Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Randolph Caldecott

A few months ago we went on a literary walk around Chester. It was funny. The guide had obviously tried very hard but there are just not many literary links to Chester.

Charles Kingsley resided here for a few months as a clergyman and even though his house looked over the river I doubt that it inspired him to write The Water Babies - which was one of my favourite books when I was young.

Apart from that the guide had to resort to things like - 'Dorothy Wordsworth once wrote in her diary "We started south on the Friday, stopping at an Inn at CHESTER on our way to Shrewsbury..."' while standing outside a possible 'Inn at Chester' contender.

However there was one thing he pointed out that was interesting - a small plaque on what everyone calls 'the dark row' because it is one of our upper level streets without many shops or passers-by. It commemorates the birth place of the artist Randolph Caldecott - better know in the United States than he is here - and remembered each year with the Caldecott medal to 'the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children that year'.

In the UK the equivalent is the Kate Greenaway Medal .

Well, Randolph Caldecott was born here, in this an inauspicious-looking place (the second house along with the yellow door - you can just see the plaque on the wall). It seems to be just a home now, not converted to offices or shops - a convenient and unusal place to live right in the middle of town, but quiet. His father was an affluent man and he married twice and so had a large brood of children. Perhaps that's why they moved twice, once to Crook Street (a good name) and then outside the city to Boughton and then onto Whitchurch. There is an interesting biography on the website of the a Randolph Caldecott Society UK. Apparently two of his admirers were Gaugin and Van Gogh, and judging from the links to pictures he was a talented artist from a young age. His first published illustration of the Queen's Hotel on fire is impressive - this was something he drew just after leaving school. After that he illustrated many children's books and became famous.

It seems that it was only by accident that he died in the United States and therefore, presumably, was adopted there. He suffered from ill-health and toured warm climates in an effort to improve his condition. He was just touring the east coast of the US when he was caught out by a particularly cold snap in St Augustine in Florida and died there aged not quite forty.


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