The paintings by John Chubb which we display at Blake Museum are crucial to visitors’ understanding of Bridgwater in the
late 18th century. We have documents and tombstones that give us names of Bridgwater people, but only Chubb’s portraits
tell us what they actually looked like.
The way in which John Chubb portrayed the people around him really brings the town to life. He painted for his own
enjoyment, not for commercial gain, so he depicted whatever subjects he wanted to. Also he painted local characters who
would not have been able to afford an artist to paint their portrait. The pictures have many uses in Blake Museum, and their
acquisition is a big gain in telling our visitors about the history of Bridgwater.
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John Chubb was born in 1746, the son of Jonathan Chubb, a Bridgwater timber and wine merchant. John wanted to become a
professional artist, but his father did not approve of the idea, and eventually he carried on the family business. John took an active
part in town politics, and was Mayor of Bridgwater in 1788. Later in his life he was active in the local campaign to abolish the Slave
While his father ran the family business, John Chubb had plenty of spare time to spend on drawing and writing poetry, not to earn
a living but for his own amusement. He painted not only local scenery, which makes an important record of what Bridgwater and its
surroundings looked like in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but also lots of portraits of his family, local businessmen,
doctors, clergy, local Members of Parliament and suchlike. Many of his portraits relate to working tradesmen and craftsmen
working with their tools. Some of his writings contain witty pen portraits of local figures – and as he was not being paid for the work
he did not have to flatter them!
As a teenager, John visited relations in London and more than 50 letters between him and his family at this time are in
the collection. The collection includes correspondence from a leading politician of the time, Charles James Fox, and a
letter from the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written at Nether Stowey in 1797 – at the time when Coleridge was
writing one of his most famous poems “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, as well as Chubb’s own comments on local
politicians in verse. There are account and memorandum books, showing the Chubb family’s activities in a busy
merchant town. There are also personal letters written by the Chubb's shedding light on their lives in the 18th and 19th
Three hundred and sixty sketches and finished drawings and a number of documents were kept together by his
daughter after his death in 1818, and, most unusually, were kept together by the Chubb family ever since. The
collection was mostly made between 1761 and around 1800 although there are also some letters written by his
Somerset ancestors going as far back as the 1650s.
For over 30 years, sixty of the pictures had been on loan from John Chubb’s descendants to the Blake Museum. At the
end of 2002, the family decided to sell the entire collection and offered it in the first instance to Blake Museum. Thanks
to local support and help from a number of national grantgiving bodies, in 2004 Blake Museum reached its appeal
target of £123,000 to save over 300 unique historic original watercolour paintings and documents with an important link
to Bridgwater’s history.
Heritage Lottery Fund contributed £88,000 in the light of local contributions from Sedgemoor District Council, the
Friends of Blake Museum and other local organisations and individuals, which amounted to about £9,700. Other
national organisations that contributed were the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund (£15,000), and the National Art
Collections Fund (£10,00).