- Peter Thompson
- Also known as
primary name: Thompson, Peter
Pseudonym: (Captain) Eyre, John
- individual; painter/draughtsman; printmaker; British; Male
- Life dates
- Forger of views of fortifications of London in 1643, in the style of Hollar and Captain John Eyre (q.q.v.) The British Museum acquired 79 works by him in 1909: 1909,0628.26-66 are forged drawings claimed be done Hollar and Eyre; 1909,0628.67-104 are Thompson's etchings after the mentioned drawings. According to the register, the etchings are illustrations to 'Notes and Queries' (1853).
(Information from Jones 1990)
Peter Thompson (c. 1800-74) was an ingenious though dubious character, who described himself variously as 'carpenter and builder', 'bookseller' and, more curiously, 'colonial architect'. Insofar as he is known today it is as an antiquarian forger. Born in Norwich, Thompson was established in London as a carpenter and builder by 1828. His ambitions were beyond those of an ordinary craftsman; in 1835 he submitted an unsuccessful set of designs for the new Houses of Parliament, and in the 1840s he turned his attention to the erection of partially prefabricated temporary buildings, some of which were exported to the colonies. The introduction of stringent new regulations by the Metropolitan Buildings Office seems to have forced him to give up this business venture.
In March 1852 a group of drawings was exhibited to the Archaeological Association showing the fortifications erected around London by the Parliamentarians at the beginning of the Civil War (including registration no. 1909,0628.56). These were said to have been drawn by Captain John Eyre and were the property of Mr Peter Thompson, who intended to publish them by subscription. The members of the Association found them 'extremely interesting' and Thompson received a number of orders for etchings of them at £2.12s.6d. per set. Captain Eyre was in fact invented by Thompson, who also provided an appropriate genealogy and biography. This, together with a 'self-portrait', was published as the introduction to 'Eyre's Fortifications of London, 1643' in 1852. Supposedly a descendant of a genuine Simon Eyre, a fifteenth-century Lord Mayor of London, John Eyre was 'born' in 1604, educated at Oxford 'and afterwards attended Prince Charles [Charles I] in his travels', became a Captain in the 'Red Regiment of the Train Bands of London' and a student at Gray's Inn. A Royalist supporter until John Hampden's trial, 'when the defence . . . of that great man completely opened his eyes, and caused him to alter his opinions', Eyre became a staunch Parliamentarian, entering 'Cromwell's Regiment'. His end came when he was fatally wounded at Marston Moor, and he died on 23 July 1644. Thompson gives further biographical details: Eyre was an excellent linguist, and proficient in music and drawing. According to a conveniently preserved common-place book, from 1639 until going on active service he apparently saw much of Wenceslaus Hollar (who, incidentally, was a Loyalist supporter in the Civil War!), 'sketching with him the tombs and monuments of the various churches of London'. It is thus not surprising that 'Eyre's' drawing style bears a superficial similarity to Hollar's. An album in the British Museum includes a number of drawings 'signed' by Hollar, as well as all the drawings supposedly by Eyre 'recording' the fortifications erected around London in 1642-3. In fact, the forts actually erected during the Civil War bore no resemblance to these elaborate ramparts, but were hastily constructed earthworks. Thompson derived most of his details from readily available sources: George Vertue's 1738 plan of the forts, published in Maitland's 'History of London' (1739), while the houses and streets in the drawings were taken directly from Hollar's London views.
Thompson sustained Eyre's existence until 1853, when he claimed that he had in his possession a number of drawings by Hollar made for Eyre, showing the house in which Shakespeare had lived in Southwark. However, doubts had already been cast in certain quarters and Thompson had to return to more orthodox ways of making a living. He issued a number of pamphlets on working-class housing, and became enthusiastic about the use of concrete, which being both fire- and vermin-proof could be used to build 'moral houses'. Poverty-stricken, Thompson died in 1874.
- I. Darlington, 'Thompson Fecit', Architectural Review CXXIV (July-December 1958), pp. 187-8.
British Museum, An exhibition of Forgeries and Deceptive Copies, held in Dept of P&D, 1961, pp.17-20
Adams 1983 / London Illustrated 1604-1850: a survey and index of topographical books and their plates
Jones 1990a / Fake? The Art of Deception, exh. BM