A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

Alfred Bernard Wall (1849c – 1923) and W H Best

Elmstone Hardwicke

St Margaret’s Church, Elmstone Hardwicke (1886)

The following notes are the result of joint research by Brian Torode and Richard Barton…

(In the 1851 census for Jacques Court, St Aldates, Gloucester, we find James Wall aged forty-eight, a stone mason and Alfred Wall his son aged twenty-eight, a stone mason. Both were born in Bath.)

Marriage at St Gregory’s Church, Cheltenham:

23rd October 1873 Alfred Bernard Wall to Sarah Elizabeth Maily (Maisey?)

Roger Beacham:

Cheltenham Examiner 25/10/1873:

Alfred Bernard Wall and Sarah Elizabeth Maisey married at St Gregory’s Oct 23rd.

Roger Beacham: Street Directories:

22 Henrietta Street 1878

32 North Place 1880

Oak Bank, Pittville Circus Road 1893

Percy House, Wellington Square 1913-14

From Roger Beacham:

Cheltenham Mercury 1/02/1879 births Dec 18, @ 22 Henrietta St, Mrs Alfred Bernard Wall, of a daughter, Augusta

Cheltenham Mercury 20/06/1885 births May 5 @32 North Place, Mrs AB Wall of a son, Aloysius Bernard

Gloucestershire Echo 17/05/1923 deaths May 16 Alfred Bernard Wall, sculptor, husband of Sarah E Wall, aged 74

Memories from the U.S.A. contributed by the mother of Dr. Paul Saunders of Leckhampton Court, on the occasion of her 100th bithday, ‘Community’, December 1977, Part I: 

‘The Catholic High School for girls in those days was in St James Square in the house formerly occupied by Tennyson’s mother and here, naturally enough my first childhood friendships were formed…The Sculptor Albert Wall’s daughters, Josephine and Gussy, were among my close acquaintances as was Rosie Alcock who became a fairly well-known pianist, but my dearest friend was Lillah McCarthy who was to achieve fame as an actress all over the world…’

January 1978, Part II:

‘The Walls (the sculptor’s family) lived at Oakbank off Pittville Circus where the grounds were a romantic girl’s dream – arbors, velvet lawns hidden behind hedges of flowers – I can see it all now – and everyone laughing: girls seemed to laugh so much in those days… Alas, Oakbank has long been built over to make a housing estate…’

St Gregory’s Church, Cheltenham

Accounts for the completion of St Gregory’s Cheltenham:

May 6th 1876 Mr Boulton £100

June 2nd 1876 Richard Lockwood Boulton £100

July 5th 1876 Richard Lockwood Boulton £100

August 2nd 1876 Richard Lockwood Boulton £100

September 1st 1876 Richard Lockwood Boulton £200

September 27th 1876 Richard Lockwood Boulton £200

October 7th 1876 Richard L. Boulton £2.10.0d

January 10th 1877 Richard Boulton £200

March 9th 1877 Richard Boulton £100

April 18th 1877 Richard Boulton £100

August 30th 1877 Richard Boulton £83.7.10d

November 23rd 1877 Richard Boulton £50

January 9th 1878 Richard Boulton £50

January 12th 1878 Richard Boulton £150

June 26th 1878 Richard Boulton £51

September 17th 1878 Richard Boulton £51

September 30th 1878 Richard Boulton £51.10.0d

April 17th 1879 Martyn & Emms  Angels £7.17.6d (Nave?)

June 27th 1879 Martyn & Emms Angels £7.17.6d

July 9th 1880 Wall – Sculptor £120 (St Benedict’s Chapel)

Wall was also responsible for much of the carving in St Gregory’s including the Calvary, Holy Water Stoup, St Augustine, St Patrick and in 1894 he installed St Peter’s Statue for £117. 

In 1905 A.B. Wall and Mrs E. Wall both subscribed to Fr Wilkinson’s retirement gift

Downside Abbey Church

From ‘A Guide to the Church of St Gregory the Great, Downside Abbey, near Bath 1926 Edition’

Page 52:

‘All the carving throughout the main structure is the work of Mr A.B. Wall, of Cheltenham, and it forms a magnificent proof of his skill and that of Mr Best, who has spent many months over it at different periods, under the direction of the architect.’

Page 55:

Bishop Morris ‘His tomb is from the designs of Mr. F.A. Walters, the recumbent effigy being carved by Mr. A.B. Wall of Cheltenham. The face is said, by those who remember him, to be an excellent portrait.’

From ‘The Story of Downside Abbey Church’ by Dom Augustine James, 1961, Downside Abbey:-

Page 11ff:

‘The first bit of building was accomplished in the December of 1879. It consisted of a portion of the north cloister… The church itself was not opened until 11th July 1882…

Building proceeded rapidly throughout the year 1881 and the first half of 1882, and was ready for the opening ceremony of 11th July, to coincide with the annual meeting of St Gregory’s Society. Stone carving, of which there is great deal, was complete in the transepts, though in the two bays of the future choir and nave a certain amount of it was still in the rough…

Page 15:

There was a great deal of finished carving in the insides of the transepts, though in the bays to east and west of them it was represented mainly by plain square blocks or circles of stone. The carver was Mr Wall of Cheltenham, who after serving his apprenticeship with Messrs. Bolton (sic), had just begun to work independently. The new church at Downside presented him with a first-rate opportunity of showing his skill, and he determined that the elaborate reredos above what was to be used as its high altar should be his masterpiece.

Page 24ff:

‘…but the building of the Lady Chapel and its undercroft was proceeding, though slowly, and it seems rather cautiously. In July 1885, we read that the walls of this undercroft now stood some ten or twelve feet high; but in the following January, ‘scarcely anything has been done… Just a year later, in the Review of July 1888, we read: ‘The Lady chapel, which is almost completed, will in our judgement, be one of the finest features of the church’. And on the 11th of that month, timed like the opening of the transepts to coincide with the meeting of the Gregorian Society, the ceremony of blessing took place…

There is plenty of Mr Wall’s beautifully executed carving in the roof bosses and the capitals between the windows, as if to remind us that we are still in the romantic period, but it is not obtrusive and serves rather to embellish constructional details. It grows as naturally from these as does much of medieval sculpture. The window tracery is graceful and refined, and all round the walls runs arcading of a simple beauty which matches that of the transept triforium. In this the column capitals are still uncarved; and indeed they remained so for over forty years… Mr Wall’s carved bosses along the central ridge of the roof represent our Blessed Lady overshadowed by the Holy Ghost, endowed with his gifts and fruits and surrounded with the theological and cardinal virtues. Thus the temptation of Eve, at the west end of the chapel in followed by the Annunciation, alternating with the gilly-flower for faith, the pansy for hope and the rose for charity. The capitals between the windows contain the English plants named after our Lady in the order of the month in which they flower. There are are in all five figure and thirty-eight foliage subjects.

Page 30ff:

St Joseph’s has three windows, single light ones on each side and double light over the altar. Stained glass in this chapel depicts incidents in the life of St Joseph, and Mr Wall’s sculpture also refers to him…

Some time in 1891…Dom Isidore Green presented an elaborate reredos for his chapel. The work is in Beer stone, left plain and white, and the sculptor once again is Mr Wall of Cheltenham. It is a most elaborate structure, finely and delicately carved, with canopies which owe their inspiration to the Warwick Chantry in Tewkesbury Abbey. St Isidore stands in the central niche, and to the left and right are figures of his brother and sister, St Leander and St Florentina. The two panels represent the Council of Toledo, at which he presided, and the translation of his relics. To-day, this scupture still remains almost in its original condition. More recent tendencies to enrich reables with gilding and colour make it by contrast somewhat chilly, but we can nevertheless admire its fine workmanship and appreciate how well it accords with its architectural surroundings.


Page 50ff:

(In 1904) ‘The east gable of the choir is in progress’. Its exterior was to be adorned with three statues, our Lady with the Holy Child in the centre of the roof parapet, St Benedict and St Gregory at the sides. We may note here that the central statue of our Lady was executed by Messrs Brindley and Farmer after they had submitted a model to Mr Garner. Those of St Gregory and St Benedict were from the studios of that old friend of the abbey, Mr Wall of Cheltenham… By 18th September 1905, the choir was ready for the ceremony of blessing and opening…

Mr Wall’s carving is excellent. Mr Garner provided him with a full-sized model of a capital to work from together with a model for the corbel angels; but the four human heads, which separate the foliage design of each capital he left to the skill and ingenuity of the sculptors. Dom Leo almond, commenting on these capitals at Christmas 1905, says: ‘there is no suggestion of line, but rather of repouse work; they look, as if they had been moulded by the fingers rather than cut with chisel’. As we examine them today we feel that they are reminiscent of much of the highest pictorial art of their period, sometimes of the beautiful book illustrations of the turn of the century…

Page 62ff:

By holy week in 1908 two of the four Latin Doctors, St Jerome and St Augustine, were set up on the pillars of the eastern arcade above the altar. Garner’s drawing shows all four, and they correspond roughly with four large figures on the Westminster altar screen. Mr wall did the work for us quite adequately, and I think they compare satisfactorily with the many sculptures which were being placed at the time into the Winchester, St Alban’s and other altar screens. They stand on brackets let into the pillars and they are surmounted by pinnacled canopies… Being in plain white stone, they are unobtrusive, and may be said neither to add or detract from the impressiveness of the sanctuary…

Mr Walters next undertook the completion of the tomb of Bishop Morris in the Holy Angels Chapel. The recumbent effigy of the bishop lies behind three arches which support a groined canopy, and the monument is a simplified version of one in Wells cathedral. It was , perhaps, too simplified to satisfy the tastes of those upon whose judgement the community relied, and in 1919 Mr Wall’s carvers were required to elaborate its shafts and spandrels in diaper pattern, and to gild and colour the four heraldic shields on the canopy. By November 1909, another tomb was ‘nearing completion’, that of Bishop Baines, a Vicar Apostolic of the Western District. It stands in the north aisle beneath the third of the stone sanctuary screens and next to Thomas Garner’s monument. The recumbent effigy in alabaster, a very beautiful example of Mr Wall’s work, was not placed in position until July 1913.

Peter Howell in summary of Dom Augustine James above:

Apprenticed to Messrs. Boulton. Had just begun to work independently when he did the carvings in the transept, the first part of Downside Abbey Church opened in 1882 for Archibald Dunn and Edward Hanson (son of Charles). Continued to work at Downside until at least 1913 (effigy of Bishop Baines), for Thomas Garner and F.A. Walters. 1919 further work on tomb of Bishop Morris (Walters).

According to his advertisement he carried out work on the principal altars and Lady Chapel at Downside

Also Peter Howell has seen a letter in the archives at Downside concerning an alabaster statue of Our Lady. This Wall had been commissioned to carve but he was concerned that the finished sculpture should be placed in the church as he was obviously rather pleased with the finished work and thought it should be placed there. A model of it had been exhibited in the cloister. This statue is probably the one presently situated in the old chapel. It was probably situated in the Abbey Church prior to the new Comper one.

Roderick O’Donnell, ‘The Later Pugins’, in ‘Pugin – A Gothic Passion’, V & A 1994,

Page 269:

Peter Paul Pugin (1851-1904) – ‘He took as much delight as his father and brother in designing altars and other fixed architectural furniture, and pleaded with the Glasgow Archdiocese Finance Board for higher percentages for this intricate work. He had his favourite sculptors: R.L. Boulton, later Wall of Cheltenham, and Hardman for stained glass and metalwork. He was reprimanded by the Finance Board for including the names of these practitioners in his tender specifications. Painted wooden statues, altars by Boulton and stencilling by Alphege Pippet are also associated with Peter Paul’s interiors, for instance the high altar at St Peter Patrick’s, Glasgow (1903) and the destroyed high altar at Motherwell Cathedral.’


A.B. Wall, Sc.

The Catholic Art Sculpture Works,

Oak Bank, Cheltenham

Sculpture approved by His Holiness the Pope.

95 Altars executed in the past eight years.

Sculpture at Beaumont College, Old Windsor,

Douai Abbey, France

St Wilfrid’s College, Cheadale, Staffordshire

Mount St Mary College, Chesterfield

Hospice and Calefactory, the Abbey, Fort Augustus

Carvings and Side Altars, Prior Park College, Bath

Principal Altars, Downside Monastic Church and Lady Chapel

Shrines, Sculptures and Carvings, Ushaw College New Church

Life-sized Statue of St Benedict, Ampleforth College

Statuary, Freshfield College, near Liverpool.

Designs and testimonials sent on approval without charge to clients.

Telegrams: “Wall, Cheltenham.”

Works: Prestbury Road, Cheltenham

St Mary, Prior Park

Consecrated 6 July 1882. Designed by J.J. Scoles in 1844 but work was abandoned in 1856. Work resumed under his son Fr. A.J.C. Scoles. According to his advertisements Wall carried out carving and he also provided the side altars. A pre 1882 photograph shows the columns and their capitals uncarved which may indicate some of the work carried out by Wall prior to the consecration.

All Saints, Pittville:

(1872 Reredos and Pulpit by R.L. Boulton Cost was £900.)

1886 Head of B.V.M. on South Porch donated by Mr Wall

1885c (Alan Brooks), certainly before 1892, Tympanum by A.B. Wall

(1892 Picture – Head of Peter, 1892, presented by H.H. Martyn.

1898 Carved work in Lady Chapel by H.H. Martyn)

Hawkesyard Priory

Columba Ryan, ‘A Guide and History of Hawkesyard Priory and Spode House’, 1962,

Hawkesyard Priory:

‘The Church – June 12th 1896 Bishop Ilsley laid foundation stone – Mr E. Goldie was the architect – Elaborate Reredos and High Altar – ‘all the altar reredos in the church are the work of Messrs. Boulton and Wall.’ (full description and photograph given)

St Mary Magdalene, Elmstone Hardwicke

David Verey and Alan Brooks, The Vale and the Forest of Dean:


‘Overpoweringly, elaborately carved reredos of 1886 by A.B. Wall of Cheltenham; of Corsham stone, with red Mansfield foliated shafts, and eight saints of white Seaton stone beneath crocketed canopies. The outer pinnacles and central tabernacle (containing a Crucifixion) reach up to the roof.’

In the Church itself:

Brass Wall Plaque:

‘To the Glory of God in memory of their Father & Mother this Reredos was erected by L.J. & J.R. Holt St Matthew’s Day 1886’

Also Alabaster and stone altar, gradins and rails

Excerpts from the Cheltenham & District Office Directory 1891:

‘In 1886 a new reredos was erected …by the munificence of two parishioners (the Misses Holt), at a cost of £150.

The central compartment springs from the base on which in the midst of rich diaper work, are carved the letters ‘I.H.S.’. Above the base, and deeply recessed, is a crucifix in bas-relief, with at its foot, figures of St Mary and St John. Also in bas-relief…

On the south side, an image of the Blessed Virgin holding the Divine Child; that on the south by an image of St George, the treatment of which is strikingly original and effective, a sword taking the place of the conventional spear, and the convolutions of the dragon, exhibiting great vigour of treatment.

The six subsidiary compartments are occupied, on the south side of the centre compartment by the image of St Augustine of Hippo, St Mary Magdalene, the patron saint of the church, and St Ambrose. On the north side, by the images of St Gregory, St Alphege of Deerhurst … and St Jerome.

The images and the crucifixion group are of Seaton stone – the pure white of which contrasts most effectively with the deeper tint of the fine Corsham stone of which the rest of the reredos was composed.

Each image stands on a carved stone capital and the pillars of the arcading are of red Manfield stone. The gradines are of white alabaster capped Sicilian marble and exquisitely carved with passion flowers, ears of corn, vine leaves and grapes.’

St Peter ad Vincula (R.C.), Gloucester

David Verey and Alan Brooks, The Vale and the Forest of Dean:

‘Stations of the Cross – Large, of carved stone, by A.B. Wall, 1886.’

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (R.C.), Stroud

David Verey and Alan Brooks, The Cotswolds:

Stations of the Cross, of stone with alabaster frames, and large Calvary, 1887 by Alfred B. Wall of Cheltenham

St Catharine (R.C.), Chipping Campden

David Verey and Alan Brooks, The Cotswolds:

1891. By William Lunn of Malvern. Carving by A.B. Wall of Cheltenham

St James (R.C.), Postlip

David Verey and Alan Brooks, The Cotswolds:

Restored by H.A. Prothero 1890-1. Neo-Norman stone w. gallery; the chancel walls were veneered with ashlar with extravagant Neo-Norman decoration, carved like the stone altar, by Alfred B. Wall.

Advertisement in Cheltenham Garden Town 1901:

A.B. Wall, F.S.A.

Architectural and Monumental Sculptor, Oak Bank, Cheltenham.

Designs and Prices on application

Altars, Fonts, Pulpits in Marble, Alabaster and Wood.

Monumental Work a Speciality

Telegrams “Wall, Cheltenham”

Studios Whaddon Road, Cheltenham

250 Altars executed in the past 25 years.

Also Sculpture at Douai Abbey, France;

The Abbey, Fort Augustus; Prior Park College, Bath; Downside Abbey and Lady Chapel; Ushaw College Chapel; Ampleforth Abbey; Canterbury, Clifton, Plymouth and Edinburgh Cathedrals.

Works at All Saints’ – West door way and other Statuary

St Gregory’s – Shrine, Calvary, St Benedict’s Altar and other Works

St Ethelbert, Leominster 

Norman C. Reeves, ‘The Parish of St Ethelbert, Leominster, 1998:

1887-1888. ‘The nave of seven bays has a fine open Perpendicular timber panelled roof, supported by four centre arched beams, springing from large stone corbels which are richly carved with clusters of Herefordshire apples, pears, hops, wheat and natural foliage. These and the font of Runcorn Stone were carved by a Mr. Wall of Cheltenham.’

St Francis, Handsworth

Malachy Selvin, St Francis Church Handsworth, 1994, Birmingham:

1893-1894. ‘The High Altar and reredos are the work of A.B. Wall of Cheltenham, executed from the drawings of Canon A.Y. (sic) C. Scoles the architect. The Altar table is one huge slab of Sicilian marble and the frontal ends which support it are of Mexican onyx… The reredos of alabaster has four canopied niches containing statues of St Mary Magdalene, St Augustine of Canterbury, St Charles Borromeo and St Anne with Our Lady as a child. The Monstrance stand is of alabaster capped with marble. Around and above the Monstrance stand (the throne) are eight angels in adoration with uplifted wings. The angels are supported by Mexican agate onyx shafts. (changes in 1980s!!!)

St Joseph’s, Upton-upon-Severn

Michael Hodgetts, St Joseph’s Upton-upon-Severn, 1850-2000:

1907. ‘The mahogany altar was moved to the sacristy in 1907, when the present high altar, by Wall’s of Cheltenham, was acquired with a gift of £300 from Miss Weetman of Monmouth, whose family lived at Ryall House, just across Upton bridge from the town. The reordering did not go altogether smoothly. The new altar was first taken by mistake to the Anglican church, where one of the churchwardens expressed surprise that their altar-rails had been delivered two months early and were so bulky! When it arrived at St Joseph’s and was being dusted by Fr. Murphy’s housekeeper, it slipped and crushed one of her big toes. It was consecrated by Bishop (later Archbishop) Ilsley on 24 September, the feast of Our Lady of Ransom, at a Mass sung by a choir of Benedictine monks from Malvern. It is of white stone, enriched with marble and alabaster. The carved panel in the front represents the Flight into Egypt. In the canopies of the reredos are statues of St John Fisher and St Thomas More…’

The English Martyrs, Streatham

Denis Evinson, Catholic Churches of London:


‘The high altar dating from 1897 was sculpted by A.B. Wall of Cheltenham. Its setting is a tour de force of thematic detail. The central throne is flanked by two tiers of niches, all topped by spires and crocketed gables, and containing figures of Ss Thomas of Canterbury, Edmund, Alban and Winifred. Between these and the alabaster tabernacle, the reredos is arcaded to left and right. Clearly visible beyond the arches are sculpted reliefs of many martyrs in procession. Below these are panels containing monograms set in diaper work.

The panelled frontal bears relief sculpture of the Crucifixion flanked by the deaths of John the Baptist and St Stephen…

St Mary, Lochee, Dundee

Roger Beacham: Howell, Peter and Sutton, Ian; Faber Guide to Victorian Churches 1989, page 35:

S. Mary’s Catholic Church, Lochee, Dundee. Late Gothic reredos by A.B. Wall 1897

St Charles Boromeo, Ogle Street

Denis Evinson, Catholic Churches of London:

The altar of the vaulted north-east chapel was given …in 1863. Its tall reredos was added in 1902 by A.B. Wall of Cheltenham from designs by S.J. Nicholl.

Holy Ghost and St Stephen, Shepherd’s Bush

Denis Evinson, Catholic Churches of London:

1903-1904. ‘the altar was installed by A.B. Wall of Cheltenham…’

Priory of Our Lady and St Michael, Abergavenny

Christopher Martin, A Glimpse of Heaven English Heritage 2006, page 8:

1905c. ‘Its principal success is the east end. The reredos was designed, some 25 years after the church was opened (1860), by Edmund Kirby of Liverpool, a maestro of the reredos, and was carved by A B Wall of Cheltenham. It stretches from wall to wall and climbs through crocketed pinnacles up to and over the base of the east window. There is nothing else like it in Wales. Ecstatic choirs of angels adore the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle in a wonderfully carved stone tableau of veneration. One panel on the far right shows a section of the heavenly choir with angelic musicians raptly performing on pipes and stringed instruments. The crowning pinnacles are surmounted by statues of the seven archangels.’

Roger Beacham:

Echo 3rd August 1912, page 3:

Receiving order made in Cheltenham County Court against Alfred Bernard Wall of Oakbank, Pittville Circus Road and Whaddon Lane, sculptor.

Roger Beacham, 30th November 2006:

‘My grandfather’s brother bought the house then known as Beauchamp Lodge, Whaddon Road in the 1920s among the deeds is a letter from R.M. Mills headed but crossed through, M. Mills and W.R. Best (late A.B. Wall), The Catholic Art Works, Studio and Works, Whaddon Lane 192-

The house is marked on the OTS as Fairfield Farm and is now 49 Whaddon Road. Wall’s premises were behind the surviving house.’

From Lana Deacon 17th May 2010:

Thank you for that Roger. I, too, have discoverd quite a lot of details of Alfred’s life, including his slide into insolvency, but have yet to organise them. I’ll be sure to copy to both of you when I do!

I failed to persuade Cheltenham Borough Council to include 49 Whaddon Road on their List of Buildings of Local Interest and have yet to formally approach English Heritage. I no longer hold out much hope but will still try. The up-side is that I have learned so much of the locality during my research, not only about Alfred Wall but about most of the Pitts and many other things as well; I’m quite hooked!

We succeeded in getting the planning application rejected, including the appeal, but are now fighting round two!
W.H. Best

From ‘A Guide to the Church of St Gregory the Great, Downside Abbey, near Bath 1926 Edition’

Page 52:

‘All the carving throughout the main structure is the work of Mr A.B. Wall, of Cheltenham, and it forms a magnificent proof of his skill and that of Mr Best, who has spent many months over it at different periods, under the direction of the architect.’


‘W.H. Best, Ecclesiastical Sculptor, Park Studio & Works, AndoverRoad, Cheltenham.

Altars, Reredos, Altar Rails, Pulpits, Fnts, Screens, Calvarys, Effigies, Groups, Statues, Memorials, And all styles of foliated art executed in marble, alabaster, stone and wood.

Also any variety of work cleaned and restored

Estimates free on application

References from all parts of the country

For examples of my work, please refer to the Effigies in this Abbey, also the Carvings, most of which were executed by me, or under my personal supervision in accordance with requirements of the Authorities and various Architects.’

One comment on “Alfred Bernard Wall (1849c – 1923) and W H Best

  1. lynne
    August 13, 2014

    How fascinating!!! It’s lovely to hear so much about such a talented man. We’ll have to look out for his work now. Thanks so much for posting it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


This entry was posted on August 11, 2014 by in Sculptors and tagged , , , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: