Jezreels Temple, Gillingham.

One of the most famous follies in Britain was in Gillingham. It was a folly for it was never completed, it was to be the Jezreel Temple of the Flying Roll. It was built by a religious sect, led by an ex-Indian army corporal
James Roland White, later known as James Jershom Jezreel. It was painted by Tristram Hillier for one of the Shell Posters.


 Tristram Hillier – Jezreel’s Temple Shell Poster, 1936

The printed word in books, pamphlets, newspapers and the postal service may have helped the social situation that made for a boom in new religious orders at the time. In America there were the Mormans but in Britain there was also a wide range of strange religions and cults based on Christ, the power of the pyramids or séance and speaking with the dead, but mostly cranks seeking power. It happens that I collect the books of such people  (especially on the pyramids), as a comedic and weird area of my library.

James White enlisted in the British Army on 27 July 1875 joining the 16th Regiment of Foot as a private, based in Chatham, Kent. It was at this time that White was also becoming interested in other spiritualists who had become famous. One was Joanna Southcott, a domestic servant who aged 42 in 1792 believed she had supernatural powers. Southcott wrote and
dictated prophecies in rhyme, announced herself as the Woman of the
Apocalypse spoken of in the Book of Revelations.

John Wroe was another inspiration. Wroe had set up the Christian Israelite Church at Chatham in 1875. The church was originally set up in Gravesend, Kent, ten miles from Gillingham.

White, while in Secunderabad, India, with his regiment complied a book made up from the writings of Johanna Southcott and John Wroe. To this compilation he gave the title of “The Flying Roll.” It is emblematically sculptured on the western tablet on the south front of the tower building as it remains today. The Flying Roll was described as a “ramshackle” book, made up of extracts “ransacked from the Bible, from Genesis to Revelations” together with references to Southcott and Wroe.

White joined a small branch of a Southcottian sect of Christian Israelites at Chatham, led by a Mr and Mrs Head and calling itself the New House of Israel. Shortly after joining he wrote a version of the manuscript to become known as the “Flying Roll” and took over the church. White adopted the name of James Jershom Jezreel and persuaded some worshippers that he was the Messenger of the Lord. White also went to Wrenthorpe, in Yorkshire, taking his “Flying Roll” with him. Here dwelt a community that had long followed John Wroe and Johanna Southcott. To these he made a fervid appeal claiming himself to be “a messenger sent by God to succeed their former prophet.” They promptly rejected both him and “Flying Roll.” He then returned to Chatham. As the “Flying Roll” had so signally failed him in both of these early appeals James decided to keep it back for later and happier days.


White completed his military service in 1881 and left the army to set about building a headquarters for his church. Leaving the army he changed his name from White and went on to be called Jezreel.

The site for his church was at the top of Chatham Hill and the highest point in the area. It was chosen, Jezreel said, after a revelation from God.

He envisaged a building based on Revelation xxi, 16: “And the city lieth foursquare, and the length thereof is as great as the breadth … the length and the breadth and the height thereof are equal.” It was intended to be a
sanctuary, assembly hall and headquarters of the New and Latter House
of Israel, as the church was now called.

Around the perimeter there would be shops plus accommodation for Israel’s International College, a school he had already set up at his home in Woodlands Road, Gillingham.


Jezreel wanted the new HQ to be a perfect cube, each side 144 ft long. The architects, however, persuaded him the design was impractical and he agreed a modified version – 124 ft on each side and 120 ft high at each corner. It was to be built of steel and concrete with yellow brick walls and eight castellated towers. The trumpet and flying roll, crossed swords of the spirit and the Prince of Wales feathers (signifying the Trinity), were to be engraved on the outer walls.

First, an enormous cellar had to be constructed for storage, lift machinery, a heating system and the all-important printing presses to turn out thousands of copies of the Flying Roll and other literature essential to the


The circular assembly room was a vast amphitheatre, said to be capable of accommodating up to 5,000 people. In the roof would be a glass dome, 94 ft in diameter. Jezreel planned gardens and stately avenues from adjoining streets, making it a focal point for the area. The estimate for these plans was £25,000 and completion was set for 1 January 1885. The money came from his followers savings and fundraising.


Jezreel insisted his followers were abstainers from drink – a rule that did not apply to the leader, who often appeared to be drunk.

Jezreel fell ill towards the end of 1884 and died on 2 March 1885. Nobody mourned his death, for the word was without meaning in the sect, who expected his speedy resurrection. His coffin bore the simple inscription James Jershom Jezreel, aged 45 years, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Grange Road cemetery near his home in Gillingham.

The sect was taken over by his wife Clarissa (née Rogers), a follower 10 years his junior whom he had married on 17 December 1881. (On the marriage certificate she added the name Esther by which she was then known.) She ensured the building work continued. The foundation stone was laid on 19 September 1885.


 Digital version of White’s original design.

Much of the tower’s foundations were in place by early 1886 and some of the peripheral buildings were occupied. As building costs soared, Clarissa made economies in the budget for keeping followers. She found the cost of feeding Jezreelites was particularly high and declared the sect would become vegetarian, living off a diet of bread and potatoes.

“Queen Esther” (the derogatory name by which she was called in the press), however, was often to be seen in the area riding in a coach and dressed in fashionable clothing. Inevitably, this led to dissent and the number of followers – at one point as high as 1,400 – began to dwindle. After a legal case involving one of the followers, who had given all his money to the cause, a mere 160 Jezreelites remained.


By June 1887, the whole of the outside except for the roof was finished, while inside the ground floor was complete with the newly installed steam printing-presses rapidly turning out the sect’s publications – the ‘Flying Roll’ and ‘Messenger of Wisdom’. On the floor above, large quantities of steel girders had been installed to construct the meeting hall, balconies, the hydraulic choirs and preacher’s revolving platform.

However, payments to the builders began to slow down. In November 1887, the building was ready for its concrete and asphalt roof but this had to be delayed, and as the money finally ran out in March 1888, work ceased. So, roofless and surrounded by scaffolding, Jezreel’s fantastic tower lay exposed to the elements. By that time, £30,000 had been spent and it was estimated that another £20,000 would be needed. There was a possibility that the building could have been finished, but the sudden death of Esther in June 1888 removed the Jezreelites’ unifying influence and almost certainly ensured that this would not happen.


In July, 1888, Mrs Jezreel died suddenly from peritonitis. She was 28. The sect fragmented and work on the tower was suspended forever. It was  demolished in 1961. The shops (and members accommodation) mentioned near the site of the tower  and demolished in 2008.

Shell – Everywhere You Go

Both beautiful and inspiring, the artwork that Shell used on their posters was a shift in advertising for two reasons: They were selling the ambitions of the motorist beyond commuting; a generation of day-trippers without trains. Also they were presenting modern art to the public in an era when museums charged admission. The posters were pasted on the sides of petrol stations, lorries and billboards with that simple line “You Can Be Sure of Shell”.

Shell Mex Limited appointed a new Publicity Director in 1932, Jack Beddington. His insight turned the British Shell advertisements of the 1930s into one of the classic campaigns of the twentieth century. The genius of the campaign was to let artists depict Britain in their own styles, they would paint an image and whatever their style, it was surrounded by text. There would be no need for product placement, for models holding petrol cans, it was a campaign exposing the beauty and wonder of Britain and modern art.

Some of these posters were exhibited at the New Burlington Galleries in 1934. Below are two quotes from different reviews on the exhibition that show the surprise of critics to Beddington’s use of modern artists in poster design.

It is now a good many years since, under the able directorship of Mr Frank Pick, some of our best designers were encouraged to show their works in public – using the expression in its broadest sense. People who never though of going to picture galleries could, for the first time find delight in good pictorial art even in an Underground station and in the street. –
Apollo, January to June, 1934, p322

If it can be hoped that big firms like Shell-Mex are really going to patronize art as intelligently as this, we shall expect to be seeing in a few years’ time at Christie’s, not the sale of the collection of the Duke of Frumpshire, but of the Gas Light and Coke Company. If the princes of commerce are going to behave like princes we shall have some fun.

The Everywhere You Go series is one of the more curious for it is before the typographic design for the posters had settled down, a range of typefaces, colours and sizes are used. The first offering by W J Steggles has the tag line in lowercase. Steggles was part of the now fashionable, East London Group of artists, he painted various scenes for Shell posters, as did his brother Harold and

Elwin Hawrhorne.


 Walter James Steggles – The Thames at Cookham


 Edgar Ainsworth – Gordale Scar


 Elwin Hawrhorne – North Foreland Lighthouse


 Robert Miller – Devil’s Elbow, Braemar


 Harold Steggles – Bungay


 Rosemary and Clifford Ellis – Lower Slaughter


 Graham Sutherland – Oust Houses nr Leeds, Kent


 M. A. Miles – Polperro Cornwall


 Charles Mozley – Boxhill 


 John Armstrong – Newlands Corner


 Graham Sutherland – The Great Globe, Swanage


 George Hooper – Kintbury Berks

 John Armstrong – Near Lamorna


 Paul Nash – Rye Marshes


 Edward Wakeford –   Gravesend

† Apollo, January to June, 1934, p322
W.W.Winkworth – The Spectator –  29 JUNE 1934, p15

Catherine McDermott – Design Museum Book of Twentieth Century Design, 1998, p319

Shell – Landmarks

Both beautiful and inspiring, the artwork that Shell used on their posters was a shift in advertising for two reasons: They were selling the ambitions of the motorist beyond commuting; a generation of day-trippers without trains. Also they were presenting modern art to the public in an era when museums charged admission. The posters were pasted on the sides of petrol stations, lorries and billboards with that simple line “You Can Be Sure of Shell”.


 Edward Scroggie – Temple Bar

The respectability of motor touring was reinforced by the list of artists commissioned by Shell. It reads like a Who’s Who of the British art establishment of the period – Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland, Vanessa Bell, Ben Nicholson, Rex Whistler and Edward McKnight Kauffer – who between them produced some of the finest examples of commercial art while promoting a nostalgic view of England at the same time. At this stage of the century the motor car itself was not perceived as a threat to the countryside. Buying a car meant buying into a new world.


 Richard Guyatt – Ralph Allen’s Sham Castle

Ralph Allen’s Sham Castle:
Ralph Allen was an entrepreneur, philanthropist and was notable for his reforms to the British postal system. He his home, Prior Park, a Palladian house, built to demonstrate the properties of Bath stone as a building material, Allen happened to own a few stone mines in Bath. On the crest of Bathwick Hill facing the city of Bath is the colloquially dubbed “Ralph Allen’s Sham Castle”, built in 1755. Guyatts poster is the most modernist in this post, making use of positive and negative line drawing in the shade and light.


 Edward McKnight Kauffer – Dinton Castle, Near Aylesbury

Dinton Castle:

A most charming, innocent folly, standing on a little mound by the Aylesbury-Thame road and circled by pine trees. It was built in 1769 by Sir John Vanhatten to house his collection of fossils, some of which are let into the random rubble walls. The plan is a hexagon with towers at two opposite corners, one for fireplaces and the other for a spiral staircase. ♠


 Graham Sutherland – Bringham Rock, Yorkshire

Bringham Rock, Yorkshire.

Sutherland visited this site in the autumn of 1935 at the suggestion of Jack Beddington, who wanted it to figure as one of a series of Shell posters. The result is a dreamlike lithograph, more in the style of Paul Nash. There are other rock structures on the site, all unique. ♣

There are many variations of rock formations, caused by Millstone Grit being eroded by water, glaciation and wind, some of which have formed amazing shapes. ♣


 Paul Nash – Kimmeridge Folly, Dorset

Kimmeridge Folly, Dorset
When Paul Nash was working for Shell in 1937 it was to produce the Shell Guide of Dorset. He relocated for the project. His boss for the guide was not just Jack Beddington but also John Betjeman. It was Betjeman who suggested he paint Kemmeridge Folly for the ‘Landmark’s’ campaign. Paul Nash was paid 50 guineas when the picture was accepted as a poster in 1938.


 Denton Welch – Hadlow Castle, Kent

Hadlow Castle, Kent

The first few months of 1937 saw Denton working on a large-scale panel of Hadlow Castle, a building some three miles east of Tonbridge. Although the main part of the house dated from the end of the eighteenth century and had been inspired by Strawberry Hill, the 170-foot tower, built between 1938-40, was modelled on William Beckford’s Fonthill. The whole ambience of the place appealed greatly to Denton’s love of the Gothic. His naive painting, which shows the puny tower rising above the other parts like a coffee-iced wedding cake, was designed specifically to be reproduced as a poster. †

Hadlow Castle was built on the site of Hadlow Court Lodge, a country house. The Castle was built over a number of years from the late 1780s, commissioned by Walter May in an ornate Gothic style, it became known as May’s Folly. The architect was J. Dugdale.

His son, Walter Barton May inherited the estate in 1823. It was he, who added a 170 feet (52 m) octagonal tower in 1838, the architect was George Ledwell Taylor. The tower was based in part on James Wyatt’s at Fonthill Abbey. A 40 feet (12 m) octagonal lantern was added two years later in 1840 and another smaller tower was added in 1852. This was dismantled in 1905. Walter Barton May died in 1858 and the estate was sold.

The property passed from many owners in the early twentieth century. During the Second World War it was used as a watchtower by the Home Guard and Royal Observer Corps. The unoccupied castle changed hands several times after the war too, until it was demolished in 1951, except for the servants’ quarters, several stables and the Coach House, which was saved due to campaigning from the society portrait painter and local resident, Bernard Hailstone. The Tower was Listed as a historic structure on 17 April 1951.

Denton Welch: Writer and Artist by James Methuen-Campbell, 2003
The English Landscape in the Twentieth Century by Trevor Rowley 2006
♠ Follies & Grottoes by Barbara Jones, 1953
♣ Wikipedia: Brimham Rocks