Keen historians among our ‘Old Page’ readers have noticed that we got our ‘Achesons’ and ‘Atkinsons’ confused last month when we were reporting the life and times of Anne Acheson – whose wonderful life is being highlighted an exhibition currently running at the High Street Mall.
Anne (1882-1962) was the daughter of Harriet and John Acheson of Dunavon House on the Carrickblacker Road. Hers was a life of service to the art world and to the helping the World War One effort in the most practical of ways. The Mall exhibition is called ‘Taking Liberties… The Women’s Fight for the Vote’. And Anne’s life – with pictures and words – is captured on a story ‘tower’ just outside the Argos premises.
She was a sculptor of international renown, exhibiting her work at the Royal Academy of Art in London, Paris, Brussels, Toronto and Stockholm. Among her most prestigious commissions was a bronze bust of the Arabian explorer Gertrude Bell, which was unveiled at the National Museum of Baghdad in 1930 by King Faisel I of Iraq.
Anne’s artistic skill was turned to more practical use following the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, when she decided to volunteer with the Surgical Requisites Association (SRA) based at 17 Mulberry Walk in London.
The SRA was established in 1914 to develop and supply surgical techniques and equipment for the treatment of wounded soldiers who were now filling hospitals throughout the land.
As part of her SRA work, with an expert knowledge of the human anatomy from her interest in drawing and sculpting, Anne invented the first anatomically accurate splints, which helped the broken bones of soldiers to heal better.
However, our story confused her with the ‘Atkinson’ family of Bachelor’s Walk, who donated their estate to Portadown Borough Council, together with Eden Villa House. The last of the lineage living there were Alice Mary Isabel Atkinson, fourth child of the family who died in 1960 and the youngest of the five, Georgina Eleanor, who had passed away 10 years earlier.
Harold Martin, who played tennis at the former Edenderry Methodist clay courts, told us of meeting them to sort out the problem of trees over-hanging the courts – it was quickly resolved.
Craigavon Borough Council has transformed it into the attractive park Edenvilla Park, with the considerable input of Portadown Hockey Club, with the all-weather pitch, and Portadown Tennis Club, with the excellent courts. And the various sections like the playground and the secret garden have added to its appeal.
Keen historians Jim Lyttle, retired photographer, and Richhill man David Bell have given us a few details of the Atkinsons, after whom ‘Atkinson Avenue’, off West Street was named. Jim’s superb website ‘Portadown Photos’ includes a classic horse-and-carriage picture of the family showing the style in which the family lived at Eden Villa House.
Their land would have made quite a tidy sum in real estate terms, even when they handed it over to Portadown Borough Council in the early 1960s, but the then Town Hall did little with it. The house fell into disrepair, was used for storage, a football pitch was created at one stage, and the HQ of Craigavon Development Commission was built upon it.
Back in the past, the Mann family occupied one of the white cottages, and Jim Lyttle recalls that the famous, picturesque cottage (the site is now the car park) was the backdrop to many wedding pictures taken by the legendary Jack Nicholson, long-time photographer with the now defunct Portadown News.
Jack lived at the nearby ‘White Row’ opposite the old Edenderry Primary School (Carrick Eden Grange is now on that site). Said Jim, “The owners of the cottage kept a superb garden and gave Jack carte blanche for taking wedding pictures. They were in black and white in those days, and he gave them the odd tint to add a spot to colour.”
Jim has also furnished us with a headstone of the Atkinsons from Seagoe Cemetery (reproduced here) and it starts off with ‘In Memory of Wolsey Atkinson of Eden Villa (1810-1888) and Charlotte Buckby his wife (1810-1885). It goes on to state that their youngest son Thomas Arthur was buried in Australia, and on down the headstone that Thomas Joyce Atkinson (Royal Irish Fusiliers) was killed in action on July 1, 1916.
He was 38, a Major in the RIF, and is buried at Ancre Cemetery at The Somme, having perished on the first day of that infamous battle. The aforementioned Misses Atkinsons’ names are the last on the headstone.
The story of the Achesons-Atkinsons a fortnight ago also prompted David Bell to purchase book on the life of Anne Acheson entitled ‘The First Lady of Mulberry Walk: The Life and Times of Irish Sculptress Anne Acheson’ by David Llewellyn.
It is available from the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre at Oxford Island for the special price of £10, and it was there that David made his purchase.
David also confirmed the Atkinson link via a book called ‘Old Portadown’ by Alex F. Young and Des Quail which states that they lived at Eden Villa on the Bachelor’s Walk. It is also available at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre at £9. A short item and a picture of Bachelors Walk tells of the Atkinsons in a book which covers many aspects of the life and times of Portadown.