Kenneth Steel (1906-1970) Sheffield Artist

"(Kenneth) produced nostalgic reminders of a vanished world"

I came across the following cuttings the other day that concern a Sheffield artist that I had never heard of before. A search on-line revealed very little indeed - see note 1

The first article is from The Sheffield Weekly Gazette dated 14th September 2006

Art of rail to bring in thousands 

Train posters at auction

 FIVE vintage posters by a Sheffield-born artist who overcame a double tragedy to become a prolific producer of railway art are expected to fetch nearly 3,000 when they are auctioned in London today (Thursday).

The posters - all commissioned by British Railways in the 1950s and 1960s - are by Kenneth Steel, whose mother and wife were killed within moments of each other in separate incidents during the Sheffield Blitz in the Second World War.

This year marks the centenary of Kenneth Steel's birth in Sheffield in July 1906.

The most valuable of the five Steel posters in the Christie's auction is expected to fetch up to 800.

It was produced in or around 1955 and is emblazoned with the words:  The Central Highlands, See Britain by Train.

Kenneth Steel's Scottish posters are particularly valuable.

The current record for a Steel poster is 1,015, the sum paid at Christie's in London in October 2004 for his British Railways poster Over the Sea To Skye.

Although undated, the poster was also in British Rail's See Britain by Train series.

Since they launched their annual Travel Posters sales in 1999, auctioneers Christie's have sold 13 Kenneth Steel posters for a total of 7,352 an average of 816 for each poster.

Kenneth's poster of the Pavilion Gardens at Buxton, Derbyshire

The Sheffield Star dated Tuesday 29th August 2006 also ran the article but added additional information about Kenneth's life

Kenneth Steel was trained at Sheffield College of Art. His life changed forever in the Second World War when his mother and wife were killed within moments of each other during the Sheffield Blitz after the family home at Ecclesall was destroyed by the bombing.
Mr Steel's invalid mother was in the ground floor lounge at the time, while his father and wife were in the cellar below. The force of the explosion sent Mr Steel's mother crashing through the floor into the cellar.

His wife was seriously injured and taken away by ambulance, but on the way to hospital the ambulance plunged into a bomb crater and Mrs Steel was killed.

After the war Kenneth Steel and his father found temporary accommodation at a cottage at Fulwood. Kenneth was then working at Sheffield Town Hall and illustrated the publication 'After The Bombing: Sheffield Re-Planned'. He later remarried and he and second wife, Grace, settled in a bungalow at Lodge Moor.

The Steels became a familiar sight at dance functions at the Cutlers' Hall, before Kenneth died from throat cancer in 1970 at the age of 64.

In the early and middle parts of the 20th century railway companies commissioned talented artists like Kenneth Steel to produce colourful, eye-catching posters to encourage rail travel, in an age when comparatively few people owned cars and when overseas holidays were beyond the financial reach of many.

These now sought-after posters nostalgic reminders of a vanished world adorned railway station platforms and waiting rooms and usually featured cloudless blue skies, sunny summer days, golden litter-free beaches and clear, unpolluted azure seas, making far-flung places in Britain as enticing as possible.
 

Huge demand for tragic artist

Poster fetches double expected price


A VINTAGE poster by a Sheffield-born artist who overcame a double tragedy to become a prolific producer of railway art has sold for 900, nearly double its estimate at Christie's in London.

Experts had predicted that Kenneth Steel's 40in x 25in poster, advertising the Northern Ireland resort of Portstewart, would sell for 300-500.

But a mystery bidder happily paid several hundred pounds more than that for the poster.

He had produced it some time about 1950 for British Railways.

Kenneth Steel's Scottish posters always seem to do well at Christie's

A copy of his Over The Sea To Skye poster sold at Christie's in October 2004 for 1,015, which remains the world record for a Steel poster.

Another of his posters for British Railways, advertising Peterborough, sold for 288 at the auction.

But three other Steel posters disappointingly did not sell after failing to reach their reserve prices.

Mr Steel was in his early 30s when his mother and wife were killed in separate incidents which happened within moments during the Sheffield Blitz, when the Nazis bombarded our city during the Second World War.

Mr Steel later remarried and he and his second wife, Grace, went to live in a bungalow at Lodge Moor.

They were a familiar site at dance functions at the Cutlers' Hall, until Mr Steel died of throat cancer when he was 64.

This year marks the centenary of Kenneth Steel's birth in Sheffield.

Now 40 years after his death, his name lives on, through the post art-work he lovingly produced.

In May 2013, further interest in Kenneth's work arose when one of his later paintings was given pride of place at Sheffield's Manor Lodge as these two newspaper cuttings from The Sheffield Star show

All the articles refer to the death of his wife and mother in the Sheffield Blitz of December 1940. A check on the Commonwealth War Grave Commission web-site reveals the following

Name: Steel, Annie Elizabeth
Rank: Civilian Regiment/Service: Civilian War Dead
Age: 66 Date of Death: 12/12/1940
Additional information: of 12 Westbrook Bank, Sharrow. Daughter of the late Richard and Elizabeth Howe; wife of George Thomas Steel. Died at Westbrook Bank.
Casualty Type: Civilian War Dead Reporting Authority: SHEFFIELD, COUNTY BOROUGH

STEEL, Annie Elizabeth (WW2 Civilian War Dead, age 66).
Died at Westbrook Road on 12 Dec 1940; Buried on December 19, 1940 in ~ ground; 
Grave Number 2626, Section F of Ecclesall ChurchyaRoad Cemetery, Sheffield.
Parent or Next of Kin if Available: ~. Remarks: Identified by G. Steel of 12 Westbrook Bank (Husband).


Name: Steel Olive
Rank: Civilian Regiment/Service: Civilian War Dead
Age: 26 Date of Death: 13/12/1940
Additional information: of 12 Westbrook Bank, Sharrow. Wife of Kenneth Steel. Injured 12 December 1940, at 12 Westbrook Bank; died at Women's Hospital, Leavygreave Road.
Casualty Type: Civilian War Dead Reporting Authority: SHEFFIELD, COUNTY BOROUGH
Olive's Burial Record

STEEL, Olive (WW2 Civilian War Dead, age 26). Died at Womens Hospital on 13 Dec 1940; Buried on December 20, 1940 in ~ ground;
Grave Number ~, Section ~ of Ecclesall P.C Cemetery, Sheffield. Parent or Next of Kin if Available: ~. Remarks: of 12 Westbroook Bank, Sharrow, Injured on 12 Dec. Wife of Kenneth.

The 1901 census shows George T. Steel "Engraver & Silver Trade Employer" at 81 Tavistock Road, Sharrow/Nether Edge. George was then 29 and his wife Annie Elizabeth was 27. At that time they had a son George Hammond, aged five months. George Thomas Steel had married Annie Elizabeth Howe in Sheffield in the first quarter of 1899. George had been born in Leeds in the last quarter of 1870 and Annie in Sheffield in the third quarter of 1873. see note 4

The 1911 Census has the following information
Name Kenneth Steel
Relationship to Head of Household Son
Gender M
Age 4 Estimated Year of Birth 1907
Occupation Juvenile
Employed N Working at Home N
Place of Birth Sheffield Yorkshire
Enumerator Information
Address 123 Hunter House Road Sheffield Parish Ecclesall Town Sheffield
Type of Building Private House Number of Rooms Six Inhabited Y
Reference RG14PN27792 RG78PN1591 RD509 SD5 ED14 SN346 Administrative County Yorkshire (West Riding) Registration District Ecclesall Bierlow Registration Sub District Ecclesall South Enumeration District 14

Notes

1. "Painter in watercolour, engraver & lithographer of landscapes & street scenes; poster designer. Born Sheffield 9/7/1906, son of G.T.Steel, an artist and silver engraver. Studied at Sheffield College of Art under Anthony Betts. Represented in several public collections. Achieved a prolific output of artwork for the railways. Based in Crookes, Sheffield for years producing posters/artwork for LNER Post-War, LMR Railway Architecture, Scottish Region series.

In 1963/64 I lived in a bedsit on Conduit Road. My landlady told me that Kenneth Steel used to live at the house (perhaps he owned it). She showed me a wooden contraption for holding paintings which she said he left behind when he moved out. I remember seeing pictures of the insides of factories painted by him which were technically and aesthetically quite stunning. I can't remember where."

2. In September 2011 a researcher posted the following information on The Sheffield History Forum

" I have just found out that Kenneth Steel is the (younger) brother of George Hammond Steel. G H Steel was also an artist, some of his work can be Googled on the web; and he has his own entries in various reference works on art that I have looked at (often along with Kenneth):
- Who's Who in Art (1950)
- Dictionary of British Artists working 1900-1950 by Grant M. Waters (1975)
- Painters in the Northern Counties of England and Wales by Dennis Child (no date)
- Artists in Britain since 1945 Vol II by David Buckman (no date that I have recorded) I would assume that there should be (many) more such entries around.
My own interest, in George Hammond Steel, however, is that he was for a number of years a director of the Sheffield firm of Robertson & Russell, artists in stained glass (mainly): 1929-1935, perhaps; the R&R windows in St Andrews church on Psalter Lane were designed by him, but there must be (have been?) many more (which I would love to trace, but I have so far been unable to do so).

3. Surname First name(s) Spouse District            Vol Page
Marriages Sep 1939 Bell Olive Steel Sheffield      9c 1739
                                   Steel Kenneth Bell Sheffield 9c 1739

Death Record

Name Kenneth Steel
Year of Registration 1970
Quarter of Registration Jul-Aug-Sep
Registration District Sheffield
Registration County Yorkshire
Date of Birth 09 July 1906
Volume Number 2D
Volume Page 611

Death Record

Name Olive Steel
Year of Registration 1940
Quarter of Registration Oct-Nov-Dec
Registration District Sheffield
Registration County Yorkshire
Age at Death: 26
Volume Number 9C

Volume Page

726

 

4. GEORGE THOMAS STEEL (Kenneth's father) 


Birth July 1870 Ripon, Yorkshire West Riding, United Kingdom
Birth of Brother Robert Wm Steel (1880) January 1880 Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Residence 1881 Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Age: 8; Relation to Head of House: Son
Birth of Sister Emma Steel (1884) Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Residence 1891 Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Age: 19; Relation to Head of House: Son
Surname First name(s) Age District Vol Page 
Marriages Mar 1899 
Howe Annie Elizabeth Ecclesall B. 9c 336 
Steel George Thomas Ecclesall B. 9c 336 
Birth of Son Geo Hammond Steel(1901) Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Residence 1901 Ecclesall Bierlow, Yorkshire, England
Age: 29; Relation to Head of House: Head
Birth of Son Kenneth Steel (1906) Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Residence 02 Apr 1911 Ecclesall, Yorkshire-West Riding, England
Age: 38; Marital Status: Married; Relation to Head of House: Head

Sources

The Sheffield Weekly Gazette dated 14th September 2006

The Sheffield Star dated Tuesday 29th August 2006

Commonwealth War Grave Commission

The Travelling Art Gallery - a fine collection of Kenneth's prints to buy

1901 - 1911 UK Census

The Sheffield Star

Sheffield Indexers

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This page was last updated on 10/06/17 17:38