DOWN the centuries, Maldon has been home to some famous artists.

Probably the most well-known of these is Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873), of ‘Monarch of the Glen’ fame.

Although he was born in London, he spent his formative years at Beeleigh Grange, living with his patron, WH Simpson.

There was, however, another equally influential artist and former Maldon resident who, over the passage of time, has been largely forgotten.

That certainly wasn’t the case during his lifetime, as guide books were proud to boast of the local association.

EA Fitch, in his ‘Maldon and the River Blackwater’ (first published in 1894), talks of a house “with an iron balcony in front” in Mill Road and states that “this was (once) the residence of Mr Herbert, Comptroller of Customs”.

“Here on January 23rd, 1810”, continues Fitch, “his son, John Rogers Herbert, was born. He was elected RA in 1846.”

That building, now called Lancaster House, survives in Mill Road, has recently been beautifully restored and is surely worthy of a Blue Plaque.

JR Herbert’s study at the RA (Royal Academy) began in 1826, but when his father died here in Maldon in 1828, he had to leave the Academy to earn a living by painting professionally.

His talent was soon recognised and in 1834 he had the honour of painting a portrait of the young Princess Victoria.

His real passion, however, was for dramatic and romantic historical subjects, often with an over-arching moral theme.

He developed a close friendship with renowned Gothic revivalist architect Augustus Pugin (1812-1852), and, just like Pugin, converted to the Catholic faith in 1840.

He undoubtedly influenced and inspired fellow artists William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) and John Everett Millais (1829-1896) and, to that extent, he has rightly been described as a “notable pre-cursor of Pre-Raphaelitism”.

Following the destruction of the old Palace of Westminster by fire, Herbert was among those commissioned to paint some pictures for the replacement building.

Fitch picks up the story saying that in 1848 he “was invited to assist in decorating the new Houses of Parliament”. “His best frescoes”, according to Fitch, were “Illustrations of Justice on the Earth and its Development in Law and Judgement” (1864) in the Peers’ Robing Room, and “Moses descending from the Mount with the Tables of the Law” in the principal Committee Room of the House of Lords.

I was keen to find out if any of Herbert’s work survives there today and so who better to ask than our MP, John Whittingdale, who knows the Palace well.

He kindly responded, saying that he had indeed discovered a number of paintings at Westminster by JR Herbert.

And so, along with my wife and three of our friends (two of whom, by happy coincidence, live in the converted cart-lodge of Lancaster House), we travelled to London to see the pictures at first hand.

We were met at the Houses of Parliament by John who firstly took us to what is now called the Moses Room, the main venue for grand committees in the House of Lords.

The room is dominated by two massive, spectacular works by Herbert – ‘The Judgement of Daniel’ and ‘Moses bringing down the Tables of the Law to the Israelites’.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, we then moved on to the Pugin Room and found a stunning portrait of the great architect himself, painted by his dedicated friend Herbert in 1845.

The Peers’ Guest Room was next and another fine canvas entitled ‘Acquittal of the Seven Bishops’ – depicting members of the Church of England who were tried and acquitted for seditious libel in June 1688.

As the descriptive label points out, JR Herbert painted this historical piece in 1844.

Finally we arrived in the Upper Waiting Room where one of the wall paintings is of Shakespeare’s King Lear disinheriting Cordelia (taken from Act 1, Scene 1).

The date on this one reads 1849.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience and I felt justifiably proud of Herbert and his strong connection with our town.

Despite the passing of more than 170 years since our famous son’s important commission, it is good to know that there continues to be a little piece of Maldon in this world-renowned architectural gem – the foremost historic centre of past and present political life in the United Kingdom.