Mary Tourtel (nee Caldwell) was born at 52 Palace Street on 28th July 1874 and a plaque on the wall (Image 1) commemorates her birth. Her father was Samuel Caldwell a stone mason and stained glass designer and her mother was Sarah. Her elder brother Edmund was a talented painter of animals and the other brother a stained glass restorer. She showed an early talent for drawing and studied at the Sidney Cooper School of Art in Canterbury (Image 2) where she won the Prince of Wales scholarship and also a holiday in Switzerland. Her speciality was animal drawing and she published a number of illustrations for children’s books in 1897.
She married Herbert Tourtel in the late 1890s, who was a journalist and they travelled together extensively in Italy, Egypt and India, but remained childless. Images 3 and 4 show her around the time of her marriage.
In 1920 following a suggestion from Herbert Tourtel (then a sub editor for the Daily Express) to the editor, Mary published the first Rupert serial The Little Lost Bear On the 8th November. It quickly became very popular. A scene from one of the Rupert Bear serials is shown in Image 5). She continued to produce the strip cartoon and much of the supporting verse until 1935, when she had to give up because of failing eyesight. She was given a golden handshake and a share of the royalties from her reprinted work.
Her husband died from a heart condition on 6th June 1931 and Mary lived at 63 Ivy Lane (at the back of the Chaucer Hotel) (Images 6 and 7) towards the end of her life. She died from a brain tumour on 15th March 1948 and is buried together with her husband in St Martins Church grave yard. The grave (Image 8) is on the farthest (highest) terrace on the left as you look at the church.
There is an exhibition of some of her original work together with a tableau of her working at a desk in the Rupert Bear Museum Stour Street.
Sources: Rupert Bear image used with permission from Classic Media. Rupert Bear®: Classic Media Distribution Limited and Express Newspapers. All Rights Reserved; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography