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The Daintiest of Leg-Wear at Derry & Toms

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

The Derry & Toms poster campaign

The initial premise of this article was to discuss McKnight Kauffer’s relationship with Derry & Toms, the Kensington High Street department store, but with further research an interesting story evolved of how one of the company’s partners instigated a fascinating advertising poster campaign. I will present McKnight Kauffer’s relationship with Derry & Toms in a separate post.

In c.1862 Charles Derry first opened a drapers shop in Wright’s Lane, just off Kensington High Street. He was later joined by his brother-in-law, Charles Toms, and at the turn of the twentieth century they followed the trend of expanding into larger premises in Kensington High Street. The old descriptors on Derry & Toms labels and bills of sale reading ‘Linen Drapers, Silk Mercers and Haberdashers’ no longer applied.

Both partners had two sons who also joined the business with each member of the family taking over different responsibilities. For example (Major) Charles Toms looked after the horses that drew the blue and grey delivery vans. His expertise as a horse lover led him to become a revered and respected judge at major horse shows.

The partners had observed the impact that posters produced by the London Underground were having on its public and attempted to emulate them by introducing a poster advertising campaign of their own. Stanley Toms took over the responsibility for the advertising side of the business. For the poster campaign he sought out leading poster artists of the time, including F. Gregory Brown (he later dropped the ‘F’), and the rising star, E McKnight Kauffer. He introduced such innovations as creating large poster display cases sited at major railway stations, and an art gallery within the store that showed work by well-known artists as well as their commissioned poster artists

One show was dedicated to Scottish Art, another to the curiously titled ‘Pencil Society’. Derry & Toms received requests for copies of their posters from schools, libraries and hospitals as well as soldiers in France during WW1, and exhibitions of their posters were shown in Australia, South Africa and in the Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

From today’s perspective Toms’ choice of other artists appears quite random. It is curious to note that at the time of their respective commissions many of the chosen artists lived in the South Kensington area. As far as I can ascertain the poster campaign began in 1917 and ceased in 1920 when the Derry & Toms store was taken over by a Kensington High Street competitor, John Barker. In the region of 40-50 Derry & Toms posters were issued during this period.

Derry & Toms was acquired by John Barker & Co in 1920. The original Derry & Toms building was eventually demolished and a new building with the famous Rainbow Room restaurant and roof garden opened in 1933.

For the purposes of this Blog post there are too many stories to unveil – but here is an alphabetic list of some of the artists commissioned by Stanley Toms. It is difficult to give a specific date - so they are all from the period between 1917-1920


Could this be Arabella Louisa Rankin (1871-1943)? Born in Scotland but lived in Kensington most of her life. Known primarily for her colour woodcut landscapes – reminiscent of Japanese woodcuts of the early 19th century

F. (Frederic) Gregory Brown (1887-1941)

Gregory Brown was already an experienced poster artist by the time Toms commissioned him although he only appears to have designed one poster for Derry & Toms. Perhaps influenced by a 1912 Ludwig Hohlwein poster for Munich Zoo, or even Julius Klinger’s 1910 poster advertising Berlin’s Zoological Gardens The daintiest of Leg-Wear depicting a long legged brightly adorned crane (?) is one of the most sought after Derry & Toms posters for today’s collectors. Brown went on to forge a career as one of the most outstanding poster artists of the inter-war years. The Derry and Toms commission led to him becoming a favoured artist for Bobby & Co, a rival department store, producing around a dozen brightly coloured posters for the company.

Julius Klinger Zoologischer Garten, Berlin, 1910

Ludwig Hohlwein Zoologischer Garten Munich, 1912

Helen Byrne Bryce (1891-1971)

Born in Scotland Helen Bryce moved to London to live in Chelsea in 1911.She attended St John’s Wood School of Art. Famous for her naïve style of painting, a style which she could easily adapt to suit poster design (she designed around 12 posters for London Underground in the 1920s), Bryce designed two posters advertising toys for Derry &Toms. In later life she moved to Burford in the Cotswolds where she produced her best-known painting of Burford high street. She was also known for her wood engravings. In her seventies she married Frederick Nattrass, an eminent physician

W.S Bylityllis – this artist is an enigma. He probably only designed one poster for Derry & Toms. When researching under this name one draws a blank – only using this name for the commercial design work he did in England.

He was, in fact, William Spencer Bagdatopoulous (1888-1965). Born in Greece, his family moved to Europe in 1899. He studied art at the Academy in Rotterdam, and came to England where he forged a career as a commercial artist designing posters for clients including Cunard, and the India State Railway. In 1928 he moved to USA first living in Chicago and later Santa Barbara. He travelled widely, and was an accomplished printmaker, portrait artist and muralist. He returned to England (I don’t know when) and died in Penzance, Cornwall in 1965. His American wife died a year later.

W.S Bylityllis

The Golden Arrow All Pullman Train


Norman (Aubrey McDaniel) Keene (1886-1961)

One of the most popular Derry & Toms posters of its time was Norman Keene’s depiction of a happy dog unravelling wool purchased at Derry & Toms. A photograph of one of the company’s railway station hoardings shows that the mischievous dog featured in a number of other posters, all presumably by Keene. A versatile artist he was known for his humorous illustrations and poster designs for Shell petroleum company, Wright’s soap, and for Kodak cameras, adapting Fred Pegram’s model of the Kodak Girl for a French market

1940. Keene and Heath Robinson decorated boarded up shop fronts during the war

F.H (Francis Howlett) Warren (1886-1960)

Judging by the number of Derry & Toms posters designed by Warren he appears also to have been a great favourite of Stanley Toms. I can account for eight posters – there were probably more. One of the mainstays of his artistic career was illustrating boys books, but he could adapt his style to suit various clients’ needs. I did note this clear sign of (minor) plagiarism, observed by the printed ephemera guru Maurice Rickards (in The Rise & Fall of the Poster, published in 1971). In Warren’s poster advertising Derry & Toms for Shoes he has clearly borrowed the stylised shoe illustration from the German poster artist Lucien Bernhard’s 1908 poster for Stiller shoes

F.H. Warren, c.1930 Advertise on the LNER (London North Eastern Railway)

Lucien Bernhard, 1908

Other artists:

J (John) Dewar Mills (1883-1966) Born in Scotland he moved to the Kensington area of London. Active service in WW1 , firstly with the Royal Navy, later with the RAF Reserve. Returned to live in London. Primarily known for his work as an illustrator of girls school stories and for numerous magazines

Prebble (Herbert William) Rayner (1886-1950). Only one poster for Derry & Toms. I haven’t tracked him down yet, but it seems he did not pursue a career as an artist, instead turning to journalism. He moved to South Africa in 1937. He wrote the foreword to a book, published in South Africa, on the artist (Vladimir) Tretchikoff (known for the mass produced print of the Chinese Girl, otherwise known as the Green Lady).

Leonard (Lancaster) Richmond (1878 -1965). Along with Gregory Brown and McKnight Kauffer Richmond was one of the best known artists employed by Derry & Toms

(See David Bownes - Twentieth Century Posters)

(John) Hall Thorpe (1874-1947) Born in Australia – came to London in 1900. Attended Heatherleys School of Art. In the early years in England he lived in Chelsea. The 1911 census describes him as an artist, the 1939 Register he was listed as artist, publisher and art teacher. He returned to woodcutting, the craft he had learnt in Australia, specialising in stylised colour prints of flowers, and wallpaper design

John Hall Thorpe A Country Bunch Coloured wood cut

I do know of a number of other artists who carried out poster design work for Derry & Toms. For many artists this was their first entrée into commercial art - many of them going on to have stellar careers in the 1920s and 1930s.

My post on McKnight Kauffer's relationship with Derry & Toms will follow


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