28.08.23 Assistant Eric Wallbank

Investing in young people since at least 1894

A chance encounter at the Livery Careers Fair held at the Guildhall unearthed a story of the Coachmakers’ support to a young apprentice coach builder in the late 1800s.

John Dewhurst of The Worshipful Company of Educators approached Eric Wallbank with a story about his grandfather Albert Dewhurst, who had won medals awarded by the Coachmakers in 1894 and 1895. Albert was living and working in Doncaster. So how did he gain awards from the Coachmakers, a London Livery Company? And what became of Albert having won these awards?

Albert Dewhurst was evidently an extremely talented artist. ln 1883, aged 24, he won a prize for ‘Meritorious Work’ at the Doncaster School of Art. It is suggested that he was enrolled as a part-time student at the art school whilst employed as a coach painter. The following year, 1884, Albert was awarded first prize for ‘Free Hand Drawing’ by the Coachmakers, and remarkably, won first prize for a second time in 1885. The Company’s archives were destroyed in WW2 and there is now no record of these competitions. The prize medals are still in the family, in the possession of Albert’s grandchildren, one in ltaly, the other in the US.

Albert subsequently established his own business as a carriage builder. The 1891 Census shows his occupation as an employed ‘Coach Heraldic Painter’, suggesting that he had specialised in the highly-skilled craft of coach painting. By 1901, he had become an employer, and the census of that year gives his occupation as ‘Hackney Coach Builder and Painter’. A photograph from 1900 shows Albert standing next to a newly-built military wagon bearing the inscription ‘Queen’s Own Yorkshire Dragoons lmperial Yeomanry’.

By 1907 he is shown on his son Albert Edward’s birth certificate as ‘Master Coach Builder’. On the 1911 Census, Albert states his occupation simply as ‘Carriage Builder’. His workshop, the Cleveland Carriage Works, was located at 61 Cleveland Street, Doncaster in premises which have been long-since demolished. A late 18th century manual on coach building owned by Albert, which has the section on coach painting particularly well thumbed, is now in the possession of the Cusworth Hall Museum, Doncaster, along with a large book of coloured carriage illustrations, which was presumably a catalogue for prospective customers and which has ‘A. Dewhurst, Coach Builder’ inscribed in gold lettering on the cover.

Albert’s business card testifies to the march of technological progress in the early years of the 20th century. Although the illustration on the card shows an elegant horse-drawn hackney carriage, the words ‘motor cars renovated’ in the lower right hand corner show that the firm was having to adapt to changing times.

The carriage building business failed at some time before 1919, by which time Albert is believed to have been employed by Doncaster Municipal Council as a tramways painter. A family anecdote maintains that Albert was involved in painting Doncaster’s Victory Tram in 1919, following the end of the Great War. His occupation is given on his death certificate in 1938 as a retired Foreman Municipal Tramways Painter. There is family evidence suggesting that he also spent some time in Manchester, building, or possibly painting, cars for the Ford Motor Company, which opened its first operation outside the US at Trafford Park in 1911.

But why were the Coachmakers giving awards to a young man in Doncaster? Courses at the late-19th century embryonic Doncaster School of Art were provided by the art and science department at South Kensington. It started through two evening classes, the first subjects taught were freehand and perspective drawing and machine construction. It is surmised that the drawing competition that Albert won in 1894 and 1895 was a national competition held under the auspices of the department and could possibly have been sponsored by the Company? We may never know.

Our thanks go to John Dewhurst, Court Assistant of The Worshipful Company of Educators, for the family history and photographs that form the basis of this piece.