In 1887, a second son was born to Jessie and Charles Percy Harradine. They called the baby Arthur Leslie. Charles was a solicitor’s clerk, and the family lived in Lambeth, London, near the Royal Doulton Lambeth studios.
Leslie was to become one of Royal Doulton’s regular and prolific modellers. But his independence of spirit ensured he worked to his own rules and timetable. This freedom to express himself in his own unique way is what gives his art such interest and variety.
So, it followed naturally that when Leslie was 15 years old, he became apprenticed at the Royal Doulton Studio where George Tinworth was his mentor. Leslie also studied part-time at Camberwell School of Arts. When he finished his apprenticeship, he continued to work at the Lambeth factory, in the design studio. Most of his time, his job was to design vases – not a particular favourite type of work for him.
Leslie’s ambition was to own his own small independent studio where he could sculpt clay of his own designs of free-standing figures. He sent several prototypes of his figures to Charles Noke who was the art Director of Royal Doulton in Burslem.
Finding he was unable to pursue his dream, he downed roots and together with his older brother, Percy, migrated to Canada. There, the two young men bought land and worked very hard to make a productive 4,000-acre farm. Things were stacked against them, the soil was poor and the farm isolated, but they did manage to scrape a living. Leslie found clay on their land and he painted and modelled whenever he could find the time.
The Great War
In 1916, the Great War intervened and called the two brothers to fight in France. Leslie was soon injured, and his horse shot from under him. He was repatriated to England where he spent considerable time in the hospital. It was in England that he met Edith Denton, married her in 1917 and had their first child, Jessie, a year later.
The war ended in 1918 and Leslie was free to take his young family back to Canada. But he felt the life was too harsh for them, so he sold his half of the farm to his brother and settled in Luton, Bedfordshire England. Here, two more daughters were born.
The Royal Doulton Connection
Leslie continued to paint and model but his dream was still to own that little studio in London. Quite soon, Charles Noke heard that Leslie had settled in England and arranged to meet him. Noke offered Leslie a job as a designer in the Burslem factory, but Leslie had tasted independence and turned his offer down. But he did send Noke a few samples of his modelling work. Strictly as a freelancer, his first Royal Doulton Figure, HN395, “Contentment” was released.
Leslie continued his freelance work, supplying Royal Doulton with one to three pieces at a time, on a roughly monthly basis, sent from his studio. The packages were received eagerly, with interest and curiosity by the other pottery workers. This continued for almost 40 years.
Over the years Leslie sent a multitude of popular pieces. They include figures from the “Beggars Opera”, which he remade years later. There were characters from the popular Dickens series and also a London street sellers series with such pieces as “the Flower Sellers Children“ and “The Balloon Seller”, and “The Bather” – clad and nude. The variety of style is astonishing, varying from the sylph-like figure of “Celia” to the sturdy little trio ‘Dinky Do’, ‘Tinkle bell’, and ‘Babie’ as well as his beautifully painted vases. His colours are immensely varied, from the simple blue and white of the Dutch Woman to the flamboyant “Folly”, now quite rare.
But the figure we recognise most easily must be “Top o’ the hill”, introduced in 1937. This was based on a picture by Molly Benatar and Royal Doulton made a good investment when they bought the exclusive rights for porcelain reproduction of the picture.
His Love of Children
Leslie delighted in amusing children with his juggling skills. His love of children shows in the craftsmanship of his child studies. Although some were rather old-fashioned in the way they were portrayed, they appealed to the public and continued to be produced for years. Similarly, another series of child studies the “Nursery Rhymes” were equally popular. Others are rare, like the “Rocking Horse”, which was only produced for about a couple of years.
Royal Doulton’s first series of figurines included “Polly Peacham” and her friends. Leslie clothed them in Lovett Frazer costumes which were designed for the revival of the opera in 1920. The second version of Polly as a miniature figure can be found in more colour designs than any other Royal Doulton figure.
During the 1920s- 1950s, Leslie made a few figures of young boys – hard to find now but delightful if you can.
Later years and Family Life
His figurines are very collectable. One for sale at the moment is a cute figure of a child getting ready for bed in delicate colours 15,2 cms high and the asking price was £80.00
In 1935, his wife died when she was only 46 years old. Two years later, Leslie remarried to Jane Haley and they had another son and two daughters to add to his family. He later married for a third time. It was said that he tended to marry his models.
He moved to Sark, a small channel island where no cars are allowed to this day. His pottery pieces were shipped to the mainland and arrive at the potteries just as before until he decided to retire in the late 1950s. His last figure to be released was “The Apple Maid” in 1957.
When Leslie finally retired, he moved to Spain, where he modelled the locals in terracotta for his own and for their pleasure. He died in 1965 in Gibraltar, leaving behind an enormous number of varied pottery pieces which are prime collector’s items today. His independent spirit, his love for children, and his eye for detail make his pieces worth cherishing.