History of Woking Art Society

Woking Art Society is an unregistered society/association, primarily funded through membership fees and with a long, rich history. Woking Art Club was formed around 1920 to provide a meeting ground for artists and people interested in the visual arts. Although disbanded at the beginning of the second world war, the Club reformed in April 1943 as Woking Society of Arts, a title it retained until the current name was adopted in 2017.


In all its guises, Woking Art Society has always been highly acclaimed for the quality of work produced by its members, many of whom have found fame over the years.

Among the Society’s founder members was Molly Brett (1912-1990) who was notable for her fairy pictures in children’s weekly papers and annuals, as well as for illustrating several Enid Blyton books. In fact, in addition to her work being reproduced in many children’s books, she wrote several children's books herself and featured in radio and television programmes. Another founder member was Marjorie Best (1903-1997), whose superb watercolours of flowers became collectors’ pieces in her lifetime and can still be found in auctions today.

Marguerite Howarth (1908-2001) was a Society member from 1946-1956. A professional illustrator and a member of the Society of Women Artists, she produced numerous pictures of Surrey buildings and landscapes, mainly in watercolour, while living in Woking from the 1940s until 1973. Examples of these are included in The Lightbox’s permanent ‘Woking’s Story’ display.

The Society’s president in 1959 was Sam Morse-Brown (1903-2001) whose 1950 commissioned portrait of the Deputy Speaker at the House of Commons, Sir Rhys Hopkins Morris, was widely acclaimed.

Renowned wildlife artist and conservationist David Shepherd, CBE FRSA FGRA (1931-2017) was the Society’s patron in the early 1990s until March 2000, when he resigned due to pressure of work commitments associated with the David Shepherd Conservation Foundation.

Many members have enjoyed success and acclaim in more recent times too. Artists who have won or been shortlisted for major art prizes and/or been invited to show their work at high profile exhibitions such as those at the Mall Galleries in London include (but are not limited to): Fran Bunting, Hannah Bruce, Maggie Butler, Elisabeth Carolan, David Drury, Ronnie Ireland, Janina Klein, Ros O'Connor, Kim Page, Jo Quigley, Louise Rowe, Shirley Slocock and Carol Taylor. Current members Sera Knight, Liz Seward and Christine Taherian belong to the prestigious Society of Women Artists, while miniaturist John Bunce is a member of both the Society of Limners and the Hilliard Society.

Recent history

Throughout more than 100 years Woking Art Society has been true to its original goals: namely, to provide a meeting ground for those interested in the practice and appreciation of the visual arts and to encourage a wider local interest in the visual arts.

The Society has, of course, moved with the times. In January 2017, two special resolutions to amend the Constitution were put forward by the Committee at the annual general meeting. The first was to merge the two membership categories (full and associate) with the aim of maximising inclusivity and the second to change the name to Woking Art Society.

The second was approved by the required two-thirds majority, but the first was not. However, a further resolution was passed to enable all paid-up members of at least 12 months’ standing to submit work for selection to official exhibitions (those held at The Lightbox), whereas previously only full members were able to do so. The constitution was amended accordingly and a fresh, new logo and website for the newly christened Woking Art Society were produced.

The single status membership resolution was put forward again in 2019 and, this time, was passed by a significant majority.

The challenge of the pandemic

When members gathered for an appraisal of their work on 7th March 2020, little did they know that they wouldn’t be meeting in person again for nearly two years as the effects of Covid were felt across the world and lockdowns, mask-wearing and social distancing became the norm.

However, the almost universal adoption of technology enabled varying degrees of normality in a vastly changed world. When artists began adding video communication software skills to their repertoire to adapt their demonstrations and workshops for an online audience, Woking Art Society was able to adapt and go virtual. In June 2020, Woking joined forces with Guildford Art Society to share at least two live demonstrations per month via Zoom. In addition, with in-person exhibitions out of the question, the ‘virtual lockdown gallery’ was created on the Society’s website, enabling members to display and potentially sell up to three pictures each.

It wasn’t until the AGM in January 2022 that members were able to meet face-to-face again, albeit still in masks. At this point there was a different challenge – where to meet. For more than 12 years, The Vyne at Knaphill had been the Society’s regular meeting place on the first Saturday of each month; but Woking Borough Council was not making this available for hire for at least the first part of 2022. The hunt for an alternative venue ended at Pyrford Village War Memorial Hall which, while not offering all the facilities available at The Vyne, proved to be a suitable temporary home. The Society was delighted to return to its former home in September 2022.

The current Patron of Woking Art Society is former Mayor of Woking, Rhod Lofting, who was made a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Surrey in 1996 and an Honorary Freeman of the Borough of Woking in 2010.


After the war, Woking Society of Arts staged regular exhibitions despite struggling to find a venue in the early days. The first annual exhibition was held in the Woking Gas Showrooms and attracted an attendance of 500 people. The prize-winning entry, Miss Allen's ‘A Surrey Farm’, was later exhibited at Burlington House by the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours.

Sometimes near-derelict buildings were brought into use for the two weeks of the annual exhibition, with the YMCA deployed in 1949, when the exhibition was opened by Sir Peter Scott and exhibitors included Keith Shackleton, a descendant of the famous polar explorer. Later venues included office receptions and church halls.

Despite the lack of a permanent home, exhibitions continued, achieving strong attendance numbers and sales – around 700 catalogues were sold in 1973 – and raising thousands of pounds for charities supported by the Mayor of Woking.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Society enjoyed a particularly high profile, notably in 1993 when David Shepherd opened its Golden Jubilee event. It was around this time too that what have become known as the ‘outdoor’ exhibitions – actually held under cover in Mercia Walk, Woking – were introduced on Saturdays in June and September to enable all members to exhibit and sell their work.

Maintaining its reputation for high standards, since October 2010 the Society is proud to hold its official exhibitions at Woking’s premier venue for the arts, The Lightbox.

Sue Hinton, Chairman of Woking Art Society
September 2022