Q&A: Richard Coppin is illustrating Grantham’s history

Richard Coppin has just finished the artwork for Grantham's fourth information board.
Richard Coppin has just finished the artwork for Grantham's fourth information board.

Graphic artist Richard Coppin is responsible for the work depicting the town’s history on the numerous information boards you will have noticed in key sites around the town.

Grantham Civic Society history boards currently stand at the Conduit, St Wulfram’s church and St Peter’s Hill.

This week Richard put the finishing touches on the next information board, which will tell the story of Grantham’s rail history and celebrate 75 years since the Mallard’s record-breaking speed run.

Q)How did the idea for these information boards come about? Who approached you?

A) Well, the fact I’m doing this at all is incredible. We had just decided to set up a magazine called Grantham Now and I decided to do a feature on myself drawing people’s houses. Then I got an e-mail out of the blue from Courtney Finn asking me to do his house, which I did. A year later we got together and were talking about history and he told me the Civic Society wants to put together these local history boards but need someone to do the illustration. I said “you’re looking at him”.

Q) The first board was at the Conduit. Was the intention always to do more?

A) Loosely. It was “wouldn’t it be nice if we could do more”. Then I got a call out of the blue from Courtney saying they were interested in doing something for the church area. Interestingly the first two boards (the Conduit and St Wulfram’s) have something in common. The first shows the editor of the Grantham Journal knocking seven bells out of the Mayor while the second shows Isaac Newton knocking seven bells out of a bully. I was worried people would think “they’re a violent lot in Grantham!”

Q) And you have just finished the information board for Grantham train station. How have you found that?

A) We talked about the Mallard and the train station and then we looked into the dates and, low and behold, it’s the 75th anniversary. Then it became a little bit of a race against time. I did the first sketch and by late December had a reasonable mock-up. Then, fitting with the date, it became obvious that by the end of June the basic lay-out should have been created and that has been reached in the nick of time. So the words can be crafted by the end of July, then it will be sent off to be manufactured and sometime in August it should be completed.

Q) These information boards will be around for many, many years...

A) That’s a thrill. To be asked is an honour but while it’s exciting you also know your skills are going to be tested. You are enjoying doing it but there is a...discomfort in knowing you can’t make a mistake and a lot of people are going to see it.

Q) What has been the most challenging artistically? I know the Guildhall was a challenge.

A) The Mallard. With the Guildhall, it’s there and you can back it up with pictures and close-ups. With the Mallard I had access to photographs but not necessarily from the direction I wanted to draw it from. Also I didn’t want it to look like a train on a track but a train flying round at fantastic speed.

Q) Will there be a fifth board?

A) Nothing has been agreed by anybody but a large part of Grantham’s history is its industrial heritage. There’s also the story of Bomber Command and the airfields around but that’s just my own wish list - it would be good to draw aeroplanes in my own way.