This is the true story of a young lad, brought up in extreme poverty, who through his own determination, courage and exceptional talent, became the premier artist for Royal Doulton.
George Tinworth was born at number 6, Milk Street, Walworth, a London district adjoining Lambeth. His father was wheelwright – and he expected his son to follow in his footsteps. But young George had other dreams.
As a boy, he became fascinated by the “living statues” who displayed themselves at fairs. He used to peep through the cracks in the tents to see them and he used to practice being one at home in front of the mirror. He also took to carving on the offcuts of wood from his father’s trade, but he kept them well-hidden from his father. He showed a precocious skill for one so young and as yet untaught. He began to carve butter stamps and his talent was noted by a near neighbour, who felt he would benefit from studying anatomy at art school.
So, when George was 19 years old, in 1861, he pawned his overcoat to pay the fee for evening classes at the Lambeth School of Art to study pottery. He managed to keep it a secret from his father for some months, his mother covering for him when his father demanded to know where he was.
The head of Lambeth Art School was a Mr. John Sparkes, who recognised the extraordinary talent of young George. Here he had training as a sculptor. That same year he created the ‘The Mocking of Christ’, which is exhibited Cuming Museum, Southwark.
From the Lambeth School of Art, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy School when he was 21.
He was a gifted student and won several medals for his work. He also was one of several students who helped John Sparks create a terracotta frieze for a factory extension.
But he still had to earn a living. He worked at mending cartwheels, he worked in a fireworks factory for just two shillings and sixpence a week. His wages went up when he worked at a hot presser’s for 14 hours a day for four shillings a week. This meant using a machine to apply heat and pressure to smooth out the surface of paper or cloth – or express oil from it, a hard, hot job.
A Career with Royal Doulton
When George’s father died, in 1866, it was left to George to provide for his mother and himself – it was a struggle. It was then that John Sparkes suggested that his good friend, Henry Doulton, should employ the young man in decorating pottery.
So began his career with Royal Doulton. While he became the premier Doulton designer for vases, humourous figurines and animals and jugs he started out by making cases for water-filters, but quickly transferred to making a new range of salt-glazed stoneware, for which Doulton was renowned. George Tinworth was also making a name for himself and around 30 samples of his work were displayed at the Paris exhibition in 1867. He gained awards in Vienna and America.
The “History of England Vase”
This intricate and exceedingly valuable vase was created in 1872. Two copies were made – and only two copies.
They made two copies because then if there was a fault in the firing at least one copy would be saved. The vase is 52 and 5/8 inches tall and is made of terracotta.
The vase is constructed in three sections. The lower part of the body displays vertical scrolling foliage. Above are horizontal bands of leaves, enclosing two bands of detailed figures in relief. They are stunning, they make one want to examine the work closely and at leisure. There are twenty figures of British monarchs, each in their own arched niche. Their names are beneath. In the central band around the waist of the vase are 20 more larger scenes, showing events from British history, again each in its own arched niche separated by double Doric columns. This was exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair and confirmed his place as the most well known and sought after artist of the early Doulton Period.
It is a truly stunning work of art. (Est. value $80,000 to $120,000)
Of Mice and Men
In contrast, Tinworth produced a selection of humorous animal miniatures, featuring mice or frogs or sometimes men. These he called his “humoresques”, and I guess he had fun designing them. They were only produced in quite small numbers, often without documentation although many of them do show his monogram. Because there are so few of them they fetch very good prices at auction. And they are very endearing.
Originally they were designed for use as chessmen, paperweights or in groups to illustrate a story.
Examples of mice miniatures
1. A menu holder. This shows a mouse asleep instead of guarding his apple store – and another mouse sneaking up to steal an apple.
2. Menagerie – a clock case with 19 mice all busy doing circus acts like the wheel of fortune and the shooting gallery.
3. Mice in a Rowing boat – this one is called ‘Cockneys at Brighton’. One mouse plays the concertina, another rows and a dolphin follows the boat. (Estimated value $1,800 – $2,500) and increasing.
His very collectible mice and frogs are not easy to find – but well worth snapping up if you get the chance as they a are only likely to become increasingly hard to find, and consequently more expensive – and then, they are charming in themselves.
The “English Church” in Copenhagen
St Alban’s Church in Copenhagen, known locally as the English Church, was built between 1885 – 1887. The English congregation was growing as the sea-related commerce was increasing throughout the nineteenth century. They held their services in rented rooms and longed for a church or their own. They appealed to the Prince of Wales, whose Danish-born wife, Princess Alexandra, not only helped to raise the funds needed but also found them an attractive site to build it on. It was British architect. Arthur Blomfield, who drew up the plans.
Amongst other donated gifts to the new church were the altarpiece, pulpit, and font, by Doulton. And George Tinworth was the artist who designed them, made from terracotta with salt-glazed details.
Tinworth produced hundreds of intricate terracotta relief panels depicting religious scenes. You can find these in various churches and chapels including York Minster, Wellington Barracks (although most of this one was destroyed by bombing) and 28 panels for the guard’s chapel. The panels contain a wealth of detail, a great number of small figures all going about their lives adding interest and excitement to the works and to the deep religious sentiment expressed.
Some of His Other works
He made many vases, including the English History Vase and also the Amazon Vase, now in Philadelphia. He also created the Pilgrimage of Life Fountain for Kennington Park, sadly damaged by bombing during the war. It was re-erected only to be vandalised in 1981. But even now a substantial pillar remains.
George Tinworth also made the remarkable 50-foot frieze which once adorned the front of the Lambeth Doulton factory. This too had a checkered history, after the factory was demolished it was rescued by a group of volunteers and after lying in storage for years finally found a home in the V&A Museum.
George Tinworth’s works were shown at many exhibitions, both locally and abroad. They helped to establish is reputation – and also that of Royal Doulton.
The 1893 Chicago Exhibition Royal Doulton sent some of the best pieces ever produced by the factory to this exhibition, including George Tinworks impressive “History of England” vase. This certainly helped to establish his name.
Royal Academy the Royal Academy exhibited many of his works which were much admired. In the very year, he joined the Lambeth school they showed “Peace and Wrath in Low Life”, which depicts a group of children fighting.
Some Places to Find His Works
York Minster and Wells Cathedral have fine examples of his work. And then there is St Thomas hospital chapel reredos, the ornamental screen covering the wall at the back of an altar. Also at St Thomas’s the ‘Good Samaritan’, a relief, which commemorates Sarah Wardroper, matron of St Thomas’ for 33 years. In addition, there is the Fawcett memorial in Vauxhall Park, 4 relief panels in St Bede’s College, Manchester and the Manchester Park group.
George Tinworth considered that “Preparing for the Crucifixion”, was his finest work. The relief is full of figures, vivacious and dramatic. “Our Lord on His Way to the Crucifixion”, this Terracotta frieze was presented to Truro Cathedral in 1902 by F. Walters Bond in thanks for the safe return of his sons from the Boer war.
The Cuming Museum contains three examples of his life-sized clay heads and a terracotta scene entitled The Jews making bricks under Egyptian Taskmasters. Royal Doulton presented this to the museum in 1914. You can find more in the Museum of Garden History in Lambeth, St Mark’s Church in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent St Mary’s Church in Burton, Wiltshire and many other places.
Southwark Local Studies Archive has his manuscript and his unpublished autobiography.
The Death of George Tinworth
On Saturday the 13th of September 1913. George Tinworth met his death. He was almost 70 years old and still working. He was buried in his mother’s plot at West Norwood Cemetery. Here too is a story of desecration. , this time by the borough of Lambeth. They destroyed the memorial on the tomb when they emptied the grave for reuse. In the 1980s. however, a descendant protested and they put up a simple plaque to commemorate the people previously buried there.
For almost fifty years George Tinworth worked at Royal Doulton, producing a huge variety of articles. These range from a pulpit in a Danish Church to miniature mice in Brighton. The intricate work on the figures in his relief panels, his deep religious sentiment – and his quirky sense of humour, which he portrayed in his work, bring to life a vibrant and interesting personality. And his pieces are eagerly sought after when they do come on the market.
George Tinworth’s name lives on, not only in the many samples of his prodigious talent, but he also has a street named after Him – “Tinworth Street” in Lambeth.