Ralph Hedley and Lord Dundreary

Here’s another thing you won’t see in the Ralph Hedley exhibition at the Shipley Art Gallery until 2 November 2013.

I saw this carving by Ralph Hedley nearly 25 years ago, and took two photos of it at the owner’s house. The photos are not fantastic but you can make out a man in Victorian dress holding a handkerchief in his right hand and gesturing with his left hand as if he is explaining something. We called the carving ‘man with a monocle’ because he has a monocle in his left eye (though it’s hard to see in the photo).

I recently read an 1899 ‘Ten Minute Interview’ with Ralph Hedley. He said that, when he was an apprentice woodcarver in Newcastle, he used to do sketches at the theatre and ‘he carved statuettes of Southern as Lord Dundreary and as David Garrick’.

 It wasn’t hard to find a picture of the actor Edward Askew Sothern playing Lord Dundreary. He appeared in Our American cousin, a farce by English playwright Tom Taylor which premiered in New York in 1858.

The ‘man with a monocle’ was plainly Sothern as Lord Dundreary.


Sothern’s Lord Dundreary became famous in the U.S.A. and then in England, for his ad-libs and comic antics as a brainless English nobleman. His huge side-whiskers became known as ‘Dundrearys’, and people copied hisDundrearyisms’… messed-up sayings like ‘birds of a feather gather no moss’ or ‘many hands make two in the bush’.

Sothern was also a great success in the title role in Tom Robertson’s play David Garrick at the Haymarket Theatre, London, but it was Dundreary that was the ‘Greatest Dramatic Creation of the Age’ and which made Sothern a ‘Celebrated and World-renowned Comedian’.

For years Sothern toured in Our American Cousin, adding an extra scene and a song. He also worked up new productions for his most famous character – Lord Dundreary-Married and done for, Lord Dundreary’s Travels, and Dundreary’s Private Theatricals.

Sothern’s Lord Dundreary made five trips to Newcastle between 1862 and 1871. All appearances were at the Theatre Royal, except those of 1867 when they were at the Tyne Theatre – on Friday 18 and Saturday 19 October. Both of these performances featured Lord Dundreary and David Garrick, and it was probably one of them that the 18 year old Ralph Hedley attended, producing sketches for his carvings.

So the undated ‘man with  monocle’ is now Lord Dundreary (1867?)… or at least he would be if I knew where he is now.

Incidentally, Our American cousin was the play that President Abraham Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated. The performance as at the Ford Theatre, Washington, and Lord Dundreary was played by the Washington actor E.A. Emerson.



5 Responses to Ralph Hedley and Lord Dundreary

  1. Steve Bardy says:

    Hi John,
    I own mahogany carvings of Mozart and Beethoven which I believe you may have viewed around the same time. I wondered if the 1899 interview with Ralph
    Hedley mentioned these, or if you have any idea for whom they may have been commissioned? I look forward to hearing from you.
    PS. I can send pics if required

    • John Millard says:

      Thank for your blog of ages ago. It prompted me to wonder how to decide who carved wooden figures like the two in the photos you sent. We suspect that they may be one of three North East carvers who were associated with the same carving workshop on Grainger Street, Newcastle, in the mid 19th century-

      * Thomas Hall Tweedy who ran the workshop
      * Gerrard Robinson, apprentice and then foreman at the workshop
      * Ralph Hedley, who was apprenticed at the workshop

      But do we really know?

      The safest way to know is when a carving is fixed in situ.

      For example, I visited Thoresby Hall in Nottinghamshire, and saw Gerrard Robinson’s figures of Robin Hood and Little John on the massive carved fireplace Robinson did there. They must be by Robinson himself.

      And, you can visit any one of numerous North East churches to see Ralph Hedley figures in the carved woodwork at the east end. Newcastle Cathedral, St. Andrew’s, Newcastle, and St. Hilda’s, Lucker, are just three examples of churches where there are figures of angels and saints are most probably by Ralph Hedley.

      But even in the churches it’s not always cut-and-dried… while the figures may normally be carved by Hedley himself, members of his workshop did the decorative carving and structural work, and occasionally the figure carving. Several relief panels in St. Chad’s, Gateshead, are by a long-standing member of the Hedley workshop, James Taylor Ogleby. We only now this because his son put up a plaque in the church commemorating his work there.

      More rarely, a carving may have been exhibited under a particular carver’s name, and, extremely rarely, the carving will have a secure provenance – a list of owners that stretches from its original sale to the present day.

      I’m coming to the conclusion that, most of the time, we can’t give a clear attribution to Tweedy, Robinson, Hedley, or one of the number of carvers associated with them.

      What do you think?


  2. Dennis Cory, USA says:

    Hello John, Thanks so much for posting the rare picture of Hedley’s wood carving of Lord Dreary. And, for explaining details of the fateful play, Our American Cousin. You have filled in blanks of my old research. Fifty years ago I was the designer working on the restoration of Ford’s Theater, where President Lincoln was assassinated. It was authentically restored as a historic site, and as an ongoing live theater. It also is the oldest theater in the USA still standing. Thanks so much for the historic information!

  3. Dennis Cory, USA says:

    Wooops, the computer misspelled Lord Dundreary name, please correct it for me. Thank you!

    • John Millard says:

      Dennis Cory,

      Thanks very much for your blog responses, and the fascinating information about your involvement with restoring Ford’s Theatre. You have done do many interesting things.

      We’re plodding on with sorting the bequest of photos, sketchbooks, letters etc. given to the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, by Ralph Hedley’s grandson. There is so much of that it feels lie we’re making minimal progress. But your response in encouraging!

      John Millard

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