Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Manchester City News in memoriam Warwick Brookes 1808-1882

The following is the first of a three part in memoriam article which was printed in three editions of the Manchester City News on August 26th. 1882, September 2nd. 1882 and September 9th. 1882.
Subsequently this article was reproduced into individually leather bound books, with illustrations of Brookes' drawings pasted on to pages that intermingled with the text. The illustrations are photographed reproductions, not plate printed, and as such I believe them to be from the sets of photographic reproductions of his drawings that he was selling to provide himself with an income during illness in the latter part of his life.
Due to the "handmade" nature of this book, I believe it to have been put together on request by family and friends. I am lucky enough to own a copy, which, from the scripted signature in the front cover, once belonged to Wm. Gurney, who it appears had some relationship with the artist Frederick Shields, as he had pasted a 1911 newspaper cutting of Shields' obituary into the front cover which makes mention of work done by Shields on commission to Mrs. Russell Gurney. <Click> whose husband, in 1856 became Recorder of London, and was also Member of Parliament for Southampton.  This is part 1 of the article, I hope to transcribe, and post the other two in the near future.

Manchester City News, August 26, 1882
Warwick Brookes 1
Manchester has produced many men whose lives and works deserve to be held in remembrance, and in Warwick Brookes we have lost one who is worthy to be added to the list, for not only through life did he bear himself blamelessly, but he developed to perfection the special and delightful genius for art for which he was endowed. It must be remembered too, that what he has done has been with the simplest means that throughout his work there is not one ray of colour, and that it depends entirely for its charm upon form, expression, and the impress of a mind which was instinct with the spirit of beauty. For many years his hold on life had been very feeble; his striking face, immaterial figure, and long grey locks have seldom been abroad, and for months in succession, he has been a prisoner at home. Yet in the dim and crowded space of his sitting room, many, if not the majority, of his most charming deigns have been executed. Eye and mind were ever on the alert to note some happy incident of grouping, some instantaneous expression, some fortunate arrangement of drapery, some vague hint of pregnant suggestion, which in his quick mind and under his nimble fingers, would rapidly take shape and become a thing of beauty.
   In figure and in certain aspects of mind and character, we have often associated the venerable little man with William Blake. Of course, there was nothing of the mystic about Warwick Brookes. In manner and conversation he was modest and retiring, simple, sane and shrewd. He had no affinity whatever with the rapt poet, the peer who looks behind the veil; he had neither inspiration nor high imagination; and, at best, his muse was but a daughter of memory. But William Blake and Warwick Brookes were alike in the fewness of their wants, in the simplicity and transparency of their nature; in their happy home life; in their love for children and animals; in their enthusiasm for art; and especially, in the way in which for long years, they toiled at a business which hindered their development and cramped their powers. Both gave their days un-complainingly, to work which brought the supplies for their daily needs, whilst their leisure was given to the dreaming of their dream of beauty and the working out of their ideal of art. And when the author of The Songs of Innocence exclaimed, “my business is not to gather gold, but to make glorious shapes expressing god like sentiments”, he spoke the feeling of his humbler brother.
    But the artist with whom our friend’s mind and art appeared to have the greatest affinity was Stothard. The same pure and simple themes delighted them, and they truly felt, and could most perfectly represent the artless and winning grace of childhood. Their figures and fancies are so full of tender and delicate pathos, of restrained and poetic feeling, that they light up within us gleams and visions of the golden age. It is true that Stothard’s work abounds in imagination and in the most original and beautiful imagery. Still, in looking at the drawings of our friend, we feel that many of them are worthy of Stothard at his best, and we remember that the latter was enabled to devote himself wholly to his art during a period of more than half a century.
    No doubt, owing to circumstances we have named there are many (possibly thousands) in Manchester and Salford who know nothing of the interesting figure which has just passed from their midst; who are unaware that his work is delighted in by a large number of the noble in rank and intellect in England; that it has been recognized in the most cordial manner not only by the Prime Minister, of whom we are so proud, but by his royal mistress the Queen, and that the artist has been considered worthy of the special favour of the Crown. It will be admitted that this is evidence of an unusual gift. The wonder is (as in the case of all our great artists) how it came there, since there is nothing to account for it in his family, or his opportunities. His relatives on his father’s side were plain Lancashire folks living in the neighbourhood of Street Gate and Halshaw Moor. For sixty years his great uncle was gardener at Peel Hall. His mother was a Yorkshire woman from Askrigg, in beautiful and historic Wensleydale. Her maiden name was Ellen Sagar. The curious may wonder how the name of “Warwick” came in the family? Middleham Castle in Wensleydale, and during the wars of York and Lancaster, it became the chief abode of Richard Nevil, the king maker, Earl of Warwick; and the tradition in the Sagar-Brookes families, that a daughter of the great house – (how many were there besides Ann who married Richard Crookback? Some say two in all, others more) – eloped with a Yoredale youth, a Sagar, and that when her son was born, she called him “Warwick”. Our artist’s grandfather Warwick Sagar, was sixty years a schoolmaster in Askrigg. He succeeded his brother John as clerk of the parish church of St. Oswald, and held the situation for fifty years. On her mother’s death, Ellen Sagar was invited by Mrs. Francis Goadsby (during a visit to Askrigg) to enter her family, in which Ellen’s sister Elizabeth was already established, and wherein she remained (in the house Bank Parade, Greengate) for forty five years. This Mrs. Goadsby was the mother of Thomas Goadsby, who, when a very little boy was present at the christening of Warwick Brookes, and became Mayor of Manchester in the year 1861.
    In 1807 Ralph Brookes married the future artist’s mother, and , being slenderly provided, took her to his father’s house in Birtles Square, Greengate. There the subject of our notice was born on the 5th. of May 1808, when Haydon in London was full of his discovery of the Elgin marbles. In a few months the newly-married pair removed to a house in Smith’s Buildings hard by, The time was a very sad one, trade was bad and poverty widespread. Another king maker was abroad filling Europe with dismay, and Spain was in revolt against his attempt to thrust his brother on the throne. A weary time indeed and the little household had much ado to keep their heads above water.
    At six years of age young Warwick was sent to the National School near the New Jerusalem Temple, Bolton Street, where the children were taught to write with their fingers on narrow tables covered with sand and fitted with a smoothing board. Here he first became acquainted with that wonderful talisman which he was to employ with such effect in the future, namely, the black lead pencil, which he occasionally carried to the teacher in order that the attendance book might be marked, an operation which he watched with intent interest. Subsequently, an ingenious youth named George Walker (whose sister married Dr. Scholefield, of Every-street Chapel) taught him to draw and carve all manner of things, giving thereby the first impulse to his artistic facilities. His companions regarded him with admiration, acknowledging that he was the first in everything; all the paraphernalia of play being made by him in a high style of excellence. It is certain that, in his mind, the constructive faculty was largely developed, and was of the greatest service to him in the future in his business, whilst in all matters connected with the mechanism of art it was very manifest.
    Meantime home affairs did not improve, but became gloomier. Trade was bad, food and taxes high, and the heads of families spent too much time and money at the public-house discussing the war with America, the doings of Napoleon and Wellington, and the National Debt, which about that time reached the round figure of £860,000,000.
    As time went on the love of drawing in the boy’s mind increased; he was willing to be led in the right way, but there was no school of design ready to open its hospitable doors. So he found a school of art in his mother’s delf case and worked at that. Another thing which excited his emulation was a sign called “the Running Horses” opposite Blackfriar Street. The animals were “Magistrate” and “Fitz-orval” running for the cup; one of them belonged to Mr. Houldsworth whose colours were green and gold. The painting had an indescribable charm. Determined to copy it, he made repeated visits, and the drawing which resulted therefrom hung for several years on the wall of his father’s workshop. In 1817 though times were still very bad, and the harvest was a failure, yet the cotton industries grew, and the little lad was taken by his uncle Thomas (a block printer at Messrs. John Barge and Co’s Broughton Bridge) to act as a tear boy. These works were then in the meadows by the clear Irwell. In the designing room, or “conjuring shop” (as it was called), Mr. John Preston who would occasionally invite the tear boy into his office, and supply him with pencil and paper and a chintz pattern to copy. The copies were thus shown to Mr. Barge, who exclaimed, “Have I a tear boy who can do this?” The result was that he was promoted to the drawing room at five shillings a week. The father was now dead, but the family fortunes were improving!
    The first object the boy ever drew from nature was his own hand; the second a dead bird, a favourite grey-bob. Drawing was his delight, and he soon began to make himself useful. He designed a pattern (called by some “the peg and star pattern”) which Mr. Barge had engraved and which proved so popular that it was executed three times. Before he had served four years he was put into the place of sketch maker and putter-on. “Sketch making” is the bringing of the pattern to exact scale and mixing the objects in the best possible way for the copper roller for machine printing. “Putting-on” is the drawing of the pattern on the block for the blockcutter. He thus acquired a knowledge of three distinct businesses. Having served his apprenticeship, his delight was extreme when he could take home to his mother the wages of a journeyman. They were devoted to each other, and he repaid her love and care by loyally remaining by her side during the twenty years that the dear old lady was yet spared to him.
    In 1832 he left Messrs. Barge, and for the next seven years or so was with Messrs. John Dugdale and Brothers, his leaving whom was, perhaps, not unconnected with a curious incident. Time had run on; he was now an elector of Salford, with decided political views, for he had lived in four reigns, and “assisted” in Catholic Emancipation, the great Reform Bill, and the Abolition of Slavery. In the borough party feeling ran high, and in 1837 the representation was contested by William Garnett of Lark Hill (now Peel Park) a local magnate; and Joseph Brotherton. The result of the polling was a tie (Brotherton it was said, having voted for himself) when the boroughreeve, Mr. Froat, gave his casting vote for Brotherton; so that the vote of Mr. Brookes may be said to have decided the election.
    The year 1837 was memorable on account of the visit of B.R. Haydon, who delivered a course of lectures (which Mr. Brookes eagerly attended) at the Mechanics Institution, Cooper Street, beginning on 26th. May. A still more important event which may be said to have arisen out of the above lectures (aided by those of George Jackson) – and that was opening of a school of design in the Nicholas Street wing of The Royal Institution, Mosley Street, which was lent by the authorities for the purpose. John Zephaniah Bell (who still lives at No. 2 Abingdon Villas, Kensington) was appointed headmaster (the first and best the school ever had!) at the insistence of Sir David Wilkie, whom he had assisted in his work. Mr. Brookes at once availed himself of this rare opportunity and studied to such purpose that in the following year he gained two out of the four first prizes ever offered at the school; one prize being for a life size drawing from the living figure. The other prizemen were Francis Chester, late of the Theatre Royal, and Robert Crozier, the present highly esteemed President of the Manchester Academy of Art. Out of this (and other) friendly rivalries (as pleasnat to contemplate as the greater one between Ghiberti and his fellows for the gates in Florence) arose a friendship which was only ended with life.
    On 18th. August 1840 Mr. Brookes entered the service of Messrs. Cooke and Unsworth, a firm which subsequently became the Rossendale Printing Company, with whom he remained during the long period of six-and-twenty years-that is until illness incapacitated him from further labour at his business. He refused several advantageous offers from other quarters at home and abroad, and maintained his ground easily against all comers. It will be noted that in the family the quality of adversiveness is very evident, the great uncle on the father’s side having been, as we said, gardener at Peel Hall for sixty years; the grandfather on the mother’s side being schoolmaster for a like period; his brother having been clerk for fifty years; the aunt living with one family forty-five years; whilst the aforesaid six-and-twenty years might have been indefinitely extended if illness had not supervened.
    The school  of design, which he assiduously attended, was originated mainly with the view of promoting the art of design as applied to textile fabrics. Mr. Bell believed that the human figure must be made the basis of all power of drawing and design, and, therefore, whilst ornament was not neglected, he taught drawing and painting from the cast and from the living model, with excellent results. The committee, however, was not satisfied, and in the end the life class had to be discontinued; but its chief members determined it should be carried on, and accordingly formed a society and established a class of their own in an attic over Rose’s china shop, in King Street. Associated in this enterprise with Mr. Brookes were Francis Chester, Robert Crozier, Edward Benson, George Hayes, Sam Mayson, Fred Tavare, Thomas Letherbrow, and a few others. At seven in the evening in winter, and at the same hour in the morning during summer, the stove was lighted, the model placed on the stillage, and the students hard at work, drawing and painting; so continuing till nine o’clock and this practice they continued with the utmost friendliness and harmony prevailing, and with unfailing energy and delight, until the year 1849, when they rejoined the school on its removal to Brown Street under J.A. Hammersley, and when the study of the living figure was again established.
    In 1843 Mr. Bell resigned; in the following year, in April, Mr. Haydon once more lectured at the Mechanics Institution. He saw and greatly admired the drawings of Brookes and Crozier, and begged that on the occasion of his sixth and last lecture these drawings might be hung upon the screen in order that he might refer to them. This was done; Mr. Crozier had seventeen drawings on view, and the lecturer spoke of them in terms of high praise. At 7.30 next morning he was with the students in their attic explaining his method of working, and trying to instil into their minds something of his own vital energy and hope. Thus to see “the old man” eloquent the painter of “The Judgement of Solomon” and “Satan and Uriel”, seated on the stillage in that bare attic surrounded by a group of eager students was a delightful experience, the remembrance of which those present would not on any account forego. They never saw the lionhearted old man again, but ever held his name in deepest reverence. The present writer subsequently received a letter from him which concluded with the characteristic words, “Banish trimmers, traitors and croakers, and work away.”
    The foregoing incidents are referred to in the following letter to Mrs. Haydon :-
Manchester, 9th. April 1844
Only think of what has happened. I had established here a school of design with the figure as the basis. Sometime since, again influenced by those obstinate ignoramuses in London, the council here allowed itself to be persuaded to abolish the figure. The young men behaved admirably well. They met together, subscribed, and continued the figure privately, and waited for my coming down. Now that I have arrived they have brought me their drawings , which are admirable for their accuracy, breadth, and finish. This is going on like the early Christians. Persecution like this will make the thing. These councils and pupils are doing here what is being done by councils and pupils in many of the great towns in which I have lectured. Such is the baneful and mischievous influence of that blot of centralised ignorance in London; the moment my back is turned they start to undo all the good I have done. But if the young men only remain sound and continue to draw the figure, those gentlemen in London will one day be brought to acknowledge their error. It is pitiable to find such obstinacy and ignorance of what is for this great county’s good in high places.
    When Haydon wrote this, his sad yet splendid story was drawing to a close, and in two years the crimson curtain fell.

<Click> for information about Benjamin Robert Haydon, artist, writer and lecturer, who committed suicide in 1846 due to debt.

Continued in the next post.............

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