Clare Leighton

Clare Leighton

Famous for her wood engravings, she was also a writer and illustrator. Lived in Monks Risborough near Princes Risborough for 10 years

Link with the Chilterns

Lived in Monks Risborough near Princes Risborough for 10 years


12th April 1899




Clare Leighton began formal studies at the Brighton College of Art in 1915 and later trained at the Slade School of Fine Art (1921-23), and the Central School of Arts and Crafts.

In 1930 Clare and her companion, the journalist Noel Brailsford, bought a plot of land in Monks Risborough. The area was already popular with artists and writers: John Nash lived nearby in Meadle, E.M. Forster was a neighbor and the novelist Winifred Holtby, a friend of Vera Brittain, also had a cottage in Monks Risborough. Clare was also friends with the sculptor Eric Gill who lived and worked at Pigotts near High Wycombe. Clare became one of his students and also modelled for him and at least one of his engravings of a nude veiled in long hair is a portrait of her.

The land on which Clare and Noel were to build their home was described as “rough meadowland, housing only larks and field mice”. The plot was an exposed slope of the Chilterns, close to the Icknield Way. The story of how they turned this unpromising piece of ground into a garden is chronicled in her book Four Hedges – a Gardener’s Chronicle, named after the house. Clare both wrote and illustrated the book with her fine box wood engravings.

During the ten years spent at ‘Four Hedges’ Clare also wrote and illustrated Country Matters, a series of essays on country life and traditions. Her inspiration for this came when she took off on her bicycle and found local fairs and flower shows, ploughing matches and harvest festivals; she met tramps, chair bodgers and bell ringers.

At the end of the 1930’s Clare and Noel’s relationship ended suddenly and Clare emigrated to the United States where she eventually became a naturalized citizen. Here she continued with her wood engravings and produced many fine works of art.

Further Information

Country Matters by Clare Leighton. Published in 1937 by Victor Gollancz Ltd. Now out of print but available second hand.

Four Hedges: a Gardener’s Chronicle by Clare Leighton. New edition published by The Sumach Press in 1991. Now out of print but available second hand.

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