Margaret Mary Tempest was born at 28 Fonnereau Road on the 15 May 1892 to Charles and Frances Tempest. This was an address within one hundred yards of the Ipswich Art School in the High Street. Charles was a stock and share broker and was something of a wit - if his 1911 census return is anything to go by. This was the first census where the returns were completed by heads of households. In the section headed; '*Infirmity' most people left a blank space - the official examples given, sensitively, included 'Imbecile', 'Feeble minded' and 'Lunatic'. Charles wrote of himself, with his tongue firmly in his cheek: 'Short sighted, slightly bald'.
Charles was a man of some means and was also held in considerable regard in the town; he was elected mayor in 1926. The Tempests lived at number 28 until sometime between 1901 and 1911 when they moved to 34 Park Road (Parkside). During that period Margaret also attended Ipswich Art School and she may have been a contemporary there of another star in the Ipswich artistic firmament - Leonard Squirrell. Margaret later moved to London to study at the Westminster School of Art from which she graduated in the summer of 1914 on the eve of the Great War. She went on to the Royal Drawing School but was already planning the formation of a society of women illustrators with twenty other talented girls from the School of Art. They planned to teach, sell art and work and to that end a studio was rented; an old barn at 59a Park Walk, Chelsea, SW10. The war came and temporarily curtailed their plan but the landlord promised to keep the barn for them until the hostilities ceased.
In 1919 they moved in and commenced decorating and refurbishing the rooms. A floor was laid of 'chicken coop roofing felt' according to Caroline Richmond in an article in Kensington and Chelsea Today. Margaret was not only a founder of the group but also its Honorary Secretary and Book-keeper. The group designed a very distinctive letterhead and installed a telephone.
Margaret told the East Anglian Daily Times in 1971: 'People say that women can't work together but we did for twenty happy years'.
Between 1919 and 1939 they put on annual exhibitions and ran a successful business, selling their work and producing commercial material including Christmas cards. It was during the twenties while taking the Group's work round to publishers that Heinemann offered her the first Little Grey Rabbit story by Alison Uttley: The Hare, the Squirrel and the Little Grey Rabbit. Her attention to the detail in the little animals' lives, their personalities and particularly her concern with the design of the books, made them extremely attractive. It was Margaret's idea to surround all the pictures with the coloured borders which make them so distinctive. Her style reflected some of the artists whom she admired from an early age particularly Kate Greenaway.
She began illustrating Little Grey Rabbit books in 1929 and continued to do so into the 1960s, by which time 34 titles had appeared. Illustrator and author did not hit it off personally and in her recently published diaries Alison Uttley described Tempest as 'a humourless bore, seldom does a smile come, her eyes cold and hard...she is absolutely awful'. However Uttley didn't have much good to say about any illustrators or authors.
Alex Paton, Margaret Tempest's step-grandson, said that she had a particular affinity with children and 'at their frequent visits she would sit each on her lap, ask which animal they liked best, and proceed to draw it for them'. One of Margaret's later famous collaborators in the Chelsea Illustrators group was the renowned writer, M.M. Kaye, author of The Far Pavilions and The Jewel in the Crown. She was known as Molly Kaye under which soubriquet she wrote and illustrated children's books. Tempest also illustrated two of Kaye's books: The Willow Witches Book and Gold Gorse Common after World War II.
Tempest wrote and illustrated children's books of her own, with characters called Curley Cobbler and Pinkie Mouse. She illustrated books by Elizabeth Laird, Rosalind Vallance and Myfanwy Evans, who married the artist John Piper, and at least fifty other authors including Cynthia Asquith and Rose and Gail Duff. She published pictures in early editions of Susan Coolidge's What Katy Did and What Katy Did at School. She also found time to design picture postcards for the Medici Galleries.
Between the wars she lived in London during the week, and apart from her illustration work she taught drawing to the children of most of the aristocratic houses in London. Margaret also taught for one day a week in a boys' prep school where a young Peter Scott was a pupil.
She came back to Suffolk on many weekends to indulge her great passion for sailing. This she often did with her brother, Frank, around the Suffolk coast. She was eventually elected Commodore of the Pin Mill Sailing Club. Frank Tempest joined the firm of Kerseys as a solicitor and partner with Mr Kersey in 1924. The company still have an office in Lloyds Avenue.
In 1939 Margaret returned to the Ipswich area permanently and she married her cousin, the widowed Sir Grimwood Mears, a former Chief of Justice in Allahabad, in 1951. They moved into number 3 St Edmunds Road soon after the death of her brother Frank in January 1951 who had been the previous occupant of that house.
Sir Grimwood died in 1963 at the age of 93 and Lady Mears continued living in St Edmunds Road. She was a long-time member of the Ipswich Art Club only retiring from the committee in 1974. She was still exhibiting artwork at that time at the age of 82.
Margaret Tempest (Lady Mears) died in 1982 aged 90 and by then she had become afflicted with Parkinson's Disease and could no longer draw. She was a prolific illustrator and a truly distinguished daughter of Ipswich, one who deserves the recognition of an Ipswich Society blue plaque.