Friday, 26 October 2012

Allan Bowes Wilson of Hutton Rudby & the artist Ralph Hedley

There is an interesting and close link between the Wilson family, who owned the Hutton Rudby sailcloth mill,
Hutton Mill, seen from the Rudby side of the river
and the Newcastle painter and artist, Ralph Hedley (1848-1913), many of whose paintings can be seen in the Laing Gallery.     

For years Hedley was out of fashion and his paintings were destroyed or thrown away – but more recently they have come back into favour as a record of ordinary life in the North East in the late 19th century.

George Wilson, founder of the family linen business at Hutton Rudby, had four sons and one daughter.

The eldest, James Alder Wilson, became Rector of Crathorne.  The youngest, John George Wilson, after excelling as an athlete at school and at Oxford, became a solicitor in Durham.  He inherited Staindrop Hall, on the condition that the family surname was changed to Luxmoore.  Allan Bowes Wilson and Thomas Bowes Wilson, the second and third sons, took over the sailcloth manufactury on their father’s death.

Allan Bowes Wilson, c1903

Thomas married and lived at Enterpen Hall.

Allan – though gossip has it that he kept a mistress in the village – never married and lived with his unmarried sister Annie in Hutton House, on the Green.

John George Wilson (1849-c1930) was Ralph Hedley’s solicitor, friend and patron.  He was a keen buyer of Hedley’s paintings and carved furniture and recommended the artist to friends.

Ralph Hedley lived in Newcastle from the age of two, but he had been born at Gilling West near Richmond and he returned to the North Riding as often as he could – Runswick Bay was a favourite destination.  He specialised in scenes of ordinary working life, using his sketchbook and making notes in preparing his paintings, and also even taking photographs.

Allan Bowes Wilson (c1839-1932) also collected Hedley’s work.

He commissioned Hedley to paint the Bilsdale Hunt, arranging with him by letter to meet several of the huntsmen at Spout House, Bilsdale. I don’t know how the picture came to be used as an advertisement for Bovril, but I believe the artist wasn’t very happy.

'Counting the Bag'

The nearby Sun Inn was also the setting for Hedley’s 'Counting the Bag' which was painted in 1902 and bought by Allan Bowes Wilson.

Another of Hedley’s works, ‘The Brickmakers’, was painted somewhere near Hutton Rudby:
Sketch for 'The Brickmakers'
John Millard’s book ‘Ralph Hedley: Tyneside Painter’ is only available second hand at the moment, so I hope he'll forgive me including the sketch for ‘The Brickmakers’ which features as an illustration in his book.

It has been suggested that the scene depicted is somewhere near Faceby Manor, but perhaps one of you will have a better idea?

Many thanks to Clodagh Brown, great-granddaughter of Ralph Hedley, who contacted me to tell me of this fascinating link and for all her information.

For more on the Wilson family, see this blogpost on James Wilson, the founder of their fortunes.


  1. Hello Alice,

    Congratulations on your new look and many thanks as always for your help with our research.

    This is to let you know that stage one of our website is now online, and you will find more pictures of the Wilsons as well as the Bovril one in the Painting, Drawing and Print database.

    No search function yet, but a quick way to find them is to highlight the database (select all) and use your computer's 'find' function for Wilson. Works for me! There's one more Wilson not yet in the database, but it will be in the undated group at the end.

    The Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead is showing 'Ralph Hedley: Painting the North East' starting today (16 March2013) until 31 December 2013. The database has details of all the pictures in the show, and the sailmakers will be of special interest to you. URL for the quick way to the page:

    Hope to meet you some time this year - June perhaps?

    All the best


  2. Thanks for the information, Clodagh! The Sail-Loft looks gorgeous on the screen -


  3. Clodagh tells me that the Sail Makers / Sail Loft won't be at Shipley - don't rush there to see it - it's at the Laing in Newcastle

  4. that is, the Shipley at Gateshead, just to be clear!

  5. Very interesting. Thomas Bowes-Wilson was my Great Grandfather.

  6. Hello John Sandison,
    My family has the same crest as Thomas Bowes Wilson and his ancestors.
    many years of searching for a match to that crest and the families verbal history.
    Could you contact me please, or if anyone who knows that family history well please contact me via Alice
    thank you for any assistance

  7. Hello John Sandison
    For many years we have been trying to link our exact family crest with another Wilson family. Thomas Bowes-Wilson is a perfect match.
    If i could be in touch with the family it would help confirm my family verbal history
    any help is appreciated
    contact via Alice please
    many thanks