East London Group

Lilian Leahy

1909 to 1996

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Lilian Anne Leahy

Lilian Leahy: 05/12/1909 to 30/10/1996

Lilian was born in Holborn in 1909: she had two sisters and a brother. Her Father was an Irishman from County Clare and her Mother came from Foxham in Wiltshire. Leaving school at 14 Lilian found work in a range of different environments but all seemingly having an artistic thread running through them, so she had jobs variously as a window-dresser, decorating china, tiles, glass-ware and scent bottles. She was fortunate in always finding work. In her spare time in Bow she took part in several musical productions in Poplar Town Hall in 1926 and 1927 with dancing roles in the chorus and as a soloist. At about this time she first started to attend the art classes at the Bow and Bromley Evening Commercial Institute under the tutelage of John Cooper.

Lilian exhibited at the East London Art Club exhibition at the Whitechapel in 1928 and then annually with the East London Group at Alex. Reid and Lefevre from 1929 to 1936. Unusually for an artist, she was left-handed. Lilian was not a prolific contributor to Group shows but she did exhibit in all of them: usually a landscape or a rural view of a church or farmhouse. She would accompany her husband to be, Elwin and Walter and Harold Steggles on their painting trips to locations in Essex, Kent and Sussex. Alongside her interest in painting Lilian was a keen knitter and craft person and, having knitted pieces for Elsie Farleigh and Phyllis Bray (amongst others) she turned down the opportunity to knit a piece for John Cooper’s friend J B Priestley’s wife, Jane as she felt she had no time to do it as she was too busy with her other interests!

Lilian married fellow Group member Elwin Hawthorne in March 1937 and they set up home in Manor Park. During the war she remained in London apart from a while spent with her cousin in Chippenham and she had a daughter in 1941 and a son just after the war in 1946. She and Elwin moved to Vicarage Lane in East Ham in 1953 and with Elwin’s untimely death in 1954 she was left to bring up her children on her own. Lilian continued to paint into later life and maintained contact with fellow Group member Walter Steggles until her death in 1996.

Elwin & Lilian's wedding day

Lilian & Elwin Hawthorne on their wedding day

Lilian Leahy painting.JPG ELG 65

Lilian Leahy sketching


Lilian Leahy painting in later life