Randolph Caldecott

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Randolph Caldecott
Randolph Caldecott.jpg
Randolph Caldecott
Randolph Caldecott

(1846-03-22)22 March 1846
Chester, England
Died12 February 1886(1886-02-12) (aged 39)
Education Manchester School of Art
Known forChildren's illustration
Notable work
The House That Jack Built
The Diverting History of John Gilpin
Three Jovial Huntsmen
A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go

Randolph Caldecott ( /ˈkɔːldəˌkɑːt/ ; [1] 22 March 1846 – 12 February 1886) was an English artist and illustrator, born in Chester. The Caldecott Medal was named in his honour. He exercised his art chiefly in book illustrations. His abilities as an artist were promptly and generously recognised by the Royal Academy. Caldecott greatly influenced illustration of children's books during the nineteenth century. Two books illustrated by him, priced at a shilling each, were published every Christmas for eight years.

Artist person who creates, practises and/or demonstrates any art

An artist is a person engaged in an activity related to creating art, practicing the arts, or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner in the visual arts only. The term is often used in the entertainment business, especially in a business context, for musicians and other performers. "Artiste" is a variant used in English only in this context. Use of the term to describe writers, for example, is valid, but less common, and mostly restricted to contexts like criticism.

An illustrator is an artist who specializes in enhancing writing or elucidating concepts by providing a visual representation that corresponds to the content of the associated text or idea. The illustration may be intended to clarify complicated concepts or objects that are difficult to describe textually, which is the reason illustrations are often found in children's books.

Chester city in Cheshire, England

Chester is a walled city in Cheshire, England, on the River Dee, close to the border with Wales. With a population of 118,200 in 2011, it is the most populous settlement of Cheshire West and Chester, which had a population of 332,200 in 2014. Chester was granted city status in 1541.


Caldecott also illustrated novels and accounts of foreign travel, made humorous drawings depicting hunting and fashionable life, drew cartoons and he made sketches of the Houses of Parliament inside and out, and exhibited sculptures and paintings in oil and watercolour in the Royal Academy and galleries.

Palace of Westminster Meeting place of the Parliament of the United Kingdom,

The Palace of Westminster is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Commonly known as the Houses of Parliament after its occupants, the Palace lies on the north bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster, in central London, England.

Early life

Caldecott was born at 150 Bridge Street (now No 16), Chester, where his father, John Caldecott, was a Chester accountant, twice married with 13 children. Caldecott was his third child by his first wife Mary Dinah (née Brookes). In 1848 the family moved to Challoner House, Crook Street and in 1860 to 23 Richmond Place at Boughton just outside Chester. He spent the last five years of his schooling at The King's School which, in those days, was in the cathedral precinct in the centre of the city. In his early childhood Caldecott drew and modelled, mostly animals, and he continued drawing for the rest of his life.

Boughton, Cheshire village in United Kingdom

Boughton is a neighbourhood to the east of Chester city centre, part of the unitary authority of Cheshire West and Chester and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. It is located atop the steep banks of the River Dee as it turns the meadows bend for the last time around the 'Earls Eye' before flowing into Chester.

On leaving school at the age of fifteen, Caldecott went to work at the Whitchurch branch of the Whitchurch & Ellesmere Bank and took lodgings at Wirswall, a village near the town. In his spare time and when he was out visiting clients he was often to be seen walking and riding around the countryside; many of his later illustrations incorporate buildings and scenery of that part of Cheshire and Shropshire. His love of riding led him to take up hunting and his experiences in the hunting field and his love of animals bore fruit over the years in the masses of drawings and sketches of hunting scenes, many of them humorous. In the year that he left school, 1861, he first had a drawing published: it was a sketch of a disastrous fire at the Queens Railway Hotel in Chester and it appeared in the Illustrated London News together with his account of the blaze.

Whitchurch, Shropshire town in Shropshire, Britain

Whitchurch is a market town in northern Shropshire, England. It lies 2 miles (3 km) east of the Welsh border, 20 miles (30 km) north of the county town of Shrewsbury, 20 miles (30 km) south of Chester, and 15 miles (24 km) east of Wrexham. At the 2011 Census, the population of the town was 9,781. Whitchurch is the oldest continuously inhabited town in Shropshire. It is twinned with Neufchâtel-en-Bray, France.

Wirswall village and civil parish in Cheshire East, England

Wirswall is a village and civil parish in the unitary authority of Cheshire East and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England, located at SJ544441 near the Shropshire border, around 1½ miles north of Whitchurch. The historical township had an area of 973 acres (3.94 km2). The civil parish also includes the settlements of Bradeley Green, Wicksted and part of Willey Moor.


A pen and ink drawing Caldecott had published in a Manchester newspaper Caldecott Pen & Ink Manchester.png
A pen and ink drawing Caldecott had published in a Manchester newspaper

After six years at Whitchurch, Caldecott moved to the head office in Manchester of the Manchester & Salford Bank. He lodged variously in Aberdeen Street, Rusholme Grove and at Bowdon. He took the opportunity to study at night school at the Manchester School of Art and practised continually, with success in local papers and some London publications. It was a habit of his at this time, which he maintained all his life, to decorate his letters, papers and documents of all descriptions with marginal sketches to illustrate the content or provide amusement. A number of his letters have been reprinted with their illustrations in Yours Pictorially, a book edited by Michael Hutchings. In 1870, a painter friend in London, Thomas Armstrong, put Caldecott in touch with Henry Blackburn, the editor of London Society , who published a number of his drawings in several issues of the monthly magazine.

Manchester City and metropolitan borough in England

Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England, with a population of 545,500 as of 2017. It lies within the United Kingdom's second-most populous built-up area, with a population of 2.8 million. It is fringed by the Cheshire Plain to the south, the Pennines to the north and east, and an arc of towns with which it forms a continuous conurbation. The local authority is Manchester City Council.

Rusholme area of Manchester, England

Rusholme is an inner-city area of Manchester, England, about two miles south of the city centre. The population of Rusholme ward at the 2011 census was 13,643. Rusholme is bounded by the neighbourhoods of Chorlton-on-Medlock to the north, Victoria Park and Longsight to the east, Fallowfield to the south and Moss Side to the west. It has a large student population, with several student halls and many students renting terraced houses, and suburban houses towards the Victoria Park area.

Bowdon, Greater Manchester village in Greater Manchester, UK

Bowdon is a village and electoral ward in the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford, Greater Manchester, England. Bowdon, Hale and Hale Barns together are regarded as the wealthiest areas in Greater Manchester, and similarly wealthy to Cheshire Golden Triangle towns Wilmslow, Alderley Edge and Prestbury. These towns and the area between them contain some of the most expensive properties in England outside London.


Encouraged by this evidence of his ability to support himself by his art, Caldecott decided to quit his job and move to London; this he did in 1872 at the age of 26. Within two years he had become a successful magazine illustrator working on commission. His work included individual sketches, illustrations of other articles and a series of illustrations of a holiday which he and Henry Blackburn took in the Harz Mountains in Germany. The latter became the first of a number of such series.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of both England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Harz Low mountain range in northern Germany

The Harz is a Mittelgebirge that has the highest elevations in Northern Germany and its rugged terrain extends across parts of Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia. The name Harz derives from the Middle High German word Hardt or Hart, Latinized as Hercynia. The Brocken is the highest summit in the Harz with an elevation of 1,141.1 metres (3,744 ft) above sea level. The Wurmberg is the highest peak located entirely within the state of Lower Saxony.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

Illustration for "The House that Jack Built", from The complete collection of pictures & songs, published 1887. Digitally restored Randolph Caldecott illustration2.jpg
Illustration for "The House that Jack Built", from The complete collection of pictures & songs, published 1887. Digitally restored

He remained in London for seven years, spending most of them in lodgings at 46 Great Russell Street just opposite the British Museum, in the heart of Bloomsbury. While there he met and made friends (as he did very readily) with many artistic and literary people, among them Dante Gabriel Rossetti, George du Maurier (who was a fellow contributor to Punch ), John Everett Millais and Frederic Leighton. His friendship with Frederic (later Lord) Leighton led to a commission to design peacock capitals for four columns in the Arab room at Leighton's rather exotic home, Leighton House in Kensington. (Walter Crane designed a tiled peacock frieze for the same room.)

In 1869 Caldecott exhibited a picture in the Royal Manchester Institute. He had a picture exhibited in the Royal Academy for the first time in 1876. He was also a watercolourist and was elected to the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1882.

In 1877 Edmund Evans, who was a leading colour printer using coloured woodblocks, lost the services of Walter Crane as his children's book illustrator and asked Caldecott for illustrations for two Christmas books. The results were The House that Jack Built and The Diverting History of John Gilpin , published in 1878. They were an immediate success; so much so that Caldecott produced two more each year for Evans until he died. Many of Evans’ original printing blocks survive and are held at St Bride Library in London. The stories and rhymes were all of Caldecott's choosing and in some cases were written or added to by himself. In another milieu Caldecott followed The Harz Mountains with illustrations for two books by Washington Irving, three for Juliana Ewing, another of Henry Blackburn's, one for Captain Frederick Marryat and for other authors. Among well known admirers of his work were Gauguin and Van Gogh.

Randolph continued to travel, partly for the sake of his health, and to make drawings of the people and surroundings of the places he visited; these drawings were accompanied by humorous and witty captions and narrative.


In 1879 he moved to Wybornes, a house near Kemsing in Kent. It is there that he became engaged to Marian Brind, who lived at Chelsfield about seven miles away. They were married on 18th March [3] 1880 and lived at Wybornes for the next two years. There were no children of the marriage. In the autumn of 1882 the Caldecotts left Kent and bought a house, Broomfield, at Frensham in Surrey; they also rented No 24 Holland Street, Kensington. By 1884, sales of Caldecott's Nursery Rhymes had reached 867,000 copies (of twelve books) and he was internationally famous.


Memorial to Randolph Caldecott in Chester Cathedral Memorial to Randolph Caldecott in Chester Cathedral.JPG
Memorial to Randolph Caldecott in Chester Cathedral

Caldecott's health was generally poor and he suffered much from gastritis and a heart condition going back to an illness in his childhood. It was his health among other things which prompted his many winter trips to the Mediterranean and other warm climates. It was on such a tour in the United States of America in 1886 that he was taken ill again and died. He and Marian had sailed to New York and travelled to Florida in an unusually cold February; Randolph was taken ill and died at St. Augustine. He was not quite 40 years old. A headstone marks his grave in the cemetery there.

Soon after his early death, his many friends contributed to a memorial, which was designed by Sir Alfred Gilbert. It was placed in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral, London. There is also a memorial to him in Chester Cathedral.


Gleeson White wrote of Caldecott:

Caldecott was a fine literary artist, who was able to express himself with rare facility in pictures in place of words, so that his comments upon a simple text reveal endless subtleties of thought ... You have but to turn to any of his toy-books to see that at times each word, almost each syllable, inspired its own picture ... He studied his subject as no one else ever studied it ... Then he portrayed it simply and with inimitable vigor, with a fine economy of line and colour; when colour is added, it is mainly as a gay convention, and not closely imitative of nature.

G. K. Chesterton wrote in a Caldecott picture book that he presented to a young friend:

This is the sort of book we like
  (For you and I are very small),
With pictures stuck in anyhow,
  And hardly any words at all.
. . .
You will not understand a word
  Of all the words, including mine;
Never you trouble; you can see,
  And all directness is divine—
Stand up and keep your childishness:
  Read all the pedants’ screeds and strictures;
But don’t believe in anything
  That can’t be told in coloured pictures. [4]

For Maurice Sendak "Caldecott's work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. He devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before. Words are left out—but the picture says it. Pictures are left out—but the word says it." Sendak also appreciated the subtle darkness of Caldecott's work: "You can't say it's a tragedy, but something hurts. Like a shadow passing quickly over. It is this which gives a Caldecott book—however frothy the verses and pictures—its unexpected depth." [5]


Caldecott's 16 picture books [6]

See also

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  1. "Caldecott, Randolph". Webster's New World Dictionary , Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2010.
  2. Blackburn (1890), 10
  3. In a postscript to a letter dated 17 March 1880 from Caldecott to Victorian poet Frederick Locker-Lampson he says "I am to be wed tomorrow 18th"
  4. Alfred George Gardiner, "Prophets, Priests and Kings", Alston Rivers Ltd., 1908, p. 327
  5. "Caldecott, Randolph 1846–1886". Children's Literature Review. 2005. Archived from the original on 2016-03-09.
  6. Henry Blackburn (1886). Randolph Caldecott: a personal memoir of his early art career : with one hundred and seventy-two illustrations. S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington. p. 212. Retrieved 30 April 2011.

Sources and further reading

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