Myles Birket Foster lived in Witley for over thirty years, and is renowned as a watercolour painter.
He was born in 1825 in South Shields, son of Myles Birket Foster, and known as Birket Foster. When his father died in 1861 The Athenaeum printed a report of Birket Foster’s death but then had to correct this and print that it was not the artist but his father who had died. The family moved to London where he was apprenticed to a wood-engraver. He became a line drawing artist and in his thirties was painting in watercolour.
In 1860 Birket Foster rented Tigbourne Cottage in Witley, and, enjoying the scenery of Surrey, he bought land and built a house named ‘The Hill’ on Wormley Hill. He collected pictures, books, china, including pictures by his friend, Burne-Jones. William Morris’s company decorated the interior and Burne-Jones was to design stained glass and tiles for the house. His brother John H Foster also lived on Wormley Hill in 1881-1891.
Birket Foster became a full member of the Water-Colour Society in 1862 where he has shown over 300 of his paintings. He also exhibited at the Royal Academy.
In 2011 Godalming Museum purchased a painting by Foster of his house The Hill at Wormley.
Godalming Museum also has on display his painting Gathering Lilac.
Oakhurst Cottage owned by the National Trust is a small 16th century timber-framed cottage, which Foster painted, along with his painting of Cottages in Wheeler Street, Witley before they were demolished. People featured in his paintings and he felt tumbledown cottages made a more interesting picture than a perfect cottage. Andrew Clayton-Payne shows Foster’s pictures in his book on Victorian Cottages.
In 1869 Birket Foster wrote on behalf of artists about the tower of Chiddingfold Church remaining, as he saw it, as one of the most picturesque towers in the country, and did not want it to be spoilt. In 1875 he repainted the sign of The White Hart at Witley, and the Victorian and Albert Museum now have the original sign.
Birket Foster died in 1899 at Weybridge, and was buried at Witley where a Celtic cross marks his grave.