Friday 23 March 2012

'Come lasses and lads ...' R. Caldecott, a Chester-born artist

Randolph Caldecott is remembered for his delightful drawings of rosy cheeked damsels, rural scenes and animals in children’s books. He co-wrote and illustrated these stories at a time when publishing attractive, inexpensive books for children was in its infancy.

Born in Chester on 22nd March 1846, his family lived at 150 Bridge Street (now number 16) on the Rows. As a child Randolph spent much of his time outdoors enjoying the countryside around Chester, drawing and modelling animals. Leaving King’s School at age 15 he went to work as a bank employee. Banking was not for him, however, and he continued to draw and paint scenes of life in Victorian society, many of them humorous. In 1861 he had his first drawing published: a sketch of the disastrous fire at the Queen Railway Hotel in Chester which appeared in the Illustrated London News together with his account of the blaze.

After moving to London in 1872 at the age of 26 he developed a good reputation drawing cartoons of London society people but it wasn’t until he began illustrating children’s stories in 1877 that he became internationally famous. By 1884 he had sold over 800,000 copies of illustrated nursery rhymes and exhibited sculptures and paintings at the Royal Academy. Randolph died whilst on holiday in Florida in February 1886, just over a month before his 40th birthday. He is commemorated in Chester with a blue plaque outside his old home in Bridge Street and a memorial inscription lies in the north transept of Chester Cathedral.

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies hold a collection of his personal papers (collection reference number D7651). Among the collection are sketches, letters, newspaper cuttings and tiny notebooks of drawings. Chester Library is also home to a superb collection of his books ranging from children’s picture books to biographies and travelogues.

Visit our 'Caldecott of Chester' exhibition - now online!

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