William Arnee Frank, Joseph Austin Benwell's cousin

William Arnee Frank (1808-1897) was Joseph Austin Benwell's first cousin, being the son of Hannah Benwell (Joseph Benwell senior's elder sister) and Arnee Frank (1776-1859), a well-respected Bristol Quaker. He was born on 5 July 1808 at Church Lane, Bristol. Both William Arnee Frank and Joseph Austin Benwell were grandsons of John Benwell of Sidcot.  He married Martha Willmott (1815-1896) of North Pensford, Somerset in 1840, and they had five recorded surviving children. In the 1871 census, his wife Martha is also described as a 'painter in watercolours'.

William Arnee Frank was also an artist who quite early in his life, in 1831, published a series of lithographs of Bristol views, now held at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.  A number of his works are held at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery . Like Benwell, later in life he produced many watercolours, mostly of landscapes in England and Wales. 

He is mentioned in Jeremy Wood's book 'Hidden Talents, A dictionary of neglected artists working 1880-1950' 

'Although essentially an artist of the first half of the 19th Century, W A Frank was active into his eighties and was still showing work at the West of England Academy in 1891.  Little is known about his early life although he did teach drawing in Clifton and published a series of lithographs of local Bristol views in 1831.  His watercolour landscapes are well painted usually in strong colours which give them a distinctive appearance.  The subjects are mostly views around Bristol, the Wye Valley and North Wales.'

Boats of'f Steep Holm, Weston, Bristol Channel by William Arnee Frank

 Boats of'f Steep Holm, Weston, Bristol Channel 

Close-up of the small rowing boat from the above painting 

Goodrich Castle River Wye, Herefordshire

Goodrich Castle, 1882 

These two watercolours of Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire are interesting in that both show similar scenes of an old ferry boat with figures crossing the River Wye, and Goodrich Castle in the background. The 1882 painting shows a man (the ferryman) in hat and brown coat paddling the boat, with two horses, one brown and one white with blinkers standing in the boat. A lady in a shawl with a basket is waiting under a tree on the river bank. The second painting shows the ferryman- a man in hat and brownish-green coat paddling the boat in a different pose (likely the same man?), with another man in white hat, blue shirt and braces sitting on the edge of the boat. There are no figures on the river bank. The first picture appears to show the castle from a slightly greater distance, with trees and figure in the right mid-foreground. 

They beg the question- were the pictures painted on the same day or same year? Or completely different times? The painting above and lower left is signed W A Frank and dated 1882, the other is signed W A Frank but not dated, and is inscribed in pencil verso: 'Goodrich Castle & Ferry - On the Wye'

        Goodrich Castle, 1882                                                                                                                                                   Goodrich Castle and ferry, on the Wye    

Goodrich castle figures 1882

 Close-up of figures and boat,  first painting   

Goodrich castle figures- ferry on the Wye

 Close-up of figures and boat,  second painting. In this image, the brown horse is looking towards the artist, and appears to have a white blaze on its head. The ferryman is wearing a brownish-green coat and is standing in a different position. There is a passenger in white hat, blue shirt and braces in this image.

Close-up of the figure of the woman on the river bank in 'Goodrich Castle' 1882 (note: photos taken through glass) 

Cattle Ferry on the River Wye near Symonds Yat.      

Another scene showing a livestock ferry on the River Wye 

William Arnee Frank Sidcot Skiddaw

Extract (left) from 'A History of Sidcot School 1808-1908' (1908)

by Francis A Knight

Page 191 

Extract (right) from 'A History of Sidcot School 1808-1908' by Francis A Knight

Page 321  

I wonder if the painting of Skiddaw is still there?, over a hundred years after this book was written and over 150 years since it was painted.

William Arnee Frank Sidcot Skiddaw

 Lake scene with hills, 1879

This painting was sold at auction in 2013 described as depicting a loch with hills in the background. The painting could be a scene from Scotland, or it could be a scene in North Wales or the Lake District. 

Should anyone recognise the scene or have any thoughts as to where it is, please do contact me (contact tab above). There appears to be a white/grey church spire right centre of the picture, below the hills. The topography, small wooded island and the church spire (as opposed to tower or chapel), indicate that the location is more likely to be the Lake District than North Wales. Possibly Keswick/Derwentwater? The church in Keswick (St John) has a spire and is in a prominent position in the town. The mountain in the background could therefore be Skiddaw, possibly depicted in a rather exaggerated and romanticised manner as favoured by some Victorian landscape artists. 

If this painting does show Skiddaw, it is clearly dated 1879 and therefore cannot be the one referred to in the Sidcot book extracts above, which must have been painted prior to 1864!


Present-day views of Skiddaw for comparison, with Derwentwater and the spire of Keswick St John church

Waterfall scene - ‘Cil Hepsta Fall, Vale of Neath’ watercolour 
Cil Hepsta Fall Vale of Neath, waterfall Sgwd yr Eira
Cil Hepsta fall, or Sgwd Yr Eira

Waterfall scene - ‘Cil Hepsta Fall, Vale of  Neath’ lithograph c.1830-1850 ' ‘Drawn from nature and on stone by Wm A Frank'. See below - shown side-by-side for comparison.

This watercolour is inscribed with the title on its reverse side. It is signed, but does not appear to be dated. It is interesting to compare with W A Frank’s earlier lithograph of the same name.

As mentioned previously, W A Frank produced engravings and lithographs early in his life (before the 1850s), focusing on watercolours later in life.  It is therefore likely that the dates of the lithograph and watercolour differ by several decades, unless the watercolour is one of Frank’s very early paintings.

The two images are captured from a slightly different perspective and distance, but otherwise are unmistakably of  the same scene, The broken tree stump leaning out mid-foreground right centre in the painting could be the remains (years later) of the similarly shaped and located small young tree shown in the lithograph.

 The location is now better known as the Upper Cilhepste Fall (or Sgwd yr Eira) in the Waterfall Country of Brecon Beacons National Park.

Cil Hepsta Fall Vale of Neath, waterfall lithograph

‘Cil Hepsta Fall, Vale of  Neath’ lithograph c. 1830-1850 ‘Drawn from nature and on stone by Wm A Frank' - larger image. Now known as Sgwd Yr Eira Waterfall.

It is possible that this lithograph could be from the folio ‘Ten Views in Wales’ published in 1830, as the written description under the image includes the words ‘Drawn from nature and on stone by Wm A Frank’, as do other known plates from the folio.

Sgwd yr Eira or Cil Hepsta Fall
Sgwd yr Eira or Cil Hepsta Fall
Sgwd yr Eira or Cil Hepsta Fall
Sgwd yr Eira or Cil Hepsta Fall
Cil Hepsta Fall, or Sgwd yr Eira, 2019, and over 150 years ago. 
Sgwd yr Eira or Cil Hepsta Fall

Left and above are shown some scenes of Cil Hepsta Fall (now known as Sgwd yr Eira) in the Waterfall country of the Brecon Beacons.

We visited the site on 20th October 2019. The main path leads down to the left hand side (facing) of the waterfall, the opposite bank from which the painting and lithograph were made. 

The waterfall is one of the main attractions in the area, and you can walk behind it to get to the other bank. There had been heavy rain during the preceding weeks and the waterfall was torrential, so I decided it was too difficult to get to the other bank to photograph it for a true comparison over time. I did get almost halfway behind the waterfall - quite an experience - and got very wet! 

I can't imagine that Frank painted this scene when a very old man, as it is a steep climb to get down to, preceded by quite a long walk. So maybe it can be dated 1850s/1860s and no later than mid 1870s.

              Children Playing, 1885 

A Rower near the Cliffs                                                                                                                      The Old Lighthouse   

 'Dolbardan Castle and Lakes of Llanberis'  Taken near the Caernarvon Road                 'Aberystwyth'  from The Quarry, Constitution Hill , 1830

 Drawn from nature & on stone by Wm A Frank                                                                        Bristol, Lithographed and published by W A Frank, 6 Augustine's Parade

Lithographs from 'Ten Views in Wales' by William Arnee Frank, publ. 1830

''Sidcot School from the South West' - 'Drawn from Nature, Lithographed and Published by William Arnee Frank, 5 Easton Buildings, Bristol 1831'

Reproduced in 'A Mendip Valley, its Inhabitants and Surroundings' (being an enlarged and illustrated edition of 'Winscombe Sketches') by Theodore Compton, 1892

William Arnee Frank was a pupil at Sidcot School 1818-1821, and four of his children attended the school in the early 1860s.

Clifton, Vincent's Rocks 1831

'Clifton, Vincent's Rocks & c’ (from Leigh Woods looking up the River) by William Arnee Frank, 1831

“Bristol, Drawn, Lithogd, & Published by W. A. Frank, 1831.”

This lithograph was made before the Clifton Suspension Bridge was built. Work started on 23 June 1831 (a small ceremony was held) and it took 33 years to build. The Bridge was opened in 1864. W A Frank may have wanted to record the scene before work started.

The Young Fishermen

As a Benwell descendant, I am interested in acquiring my cousin William Arnee Frank's pictures in order to bring some back to the family. I would be interested to hear from anyone wishing to sell one of his works. Or if you just want to find a good home for a piece that is no longer wanted, please let me know. (please see 'contact' page)

Art Research - other Bristol artists and miscellaneous   George Cumberland (1754-1848)

 Material researched and written by Dee Murray. Website compiled by Dee Murray. All rights reserved.

All images on this website are either scanned or photographed from the author’s own resources, or are in the public domain in digital format via websites such as HathiTrust, Openlibrary.orgthe Internet Archive (archive.org) or Google Books. 

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