Buchanan, John

John Buchanan was born in Glasgow on 14 July 1908 to John Buchanan (1877-1950) and Bertha Jane nee Hoare (1880-1966). He was frustrated by his severely disabled arms which made him become a rather wild young boy. He was born with 2 imperfectly formed fingers where his left hand should have been. His right arm ended with a stump at the elbow. Shortly after John was born his parents move to Fleet in Hampshire. With the birth of other children their mother found it increasingly difficult to give John junior the extra care and attention he needed. It was suggested that John should be placed in the care of the National Children's Home (NCH). Being so severely disabled this was not straightforward. He was examined by a Harley Street physician who did not give a very encouraging report. He concluded ‘Here is a lad who in all probability will never be able to earn his own living.’ The physician warned the NCH officials that John’s disabilities were so extensive that they may be greater than the home could deal with. However at the age of 9 John was admitted to the National Children’s Home Branch for Crippled Children at Chipping Norton. When John entered the Chipping Norton Home he was almost monosyllabic. Soon he settled into school routine and the reports showed him to be intelligent and likable. Against all expectations John learned to hold a pen and then a paintbrush in his stump and disformed 2 fingers which amazed his teachers.

When John showed, despite his great disabilities, that he had a flair for art the Chipping Norton Home arranged for him to be enrolled on the General Art Course of the Oxford School of Art. This meant that John had to get up very early and travel the 21 miles to Oxford and return to Chipping Norton around 7 30 in the evening. John soon showed that his special genius was in his exceptional sense of colour and his artistry in being able to produce superbly bordered texts which he sent to NCH Sister Lucy in London which she sold at first for 3 pence but as his artistic competence grew so did the price of the illustrations. After leaving the Chipping Norton Home at 16 he moved to London with the money he had raised by his art and set up his studio. When John was 17 Lord Montagu saw some of his work and was so impressed that he sent him a gift. This was soon followed by a commission from Lord Montagu for John to copy on stiff board extracts from the family deed going back to King John. In 1926 he attained recognition at the Royal Society of Arts when his work was displayed at the Imperial Institute South Kensington. He was awarded the Major Frank Wedgwood First Prize. He was invited by Queen Mary to paint her Christmas Cards. When Lady Lucy, the widow of Sir Henry William Lucy, J.P. was shown the copy of the Illuminated Ladies’ Association of the National Children’s Home book and heard how the NCH had nurtured John she gave them £1000 to start a scholarship fund to assist children in their care to go to university or to enter one of the major professions. When the NCH formed the ‘League of Light’ scheme they asked John to design a special collecting box. He designed what became the successful iconic lantern with the message of light in a dark world.. John’s illuminated texts were used during WW2 to raise money for the war effort. His work can be seen in many books and places including Liverpool Cathedral In January 1940 at Hendon, Middlesex, John Married Edith Jane Jones (1904-2004) a young child care worker he met whilst visiting the Alverstoke branch of the NCH. They adopted a baby girl. They lived at 10 Pasture Road, Wembley, Middlesex. John died on12 January 1953 and his funeral service was conducted by Waterhouse, John Walters, OBE the Principal of the National Children’s Home. In 1954 The John Buchanan Memorial Hall at the Chipping Norton Branch was opened by John’s widow, Edith Jane Buchanan. In 1955 the NCH opened the first NCH home in Scotland, Cathkin House, Rutherglen, Glasgow, in memory of John Buchanan and with an anonymous gift given in John’s memory

  • Reading Standard 16 October 1953
  • Harrow Observer 3 December 1953
  • Banbury Advertiser 23 December 1953
  • Cecil F. Warpole Artist without hands 1954

Entry written by: DHR
Category: Person
Comment on this entry