Richard Cockle Lucas 1800-1883: talented artist and engaging eccentric

Photograph of Richard Cockle Lucas taken by himself [rare books Cope 73 LUC O/S13789]

Photograph of Richard Cockle Lucas taken by himself [rare books Cope 73 LUC O/S13789]

R.C.Lucas was a local artist and sculptor of some renown, who spent the latter part of his life at Chilworth, a village just north of Southampton. He was born in Salisbury, where his father was a cloth manufacturer. Being an impressionable child, he was much affected by tales of the supernatural, and believed he had been visited by fairies, a belief which lasted for the rest of his life. This resulted in his publishing in 1875 Hetty Lottie and the proceedings of Little Dick showing how he woo’d and won a Fairy, two copies of which can be found on the open access shelves of the Cope Collection in the Special Collections area of the Hartley Library [73 LUC Cope], bound together with Palmerstonia, Lucas’s tribute to his friend, Lord Palmerston.

Title page of Hetty Lottie [Cope 73 LUC]

Title page of Hetty Lottie [Cope 73 LUC]

Lucas was apprenticed to a cutler in Winchester, where his aptitude at carving knife handles led him to take up sculpture. He studied at the Royal Academy Schools, later regularly exhibiting there. After some years, he moved with his wife, Eliza and son to Otterbourne, Hampshire and eventually to Chilworth. One of his sculptures, a wax bust of the goddess Flora, achieved notoriety when it was purchased after his death by a German gallery who believed it to be by Leonardo da Vinci. After some controversy, its true origin was revealed by the discovery of 19th-century fabric inside its structure. He created many other sculptures including a statue of Dr Johnson for Lichfield, and a model of the Parthenon acquired by the British Museum. Another of his statues was of Isaac Watts, the theologian and hymn writer, now in Watts Park, Southampton. It was unveiled with much ceremony in the presence of the Mayor and the Earl of Shaftesbury, followed by the singing of Handel’s Halleluja Chorus. It is described as “realistic and convincing” by David Lloyd in the Hampshire volume of The Buildings of England.

Statue of Isaac Watts photographed by Lucas [rare books Cope 73 LUC O/S13788]

Statue of Isaac Watts photographed by Lucas [rare books Cope 73 LUC O/S13788]

The monument to John Fleming in North Stoneham Church, near Southampton, was created in 1854, showing a relief portrait of Fleming. The Southampton Times of 24 September 1864 describes in great detail a monument to Robert Pearce, a banker, still standing in Southampton Old Cemetery. It consists of three life-sized winged figures representing Faith, Hope and Charity supporting an urn from which a butterfly emerges. “We congratulate the people of Southampton on having such a beautiful art work in their midst” [BR115/10/20/3]. Lucas considered this to have been his master work.

Lucas made over 300 etchings, including a volume now in the British Museum. He also pioneered a technique of making prints from natural objects such as ferns, which he called nature prints. The Hartley Library holds two albums of his photographs, which include images of his own works, and photographs of himself as characters from Shakespeare, also dressed as a necromancer and in other guises [rare books Cope 73 LUC].

In later life, he became increasingly eccentric and built a house for himself at Chilworth in 1854, which he called the Tower of the Winds, apparently on the site of or near the modern house called Chilworth Tower on Chilworth Drove. Later accounts of this building are confused by the fact that in 1862 or 1863 he sold this house and began building another about half a mile away, on the other side of the main road to Romsey from the Clump Inn. This was possibly due to problems with damp in the first house as mentioned in his letter to Palmerston (see below). This appears to be the house of which a photograph exists in one of the albums held in the Hartley Library, which is dated 1864.

Tower of the Winds photographed by Lucas in 1864 [rare books Cope 73 LUC O/S13788]

Tower of the Winds photographed by Lucas in 1864 [rare books Cope 73 LUC O/S13788]

It was apparently 60 feet high with a studio and study on the top floor, which Lucas called his Sky Parlour. He was very fond of heights, and it is alleged that he once climbed the spire of Salisbury Cathedral with his baby son tied on his back, though this may well be literally a tall story! His tower included stained glass which Lucas thought may have come from the Tudor palace of Nonsuch, though some did come from Salisbury Cathedral. The first tower is said to have burnt down in 1893. John Arlott states in an article in Hampshire Magazine for March 1963 that the second tower was demolished in 1955 to make way for a modern house called Chilworth Court. But an article published in 1934 in the Hampshire Advertiser states that the building had already disappeared. Arlott describes a slab inscribed R. C. Lucas 1863, presumably the foundation stone, which is set in the garden path of Chilworth Court. One account in Hampshire Magazine for December 1992 describes how the wooden structure on top eventually fell down some time after Lucas’s death, and afterwards the name was changed to Chilworth Court, the name being perpetuated by the modern house.

Lucas was well-known locally in his lifetime for his eccentric behaviour, which included riding down Southampton High Street in a horse-drawn chariot dressed in a toga as a Roman emperor. He entered into a dispute with Joseph Toomer, a Southampton man who described him as “a crazy old infidel” [BR115/9/8], but was defended by Lord Palmerston. His friendship with Palmerston lasted for many years, who apparently esteemed him highly as an artist and conversationalist. Palmerston obtained a civil list pension for him in 1865, and planted various specimen trees on his property including Wellingtonias and cedars.

Medallion of Palmerston “in speech, peace and war”. Photograph taken by the artist [rare books Cope 73 LUC O/S13788]

Medallion of Palmerston “in speech, peace and war”. Photograph taken by the artist [rare books Cope 73 LUC O/S13788]
This ivory carving is described in a letter to Lord Palmerston in 1863 [BR115/9/62]. It is accompanied by a slip of paper containing the amusing idea that “it was discovered in the ruins of Windsor Castle which Theodosis the seventh Australian Emperor destroyed in 2899″.

Letter to Palmerston, Oct 1864, offering to sell his works of art and his tower in exchange for an annuity. [BR115/10/20/2]

Letter to Palmerston, Oct 1864, offering to sell his works of art and his tower in exchange for an annuity. [BR115/10/20/2]
“My old Tower I could not keep dry- therefore I sold it and have now built one handsome and substantial….. I sent my son as a mediator to Mr Fleming [local estate owner]- instead of which he got a lease for himself elsewhere and I had to go to the dogs. So unhandsome did my son sever his fortunes from mine that I would rather march to the Union than have support from him.” Palmerston replied that he has no room to display the art works at Broadlands, and that “your new tower, though a a handsome and substantial Building is too far from Broadlands to be a desirable acquisition.” [BR115/10/20/4]

In the Archives here, there are also letters from Lucas to the Duke of Wellington. He wrote to Wellington in 1851 asking him to sit for a medallion, but by this time the Duke was an old man and rather tired of sitting for portraits (he died the following year). [WP2/168/23-24]

Lucas is buried in the churchyard of Chilworth parish church. There is a memorial inside the church, made by Lucas himself, in the form of a marble medallion bearing his profile. He was survived by his son, Albert Durer Lucas, 1828-1918, who was also an artist. Lucas wrote his own epitaph as early as 1850 (33 years before his death), part of which reads “his habits were simple, he was honest, conscientious, of industry untiring …his intellect was enquiring, acute and penetrating.”

In recent years Harry Willis Fleming has done a considerable amount of work on Lucas’s life and work, including the creation of the R. C. Lucas Archive, containing photographs, scrapbooks, etchings and other artefacts. His website can be accessed at http://www.richardcocklelucas.org.uk/

“He was always a minor figure and never had the skill or enjoyed the popularity of a major talent like Chantrey. But as a human being he was not negligible and should be remembered not only for his best small-scale works but also for his perseverance, industry and enquiring mind” Trevor Fawcett, art historian, quoted in Chilworth Tower and R C Lucas, a bound collection of unpublished typescripts, MSS and photocopied articles made by M C Durrant and held on the open shelves of the Cope Collection [Cope q CHL 72 TOW].

“…my great delight is to comprehend truth and to reproduce it” Richard Cockle Lucas On the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (bound in Chilworth Tower and R. C. Lucas, as above)

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