ON Wednesday, the 15th of December, between sixty and seventy members and friends attended an evening meeting at the Exchange, Nottingham, held there by the kind permission of the Mayor. Canon Madan, of Plumtree, presided. After tea at 5 p.m., Mr. Robert Mellors opened the proceedings by reading the following paper.
Richard Parkes Bonington.
By Mr. Robert Mellors.
Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1828).
My paper is simply the outcome of an enquiry sent by a gentleman connected, or lately connected, with the Foreign Office, to the vicar of Arnold, asking, on behalf of a French student, for information as to whether any statue had been erected in Arnold to the memory of Bonington, or any tablet put upon the house where he was born, and further soliciting information as to his early life and years. The vicar of Arnold thinking, possibly, that as I was known to both the clergy and the police, I must also know something, sent the letter to me and asked me to answer it, thus involving me in considerable work and correspondence, the result of which I will now lay before you.
In the register of Baptisms at the High Pavement Chapel, Nottingham, is the following entry under the date of 28th November, 1802, the Rev. James Taylor being the minister.
"Richard Parkes Bonington, Son of Richard Bonington, and Eleanor his Wife (daughter of Thomas Parkes) born 25th. October 1802."
From the foregoing it would appear that the date of birth usually given, viz. 1801, is wrong. It may be further remarked that Richard Bonington was, for many years, a subscriber of two guineas a year to the expenses of the High Pavement Chapel. It is very probable that Richard Parkes Bonington attended the High Pavement School. For the benefit of persons who are interested in Bonington genealogy, it may be noted that in 1721, on July 4th, John Bonington and Sarah Brunet (Carburton). were married at Edwinstowe, and in 1734 Edward, son of Edward and Jane Bonington, was baptized at Croxton Kerrial. There may, however, be no connection with the family under consideration.
The following paragraph Mr. W. Stevenson extracts from Glover's History of Derbyshire, vol. 2, page 56, "Ashover Church," and he supposes it may possibly refer to maternal ancestors of R. P. Bonington. This however is very doubtful.
"A tablet in memory of Francis Parks, born at Knott-Cross (1674) in this parish, and died at Nottingham 29th. November 1713 aged 39. He by his natural genius and industry became wonderful proficient in the polite art of painting. His singular modesty, sweet disposition, strict sobriety, and ingenious conversation, joined with unwearied diligence and uncommon skill in his proffession, made him well esteemed by the best judges, and rendered him acceptable wherever he was employed." Richard Bonington, the grandfather of the artist, was a man highly respected in the town of Nottingham. He was governor of the county gaol, which was underneath the Shire Hall, and although in the very heart of Nottingham was by royal charter (Henry VI., 1448) declared not to be within the municipal jurisdiction. "On May 22nd. 1766 Richard Bonington and Mary Truman were married at St. Mary's Church, Nottingham, by the Rev. L. Whitaker, Curate, in the presence of Samuel Turner and Martha Page, and on January 26th. 1780 Richard Bonington and Sarah Farnsworth were married by the Rev. William Nelson, in the presence of Ann Farnsworth and Henry Worrall." 1
The baptism is recorded at St. Mary's, Nottingham, 21st April, 1768, of Richard, son of Richard and Mary Bonington (the latter of whom died 8th April, 1779, aged 44 years). Richard Bonington, the gaoler, died 18th August, and was buried in St. Mary's Churchyard, Nottingham, 21st August, 1803, aged 73 years. "We have found a slate headstone to the memory of himself, his first wife, and five of their children on the north side of the Churchyard, near the vestry door."2
Richard Bonington was not only respected by the inhabitants of the town, but at a special sessions held at the Shire Hall on 25th April, 1785, it was decided to pay to the gaoler of His Majesty's gaol for the county £100 a year as an addition to his former salary of £20a year, "and in consideration of the long and faithful services of Mr. Richard Bonington who now keeps the said Gaol it is further ordered that he be allowed and paid the further sum of £20 a year during the time he shall continue to keep the said Gaol ... in lieu of selling any Liquors or deriving any profit from the sale of any Liquors within the said Gaol."
Fancy a governor of a gaol paid only £20 a year salary, and having to sell liquors to prisoners in order to make a living!
In the Nottingham Date Book appears, "1789 May 27. Mr. Richard Bonnington, jun., appointed his father's successor in the governorship of the County Gaol."
In a "Memoir" of Richard Parkes Bonington, in the Library of Fine Arts, vol. iii., No. 14, p. 201, to which Mr. J. Potter Briscoe has called my attention, it is stated—"Mr. Bonington (the son) had the reputation of being 'a good tavern companion, an open, generous-hearted man, but company, villainous company' too often led him, as it has others, into certain unfortunate predicaments, and it is remembered here among the wags of the town, that one night on returning home rather 'muddled,' he was taken up by the 'guardians of the night' for riotous and disorderly conduct,—a rather awkward circumstance for the Governor of the jail, and one which nearly caused his dismissal, but the intervention of his friends saved him on this occasion. It was not until the commission of a graver offence, which could not be overlooked, such as conversing with the prisoners on the subject of politics, and debating amongst them on questions of free government, and the reading to them the forbidden doctrines of Tom Paine,—that to adopt a modern phrase, he thought proper to 'tender his resignation.''
"You have been to sea, Mr. Bonington, I presume." Mr. Riley, the actor, was the enquirer. "At sea, sir;" replied he, "you may say that, my hearty. I have seen some service, but I soon got moored in the harbour of matrimony, and instead of brushing the ocean I now brush canvass to a very good account." "You are welcome to my cabin," were the words of reception by Mr. Bonington to Mr. Riley. "You are the man I have much wished to come alongside of; and now you've boarded me you shall not sail again till we have emptied the locker of a bottle, at least." "Excuse you! shiver my timbers if I do, though."
The sea service was in early life; the reception was many years after.
From the time of his resigning the governorship of the jail, until his marriage with Miss Parkes, he practised as a portrait painter, and published a few prints in coloured aquatinta.
Mr. Ward gives an extract from the Nottingham Directory of 1799, by E. Willoughby, p. 4, as follows:—
"Bonington Richard, Keeper of the Town Gaol, Weekday Cross.
Bonington Richard, Drawing Master, Butt-dike."
It must be noted that ten years had elapsed since the son's appointment to the county gaol. John Howard's report upon the prisons of England, dated April 5th, 1777, showed that Richard Bonington was at that date keeper of the town gaol as well as of the county gaol, his salary for the former being £8a year. Possibly he continued this minor office.
It must also be noted that the father did not die until four years after the date given in the Directory. Butt-dike, the address of the artist, is now called Park Row, the hollow, i.e. "the dike," being just outside the town wall, where archery was practised in the olden times.
"Miss Parkes,"—I am quoting from the old Memoir, —"originally came from Birmingham, from whence she occasionally visited Nottingham: here she often met Mr. Bonington; and, by the patronage of friends, upon their marriage, they were enabled to establish a ladies school at Arnold."
Mr. Bailey says that "Mrs. Bonington previous to her marriage was a governess in a family, she had enjoyed the advantages of a superior education, and was, therefore, in all respects well calculated to undertake the mental training of this her only child."
Bonington's house in Arnold.
The house at Arnold where Bonington was born, tradition says, is the large and tall house in High Street, near the south-west corner of Bond Street, but there is no evidence to support this.
"After remaining at Arnold a few years Mr. & Mrs. Bonington, and their whole establishment, removed to the Town of Nottingham, and finally settled in St. James' Street, where their school was well supported; Mr. Bonington still following the profession of painting. Being an only child, young Bonington was regarded with more than ordinary solicitude by his parents; but such was the amiability of his heart, that he was anything but spoiled by indulgence, and his affectionate disposition and sensitive temperament endeared him to every person to whom he was known."
It would appear that Bonington did not remain long in Arnold, for while at the parliamentary election for Nottingham in 1802 Bonington's name does not appear, in the election of 1803, which continued from May 30th to June 6th, he is then described as "Richard Bonington Jun. draw.master, St. James St.," and at the same address at the election of 1806 he is described as "gent," while at the election of 1812 he is described as "Artist, Park Row," and in the Nottingham Directory of 1814 he appears as "Drawing Master, Park Street."
An intimate companion of Parkes, which was the name by which young Bonington was known,—was Samuel Hulse (old people will remember Hulse's Yard on Long Row). The two boys were inseparable, being about the same age. Their general amusement and occupation was to draw everything which came before them. At Mr. Hulse's house they fitted up a very large apartment, and Bonington "having painted all the scenes, and played the 'Acting Manager' always to the satisfaction of his 'numerous audiences,' which generally consisted of as many of his friends as could find room," it was thought he would certainly become an actor, and his fate was poised betwixt the two pursuits of the drama and painting.
Mr. W. Stevenson calls attention to the fact that in Mr. Kirk Swann's copy at Bromley House, of Blackner's History, is pasted a small engraving headed "Nottingham Academy," and affixed is "R. Bonington pinxit." It represents a house of three storeys, which stood in Parliament Street, and had bay windows. The house looked into Parliament Street at the end, and into a garden at the front or side, with six windows, and had another building—probably the school-room—on the north side. This building had three storeys, with five windows on each floor. This house and grounds stood where King's Walk now is. At this school Lord Byron and Kirk White were pupils, and it is suggested that Bonington may also have been there, but this is very doubtful.
Mr. Keep, fine art dealer, recently purchased several small paintings by Richard Bonington—"View of the River Trent," "North East View of Nottingham from Mr. James' Coffee House," "West View of Nottingham Castle shewing Canal," etc. These, however, shew little artistic merit. Several of them were reproduced in Blackner's History of Nottingham.
Mr. G. H. Wallis has in his possession one of Bonington's Latin lesson books, with his signature in, dated November 22nd, 1811, and the name is encircled with an abundance of schoolboy freehand drawing.
If the school attended was the High Pavement School, the schoolmaster at that time was John Malbon.
"The passion of the boy for drawing," says Mr. Bailey, "was most extraordinary, and entirely absorbed all the regard which, in early life, boys generally devote to sports and amusements of a more active kind; a pencil with pieces of white and red chalk, (or ochre), and any description of paper on which he could lay his hands were all the sources of amusement he required to render him happy and contented. Sketching, at this time was the delight and occupation of his life."
Mr. Bailey states—but erroneously—that, with the exception of the first few months of his early life which were passed at Arnold, the whole of his early days were passed at a house at the upper end of Park Street.
Samuel W. Riley, an actor, speaks of Mrs. Bonington as "conversing in a style superior to females in general," and as being "a neat, accomplished prepossessing female" who received him "with much politeness and good humour. (From "The Itinerant, or Memoirs of an Actor.") "The whole of the dwelling impressed me with respect for its owners, from the cleanliness and comfort visible in all its arrangements." He then proceeds to give a report of the interview with the hearty good fellow —Richard Bonington.3
There can be little doubt that whatever help young Bonington had from his parents was due to the mother, who was both affectionate and accomplished. "The passion for company, the desire to figure in the bar parlour, the attention given to politics, and other like conduct on the part of the father caused his friends to fall off, and the School to go down. When he ought to have been in attendance on his family, and establishment, he was acting the political mountebank in a wagon in some part or other of the town." It was during one of these performances in the Market Place at Nottingham, when a vast assemblage were listening to the "orations" of Mr. Bonington, that young Bonington and his bosom friend happened to pass; and young Hulse remarked to his companion, "look at your father." "Ah!" replied the other with tears in his eyes, "this is all I get by it," at the same time taking a solitary penny bun from his pocket to eat for his dinner, as symbolical of his then lowness of fortune.
Wylie records—"In 1815 he (Bonington) was a candidate for the Junior Council, Mr. James Dale, a druggist, a tory, defeating him by a small majority of 35 votes."
The circumstances of the father becoming worse, he ultimately decided—perhaps was compelled—to leave Nottingham and England, and went to Calais in 1816, and to Paris in 1818, where by business connected with the lace trade he supported his family until the son's income from his art brought help. The father died in London, and was buried January 3rd, 1836, aged 67, and the mother June 21st, 1837, aged 63, and both were buried in Kensal Green cemetery, grave No. 478. This has been traced and verified by Mr. F. W. Dobson, who supplied me with the information.
(1) Ward's Nottinghamshire Manuscripts, p. 39.
(2) Ward's Nottinghamshire Manuscripts, p. 141.
(3) See Wylie, p. 237.