Though overshadowed by his famous wife, Mabel Lucie Attwell, Harold Earnshaw was a delightful illustrator in his own right, who overcame the loss of an arm during the First World War to contribute to many books and periodicals.
Harold Earnshaw was born in Woodford Green, Essex, the sixth of nine children of Frederic Earnshaw, a bankers’ clerk, and his wife, Sophia (née Peak). His paternal grandfather was the Sheffield-born Samuel Earnshaw (1805-1888), clergyman, mathematician and tripos coach at the University of Cambridge. His paternal uncles included Alfred and George Earnshaw, who migrated to Philadelphia and became partners in the merchant and steamship company, Earn Line.
Earnshaw is said to have grown up in Leyton, Essex, and St Pancras, London, before he went to study at St Martin’s School of Art. There he met and fell in love with his fellow student, Mabel Lucie Attwell, his elder by seven years, who always called him Pat. They married at Hendon Registry Office on her twenty-ninth birthday, 4 June 1908, and honeymooned in Rose Cottage, Babbacombe Bay, Devon, before settling in a flat in Dulwich, south London.
Their first child, Marjorie Joan (known as Peggy), was born there in 1909.
A member of the London Sketch Club from 1908, Earnshaw soon established himself as an illustrator of magazines and books, and especially of school stories for the publishers, W & R Chambers and Hodder & Stoughton. His style has been described as ‘similar in its boldness and use of colour to that of’ fellow London Sketch Club member John Hassall (Horne 1994, page 173).
In about 1910, the Earnshaw family moved to ‘Casita’, Downs Road, Coulsdon, Surrey. Then, after the birth of their second child, Peter (known as Max), in 1911, they moved to ‘Fairdene’, a much larger house in nearby Fairdene Road. Their third child, Brian (known as Bill) was born at this house in 1914.
In 1915, Earnshaw enlisted in the Royal Sussex Regiment, and served in the 8th Battalion, rising to the rank of Lance Corporal. However, in the following year, he lost his right arm while fighting in the Battle of the Somme. Positive and pragmatic in character, he taught himself to draw with his left hand, making his first attempts while recovering in hospital in Stockport. He would also continue to play billiards, at the Chelsea Arts Club, and golf with Harry Rountree and Bert Thomas.
In 1917, Earnshaw published his first drawing with his left hand, dedicated to the cause of charity, in Winter’s Pie, the Christmas issue of the periodical, Printer’s Pie. Gradually, he returned to his career as an illustrator, continuing to work for W & R Chambers and also publishing with Blackie & Son. He also exhibited watercolours at the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and the Chenil Galleries.
During the 1920s, the Earnshaw family lived in Kensington, first at 9 Roland Gardens, and then at 32 Cranley Gardens. Spending their summer holidays in Sussex – renting houses in Rye and Litlington – they sold their London home in 1932, and bought Manor Farmhouse, West Dean. Following the death from penumonia of their youngest child, Brian, in 1934, they returned to London, and settled at Cambridge Place, where Mabel nursed Pat. He died on 17 March 1937 after a long illness, which, according to his gravestone, was the result of war injuries. He was buried at West Dean, Sussex, alongside Brian.