The True Worth of Robert Smith

I took the opportunity of an unscheduled trip to Beverley yesterday to photograph more of the stone figures gracing the west front of the Minster. I posted an image of two of them three years ago (Stone 5).

Here is yesterday’s picture of the girl with the distaff.

And this is her husband.

Our great great however many times grandparents.

They were carved about 120 years ago by Robert SMITH. In the sixtieth year of Victoria’s reign, The Rev. Canon Henry Edward NOLLOTH observed that “there was a hard and unsatisfying look in the scores of richly canopied but empty niches” outside the great church. He put forward a plan.

The project was well taken up, and besides the donations of residents, statues were given by the Archbishop of York, the Archdeacon of the East Riding, the Guild of St. John of Beverley, the Historical Society of Beverley (Massachusetts), &c.; while, among local donors, may be mentioned the Freemasons of Beverley, the women of Beverley, and the vicar’s Men’s Bible Class. The committee were fortunate enough to secure the services of Mr. Robert Smith, a sculptor of great experience under several of our most eminent architects; and in the opinion of good judges, the figures have the impress of true Gothic feeling, and will compare favourably with any similar work.

Beverley and its Minster, H. E. Nolloth, pp18 & 19

You can find photographs of 99 identified individuals here with their “symbols” noted. Robert carved the majority of them but he may not have completed the task. His death in 1909 was unexpected, after a short illness.

He was, by one account, a retiring sort of man and I had great difficulty tracking him. Only the 1901 census pins him down with certainty in time and space. He is in Eastgate, Beverley, aged 53, boarding with Mary COLLIER, 48. Both are married but both spouses are elsewhere on census night. (Mary has four children.) The transcription unhelpfully gives London as Robert’s birthplace but the page image shows “Gray’s Inn Road” has been added. There are several London Roberts born in 1847/8 but, it seems, only one in Clapham, a sub-district of St Pancras Registration District. In 1851 wood sawyer John Smith heads a household in Sidney Street, St Pancras, with wife Susan, three sons and two daughters. Only sister Ann is younger than Robert. I can’t be sure that this is Robert’s birth family, and I do not have a clear idea of his journeying in the fifty years between these two censuses. Probate provides a clue to the woman he married.

Alice Edith is the daughter he had with Selina Hannah FARMER. There is a death registration for Selina H. Smith in Eastry, Kent in 1910. She was 61 years old, and therefore a year younger that Robert.

For a man who had carved seventy life size figures for one of the most beautiful churches in England, Robert’s “effects” don’t appear to have been worth much; in today’s money – about £11,400. But a price cannot be put on the pleasure he has given the countless thousands of people fortunate to have seen his work.

Here are two of my favourites.

This is Zebulon. One of Filey’s most successful fishermen, William Jenkinson WATKINSON (Billy Butter), had a steam drifter called Zebulun.

Yesterday I wondered what on earth (or in heaven) this ancient was holding. It is Ezekiel with his wheel within wheels. I want to know more.

Neither Robert nor Canon Nolloth appear to be appropriately represented on the FamilySearch Shared Tree.

Mammal 9 · Bonzo

The second reincarnation of Bonzo – “the largest seal in England”

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