RACHEL Ann Fish has come ‘home’ to Darwen - almost 100 years after her death.

Her striking portrait, painted at her home in Sudell Road just before the Great War by her cousin James Hargreaves Morton, has been bought by the Friends of Darwen Library and it will hang on permanent display there.

It is one of the stars of a new exhibition of Morton’s work collected by the friends group, which started yesterday and runs until mid-April.

Shortly after Morton painted the portrait he went off to fight in the First World War and was killed just a few days before it ended in 1918.

His sisters, who lived with him and Rachel, kept all the work he had left behind and the hoard was only revealed after the death of his last remaining sister, Alice, in 1967.

The painting surfaced briefly for the auction of Morton’s work in 1971 when it was bought by an East Lancashire businessman and kept at his home in the Ribble Valley.

So in almost 100 years it has been seen in public just once, until now. Rachel never married and died in 1915, aged 82.

Harold Heys, secretary of the Friends of Darwen Library, saw the painting 18 months ago when researching stories and paintings for a book on Morton’s life, which was published to wide acclaim early last year.

He said: “I thought that if ever the owner thought of selling it we should try to buy it.

“It cost us hundreds of pounds but we have been very fortunate recently with donations to our funds and its purchase wasn't a problem.”

Another example of Morton's work which researchers had long puzzled about - a large pastel known as St John’s Church and Darwen Tower which also disappeared after the auction - has also surfaced and will be in the exhibition.

It is thought to be the only time that Morton captured the Tower, built in 1898.

Mr Heys said: "Morton loved painting and drawing trees and water. The Tower must have been a bit too bleak to interest him.”

It was bought by a Darwen man at the auction and was found recently in the loft of a farm at Mellor.