Different Class: Sixties home that inspired artist Lorna May

Lorna Wadsworth's Old Vicarage study
Lorna Wadsworth's Old Vicarage study
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Artist Lorna May Wadsworth spent her formative years in this contemporary former vicarage in Sheffield. The mid-century home is now up for sale. Sharon Dale reports.

The Old Vicarage, Church Street, Ecclesfield, Sheffield, is offered for sale through agents Saxton Mee for £499,995. Architects swoon over mid-century modern buildings with adventurous design and an abundance of natural light.

Well-known figurative artist Lorna May Wadsworth is also a big fan after growing up in a remarkable property that reflects the rebel spirit of the period. Her childhood home, a split-level, early 1960s house set in a green acre of Ecclesfield, Sheffield, was the launch pad for her career as a figurative artist. Some of her best-known portraits, including David Blunkett and Sir Derek Jacobi, were painted there.

“We moved there when I was ten. It’s amazing and more so because it’s a former vicarage. It looks more like something you’d find in California than tucked behind a picturesque church on the outskirts of Sheffield. It’s filled with light, which was a gift for me as my work is all about light on form.”

She is preparing to say goodbye to the Old Vicarage as her parents are downsizing and have put the house on the market. Her father Peter, a retired architect, and her mother Margaret bought the house from the church in 1991 and set about updating it. The windows now have triple-glazed units from Sweden and an Aga and solar panels have been installed.

Lorna, who now lives in east London, had some input on the décor. The walls are painted subtle shades of Little Greene and Farrow and Ball, and they are lined with her paintings.

Dickie Bird is earnestly marking out in oil paint in the hall, alongside an early Impressionist daubing of the local Grenoside cricketers at dusk.

Sir Derek Jacobi and his beloved dog Bella are centre stage in the bedroom corridor, and opposite the front door, one of Lorna’s most popular landscapes welcomes visitors. “The Deck Chairs at Green Park” captures a languid couple silhouetted against the sun-kissed stripes of their chairs.

“A lot of the paintings here at my mum and dad’s have links with Sheffield. Sir Derek Jacobi was the first person I ever approached to sit for me when I came back to Sheffield after my art degree in 2003. I saw him with Bella just outside the Crucible Theatre one day when I was waiting at a bus stop. He was just about to open in The Tempest. I really wanted to paint him, so I gathered all my courage and went to ask him. I caught up with him just as the stage door was about to swing closed. He is such a kind and wonderful man, he acquiesced and sat for me in his dressing room, and then again at his house in London. It really marked the beginning of my career as a portrait artist,” says Lorna, who admits that her cheek has got her a long way, although it’s clear that charm has combined to create a winning formula.

An early painting of Jarvis Cocker is on show at his mum’s house and all because she sneaked backstage at a gig.

“I met Jarvis’s grandma at a Pulp gig when I was 14 and promised I’d paint her a picture of Jarvis. I sent it to his mum’s house and when I saw him recently at my exhibition at St Martin in the Fields, he said that he sees my painting every time he goes to his mum’s because it’s on the landing near the loo. He actually said: ‘I look at it every time I go for a pee’.”

The house reflects her obsession with the Sheffield music scene during what she describes as a “misspent youth”. Above her old desk is a cover of the Pulp Intro 12 inch single which she customised with a Sheffield A-Z for her GCSE art exam in 1996. Another painting captures the Arctic Monkeys when they played at The Plug in Sheffield, the night before “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” topped the charts.

The tiny painting of Johnny Depp was the inspiration for a recent portrait collaboration with actor Rupert Friend, who stars in the hit US series Homeland. “Rupert saw a print of the painting on my studio wall in London and loved it. We did something similar for my large portraits of him,” says Lorna, who has donated one of the pictures to a Christie’s Auction to raise funds for The Old Vic Theatre.

Perched artfully above the loo is the palette that she used to paint her famous, six-foot portrait of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, painted over five live sittings at the former PM’s home.

It was bought by art dealer Philip Mould and was recently sold for over half a million pounds.

“It was more than the price of this house,” says Lorna. “It’s crazy isn’t it.”

• The Old Vicarage, Church Street, Ecclesfield, Sheffield, is offered for sale through agents Saxton Mee for £499,995.

The property has central heating, ducted air heating, Swedish triple glazed windows and solar panels. Inside, there is a large hallway, good sized study with beautiful views towards church, a dining room, sitting room, breakfast kitchen, utility room. pantry and a cloakroom. In the bedroom wing, there are four bedrooms, a dressing room, an en-suite and a bathroom. Outside, there is parking for several cars, a garage and an acre of garden and woodland.

For more details, contact Saxton Mee, www.saxtonmee.co.uk, tel: 0114 266 9288