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A Kerridge Childhood (08)


Below is a further chapter from A Kerridge Childhood written by Enid Simpson. For a full introduction and index to all the stories please see the head page.

ALFRED GATLEY (1816-1863)

I have told you of some of the characters – eccentric and otherwise – who lived on Kerridge in my childhood days. There is another person who lived there before my time and who became famous for his skill as a sculptor – one Alfred Gatley.

Dad used to tell me about him, they were both Kerridge boys.

Gatley’s yard, a group of three cottages, could be seen from our front door – which incidentally faced on to a meadow. One of its occupants in later years was Harriet Shufflebottom, of whom I have written in another essay.

Alfred’s father owned two quarries on Kerridge, probably one was where my Dad worked. Alfred learnt to hold and use a chisel at a very young age and his biography tells us that at the age of ten, he carved an inscription on a small tombstone with the words ‘Robin Redbreast’s Grave.’ Many children his age could hardly even write these words, and for one so young to be able to space and then chisel the words, was something to be proud of. I have never seen the gravestone but hope that it exists somewhere.

He attended Pott Shrigley School – this may have been the nearest one at that time, and the Vicar of the Church recognized his skills and gave him every encouragement to improve them. From Kerridge and Pott Shrigley, he decided at the age of 21, to go to London in order to improve his knowledge, and attached himself to a Mr. Bailey. At the Royal Academy he won one prize after another. His work was much sought after and he made money from sculpting commemorative plaques and busts of well-known people.

This work, however, did not fulfil Alfred’s ambitions, and he left London for Rome where be joined a group of English Artists led by a carver of genius, a Welshman named John Gibson. Here he was able to develop his love for carving animals – (stemming maybe from his Kerridge days) and made quite a name for himself.

The huge bas-reliefs of Pharaoh, Moses and Miriu now hang in Edinburgh Museum. A block of Carrera* marble weighing thirteen tons was used for this work and Alfred spent the last seven years of his life working on them.

This carving and much of his earlier work was taken to London – at his own expense – and put on exhibition at a much publicized International Exhibition. Sadly, the English ignored his work, to Alfred’s great and bitter disappointment. He could not afford to transport it back to Rome, where it may have received a better acclamation.

He died a broken man at the age of 47 and was buried in Rome in the English Cemetery. Much of his work is on permanent display in the Edinburgh Museum.

We grew up knowing about Alfred Gatley, a local boy who became famous and travelled much of the world. I did not appreciate the significance of his fame until much later in life. ‘A prophet without fame in his own country.’ This is true of Alfred Gatley. Maybe in years to come, his skill and fame will be honored in Britain.

* Carrera – a town of Tuscany, West Italy. Fine, white marble is quarried nearby.

© 1985 Enid Simpson

Editor’s note – this story should not be relied upon for the locations of Gatley’s works.

There is a history page devoted to Alfred Gatley.

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