All writing © 2009-2015 by Colin Salter unless indicated otherwise. All rights reserved.
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Saturday, 1 August 2015

AUSTIN CLARE COOPER (1890-1964) AND THE KINGS AND QUEENS



I’m a proud fan of the transport posters of my cousin Austin Cooper. During the golden age of the railway poster in the 1920s and 1930s he was on the staff of the London and North Eastern Railway Company, and among his many other clients was London Transport.

Austin Clare Cooper (1890-1964)

The London Transport Museum at Covent Garden holds some 78 examples of his work, and no student of poster design should miss the chance to see them when they are displayed. Austin himself taught the subject and in 1938 wrote a thoughtful textbook for his students, Making A Poster.

For London Transport he produced several series of posters promoting the use of the Underground to get to destinations with a common theme – for example London’s world-class museums. One such set, in 1931, was based around locations with a royal connection. I wonder if he knew that his four designs had a particular resonance in his own ancestral past.

Hampton Court for Henry VIII, Richmond Park for Charles I
London Transport posters by Austin Cooper (1931)

Austin’s 5x great grandfather, his namesake Austin Cooper (c1614-before 1690), was probably born at Hampton Court. That early Austin’s father held a position of some sort there, not under Henry VIII who built it but under Charles I. The father was wealthy enough to bequeath an estate in Surrey to the son, who expanded it with the purchase of some land from a Cromwellian soldier. Although a Royalist, his dealings with a Roundhead were seen as treachery after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.The family had to sell up and move to Ireland where they remained for the next three centuries. 
They arrived some years after the so-called plantation by Cromwell which installed many English Protestants in Ireland at the expense of the indigenous Catholic population. Killenure Castle, the former O’Dwyer stronghold which the Coopers bought as a ruin in 1746, was reputedly gutted by a fire started by Cromwellian troops after they had imprisoned the Catholic O’Dwyers within it, burning them all to death.

Chingford for Elizabeth I, Kensington Palace for Queen Anne
London Transport posters by Austin Cooper (1931)

Cromwell was the last, not the first English ruler to adopt a policy of plantation. Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Charles I had also pursued this method of changing the Irish demographic with an imported Protestant ruling class. By the time the Coopers arrived the damage had been done. That first Austin Cooper (known in the family as The Settler) changed the landscape not by the sword but by landscape gardening – he laid out the gardens of Blessington House in Co Wicklow. Forty years later Queen Anne, another of Austin's poster subjects, was responsible for laying out the gardens at Kensington Palace (or at least for employing Sir Christopher Wren to do so).

Poster-maker Austin Cooper’s father was born at Killenure Castle, and Austin (born in Manitoba thanks to his father’s brief attempt to become a Canadian wheat farmer) returned to Ireland before the family finally settled in Wales. He studied art in Cardiff and Arbroath and then set up a studio in London in 1922, not so far from Hampton Court where it all began nearly three hundred years earlier.

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