Albert T. Pile, MSM, FRSA, SGA*
Albert Pile was born in London, where he lived the greater part of his life. His father was a monumental mason and one of Albert’s earliest memories was sitting at the kitchen table copying out his father’s inscriptions for gravestones.
He was educated at King’s College, London and entered the civil service at the age of fifteen. He had ambitions to become a doctor, particularly a medical missionary. To this end he studied anatomy in his spare time, but the pressure of work in the education department was too great and he never realised his ambition. During the First World War, however, he served in the RAMC at St. Omer, where the wounded men from the battlefield were brought on hospital barges.
Pile painted and sketched purely for pleasure and never wished to become a professional artist. The varied locations of his watercolours are explained by their being done whilst on holiday in Lancashire, Cumbria, Devon, Cornwall, the Isle of Wight, Belgium and various parts of Southern England. His art and his daily work were completely separate, until the 1930’s, when much of Whitehall was being demolished and Pile undertook to record the fast falling buildings. He depicts an immense sense of history that was bound up in the buildings being destroyed.
His work in the civil service trained him to be meticulous and this is shown in the manner in which almost every single drawing is carefully identified, often with the actual time at which it was drawn or the people he was with at the time. Little of his work is signed, but the annotation is almost as good as a signature.
Though he rarely sold any of his work, Pile exhibited widely. His work has been shown in the Paris Salon, the National Gallery, the V & A (who hold a collection of his work), the SGA (Society of Graphic Artists), RHA (Royal Hibernian Academy), RSA (Royal Society of Arts), RWA (Royal Watercolour Association) and various provincial galleries including Leeds and of course Whitby.
Albert T. Pile married late in life. His wife came from Brighouse to which town he retired. Later they moved to Whitby, living in the Stakesby area. They had no family. He was a quiet, retiring man and loved art above all else. He was instrumental in founding art societies in both the West Riding and Whitby. A great walker, as is shown by the many sketches of the area around Whitby, all meticulously recorded with dates, time and details of the people and groups he was with when he drew them.
It was in Whitby that he furthered his interest in the passing and demolition of many old parts of the town. The yards off Church Street around Boulby Bank, together with those that were behind Haggersgate and the Fish Quay, are all documented with sketches of their gradual disappearance – dates, times and even records of the numbers of the cottages depicted in each yard are recorded. Sometimes the creative artist is able to devote his whole life to an artistic talent. It is however rare that a person who uses his leisure time and retirement can have the ability to produce the amount of creative work of the calibre of Albert T. Pile.
* MSM Meritorious Service Medal
FRSA Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
SGA Society of Graphic Artists