The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

February 12, 2016

February 12, 1886

The British artist for whom the Caldecott Medal, (an honor for writers of children's literature), was named was Randolph Caldecott (March 22, 1846 to February 12, 1886) . We look at his biography below. The pictures are from the same site.

Randolph Caldecott ...transformed the world of children's books in the Victorian era. Children eagerly awaited the two books illustrated by him, priced at a shilling each, which came out each Christmas for eight years......

Randolph was born in Chester ... His father, John Caldecott, was a Chester business man and an accountant of some note who was married twice and had 13 children. ....

[As a child] Randolph drew and modelled, mostly animals, and he continued drawing for the rest of his life. ....

On leaving school at the age of fifteen, Randolph went to work at the Whitchurch branch of the ... 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. 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 Queen Railway Hotel in Chester and it appeared in the Illustrated London News together with his account of the blaze.

..... 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 provided amusement. .... A number of his letters have been reprinted with their illustrations in Yours Pictorially, a book edited by Michael Hutchings. In 1870 through a friend in London, the painter Thomas Armstrong, Randolph was put in touch with Henry Blackburn the editor of London Society, who published a number of his drawings in several issues of the monthly magazine.

Encouraged by this evidence of his ability to support himself by his art, Randolph 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 lodgings at this time were] 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 Ros[s]etti, George du Maurier (who was a fellow contributor to Punch), Millais and Leighton. His friendship with Frederick (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 Randolph had a picture hung in the Royal Manchester Institute and he was hung in the Royal Academy for the first time in 1876. He was also a water colourist and was elected to the Royal Institute of Watercolour Painting in 1872.

In 1877 Edmund Evans, who was a colour printer and talented engraver, ...asked Randolph to do illustrations for two books for Christmas. 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 he produced two more each year until he died. The stories and rhymes were all of Randolph's choosing and in some cases were written or added to by himself. ....Among well known admirers of his work were Gaug[u]in and Van Gogh....

Here is a humorous caption he wrote to a drawing of people in a grand living room:

"To the hard-up gentry: People who like being shewn over princely mansions would probably also like to stare at their noble owners. Money might be made by this suggestion."


In 1879 he moved to Wybournes, a house which he took (it is not known whether he bought or rented it) 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 in 1880 and lived at Wybournes 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 Randolph's Nursery Rhymes had reached 867,000 copies (of twelve books) and he was internationally famous.

However, his health was generally very 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 that he was taken ill again and succumbed. He and Marian had sailed to New York and travelled down the East Coast; they reached Florida in an unusually cold February; Randolph was taken ill and died at St. Augustine on the 12th Feb 1886. He was not quite 40 years old. A headstone still marks his grave in the cemetery there....

Here's an illustration of  Caldecott's for The House That Jack Built.





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