Henry Trimmer – JMW Turner’s Lifelong Friend
Henry Scott Trimmer was born in Old Brentford on 1 August 1778. His mother, Sarah (1741-1810), was a prominent educationalist, whose writing had a marked effect on the style and content of children’s literature of the time. It was in Brentford that Henry and his older brother, John, first met the ten-year-old William Turner, who had been sent to live with his uncle, Joseph Marshall, a local butcher. William and Henry soon became firm friends.
Oil painting of Sarah Trimmer, evangelist and children's writer by by Henry Howard - © National Portrait Gallery NPG 796
Henry fell ill with consumption in 1792-3 but made a full recovery. He gained a B.A from Merton College, Oxford in 1802 and in August that year was ordained deacon and appointed curate at St Leonard’s, Shoreditch. In December 1802 he was ordained priest and in 1803 became curate in Kedington, Suffolk, where he met his future wife. In 1804 he was appointed Vicar of Heston, near to where he had grown up, and remained there until his death in 1859.
In 1805 Henry married Mary Driver Syer in Kedington. They had three sons: Henry Syer, Barrington and Frederick.
Bury and Norwich Post 10 July 1805 British Newspaper Archive
After Turner completed the building of Sandycombe Lodge, his Twickenham house, in 1813, he and Henry Trimmer spent more time together and it is thanks to the information that Henry Trimmer’s sons passed on to Turner’s first biographer Walter Thornbury, that we know so much about Turner’s life at Sandycombe Lodge. Henry was also an occasional visitor at Turner’s studio and gallery in Queen Anne Street. Thornbury suggests that the interior of a church depicted in Turner’s Liber Studiorum is St Leonard’s, Heston, but the original drawing dates from 1797, before Trimmer moved to Heston.
Turner felt that he needed to be better educated in the classics and Henry wished to improve his artistic skills, so they came to an arrangement whereby Henry schooled Turner in Latin in exchange for painting lessons. They went out on sketching trips together, often with the Trimmer sons, and also visited art galleries, such as the one at nearby Osterley House. Sadly, none of Henry’s paintings seem to have survived but there is an engraved print of one of them in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Seascape with Rainbow, 1837. Henry Scott Trimmer (artist), David Lucas (engraver). © Victoria and Albert Museum
In 1815, Henry was appointed Justice of the Peace and, in 1821, Deputy Lieutenant for Middlesex. He was active in social reform and, in particular, campaigned for an investigation into the death of Private Frederick John White of the 7th Queen’s Own Hussars, based in Hounslow. In 1846, White had been court-martialled and flogged for insubordination and had died shortly after the lashes had been administered.
After Turner sold Sandycombe Lodge, in 1826, Henry saw less of him but, as Turner had appointed him as one of his executors, he was involved in the long-drawn-out dispute about Turner’s will, from 1852 to 1856.
Henry died on 20 November 1859 and his wife, Mary, only survived him by 48 hours. His son, Barrington, who had been his curate for 27 years, died the following year.
Norfolk Chronicle 3 December 1859 British Newspaper Archive
Illustrated London News 14 January 1860 British Newspaper Archive
During his lifetime, Henry had amassed a fine collection of paintings by celebrated artists, many of whom were known to him personally. When the collection was sold, in 1860, it included works by Hogarth, Reynolds and Gainsborough. No mention is made of any Turners, although Henry certainly owned some.
Morning Post 19 March 1860 British Newspaper Archive
British Newspaper Archive
Brentford High Street Project
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016).
Anthony Bailey, Standing In The Sun – a life of J.M.W.Turner (1997).
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner R.A. founded on letters and papers furnished by his friends and fellow Academicians, (London, 1862).
Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is open to visitors.