The Battle of Flamborough Head … on the rails

Dramatic depictions of naval battles and coastal scenes have often been used to attract visitors to the British seaside. Therefore, it is no surprise to learn that the Battle of Flamborough Head was used by the London and North Eastern Railway Company (LNER) on one of its travel posters during the 1930s. These posters would appear across the LNER’s network, as eye-catching advertisements for holidays utilising the company’s rail network. The posters were produced by highly-skilled artists and they have become collectable pieces of art in their own right.

The LNER poster depicting the Battle of Flamborough Head features the battle’s two main protagonists, the USS Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis, hotly engaged. Produced as it was in the inter-war period, the poster appeals to Britain’s maritime heritage, perceptions of the romance of the sailing ship era and Britain’s cultural alliance with the United States.

The artist who produced the work was Frank Henry Mason. He was an inspired choice. Mason was born in sight of the sea at Seaton Carew, Hartlepool in 1875. His father was a clerk with the North Eastern Railway. However, Frank appeared to be set on a career at sea, being a cadet in the Royal Navy aboard the training ship HMS Conway, before joining the Newcastle-based Parson’s Marine Steam Turbine Company.

After selling a number of paintings, Frank quit his job in 1898 to become a full-time artist. He moved to Scarborough, where he studied at the Scarborough School of Art under the great Albert Strange. Frank lived around the North Bay at Scarborough at various addresses, including Blenheim Terrace and North Marine Road. He became a member of the famous Staithes Group of artists, who were renowned for painting coastal scenes en plein air, in the manner of the French Impressionists. During World War One Frank served in the Royal Naval Reserve and commanded a launch in Egypt and the Middle East. However, it was his work as an official war artist that is his enduring legacy to that conflict. The Imperial War Museum in London houses no less than fifty-six of his works from the period.

After the war Frank found himself in demand as a travel poster artist. He produce a huge number of railway posters for a myriad of railway companies and shipping lines. Around 1930 he produced a poster for the LNER that used the imagery of the Battle of Flamborough Head that was designed to entice holidaymakers to the Yorkshire coast. The success of the design is such that, nine decades later, it can be purchased as a reproduction from the National Railway Museum at York.

Frank’s paintings still attract good prices and the Scarborough-based auctioneers David Duggleby’s often offer his work for sale. He has been the subject of several retrospectives with exhibitions at Beverley, Greenock, Hartlepool, Scarborough and Whitby, to name a few. It is hoped that, as part of future commemorations of the Battle of Flamborough Head, his posters, along with an appropriate context of the artist and his work, will appear on the railway stations of the Yorkshire coast line that runs between Hull and Scarborough. Bringing the story of the artist and the battle to a wide and varied audience.

Frank Henry Mason’s poster of Scarborough produced for British Railways


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