Wood carvings by Ralph Hedley at Tadcaster Grammar School put in spotlight

John Millards gets up close to the carvings by Ralph Hedley at Tadcaster Grammar School. Pictures: Wendy Binns

One of the carvings by Ralph Hedley at Tadcaster Grammar School

One of the carvings by Ralph Hedley at Tadcaster Grammar School

One of the carvings by Ralph Hedley at Tadcaster Grammar School

First published in Education news

A lifelong interest in artwork has brought an historian from Newcastle to Toulston, Tadcaster, home of Tadcaster Grammar School.

John Millard is passionate about art, and particularly the realist painter, woodcarver and illustrator Ralph Hedley, who was born in 1848 and died in 1913.

Mr Millard has staged an exhibition of Hedley’s work and in 1990 wrote a book about him. He also had the privilege of working with Hedley’s great-grandson, Julian Brown, who died in 2005.

Born in Richmond, North Yorkshire, Hedley and his family moved to Newcastle in 1850. He studied art and design at the government school in Newcastle and attended evening classes at the Life School under William Bell Scott.

After serving his apprenticeship as a woodcarver, Hedley established himself as a painter of portraits and landscapes, as well as an accomplished woodcarver. There the connection between Newcastle and Tadcaster begins.

Since retirement, Mr Millard has been working with Hedley’s great-granddaughter, Clodagh Brown, on a website which will show numerous paintings by Hedley and background information on his works, his carvings and his life on Tyneside.

On a visit to Tadcaster Grammar School recently, Mr Millard brought with him several documents, including a page from Hedley’s journal dated January 1900.

It states that work designed for Henry Hugh Riley-Smith at Toulston Lodge, Tadcaster, by architects Bromet & Thorman, cost a total of £3,455 25s 0d – an incredible amount of money for its day.

The cost included the carved oak work for the dining room, inner and outer halls and staircase and the elephants which all remain today. Everything was made in workshops in Newcastle and brought to Tadcaster.

“I have been told that no sandpaper was allowed in the Hedley workshop; all the carving was finished with sharp chisels,” said Mr Millard.

“It really takes your breath away when you look up and see all that amazing workmanship.”

To mark the 100 years since Hedley’s death, an exhibition celebrating his life will be held in Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead, from March to November.

Mr Millard is helping with the exhibition. He said: “I wanted to come to Tadcaster to see for myself the magnificent carvings he made all those years ago.”

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