In his catalogue raisonné of the artist, Terry Parker states: 'This work is Elsley's tour de force'. Painted at the height of his career, few other oils approach it in terms of size, or the range of figures depicted'. When it was last offered at Christie's in 1999 it had not been seen in public for almost eighty years.
Parker spent much time in converstion with the artist's daughter, Marjorie, and recorded her reminiscences about the picture. Elsley painted a small head and shoulders oil study of the central figure in this work, signed and dated 1908, which was sold at the Studio Sale (part of lot 19). Either he had been working on the large painting since that date or had simply decided to include her in this position. Neighbours of the artist modelled for the other characters. The man wearing a policeman's outfit, borrowed from a relative, ran the W.H. Smith newspaper barrow at the end of the road. The drum man, wearing the bowler hat, was well known for 'propping up the bar' at the local pub. The bearded man, holding a striped cane on the left of the crowd was Mr. Cox, a local character who lived at 112 Sixth Avenue, Queens Park. He was nick-named 'Slopper', and his job was to put down straw to deaden the noise of horses' hooves and help their grip on the cobbled street at the end of Queens Road, where Elsley lived. He also shovelled up mud and kept the street clean. For his labours, coachmen would toss him small change. The old man with an arm on his hip was Mr. Gooderam who appeared as the shepherd in Rescued, 1911. The bearded man wearing a cap was the local carpenter who lived in the next street. (He also appears as the blacksmith in As good as Ever, 1912).
The gee gee on the ground belonged to Marjorie and featured in Won't You Fix my Horse, Too, 1912. Marjorie's cousin, Frances Everett, is the girl, bottom left, holding the slate. This work was probably painted partly at Barton-on-Sea.
Born in 1860, the son of a coachman, Elsley joined the South Kensington School of Art at the age of fourteen. In 1876 he became a probationer at the Royal Academy Schools, and submitted his first exhibit to the Royal Academy in 1878. By 1887 he was sharing a studio at 151 Gloucester Road, Kensington, with George Greville Manton, who later introduced Elsley to Fred Morgan. Elsley was to paint the animals in Morgan's pictures in succession to Allen Sealey, and following the death of Charles Burton Barber in 1894, was considered the foremost painter of animals and children in the country. In 1900, following an estrangement with Morgan who accused him of stealing ideas for pictures, Elsley started to execute works on a grander scale. He continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy until 1917, but thereafter painted less and less, owing to failing eyesight.