The Art and Soul of Ethel Atcherley

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“Miss Ethel Atcherley was one of the most gifted of the brilliant circle of Manchester artists. She studied painting and modelling at the School of Art, in London and in Paris. She was a frequent exhibitor at the Paris Salon, at the New Gallery …” [1]

Ethel Atcherley, second daughter and fourth child of grocer Roger Atcherley and his wife Mary Ann, was born on 30 January 1864 at Eccles in Lancashire, and baptised at nearby Pendleton on 13 March the same year. In 1871, ’81 and ’91 she was living with her family at Wheatland, 5 Victoria Crescent in Eccles. She is missing from the 1901 census and in 1905 at the age of 41, Ethel died, in Shropshire, and was buried at Church Stretton. [2 – 9]

This picture of Ethel’s life, drawn as it is solely from parish, birth, death and census records, is rather basic and does not do justice to its subject. However, if we add other sources of information to our palette – particularly local newspaper reports – we can paint a richer and more vivid portrait of Ethel Atcherley.

Ethel’s artistic interests actually extended beyond her use of oils and watercolours, at least in her earlier years. One of the first appearances of her name in print, dating from 1880, is in a list of students granted certificates in Local Examinations in Elementary Musical Knowledge. Ethel Atcherley of Eccles was awarded Second Class Honours in the Senior Division. [10]

It was however painting (and also sculpting or modelling) rather than music that Ethel pursued academically, as a student of the Manchester School of Art. She was probably there from at least 1885, being amongst the prize winners at the school’s Sketching Club Prize Distribution which took place on 13 January 1886. On that occasion the club’s vice-president, Mr. T. Worthington, F.R.I.B.A., and Robert Crozier, president of the Manchester Academy, both urged the members of the club “to use untiring effort in developing their talent and sustaining the prestige of the institution with which they were connected.” [11]

Ethel certainly seems to have taken the advice of Messrs. Worthington and Crozier to heart. In 1891 her sculpture Reduced Copy of ‘The Slave’ by Michelangelo was exhibited at Manchester Art Gallery’s First Exhibition of Arts and Crafts. The following year she was presented with prizes of £3 for an oil painting, and of £1 for a “modelled head from life.” Before long, her work was attracting comments in the local press. One of the earliest such mentions, in 1895, stated that “Ethel Atcherley may be seen to advantage in a bright drawing of a scene on the Anglesey Coast.” The painting referred to may have been Ethel’s Anglesea Village which was exhibited at The Royal Academy of Arts that year. Later in 1895 her painting The Silent Hours of Love was sold at the Autumn Art Exhibition in Manchester for £31. 10s. [12 – 16]

In 1896 Ethel was elected an Associate of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, and her work The End of the Day was exhibited by The Royal Academy of Arts. The following year her work was being exhibited not only by the Royal Academy (Rest, Saturday Evening, Tarbert) but also by The Royal Society of British Artists and The Manchester City Art Gallery. She was elected to full membership of the Manchester Academy in 1900. I have found nothing which would confirm when she studied in Paris, but she is known to have worked there under M. Raphael Collin and M. Girodat – perhaps in 1901 when she was missing from the census? [15, 17, 18]

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of Ethel Atcherley’s artwork which I can share here, and there are few to be found online to which I can link (one is Wild Roses by a Stream). So here are, if not a thousand words, then certainly a few hundred, from the columns of the Manchester papers. I hope (as no doubt the original authors hoped) they will provide the reader with a feel for the quality of Ethel’s work:

“Miss Ethel Atcherley is an artist of whose work we have spoken in these columns in terms of praise. In the present exhibition she is represented by one of the best drawings in the collection. (No. 54) The Monnow Bridge, Monmouth, is a large and important work, and represents a mediaeval piece of fortification, with truth and great strength. The colour is admirable throughout, and the focus of light on the old town gateway is a happy artistic inspiration. … Miss Atcherley has got the true grip on water-colour art, and this fine drawing is worthy of all praise.” [20]

“Miss Atcherley’s Exhibition of Watercolours.—At Messrs. Grundy and Smith’s galleries in Exchange-street, Manchester, Miss Atcherley is exhibiting 68 examples of her work as an artist in watercolours. During the summer of this year she stayed at St. Monans, a quaint fishing village in Fifeshire, and as a consequence there is a strong Scottish flavour about many of her pictures and studies. One of the largest of her works, The Harbour of St. Monans, is an interesting nocturne. Deepening twilight gathers around the cottages of the fisherfolk, and the lights from within them are cleverly reflected upon the water and the boats in the harbour with almost weird effect. A few figures flit through the growing darkness, and altogether the composition conveys a poetic sensation of the close of a quiet day in a spot where there is more of the hush than of the rush of life. A Sunny Morning at St. Monans, St. Monans on a Showery Day, and St. Monans from the East, are other Fife subjects, having more daylight in them, and are smaller than the one just referred to. Their mention serves to indicate one direction of Miss Atcherley’s industry in a locality whose charms she has striven artistically and with success to convey. They are only a few of her gleanings from the North. On this side the border she has exercised her vocation in parts of the country far and near. Richmond, a large drawing, in which the lower part of the hill is enveloped in a bluish haze, A Berkshire Home, The Wye at Monmouth, Warkworth Bridge, The Farne Islands, North Hill, Clovelly, On the Kennett and Old Cottages, Warwick, are a sufficient number of titles of her pictures to name in order to show that she has laboured over a wide area in her studio from Nature. Of the interiors which she shews three are specially interesting in this part of Lancashire, namely, Eccles Old Church, Manchester Cathedral, and Chetham’s College, the last-named being the most commendable of the trio.” [21]

“Prominent amongst the watercolours was The Harbour, by Miss Ethel Atcherley, representing that mysterious hour of the gloaming, half-day, half-night. A rising sea-mist slowly envelopes a row of fisher cottages on a quayside. As the lamps are lighted their reflections quiver in the calm waters of the harbour. There is a refreshing breadth and an absence of trickery in Miss Atcherley’s work.” [22]

“Where all are so good it is difficult to single out examples as illustrations of this, but we are bound to draw attention to Mr. Cyril Ward’s grand Welsh landscape (No. 91), and to Miss Ethel Atcherley’s Sweep of Scythe in Morning Dew. These two examples are totally different in subject and treatment; yet they are equally strong in manipulative power and fine colour scheme. Miss Atcherley has achieved a great triumph in the sweeping attitudes of her mowers. They are most powerfully drawn, and moreover, they take most interesting colour from the atmosphere of the ‘dewy morn.’ … These two drawings may be ranked amongst the strongest works in water-colour …” [23]

Finally, one of the last reviews of Ethel Atcherley’s work, printed in the year of her death:

“Nowhere are women more strenuous in social work, in art and literature and music, than in Manchester. At the City Academy of Art we find them taking foremost places in the Exhibition. Miss Ethel Atcherley’s Summer Noon and her Quiet Coloured Eve, are delightful examples of her style.” [24]

After Ethel’s father Roger retired from the grocery trade the family moved from Eccles to Roger’s native Shropshire, probably around 1904-5 as Roger was still listed at Victoria Crescent in Eccles in a 1904 directory. The family lived at All Stretton Hall, which is probably where Ethel passed away. Administration of her effects, valued at £1,921 10s., was granted to her father. Three years later in 1908, one of Ethel’s paintings (The End of an Autumn Day) was presented to the Manchester City Art Gallery by her mother, where it remains to this day as an reminder of one of city’s most talented young artists. [19, 25 – 27]


[1] Ada S. Ballin (1905), Womanhood. Volume XV, page 26.

[2] Birth of Ethel Atcherley registered at Barton, March quarter 1864; volume 8c, page 512.

[3] FamilySearch shows baptism of Ethel Atcherley, parents Roger Atcherley and Mary Ann.

[4] 1871 census of England and Wales. Piece 3969, folio 20, page 34.

[5] 1881 census of England and Wales. Piece 3881, folio 64, page 13.

[6] 1891 census of England and Wales. Piece 3153, folio 62, page 19.

[7] Death of Ethel Atcherley registered at Church Stretton, December quarter 1905; volume 6a, page 389; age given as 41.

[8] Church Stretton parish register shows burial of Ethel Atcherley of The Hall, All Stretton, age 41 Years, on 28 Oct 1905. Copy viewed at Shropshire Archives.

[9] Monumental inscription at Church Stretton St Laurence shows Ethel, daughter of Roger Atcherley, of All Stretton, born 30 Jan 1864, died 25 Oct 1905. Source: Shropshire Family History Society.

[10] Trinity College, London. The Calendar for the Academical Year 1881-2. Pages 251-2.

[11] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 15 Jan 1886, page 7.

[12] Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011.

[13] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 20 Dec 1892, page 8.

[14] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 13 Feb 1895, page 8.

[15] Algernon Graves (1905), The Royal Academy of Arts: A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and Their Work from Its Foundation in 1769 to 1904. Page 74.

[16] Manchester Evening News, 22 Nov 1895, page 2.

[17] A C R Carter (1898),The Year’s Art. Pages 332 and 336.

[18] The British Architect, 21 Feb 1896, page 139.

[19] Anon (1910), Handbook to the Permanent Collection of the Manchester City Art Gallery.

[20] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 28 Feb 1900, page 10.

[21] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 10 Nov 1900, page 7.

[22] Arthur F. Phillips (1902), The Art Record: A Monthly Illustrated Review of the Arts and Crafts, volume II, no. 44 (April 1902), page 780.

[23] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 11 Mar 1903, page 9.

[24] Ada S. Ballin (1905), Womanhood. Volume XIII, number 77, page 283.

[25] The Prestwich, Whitefield, Crumpsall, and Neighbourhood Street Register (1904), page 276.

[26] National Probate Calendar, 1905. (Copy viewed at Ancestry.)

[27] Manchester Art Gallery website.

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