RICHARD BLUNDELL, THE COLLIER ARTIST OF NESTON Return
Unlike some other parts of Wirral, Great Neston has not been eminently successful in the production
of great men. The one of humble birth, and remarkable worth, to whom we are about to refer, was a
prominent character in the streets of Neston sixty years ago.
A British statesman, and a model of perseverance, declared as his opinion that every man if he so
willed, at some period of life had a chance of bettering his condition, if not of becoming great. And the
man debarred of such chance was deserving of pity.
The greatest of England's dramatists must have held this view when he wrote, 'There is a tide in the
affairs of men which taken on the flood leads on to fortune.' Another poet, and with deep pathos,
declares, 'How many a gem of purest ray serene, the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear.'
These lines are appropriately applicable to 'Richard Blundall' , the collier artist, who was born in
Neston when the merest rudiments of knowledge were not to be had by such as he.
'The Chylde of Hale', John Middleton, is said to have been nine feet three inches in height. The Rev.
Wm. Stewart, in his memorials of Hale, says that a descendant of his, living in 1804, was more than six
feet; and other descendants are now living, of the name of 'Blundell', very similar in bulk to the
'chylde', but only of common size as to height. Richard Blundell of Neston, and the coincidence is
singular, was of great stature, some six feet two or three inches, and remarkable for his erect and
physically-developed appearance. He also descended from a Lancashire family not far distant from the
pretty village of Hale.
Richard Blundell was entirely illiterate; yet, with his great physical power, the most harmless of men. In
his convivial moments, among his fellows, he was ever ready to render harmoniously the ballad
history of those wars which had made England famous down to the year 1815. The daily life of this
man was spent at an adjoining colliery, in the arduous occupation of a surface man. Labour, for
which, at the pit mouth, his huge strength had eminently fitted him.
Nature, however seemed to have intended him for a very different class of work. This uneducated,
untutured [sic], and entirely untrained, and friendless colliery-man was no mean artist. Nature, in her
distribution of genius, makes no invidious distinction; he was doubtless destined and impelled, to be a
painter of animal life. After putting off the grim garb of a collier, this horn-handed son of toil might
have been seen in his cottage home, his huge form, a picture in itself, bent over the canvas; amid
surroundings far from contributing to the comfort of his work. He, however, could assiduously wield
the brush, and apply himself with ease, surrounded by thoughtless, and gossiping idlers.
The horse was his favourite study. And many racehorses of the past; notably those of Sir Thomas
Stanley, of Hooton, and Mr. Mostyn, he put on canvas. Those pictures may not have gained admission
to the Royal Academy; yet they nevertheless were deserving of much praise, especially the Queen of
Trumps, the victor of the Oaks and the St. Leger.
Richard Blundell in his spare moments was never idle. His labour, however, was, unfortunately, not
very remunerative. The dog he could paint well, as he could also the game-cock. In his time the sport
of the cock-pit was not considered brutal. It was not then a proscribed sport. It was inseparable from
the Chester and many other race meetings. But the cock-pit was on the decline, and is now, happily,
extinct. The sport then was largely patronised by the colliers of Little Neston and Ness. Richard
Blundell was not only a patron of the cock-pit, but he benefited from it in his humble profession, by
transmitting many a favoured and victorious chanticleer to the canvas.
[There follows a paragraph on the evils of betting on cock fighting largely quoting Pepys.]
We now refer to Richard Blundell as a painter of public-house signs and signboards. The antiquity of
the signboard is an interesting subject. Great changes have taken place with regard to their fashion.
Now since a great revolution has taken place in the management of the inn, the signboard is hidden
out of sight. It was not so at the time of which we write. Then, when the stage-coach passed through
the turnpike, and the footpad had barely left the highway, the painted swing signboard was a work of
art that charmed the village and enlivened the road. The painted swing signboard stood well out from
the front of every hostelry. The griffin, the green man, the boar's head, and the golden lion found
much work for the local artist.
Notwithstanding the varied, grotesque, and multitudinous pictures that adorned, and gave names to
the old hotels, the versatility of Richard Blundell was such that he could paint those signs with
satisfaction to his numerous patrons. We cannot omit naming the Chesapeake and Shannon. Those
two historic ships he painted for a publican at Thurstaston, who served on board the latter ship. It was
a grand sight to see the American ship sail gaily out of Boston Harbour, the band playing, and with
flying colours, to meet in single and deadly combat her ready antagonist. We have heard Blundell sing
the song of that fierce conflict.
Here was a Neston man, now forgotten, in the lowest grade of life, entirely without influence, and
without knowledge, so much so that he could not even pencil the letters he had to write, working at
the drudgery of a colliery, yet endowed with the ability of an artist. So enthusiastic was he with animal
life, that in happy moments we have seen him with his fingers shadow on the wall the figure of a
His want of knowledge, however, was such that he did not know the name, nor did he ever see the
work of a great master. Benjamin West was of humble origin; but through travel (although under great
difficulties), he saw the great works of foreign masters in Rome, and afterwards attained great fame.
The animal paintings of Sir Edwin Landseer are considered of great merit, yet Blundell, in his
unfortunate position, would not have hesitated in saying that he could paint as good a picture. Had
Blundell lived in these days of compulsory education, and enjoyed the advantage of technical training,
now so cheap, or had there been in Neston to take him by the hand some wealthy admirer of art, how
different might have been the result.
Richard Blundell had the intuitive knowledge of an artist, but lacked woefully that education and fine
conceptive training so eminently necessary to qualify a man for the attainment of high honour. He,
however, continued the dual work so entirely opposed colliery-man and artist. It is pitiable to think
that his genius was in a great measure lost to the world. He died in indigence. And it may be said of
That he was born to blush unseen
And waste his sweetness on the desert air
GEORGE GLEAVE in the Cheshire Sheaf, reprinted in the Cheshire Observer 15 July 1899 Return