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50 years ago in Salford: Harrowing war sketches on show at Monks Hall Museum

Carrying on with our stories from the pages of the Eccles and Patricroft Journal, we came across this rather sad story of an exhibition that was held at the now empty and forlorn Monks Hall Museum in Feruary 1965.

The artist was a chap called Edgar Ainsworth who exhibited some 48 paintings and sketches of scenes that he had witnessed as a war correspondent for the Picture Post Magazine.

The harrowing images were of Belsen concentration camp and others in Europe shortly after the end of the Second World War.

Ainsworth had written short explanatory notes to some of the pictures explaining the circumstances under which they were drawn.

For one of the captions of a drawing of a young girl in a hospital bed, Ainsworth explained that she almost fainted when he produced his notebook, thinking he was an official marking her down for extermination.

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On another occasion he began sketching a mother feeding her baby. Sadly the baby died in her arms whilst he was sketching. He recalled that the mother refused to let go of the dead child for three days.

“I went to Belsen shortly after it was liberated. I saw the horrors of mass death. I was nauseated, as every other sane human would be, but it wasn’t the piles of rotting dead that fascinated and horrified me, it was the condition of the still living,” said Ainsworth.

Watch: Historic 600 year-old Monks Hall Museum

Not all of the artwork on display depicted the horrors of the death camps, others showed people buying greyhounds in a pub in Ireland, others depicted people that he had met in the war including Air Commodore Noel Singer of Burma.

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An illustrator, poster designer, painter, printmaker and art editor, Ainsworth studied at the Royal College of Art in the late 1920s.

Between the wars he exhibited at the Royal Academy, Manchester City Art Gallery, New English Art Club and Goupil Gallery and during the 1930s he designed posters for Shell and the Empire Marketing Board.

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This is architectural and historical vandalism: Salford’s Monks Hall Museum is falling to pieces

On reflection it was a great coup for the Museum to have Edgar Ainsworth display his work there, so many great artists including LS Lowry, Harold Riley and Geoffrey Keys have exhibited there over the years and it seems such a crying shame that the Museum was closed down and has been allowed to literally rot away before our eyes.

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.