the antique sketchbooks of George Herbert Kitchin

by | Apr 28, 2021 | Antiques, Favorite Finds | 51 comments

This story starts several months ago when I was doing one of my regular check-ins on The Creative Exponent Community Facebook page.  I was scrolling through the recent posts and stopped immediately when I spotted a grouping of photos of the most wonderful sketches.  They were pencil sketches and watercolors of English cottages with thatched roofs and half-timber or brick construction.  I was immediately smitten with them and clicked on the caption to find out why someone was posting these pictures on the forum.  Julia of Ponder & Purchase found these antique sketchbooks at a local estate sale (she lives in England) and was asking for advice on how to handle selling such a special find.  My first reaction was, “Sell them to me!!!”  But, I gave a more professional, objective answer.  These are special and they should be researched and perhaps sold at an auction house where they could fetch a high price.

After a few updates on the antique sketchbooks from Julia, I finally decided to throw my hat in the ring and let her know I would be interested in purchasing the sketchbooks if she intended to sell them.  Julia let me know she was going to do some more research and would follow up soon.

A few months passed and those antique sketchbooks kept popping in my head.  At one point, I even had a dream about them!  In the dream, I was looking through them and making my own studies off of the sketches.  I have been buying and selling antiques for years and I can’t ever recall having a dream about something.  But these were so special and truly one of a kind and, beyond that, I just felt like they belonged with me.  If they weren’t going to stay with Julia, who obviously loved and appreciated them, they belonged with me,

After quite a bit of research on all of the possible outlets for selling the books, Julia decided to sell them to me.  She probably could’ve gotten more at an auction house, but they would’ve split them up and she would have no control over who bought them or what they do with them.  In my hands, she knew they would be loved and shared (and she could virtually visit with them any time.)

We both bit our nails as they made their well-insured trip across the Atlantic until they arrived at my house a couple of weeks ago.  I did get emotional as I turned through the pages of these journals I’ve had dreams about, drawn and painted by a man I’ll never know, an ocean away, over 100 years ago.  I truly feel honored to own something so special.

My fellow antique- and art-loving readers, I am over-the-moon excited to share the antique sketchbooks of George Herbert Kitchin and introduce his beautiful work to you…

antique sketchbooks of GH kitchin | miss mustard seed

Just take a little breath before scroll down…

These sketchbooks, created between 1898 – 1916, capture the beauty and classic designs of English cottages, houses, estates, churches, and castles as seen through the eyes of a talented and prolific architect.

George Herbert Kitchin Architect | antique sketchbooks | miss mustard seed

The antique sketchbooks contain hundreds of graphite sketches, watercolor paintings, and architectural floorplans and studies.  (There are even some journal entries in the oldest book.)  Some of them are more completed drawings, capturing a house as well as the surrounding area and people in it…

english cottage sketch | GH kitchin | antique sketchbook | miss mustard seed

english cottage watercolor & sketch | GH Kitchin | miss mustard seed

And others are more about the details of a baluster, column, window, or carved detail.

baluster sketch | GH Kitchin | miss mustard seed

And, I love his floorplans, which are a little peek into the essentials of a Victorian or Edwardian cottage…  (I did find it interesting that his measurements are in feet and inches instead of the metric system.)

GH Kitchen floor plan | victorian floor plan | antique sketchbook | miss mustard seed

Isn’t the handwriting just delicious, too?

As a part of owning the antique sketchbooks, I feel compelled to learn more about Mr. Kitchin and to share his work.  He did not marry or have children and his personal property sadly (yet happily for me) ended up in a sale, so I will do what I can to share the parts of his story that I can learn.  I don’t know how or in what form, but I have so many ideas!  Julia had already done some research and discovered he’s the son of The Very Reverend George William Kitchin and his family has a connection with Lewis Carroll.  The Kitchin children, including George Herbert, were photographed by Lewis Carroll.  This picture of young George Herbert is in the J. Paul Getty Museum

George Herbert Kitchin | Photo by Lewis Carroll | J. Paul Getty Museum

George signs all of his sketchbooks as GH Kitchin, Compton End, Winchester.  So, I looked up Compton End, a home he renovated and live in, and was able to find a picture of it…

GH Kitchen, Compton End, Winchester | Miss Mustard Seed

Isn’t this just the most charming home?

compton end, winchester, england | george herbert kitchin | miss mustard seed

I was actually able to buy a picture of the gardens at Compton End, which he designed, that was taken in the 1950s on Etsy!

Julia also shared over the weekend that she was digging through a stack of postcards at a sale and found one to “our man” (as we call him now), GH Kitchin at Compton End, Winchester.  She is going to send that to me along with a photo album, postcard album, and an album of home listings that all belonged to “our man.”

So, I scanned the books for five days to get them in digital format.  It takes about three minutes to scan each page (I scanned them in a very high resolution), so I scanned, folded laundry, scanned, vacuumed a room, scanned, edited photos, and so on.  I get a lot more done when I was working at my computer since I was alerted when a page is finished, but I just slowly chipped away at it until I got to the last page.  Now they are all scanned…I don’t know!  Maybe a book, maybe a project (sketches & paintings inspired by his work), maybe limited edition prints, maybe a trip to visit & paint the places he sketched that are still standing, or maybe a little bit of everything!

All I know is that I’m inspired by these antique sketchbooks.  I’m inspired by the way GH Kitchin sees the world and how he recorded it.  I’m inspired by the simple tools he used (usually just a pencil and I’m guessing a small ruler) to capture beauty.  Perhaps he had a box similar to my antique drafting box.  I’m inspired to sketch more.   And I feel a kinship with him in our mutual love of houses.  Perhaps that’s why I love these sketchbooks so much.  They are an amalgamation of so many things I love…antiques, art, and home.

PS – Ponder & Purchase is an Etsy shop where Julia sells her finds in England and she has amazing pricing!  She has a lovely watercolor sketchbook listed HERE along with so many other wonderful finds…tins, jam pots, Victorian lithographs, watercolors, and I know she found some great vintage watercolor sets that she’ll be listing soon.  She’s working on adding shipping to the US to her listings, so just contact her directly if there is something you’re interested in purchasing.


  1. Kim

    Yes, what a special treasure find these are!! How exciting for further sleuthing. I hope you find many more items and details!

    As for using feet and inches, that is, after all, the British Imperial measuring system. Metric only came about in England in the 1960s.


      Those are truly a treasure! Congratulations on acquiring them!

    • Lori

      The inside of journals are wonderful but I also love the simplicity of the outside of the journals. Wow. What a true treasure.

      • Marian Parsons

        I do, too! I’ve actually looked to see if they are still made because I love the paper and the linen covers, but I have not been able to find them, sadly! I am on the hunt for something as close to them as I can find, though, so I’ll share if I find a winner.

  2. Connie

    What a treasure for you to now possess! As far as future projects based off these beautiful journals, I vote for a some of everything you mentioned! And imagine, someday when you & Jeff build your new ‘old’ home, you can incorporate some of GH Kitchin’s beautiful plans & details into your forever home!

  3. Erika

    These are so wonderful! I adore art with English cottages-I look forward to seeing more of “your man’s” work!

  4. Mary from Life at Bella Terra

    Oh Marian, what a find! I am so happy they ended up in your hands. How fun to research such a talented artist! I do hope you make prints of them so others can enjoy his detailed work. Thank you for sharing! Love this story.

  5. alda ellis

    I love love antique ephemera, sketchings and a return to the past through them. What a fabulous find you have and I am always thrilled when treasures like this go to someone who will lovingly value and appreciate them. congrats on your find!

  6. Marian Zimmerman

    I’m drooling , just a gorgeous find
    Love, love love it!

  7. Beckie Hudson

    PLEASE I beg you! Some limited edition prints! I would adore these💙

  8. Dara Lansing

    It is a beautiful find…so happy for you. My late husband an Irishman trained as a coach and cabinet maker in England said he had to learn both measurements in inches as his instructors had learned and then convert in metric…he could do this in seconds in his head!
    As for “ your man”….. any guy was your man or your woman…family or friends are our so and so….you guys is lads regardless of sex. When I first lived in Ireland and someone said go down the street to your man in the butcher shop…I had no idea what they were talking about…..i
    But I do find it an endearing phrase set. Looking forward to more

    • Sharon

      How perfect books with drawings of floor plans oh, it made me think of the floor plans you used to draw when you were young.
      I have had a love affair with England, it’s old cottages and gardens, ever since I lived there many years ago.
      I’m so glad you get to steward these pieces of history and share them with others over the course of the next few years. Simply delightful!

  9. Jerry Stocks

    I know the thrill you are experiencing with your research. I am working on a stitching project and my inspiration has to come from an artist. I chose Matisse because I love his bright colors, and I have loved researching his life and his paintings.

  10. Julia

    They sure have ended up in the right hands, and this is only the start of the journey. I look forward to one day hopefully showing you many of the places he sketched and together unlocking more snippets from the Kitchin family archives.

    • Jennifer

      Hello Julia! You were certainly lucky to have found these at an estate sale! Now, so many Americans are enthralled with Mr Kitchin’s work. We will all be researching him and giving him some recognition that I hope he was able to realize in his lifetime as he is so very talented! His thatched cottage home is the stuff of dreams to me. Thank you for allowing us all to appreciate the work of GH Kitchin, his amazing sketches feel like being right there looking at and enjoying these gorgeous homes, details and scenery!

  11. Kathleen Harris

    I hope you will be able to share “your man’s” work as I’d love to possess even copies of a lot of what I’ve seen, so far!🤗

  12. Char

    How wonderful! And what plans you have. I, too, like/love English cottages. Enjoy your “new” passion.

  13. Lorraine Oh

    What an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime find!

  14. Beth

    That is so thrilling! Congratulations!

  15. Patricia Kasparian

    Congratulations, Marian! Nice to know how you’ll appreciate those books 🙂

  16. Isobel

    I believe the metric system wasn’t put into use in Great Britain until around 1965 You were blessed to acquire such a treasure from a fellow artist from so many years ago.

  17. Susan

    Congratulations! All your efforts were worth it in obtaining these treasures! I also love English cottages and hope you’ll be able to share some copies of these beautiful prints!

  18. SueA

    That is an astonishing discovery! A priceless historical gem. Can you believe those thatched roofs!?! The architectural details!?! The care that they reflect? It’s just lovely. I am blown away that something like that even exists. Thank you for obtaining, preserving and sharing them.

  19. Andrea

    You are the perfect curator for such treasures! Can’t wait for more of the story. Makes me want to hop back on a plane to visit family in Hyde Park, near Paddington Station. Would be so fun to research those homes & hunt down a few of those lovely places. Prolific artists fascinate, such as JMW Turner who was always sketching or painting, 30,000 over his lifetime!

  20. Mayanna

    As a watercolor artist who specializes in architecture, I am green (make that Phalo Green) with envy!!! If you publish a book containing your scans and a bio of what you learn about the original owner, I would buy it in a heartbeat.

    • MaryS

      I’m with Mayanna… If you publish a book of the scans I too would purchase one. His work was spectacular!

  21. Patty

    I really enjoyed this post – it is so interesting – happy for you that you found these sketches – this is amazing!

  22. Julie | Home On The Hill

    Oh Yes, they are truly beautiful.

    I did catch my breath a little as I scrolled down & saw the first sketch – seeing that makes all you said prior (about wanting these books so badly) fall into focus.

    These pencil drawings feel so comfortable to me. I have always sketched & even sold commissioned animal portraits for a time, in high school I won a gold medal in the 11th international childrens art exhibition run by Pentel for a pencil sketch of an old Victorian era public house & the simplicity of sketches in pencil still has a place in my heart.

    Also a love of architectural salvage for me makes that detail drawing of the baluster so delightful.

    My father is English & his aunt lived in a gorgeous little thatched cottage, the photos she used to send to us here in Australia looked to me as a child like something from a fairytale. Those old buildings have so much character & charm.

    Thanks for sharing these treasures!

  23. Annabelle

    Such a wonderful treasure find. Congratulations!

  24. Mary S

    Oh my!! What a FANTASTIC find!! I wish I had a friend like Julia!

  25. Karen

    Oh gosh these are gorgeous!
    And I love the handwriting too…(I have just decided to change the “K” in my signature)…what a beautiful K in Kitchen.

  26. Leanna Lesa

    Please please turn his sketches into a book!! I just spent an hour searching for more, with no luck. I am so captivated by him, as were you. I would buy the book today!

  27. monique odman

    OMG! this is a little jewel, not to say as everyone said properly: treasure, same thing. This speaks to me, with great skill Kitchin drew the old country cottages; they as romantic as can be, with thatched roofs, well shaped topiaries, tidy garden, stash of logs to burn etc..We just can imagine the cozy interior, a cup of tea by the fire.
    I love architectural drawings. In other word: WOW, glad for you, and happy to see this.
    Mr. Kitchin never imagined his sketch book would one day travel across the pond.

  28. Terry A.

    These take my breath away.

  29. Cynthia

    I saved this post for a quiet time…

    Oh his eyes, his penmanship, his home, and spirit. And the greatest gift…his hand~

    Treasure abound~ I feel as though we’ve all found “our man.”
    Thank you Marian

  30. Barbie Volpe

    Absolutely exquisite!!! I hope you really do consider selling limited edition prints! It would be an honor to display his work in my home! I would also love to purchase a book if you decide to print one. As a fellow artist, who has not practiced her craft in many years, I deeply appreciate his talent. It is so quiet and moving. And I feel inspired to try to pick up my pencil again.🤍

  31. Susan P.

    Congratulations! What an honor to become the caretaker of these wonderful sketchbooks!! They couldn’t be in better hands.

  32. Jo Nelson

    Every time I see these I literally lose my breath. They are magnificent! Please keep posting photos of the drawings so we can try to duplicate them. How wonderful.

  33. Sandra at Thistle Cove Farm

    It was, simply, meant to be. His home is enchanting, as are the books and happy for you and this new direction.

  34. Laurie Hogan

    What a beautiful treasure…those books are in good hands with you! Can’t wait to see more sketches from the collection. A book would be fabulous way to honor his works… thank you for sharing.

  35. Debbie MacKenzie

    This is such a wonderful evolving story. Life can bring us such happy surprises. I am often struck by the interconnectedness all around us. How one thing leads to another and suddenly a new path emerges with a new tale to tell. I am in my seventies now and I so enjoy reading how younger women are discovering the same joys that I experienced in life, there is that interconnectedness again. Looking forward to hearing more about your newest adventure.

  36. Marlene Stephenson

    Treasure, is surely what you have found, thank you for sharing, and have a wonderful time looking through them again and again.

  37. Maria Fiorito

    Oh what a truly fantastic find- one that the rest of us could only dream of! Such connection to the past and into someone’s life through a sketch book is ideal and unreal. What a wonder this must be! I am truly envious and joyous for you! The sketch book must be such a tease too as I can only imagine the desire to be able to just go back in time and see his life as he saw it.

  38. Cheri Dietzman

    Such a wonderful addition to your collections! Also a great idea to scan the books!

  39. Margo

    My one regret is that I have no artistic talent, can’t draw a straight line.
    I thoroughly enjoy your finds and can’t imagine how you find the time to do all these things.
    Your following certainly has provided you with quite a “to do” list!

  40. Lind

    I learnt everything in inches, feet (12 inches) and yards (3 feet or 36 inches. I also grew up using ‘old’ money – halfpenny, penny, three pence, shilling (12 pennies) and pounds (20 shillings or 240 pennies) – no wonder the older generation is math competent! It was complicated to add and subtract in three columns using different bases.
    Old measurement I still use is a casual measure for a yard – put your left knuckle on your nose and stretch your right hand out as far as it will go and that is approx 36 inches – of course you need to test out once against a measure to see which angle you need to keep your head to make it as close as possible.
    Now I’m decimalised – much easier!
    I really enjoy you posts, you are very talented and have such a relaxed way of teaching and showing your work.

  41. Joanie

    Please do a book! They are very special.

  42. Betty jh

    So many have commented so well of your worthwhile endeavor to help preserve this bit of history. I’ll just add that I am a huge fan of Michael Kitchen, Foyle’s War fame, and can’t help but wonder if there is a genealogical connection with ‘our man’? And yes, I am taken with his strong handwriting. For someone who practices at calligraphy it is a study in itself!
    Historically, it just filtered through my mind that they were largely created just prior to all of the upheaval we know of the two World Wars and have survived across all that this century produced – to now reside in your keeping. Truly astounding!

  43. Ireland

    Please publish them.

  44. Philip Thompson

    Dear Marian
    I am a relative of George Herbert Kitchin. At the age of 15 I first saw the sketchbooks that you have preserved. I own four of his sketchbooks which are of sailing holidays on the Norfolk Broads. The holidays were in 1888, 1890, 1891 and 1893.
    These sketchbooks are unusual as they have a lot of text along with the sketches and watercolours. They were written for the family. There were five children of the Rev. George William Kitchin. There were three boys and two girls. Only the three boys took part in the holidays so the diaries of the holidays were written to inform the whole family what happened on these holidays.
    My Uncle George was named after GH Kitchin. He was the son of of the youngest girl Dorothy Maud Mary Kitchin.
    When I first saw the sketchbooks there was well over a hundred of them. Some of the sketchbooks are now in the V and A Museum in London. I should like to see the digital copies that you now have. I have happy memories of looking at them as a child and later when visiting my Uncle. Is it possible for me to purchase a copy of the digital copy you made? I have not made a digital copy of my sketchbooks. I could make a digital copy of them. Perhaps we could swap digital copys?
    Regards Philip

    • Marian Parsons

      So nice to hear from you, Phillip! I sent you an e-mail…


Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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