A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

R. L. Boulton, A. B. Wall, W. H. Best and James Ovens – ecclesiastical stone-carvers

Here you will find references and notes concerning four firms of ecclesiastical stone carvers. The largest of these was the firm of R. L. Boulton & Sons of Cheltenham who supplied a wide range of church furnishings to customers throughout the world. Gradually A. B. Wall and, for a time, W. H. Best developed their own businesses in Cheltenham too. The fourth sculptor James Ovens, was an apprentice of Boulton who went on to work in Dublin, Preston and Norwich. Any additional information about these four craftsmen and their associates would be greatly appreciated.

The competitors of R. L. Boulton & Sons, Herbert Henry Martyn and Alfred Jeffrey Emms, are not included here as their contribution has been fully researched and published by John Whitaker in 1985. See ‘The Best: History of H. H. Martyn and Co., Carvers in Wood, Stone and Marble, Casters in Bronze, Founders of Gloster Aircraft Ltd.’.

To download the following set of notes about the firm of R. L. Boulton & Sons of Cheltenham, compiled by Brian Torode and Richard Barton, please press the link below:

Altarpiece by A. B. Wall at Elmstone Hardwicke

Another large firm was that of Alfred Bernard Wall of the Catholic Art Works, Prestbury Road, Whaddon:

9 comments on “R. L. Boulton, A. B. Wall, W. H. Best and James Ovens – ecclesiastical stone-carvers

  1. lynne
    August 13, 2014

    Wow what a fascinating project you’ve both been working at!!! Its so interesting, I never thought about who carved what, but your work throws new light on carvings. I love the photo of Brian above, it bought a smile to my face just as he always did!

  2. Richard Barton
    August 15, 2014

    Thanks Lynne – do spread the word!

  3. Richard Barton
    June 7, 2018

    Re: Thomas Gerard Murphy B.E.M. (1904-1993)

    From Sean Murphy M.B.E.

    Your research paper on the above firm is a magnificent piece of work and finding it by accident took me completely by surprise.Thank you so much. In my case, I am trying to research my father’s apprenticeship years with “Cheltenham” – and seeing only small references to Boultons assumed he was apprenticed to Martyns.

    In 1965 he was given a present of “The Best” which I purchased and scoured for any reference to Tommy/Tom Murphy to no avail.Then I came across a draft letter in my father’s hand addressed to John Whittaker thanking him for his wonderful work and told him of his work for Martyns post 1927 when he graduated from Manchester school of Art from the Advanced Sculpture course, but not mentioning any earlier connection.

    Giles Gilbert Scott persuaded him to leave Martyns to join him at Liverpool Cathedral in 1935 in charge of the Carvers – most of whom were ex employees of Martyns !! Scott also stated that he was keen to take on my father based on three figures he had carved years earlier. Starting off enrolled in a local Modelling studio in Manchester, by 1921 he was attending night school at the Lambeth School of Art – apprenticed during the day and carving the Ipswich 1st World War Memorial – not listed by “The Best”.

    “The Best” Sammy Tomlin’s family kept a close friendship with our family and as an employee of Martyn’s was sent to help my father on his first task after qualifying -carving a hotel in Warrington (now demolished) and my father employed him again when he took over from Nathaniel Yorke (ex Martyn’s) at Liverpool Cathedral.Hetty Drew (nee Tomlin) has since passed away ,and to my shame I have lost touch with her two daughters Rachael & Wendy? but their family home was in Gotherington.

    Thank you so much for what you have already done and who knows what can emerge.You and your late friend Brian have redressed a glorious but sad part of our social history – men with such talent and ability who were the real builders of Victorian & Edwardian England.

    It is because my father was so” invisible” in so many of the official histories of the building of Liverpool Cathedral that drove me to try to piece his life together in the autumn of my own. In the hundredth and last bulletin of the Cathedral Builders there is a photograph of him in front of his carving of the Queen’s Coat of Arms. A great to me of Heraldry includes as its final picture that of “a mason” and it couldn’t even get his period of war service right (1st world war instead of 2nd) ,Joe Riley,an official historian of the Cathedral includes one photograph of my father but doesn’t even name him in the caption or anywhere else in the slim volume and the author Peter Kennerley acknowledged the help of Tom Murphy in the first addition in 1991 only to make amends with a photo of one of the last craftsmen” in the 2008 edition. My siblings think I am barking up the wrong tree and the fault lies in the shy personality of my father and his lack of assertiveness.

    So I am in the process of writing a memoir if only for the benefit of family. I have documented his commissioned work apart from the |Cathedral post war which I intend to flesh out with photographs. Fortunately I have his detailed work at the Cathedral week on week from 1935 to 1941 when he joined up. I have also his work fo Martyns from 1927 to 1934 based at Wavertree.

    The apprenticeship period is my headache.1919 his father directed him into a local studio modelling /sculpture rather than stone masonry link to Cheltenham. Lambeth school 1923 back to Manchester 1925 etc etc.

    The Archivist of the Manchester Metropolitan University Library has kindly researched and given me my father’s student records from 1919 to 1927. Included in all the information is the course syllabus and more particularly the firm of sculptors who employed him – Earp, Hobbs and Miller of Manchester.

    If you have further information please leave a comment here.

  4. christopher bourne-arton
    February 21, 2019

    Researching woodwork in St Nicholas Church West Tanfield N Yorks. Hearsay credits the priest stalls and choir pews to ‘Boltons of Cheltenham’. As they were in memory of a former Rector’s wife Circa 1930s who was independently wealthy they were probably made by the firm.
    Are the company archives retained anywhere for further research?
    Thanks for excellent work.

    • Richard Barton
      February 21, 2019

      Thanks Christopher. I think some records may be at Gloucestershire Archives but I know that a lot of material was destroyed. R

  5. Bill Jehan
    October 13, 2020

    Richard, Thank you for this interesting page. I am researching the monument to racehorse “The Continental” erected in 1902 on the lower slope of Leckhampton Hill by [Henry] Cecil Elwes of Leckhampton Court. The sculptor was Robert Henry “Bob” Cook (1866-1925) of Charlton Kings who was for more than 40 years employed as sculptor / stone mason for R. L. Boulton and Sons in Cheltenham.
    Gloucestershire Archives tell me they have no R. L. Boulton records deposited with them – do any of these records survive elsewhere? I have read that R. L. Boulton and Sons remained active in Cheltenham until 1971 – were they perhaps then absorbed by another firm of monumental masons? Thoughts on this will be appreciated.

    • Richard Barton
      October 14, 2020

      Thanks, Bill, for making contact. A few members of staff continued as Bryant and Coates and during the 1980s they had premises in a street on the north side of the Lower High Street in Cheltenham – possibly King Street. I believe the records of R L Boulton were destroyed when they ceased to trade. Patrick Conoley the sculptor continued on his own until at least 2000 and his son Christopher who lives in Hartpury is writing his father’s life story. I would imagine when Boulton’s finished many skilled staff would have transferred to their competitors H.H. Martyn. I would suggest you search the local papers re your racehorse.

      • Lucinda Blythe
        May 31, 2022

        Hi Richard, it is some time since this string, however, I am trying to find out more about Patrick Conoley, (his work at Magdalen College specifically) and you mention his son Christopher, who in 2020 was living in Hartpury. Do you by any chance have his contact details? With many thanks, Lucinda

      • btsarnia
        May 31, 2022

        Hi Lucinda. I will drop you an email.

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