The History of Downland Art Society


Downland Art Society was born out of an Arts and Crafts Exhibition organised as part of a fundraising project to purchase an Ambulance for Barnham during WWII. This acted as the spur to a group of local artists to form an Arts Society.


1944 - Preliminary meeting in the studio of professional artist Maurice Randall to discuss forming an Art Society. It is decided to call it ‘Walberton and District Arts and Crafts Society’. At the next meeting it becomes ‘Southdown Villages Arts and Crafts Society’.

1945 - At the AGM, after the nation had been at peace for over 6 months, they rename the group ‘Downland Art Society’. The full annual subscription is 5s and 2s.6d for associates. The society has the grand total of £5.16s.7d in the bank. Monthly meetings are to be held on Saturdays at 3pm. There is an exhibition at Barnham School and later that year another at Bognor Regis Library where they exhibit 80 paintings.

1948 - Exhibitions are transferred to Gough’s Gallery and press reports for the first time are much less favourable. By now there are 56 members and the accounts show a credit balance of £21.13s.2d.

1949 - The society returns once again to Lacey’s for their exhibition.

1950 - Due to President Maurice Randall’s declining health, A J Colister, former head of Wimbledon and Kingston School of Art School, fills in for him as Chairman. The Society continues to thrive and the main exhibitions are held at Lacey’s Gallery in Bognor Arcade.


1951 - Activities are transferred from Maurice Randall’s Studio to ‘The Hut’ on Walberton Village crossroads. This same year, Maurice Randall dies, aged 85. The post of president is left unfilled and AJ Collister remains in his role as Chairman.

1953 - Due to difficulties at Lacey’s Gallery in Bognor, St.Nicholas Hall in Arundel is booked but the exhibition is not a success and results in a deficit of £11.0s.0d.

1955 - The first sketching meetings are held.

1957 - It is reported that Albert Griffiths produced a large Society motif, from which a printer’s block is made. When he dies in 1958, he is acknowledged to be the designer of our well-known Windmill motif.

1960 - A decision is taken to donate £10.10s.0d to the new Theatre at Chichester.

1961 - A fire at the home of the widow of WK Towel, founder member and early Hon Sec/Treasurer, destroys many of the society’s earlier records.

1964 - A J Colister dies at the age of 95.

1967 - W Cartledge is appointed as President and serves until 1976.

1978 - Society activities are held for the first time in Walberton Sports Pavilion.

1979 - Dennis Frost becomes President. He dies three years later at the early age of 56.

1980 - Sydney Carter dies. He had served on the committee and as Downland Hon.Sec/Hon.Treasurer for 36 years.

1983 - Tom Groom takes over as President and takes a great interest in the society and all its activities. His watercolour workshops are a popular part of the programme.

1986 - In his Yellow Book “Downland Art Society 1944-86” Herbert Seear, husband of Kay Seear, long-time member and Chairman comments: ‘The society can claim to be more prosperous and vigorous than at any time since its foundation in 1944’. He also asserts that this is due to the success of its exhibitions and the ideal position of St Nicolas Hall, in Arundel.


1994 - Mary Hite becomes Chairman and enjoys the support of a very proactive committee and hands-on President. The Society goes from strength to strength. St Nicolas Church Hall, is the main centre for exhibitions.

2000 - Norfolk Hall is first used for exhibitions.

2001 - President Tom Groom dies and it proves difficult to replace him. An internet website,, created by Treasurer Colin Clark, takes the society into the 21st Century.

2002 - Due to the success of the yearly exhibition, a second exhibition is scheduled this year at Edes House in Chichester.

2003 - Mary Hite resigns after eight years as Chairman and Janette Lace takes over. The waiting list to join the Society stands at 28. Landscape artist Christopher Baker agrees to take over the Chairmanship for one year!

2004 - Downland celebrates its Diamond Jubilee with a successful Exhibition at Norfolk Hall. Audio visual equipment is purchased with a £4,388 lottery grant.

2006 - In December, programme secretary, Heather Grey dies in a tragic road accident on her way home from a committee meeting.

2009 - Marcus Finch becomes President on the retirement of Christopher Baker, who is increasingly over-committed.

2012 - Janette Lace retires as Chairman after nine years and the society is in danger of closing down due to difficulty in attracting new blood to the committee. Dominic Carlton agrees to take on the chairman role.

2013 - A box trailer for storing exhibition screens and equipment is purchased. The cost of £3457 to be written off out of exhibition income over 10 years.

2014 - Sales at the August exhibition produce £3,080 and the final profit is £19. Forty-five members exhibit and 27 make at least one sale. Treasurer, Allan Plumpton reports net assets of £8942. Birthday celebrations to mark 70 years of Downland Art Society are held at Arun Yacht Club

2015 - The last link with the founding committee is broken with the death of Josephine Carter.  She was the daughter of Sydney Carter, a founder member of the society, and  served as Vice-Chairman until just before her death. Dominic Carlton retires as chairman and Alison Woodward takes over.

2016 - Due to ill health Hon Treasurer, Allan Plumpton retires and Steve Sadler takes over. The accounts move into the electronic age with online banking, BACS transfers and credit card payments.

2017 - Diana Levantine, inspirational Chairman and CEO of the Sussex Snowdrop Trust becomes Patron of the Society.

2020 - In response to the restrictions of the Covid Pandemic, meetings are held online via Zoom. Another new innovation, a monthly online art competition, is popular with members.

2022 - The pandemic has leveled out a bit and meetings are almost back to normal. 

2023 - This Year a Quarterly Competition replaced the monthly one run on our website and four new Ecofriendly Bamboo Trophies were given. The first three of these to be awarded to the winners at the December AGM.