Three Rivers Museum Trust chairman Fabian Hiscock reveals what has been discovered so far about an old postcard the museum was given.

Odd, sometimes wonderful things happen in a museum. We had one the other day, when a passer-by brought in an old postcard. What was depicted in the postcard of ‘Mount Pleasant Hospital’?

A good question. A hospital of that name rang only small bells – but a bit of beavering away revealed quite a lot. And the answer is, ‘An Artists’ Rest Home’ – right in the middle of Rickmansworth. But the local story is quite confused, and this is what we know so far.

It was the generous brainchild of Mr Francis William Reckitt, of the family behind the company which became Reckitt and Colman, making starch, and blue whitener and lots of other things.

A Yorkshire man and amateur artist born in 1859, he was, it seems, quite well known around the town around World War One. We don’t yet know when he first came to Rickmansworth, but in 1910 he was listed as having an apartment in a house called Mount Pleasant in Solomon’s Hill, with Arthur Paine as the owner.

A 1963 article in the Rickmansworth Historian had Wally King and Jim Walsh reminiscing that Francis Reckitt had property and interests elsewhere, and was only occasionally in Rickmansworth, but they still remembered him well. Mr Paine had a furniture shop, now Boots, at the bottom of Solomon’s Hill, and when he died Francis Reckitt bought the house and much of the property between Station Road and Solomon’s Hill and demolished and rebuilt the house. He himself moved, with Mrs Paine, to a nearby house called ‘Sheba’.

But it was what happened next that emerged from the postcard.

A small booklet was produced in 1929, covering ‘The Mount Pleasant Artists’ Rest Home, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire’.

Only 15 pages long, it seems to have been something of an ‘annual report’, with a copy of the rules as well, but some photographs. It includes the text, ‘The Home has been built and generously endowed by Mr. F. W. Reckitt, as a Convalescent Rest Home for the temporary residence and recuperation of male artists. He had long cherished the idea of founding this Rest Home, and, but for the War and its subsequent adjustments, his scheme would have been carried out some years ago. His first plan was to build on to the cottage in which he had lived for so long, but this proved to be impracticable so it was pulled down and the present house erected on the site.’

Watford Observer: Francis William Reckitt. By permission of the Francis W Reckitt Arts TrustFrancis William Reckitt. By permission of the Francis W Reckitt Arts Trust

Building started in July 1928, and the home was opened on July 15, 1929. We believe at the moment that it stood at the top of Solomon’s Hill, close to where the office building stands near Rickmansworth station.

Mr Reckitt’s generosity towards artists less fortunate than himself led to the setting up of the Francis W Reckitt Arts Trust, endowed initially with shares in the company.

Mount Pleasant in Rickmansworth closed and was sold in 1959 (it was demolished in 1963) and the residential facility moved to Reigate, which in turn closed in 2014. The Trust, however, continues to give important support to artists and writers, men and women, just as Mr Reckitt wished to do nearly a hundred years ago.

And so we have a fine local story based on someone bringing a postcard into the museum. There are some inconsistencies – for example the house in the photograph doesn’t look like the one being demolished, and may have been used as a World War One hospital, nothing to do with the Artists Rest! So we have more work to do, and we’re still researching Mr Reckitt and the Artists’ Rest Home – we’d love to hear from any reader who remembers Mount Pleasant, which is why this article appears now.

Francis W. Reckitt came from a family line of benefaction – he had himself earlier been a Guardian of the Poor at Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, and his uncle James was a very generous benefactor of Hull. As we develop the local story of the man and his generosity we remember both Francis William Reckitt and the Artists’ Rest Home in Mount Pleasant, Rickmansworth.