons depicting life at the front and as creator of the character Old Bill.

Old Bill

Old Bill

Published volumes of his cartoons sold over 1 million copies and Old Bill appeared on merchandise from postcards to jigsaws, dolls and car mascots, and the character featured in plays and films.

Mark Warby is a self-described Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather enthusiast, for 11 years running an 'Old Bill' newsletter for fellow enthusiasts of the man's work.

Mark said: "Bruce Bairnsfather had links with Buckinghamshire, and 9 July marks the centenary of his buying Waldridge Manor at Ford, near Aylesbury, where he lived for the next five years.

"The house, which once belonged to the regicide Sir Richard Ingoldsby, was in a rather dilapidated state when Bairnsfather bought it, but he spent several thousand pounds having it restored to make a magnificent period home for himself (and after he married in 1921 his wife and daughter)."

One of Bruce's cartoons from WW1

One of Bruce's cartoons from WW1

Bairnsfather owned Waldridge until early 1924, and during this time visitors to the house included Charlie Chaplin, who came while on a visit to England in September 1921.

While resident at Waldridge, Bairnsfather was well-known locally, and donated original drawings to help raise funds for Bucks County Hospital (1920) and also to Waddesdon and Quainton branch of the British Legion (1922). In September 1921 he was reported as being President of Aylesbury Rovers Junior Football Club, and according to the Bucks Herald attended one of their matches and kicked off the second half of the game!

Mark continued: " He would have been instantly recognisable locally, as he drove a custom-built Sunbeam motor car of polished aluminium, with a large mascot of his Old Bill character on the radiator.

"Bairnsfather fell foul of the local council in 1922, for not having followed the by-laws when having some building work done at Waldridge."

Bairnsfather had entered into a new contract with two magazines, The Bystander and Graphic in 1919, and much of his work for them would have been done in his studio at Waldridge.

"He writes fondly of his time at Waldridge in his 1939 autobiography, saying that he had hoped it would be where he would always live and work. He even had plans to start a poultry farm on his land (aided by his chauffeur) and make his fortune from eggs. Unfortunately circumstances led him to have to sell the house in 1924."

"Back in 1919 Bairnsfather was recognised as one of the most celebrated cartoonists of the time – “the man who made the world laugh in its darkest hours” – so he would have been a prominent resident, and is known to have employed several local people at the house."

Mark runs a dedicated website to the live and times of Bruce Bairnsfather. To find out more, visit: www.brucebairnsfather.org.uk