A plaque commemorating orchid artist Nelly Roberts (1872-1959) was unveiled on Sunday 16 October 2022 at 92 Loughborough Road by Tracey Gregory of Loughborough Road Histories project and the artist’s great-nephew Chris Roberts, writes Naomi Clifford
This colourful event was the second stage in a campaign to remember the remarkable watercolourist and illustrator who was the Royal Horticultural Society’s first and longest-serving orchid artist. The current orchid artist is Deborah Lambkin.
In April 2022 Loughborough Road Histories installed a brass marker at Nelly’s grave at Lambeth Cemetery which is in Blackshaw Road, Tooting.
The unveiling of the blue plaque was preceded by a walk led by Tracey Gregory, which included a stop at Mornington Mews, once the site of the 18 greenhouses owned by orchid grower and collector Richard Measures, who first identified Nelly’s artistic talent and offered her work.
Chris Roberts read out a 1949 letter of Nelly’s describing how her career as an orchid artist began.
…I began to specialise in orchid painting in the early 90s when Mr R. I. Measures of Flodden Road, Camberwell, an orchid grower, asked me to paint some of his specimens, having seen my work in my father’s shop window. My father was a watchmaker and jeweller. A little later Mr H. Chapman, an orchid grower for Mr Measures, and a member of the Orchid Committee at that time informed me the committee was considering the advisability of having paintings made of the awarded orchids and advised me to send in some specimens of my work which Mr Measures kindly loaned me. This idea then was taken on for a six-months trial beginning January 1897 and I’ve been doing the work ever since. I had no special art training, just private lessons for a year with a young lady. I also attended evening classes for a short period just before my father died in 1894…
In her 56-year career Nelly produced thousands of paintings for the Orchid Committee, before she retired in Coronation Year, 1953.
At the end of the walk, the gathering was addressed by Bill Linskey, Chairman of the Brixton Society which supported the installation of the blue plaque; Chris Roberts, who is himself also an artist; and local resident and Loughborough Road Histories project committee member Simon Green; and Charlotte Brooks, author of Orchids: A History Through Botanical Illustration, of the Royal Horticultural Society.
Orchids: A History Through Botanical Illustration, by Charlotte Brooks, has been published by the RHS.
Loughborough Road Histories: The Stories of a South London Street, Vol. 1, is published by the Brixton Society.