Eric Hebborn (1934–1996)
Eric George Hebborn (1934–1996), the famous art forger, was a member of the Oxford Hebborn family, known locally for their fairground rides.
The Headington branch of the family was descended from John Hebborn and Elizabeth Snow, who had six children baptised at St Andrew’s Church between 1795 and 1810. These included Thomas Hebborn (born 1801), who was Eric’s great-great-grandfather.
Eric’s parents were Henry John Hebborn (known as Jack), who was born in Cowley on 20 November 1902, and Rose Marchant, who was born in Brighton on 7 March 1906. They were married at Wandsworth on 12 December 1925.
Their first child was born in Brighton, but by 1928 they had moved to Headington.
Right: Eric Hebborn’s great-grandparents, William & Sarah Anne Hebborn, on their daughter’s wedding day in 1878
Eric’s father was a grocer, first at 67 Lime Walk (then numbered No. 39, the house immediately north of All Saints Church). Today it is a private semi-detached house; but then, together with its neighbour, it was a shop. This enterprise was not very successful, and the family soon moved over the road to 74 Lime Walk (then numbered 62), where Eric’s father took over the post of grocer’s assistant. The two Hebborn shops are numbered in red on the postcard below.
Four of Eric’s siblings were born in Lime Walk: Rosemary in 1928, Audrey in 1930, and the twins Allan & Raymond in 1932. Eric himself was born on 20 March 1934, the month that his parents (who were heavily in debt) fled to London. His family understand that he was born in Headington, even though his birth was registered in London.
The household was not a happy one: Eric’s obituary in the Daily Telegraph states: “His father was a grocer who drank nine pints a night; his mother sought to quell her numerous progeny with torrents of abuse.” Of his mother, Eric wrote, “She was a large woman and carried a good punch. Perhaps it was from her that I inherited my love of boxing….”
Eric Hebborn created over a thousand Old Master drawings, of which only some two dozen were definitely exposed as forgeries. The greater the expert, the more Hebborn enjoyed deceiving him, especially “those vulgar, avaricious creatures with good backgrounds, smart accents, fine educations and infinite pretensions, who control the art trade from the top, and for whom a work of art is as good or bad as the amount it fetches”.
Eric Hebborn died mysteriously of head injuries in Rome on 13 January 1996. In 1997 his autobiography was updated and republished with the title Confessions of a Master Forger. He also wrote The Art Forger’s Handbook.
The Hebborns of Headington
Many of Eric Hebborn’s relations still live in Headington and Cowley, including the branch who run the fairground business. Shown below is probably the most dramatic gravestone erected in Headington Cemetery since it opened in 1885. The engraving is of an original Victorian flying-horse roundabout (which has always belonged to the Hebborn family and is now kept under cover at Littlemore).
The gravestone was too heavy for local firms, and was taken to Headington on board a Hebborn lorry, together with a crane which was used to lift it into place. It is made of gabbro (black granite), which can take delicate carving.
See Nina Morgan and Philip Powell, The Geology of Oxford gravestones (2015), which shows this headstone in the section relating to Headington Municipal Cemetery, pp.104–5.