Sunday, December 09, 2018

W B Handforth

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

W.B. Handforth is something of an enigma. He illustrated around 50 books between 1879 and 1931, mainly children’s books, many of which were boys’ historical and adventure stories, yet he appears to have done hardly any work for periodicals. He also, at one point early in his career, described himself as a landscape artist, yet no paintings by him appear to have been recorded.

He was born on 2 May 1859 in Manchester, and christened William Bradshaw Handforth. His father, Mark Handforth (born in Didsbury, Cheshire, in 1831) was a cheese factor, who had married Clarissa Bradshaw (born in 1829 in Sheffield) in 1854. They had three children besides William: Mark Philip (born in 1857), Clarissa Mary (1864) and Henry Thomas (1866).

Shortly after William’s birth the family moved from Manchester to Chelford, Cheshire, where Mark became a general provision dealer. At the time of the 1881 census, when the family was living at The Woodlands, Knutsford Road, Chelford, Mark had become a cheese monger and his two older sons, Mark and William, were both working as assistant cheese mongers. Mark senior died on 26 July 1882, leaving an estate valued at £3,713 (around £355,500 in today’s terms), with probate granted to Mark and William, both described then as cheese and bacon factors.

This seems to have encouraged the brothers to abandon the business, with Mark junior emigrating to New Zealand in 1885, where he worked as an artist and carpenter, dying there in 1940. He was joined by his mother, who died there in 1913, and his brother Henry, who died there in 1940.

In the meantime, William Bradshaw Handforth studied at Manchester School of Art between 1884 and 1886. In 1887, in Prestwick, Manchester, he married Dora Weiss Harrison, born in Manchester on 13 August 1867 and the daughter of John Harrison, a music professor, and his wife Fanny, a music teacher. They immediately moved to Wales, where they had the first two of their three children: William, born in 1889, and Richard Eustace, born in 1889. In 1890, they were recorded at “Merrie Meade”, Llewelyn Road, Colwyn Bay; and in 1891 they were recorded at Tanyeaed, Chapel Street, Llandrillo yn Rhos, Conway, Denbighshire (employing a 13 year-old servant). At this time, William described himself in the census as an “Artist Landscape.” However, there are no online records of any of his paintings, either in terms of images or records of any being sold at auction.

By 1896 the family had moved back to Manchester, to 171 Upper Brook Street. Their third son, Philip Anthony, was born there in 1897.

William’s career as an illustrator appears to have begun in 1895, when he was one several artists who designed a cover page for The Studio. Two years later he illustrated a re-issue of Thomas Moore’s 1827 historical novel The Epicurean, published by Downey & Co. The following year, his illustrations appeared in two further Downey & Co. novels, a re-issue of Captain Mayne Reid’s The Scalp Hunters, and The Story of an Ocean Tramp by Charles Clark, and in Downey & Co.’s Christmas Annual. In 1899, he illustrated another sea-faring story for Downey & Co., Herbert Hamblen’s The Yarn of a Bucko Mate. He went on to illustrate many more similar novels for publishers such as The Religious Tract Society, George Routledge & Sons, the S.P.C.K., Henry Frowde, Blackie & Son, Hodder & Stoughton, Thomas Nelson & Sons, and, later, The Aldine Publishing Company. Amongst the authors whose books he illustrated were G.E. Farrow, R. Stead, John C. Hutcheson, Gordon Stables, A.L. Haydon, E. Harcourt Burrage, Frederick Harrison, J. Percy Groves, William Beckford, George Manville Fenn and Wingrove Willson, although he never became closely associated with any one author (or, indeed, any particular publisher). His last book illustrations appeared in 1931.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he appears not to have been a regular contributor to periodicals. The only periodicals which are known to have featured his work were The English Illustrated Magazine (1906), The Boy’s Own Paper (1916), Young England (1917), The Children’s Companion (1923), and The Crusoe Mag. (1926).

At the time of the 1901 census, William and his family were living at La Maisonette, Warren Road, Chingford, Essex, with William described as an “Artist and Designer.” Ten years later, the family was as “Briarspatch,” Cliff Road, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, with William described as an “Artist, book and magazine illustrator.”

By 1939, when he was living with his wife at 29 Cliff Road, Southend-on-Sea, Essex, he had retired. He died, of a cerebral haemorrhage, at 29 Cliff Road on 13 October 1945. His wife remained at Cliff Road, and died at the General Hospital, Rochford, Essex, on 2 December 1955. An illustration credited to W.B. Handforth – a black and white halftone of Christ commanding some of his disciples to spread the gospel, appeared in an issue of The Bible and Our Times, an American Seventh Day Adventist magazine in May 1954. Presumably, this had been published somewhere else earlier, although when and where is not known.

How W.B. Handforth earned a living is something of a mystery. His income from his known illustrations would have been fairly meagre. He may have spent much of his career working as a designer, his work being uncredited, or he may have been comfortable living off his father’s legacy. Either way, he was a competent and moderately successful children’s illustrator who seems to have been completely forgotten.


Books illustrated by W.B. Handforth
The Epicurean by Thomas Moore, Downey & Co. Ltd., 1897 (re-issue)
The Scalp Hunters: A Romance of Northern Mexico by Captain Mayne Reid, Downey & Co. Ltd., 1898
The Story of an Ocean Tramp by Captain Charles Clark, Downey & Co. Ltd., 1898
The Christmas Tree, Downey & Co., 1898 (with other artists)
The Yarn of a Bucko Mate: His Adventures in Two Oceans by Herbert Elliott Hamblen, Downey & Co. Ltd., 1899
Ellie and Her Cousins by Mabel Quiller-Couch, Henry Frowde, 1908
The Golden Touch by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Frowde, 1908 (re-issue)
Rainbow Gold by G.E. Farrow, Henry Frowde, 1908
Adventures Ashore and Afloat by various authors, Religious Tract Society, 1908(?) (re-issue)
Kinsman and Namesake: A Story of the Days of Henry IV by R. Stead, Blackie & Son, 1909
The Mystery of the Ash Tree by Mary Frances Outram, Religious Tract Society, 1909
Fritz and Eric, or The Brother Crusoes by John C. Hutcheson, Hodder & Stoughton, 1909 (re-issue)
The Cruise of the Snowbird: A Story of Arctic Adventure by Gordon Stables, Oxford University Press, 1910 (re-issue)
Norman’s Inheritance, or The Young Crusaders by Edith C. Kenyon & Rev. R.G. Soans, Religious Tract Society, 1910(?) (re-issue)
The Quest of the “Wild Swan” by A.L. Haydon, Sunday School Union, 1911
The Twin Castaways by E. Harcourt Burrage, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1911
Ernest Hepburn, or Revenge and Forgiveness by H.C. Adams, Religious Tract Society, 1911(?) (with Ernest Prater) (re-issue)
The Buccaneers of the Spanish Main by Albert M. Hyamson, George Routledge & Sons, 1912
Young Salts by William Charles Metcalfe, S.P.C.K., 1912
The Treasure Finders: A Forest Story by Mary Rowles Jarvis, Religious Tract Society, 1912
Thrilling Tales of Great Events, Re-told from Survivors’ Narratives by Walter Wood, George Routledge & Sons, 1912
By Pluck and Luck: A Story of Adventure by Frederick Harrison, S.P.C.K., 1912
The Fortunes of Harold Borlase: A Story of the Days of Blake by John Garaeme, S.P.C.K., 1912
The Lost Exile: A Tale of Siberia by Gertrude Hollis, S.P.C.K., 1912
Vathek: An Arabian Tale by William Beckford, George Routledge & Sons, 1912 (re-issue)
Tarbucket and Pipe-Clay: The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Brodribb, Middy and Marine by J. Percy Groves, Hodder & Stoughton, 1913 (re-issue)
English Officers of the Nineteenth Century by Cyril Scudamore, George Routledge & Sons, 1913
Blue Jackets, or The Log of the Teaser by George Manville Fenn, Henry Frowde, 1913 (re-issue)
The Swiss Family Robinson by W.H.G. Kingston, George Routledge & Sons, 1914 (with John Gilbert) (re-issue)
The School of Arms: Stories of Boy Soldiers and Sailors by Ascott R. Hope, George Routledge & Sons, 1915
The Ideal Home: How to Find It, How to Furnish It, How to Keep It by Matilda Lees-Dodds, George Routledge & Sons, 1915 (with Sybil Tawse)
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, George Routledge & Sons, 1917(?) (re-issue)
The Ordeal of Ann Curtis by Alice Askew, Jarrolds, 1918 (dustwrapper)
True Stories of the Water Folk by Mable Marlowe, George G. Harrap & Co., 1921
Kevin and the Cats by K.F. Purdon, S.P.C.K., 1921
Comrade by E.L. Haverfield, Religious Tract Society, 1923 (with H.M. Rhodes) (re-issue)
Little Robin Gray by Edith C. Kenyon, Religious Tract Society, 1924 (re-issue)
Scouts of the Prairie ed. by Wingrove Willson, Aldine Publishing Co., 1925 (with other artists)
Peter Lawson, Wolf-cub, or The Mystery of Redcroft Farm by H.B. Davidson, “Children’s Companion” Office, 1926
The Sioux of St. Jude’s by Wingrove Willson, Goodship House, 1926
Nan and the Rest by Edna Lake, Religious Tract Society, 1927
The Merry Men of Sherwood by various authors, Goodship House, 1927 (with other artists)
Bright and Breezy Stories by Uncle Reg, Epworth Press, 1928
Jolly Stories of School Life and Brave Deeds for Boys by various authors, Epworth Press, 1928
Jolly Stories for Girls: Tales of School Life and Brave Deeds by various authors, Epworth Press, 1929
A Convict: The Story of an Indian Hillman by Ernest Bell Sharpe, Church Missionary Society, 1931

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