Catherine Anne Durston

Shown here with parents and siblings

Catherine Anne shown here with her Sister-in-law and Nephew (she is centre)

Catherine Ann Durston was the second child of Thomas and Martha Durston of Bleadon. She was baptised Oct 8, 1858. At census time in 1881, she was recorded as a visitor to Elizabeth Cock, at 14 Clifton Vale, Bristol, and in 1901 was listed in her parents will as residing at No.3 Fosseway, Clifton in the City and County of Bristol. She was described as "Spinster". Later she married William H. Cowlin of Bristol.

Catherine was known for her chalk sketches. The Canadian descendents of Arthur are all familiar with one of the old family house at South Hill farm, originally done in chalk and in ink. Three of these artifacts have come to Cliff Durston of Winnipeg. Following is a description of those artifacts.

This drawing is done on a hardened board of layered paper. Photographic paper? Don't know. The original has been extensively damaged physically. The cardboard where much of the sky was has been broken away and lost. Several major tears are in the drawing, and it has been further water damaged. To add insult to injury, several splotches of white (paint?) are on the face of the piece. The image seen here is a photograph of the damaged piece and electronic repairs have been made to the photograph only. This drawing was always known by Durston Family members to be the artistic rendering by Catherine of the family home known as "South Hill Farm". That may or may not be the case.

On the back of the picture are the following notes written in pencil: a) The individual notations #54B, 700/11, 7, IEHS, and Gris. b) The name Catherine Durston, and c) the colour notations as follows "Green foliage and tr (trees?), House is grey stone, and water at bottom......................". (the last and some portions are part of the missing board).

In this picture, the colours are much more saturated than in the chalk drawing. The paper is a matte paper of good quality. Since both of these pictures are very old, perhaps turn of the century, it is important to understand the practices common at the time in colour photography. In fact, this "Colour Photograph" appears to have been photographed in black and white, and with the colour hand-painted later, consistent with what was probably the most common technique of the era.

This is the final piece in the artifacts. It is obviously the same scene, but has some differences from the other two; the pointed chimney of the chalk; and the brook seems to progress at a different angle, for two examples.


In order to determine whether one had served as master for another, several tests were done. One might suppose that the chalk had been first because it was biggest. That may be the case, but the chalk is more "cropped" on the left side than the supposed copy; and this provides inconsistency for that thinking. Perhaps the chalk was carved down to place into a frame. If so, the cutting was professional.

The photograph and the chalk were matched electronically by placing a transparent layer from one atop the other after sizing them the same. The two pictures come into register confirming that the photograph and the chalk are the same image. The ink sketch is slightly different, but the same general agreement on items in the image.

The notations on the back of the chalk drawing suggest that the colours were applied after the sketch had been made, and possibly by someone else perhaps who was unfamiliar with the scene. The other references may be job numbers. The notation "Gris" may be "Griswold", which is where all of these pictures ended up.

The possibility that the ink sketch is the only artists rendering, and that both of the colour images are actual photographs seems to be disproven by the images taken in 2003 shown below, especially one of the front door. The window above the door is clearly not centered similarly to the door, yet in all of the sketches, both door and window are centered, probably because it was more pleasing to do so.

Photos courtesy Bob McKay, Bleadon show the scene in 2003

(See Bob McKay's web site on Bleadon to see numerous pictures of this beautiful town.)

South Hill Farm from Google 2019

Shown above is a present-day shot (as of 2019) of South Hill Farm as available in Google Earth. The darkened section is that portion presented in Catherine's sketches.

Conclusions drawn

We now favour the notion that Catherine Durston made the sketches for the purpose of presenting her remote nieces and nephews with amusement by providing a sketch of her home for them to add colour the scene.  To help in the selection of colours, she would note the colours to be used.  In one case, she wrote this information on the rear of the large  picture. Reproduction and enlargement of the original sketch was performed, perhaps photographically, or perhaps with a more manual tool such as a pantograph, which allows one to trace a smaller or larger picture and create another of different size. Several of the reproductions could then have been produced in different sizes allowing the children to each have their own.

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