Painting by AR Woods found in Canada arrives in Orkney

A painting by AR Woods, found in a box of junk at an auction in Canada, has arrived safely in Orkney as the hunt for the mystery Ness Battery artist continues.

A campaign to find more about a large mural at the Ness Battery in Orkney was launched in February.

Tower Bridge - by AR Woods

Tower Bridge - by AR Woods

Since then the AR Woods mural has attracted attention from historical researchers around the world.

Global search

In July, thanks to an article on this website, Julian Branscombe, Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme (SFLPS) manager, was amazed to be contacted by Joan Hollander, of Toronto, Canada.

She had found a charming picture by AR Woods, and soon realised that this painting might be a vital clue to a very special story.

“I’d gotten the painting in a box lot and was first attracted to the frame poking out of the box,” she said.

“I saw it was solid, bird’s eye maple and that made my curiosity jump.

“Someone, obviously put thought and care into a painting, to frame it so solidly.  And I was also intrigued by the subject matter.

We are really hoping that it [the painting] will spur someone to come forward with recollections of AR Woods
Julian Branscombe SFLPS


“The painting and frame were filthy, but ah, so are lots of beautiful things, until you look past the dirt.”

The oil painting features Tower Bridge, London and is thought to be by Gravesend-born artist, Albert John Rycraft Woods, who signed all his paintings ‘AR Woods’.

AR Woods in Orkney

Joan has gifted the painting found in Canada to the people of Orkney.

Julian said: “When the package arrived from Joan, I was just overcome with emotion. It feels so precious to be able to hold it.

“Now that we’ve got it, we are really hoping that it will spur someone to come forward with recollections of AR Woods, so we can find out exactly why he came to Orkney in WWII.

“However, we still need to establish the link between this artist and Orkney.”

Mr Branscombe added that the generous gift of this painting encourages his team to take the search to London, to see if there are any living relatives, or archive records, which indicate why this piermaster in his sixties might have come to Orkney in World War II.

Cottage Mural at Ness Battery, Orkney

Could the same AR Woods be responsible for the mural in Orkney and the painting of Tower Bridge?

Second painting found

The painting found in Canada is one of two that have come to light since the search was launched earlier this year.

A Brighton-based television script-writer, James Payne, also took up the challenge to find AR Woods.

He discovered a number of records of an AR Woods amateur painter, including a description of his painting at the 1932 Port of London Authority staff show as being “particularly noteworthy” (published that year in an edition of art magazine, The Studio).

James went on to find that an AR Woods painting of the Pool of London, his workplace as piermaster, was available and soon it was also on its way to Orkney.

AR Woods on display in Orkney

AR Woods was born in Gravesend in 1876 or 1877, and after a life at sea he worked for the Port of London Authority in the 1930s, through until his retirement in 1947.

Both of the known AR Woods paintings will be on public display at the Public Talk on Ness Battery, Past, Present & Future, which is being held in the Lecture Theatre of Stromness Academy on Thursday 8 December.

The talk starts at 7.30pm with military historian Geoffrey Stell speaking on Ness Battery: Defending Hoy Sound in Two World Wars.

The evening is free, and all are welcome – but come early to see the paintings.

The lecture theatre will be open from 7pm.

Do you know the history of AR Woods?

If you think you can help in the quest for more information about Mr Woods and how he came to be in Orkney please get in touch via our contact form or via the comments area below.