A few years ago, my dad brought home a dusty old envelope from the Town Hall, where he works.It was about to be put in the bin, so he brought it for me to look at. I was excited when I saw that the contents all related to one person, Richard Toovey. But who was he? The envelope contained sugar tickets, ration cards, and registration cards, an Ordnance Survey map of Rugby, a postmarked booklet of the Lord Mayor’s show in 1863 and a British Museum Reader’s ticket. Seeing these documents encouraged me to research the Toovey family, which proved very interesting. I discovered that both Richard and his father, Edwin were painters and etchers of some repute in Britain and on the Continent.
The commemorative booklet of the Lord Mayor’s Show postmarked London 1863, when Richard was about one year old, was obviously a precious family memento, if kept since his childhood.
This was my first clue: on the reverse of the cover is the family’s address at the time, 30 Portland Place, Leamington Spa. Using the Ancestry website, I searched the Census records. By 1871, Edwin, a drawing master, his wife Eliza, née Gibbs, Richard aged nine and born in Brussels, and a servant from Ireland named Amanda Tidmas were living at Sherbourne Terrace, Clarendon Street, Leamington in ‘Landscape Villa’ (Number 7, later re-numbered 3 Sherbourne Terrace) I researched Spennell’s Directory for 1904 and found the Toovey’s house and a plan of Sherbourne Terrace, showing the house second on the right.
The 1881 Census gives Edwin’s occupation as Landscape Painter ‘living on own means’, so he must have been a successful artist. Richard is not listed, but later I found out that he was living in France. Three years later he was in London: the British Museum Reader’s ticket dated 2 December 1884 gave his address as Fitzroy Square. By 1891, Richard was back at home in Leamington, listed as a ‘painter etcher,’ ‘living on own means’. Eliza his mother had died five years before, and Amanda (‘Minnie’) Tidmas had become Edwin’s second wife. From an online search on Edwin Toovey I discovered that as well as teaching and landscape painting, Edwin was a scenery painter, captured in an etching by his own son. A book about local artists in Leamington Library revealed that Edwin was born in Hertfordshire, moved to Brussels, where Richard was born, then came to Leamington. He exhibited his landscapes locally, and in galleries in Europe, taught drawing at Leamington College and painted scenery at the Theatre Royal. In Leamington Art Gallery I discovered an oil painting by Richard, called ‘Breton Market’. It was dated 1885, painted when the artist was 24years old. Sadly, Richard suffered a breakdown in 1889, through a combination of stress and overwork. His eyesight, which had always been weak, was so badly affected that he never painted again. Richard married Lydia Gane in 1897, and they had a daughter Bertha, baptised at St Paul’s church in 1903. The sugar tickets and ration cards,showed that the Toovey family shopped at Harris & Sons, grocers. Harris & Sons had 3 shops in Leamington:Victoria Terrace (Victoria Stores), Regent Street and Rugby Road. In Leamington library and in the archive I found images of the stores, taken around 1910.
I went back to the Library and found Richard’s obituary in the Leamington Courier of 23 December 1927. This filled in a few gaps. It gave Richard’s address at the time of his death as ‘The Orchard’ Clarendon Street (actually, still 3 Sherbourne Terrace, under a new name). Richard was educated at Arnold Lodge School, Birmingham School of Art and in Paris. He had an illustrious career in art, exhibiting in his early twenties at the Royal Academy and at the Paris salon. For six consecutive years he exhibited at the Royal Academy and in 1885 was elected to the Royal Society of Etchers and Painters. His works were shown at the best galleries in London, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and other prominent provincial venues. Even with failing eyesight, he kept up his three main recreations: chess, (he was a member of the Leamington Chess Club), cycling and boating. Lydia his wife died in 1921, and on Sunday 17 December 1927, Richard died aged 66 of a heart attack at Sherbourne Terrace. After an inquest and funeral service the following Thursday at the parish church of St Mary Magdalene, Lillington, he was buried at Brunswick Street Cemetery in the same grave as his wife Lydia who pre-deceased him.
(with additional notes by Margaret Rushton)
This article appeared originally in the Leamington History Group Publication, “People and Places”
Sources and Acknowledgements:
Images: Leamington History Group Archive. Featured image, Margaret Rushton
Photographs of Becky at the Art Gallery and of 3 Sherbourne Terrace, Becky Collins
Leamington Spa Courier, Spennell’s Directory, 1904. Leamington Library and Staff; Warwick County Record Office and Staff.