Charles Green (1836-1916) had reasonable acquaintance of old Sheffield buildings and landmarks, and his knowledge of Sheffield craftsmen was remarkable. But throughout his life he lamented the fact that they weren’t valued.
“The citizens of Sheffield have little idea of the beautiful works that are now being produced by its native sculptors in other towns, where they have gone for lack of encouragement at home.”
The same could be said for Charles Green, sculptor, modeller, and designer, whose reputation faded after his death.
Today, his name barely registers in the art world, yet his work was patronised by the likes of the Duke of Portland, Baron Rothschild, and Indian Rajahs. After the Boer War he designed and modelled monuments for the battlefields of South Africa.
Charles Green was born at Brampton, Chesterfield, the son of William Green, who became a fender maker at Sheffield’s Green Lane Works. He was educated at St. George’s School, Hallam Street, and showed great aptitude for art with a love of drawing and modelling at the expense of his lessons. He went to Sheffield School of Art aged 11, becoming a pupil of Young Mitchell, and was apprenticed to Edwin Smith, sculptor, and learnt how to model and carve with marble.
During his apprenticeship he carved a bust of Rev. Thomas Sutton for Sheffield Parish Church (now Cathedral) and that of Sir Robert Hadfield for the Cutlers’ Hall.
Green set up his own business and drifted away from sculpture, designing, and modelling ornamental cast-iron on a large scale. He designed fountains, gateways, mantelpieces, ceilings, decorative silver, and metalwork.
Perhaps his finest work was a cabinet commissioned for the Duke of Portland at a cost of £1,100. It seems the Duke changed his mind, but the ebony and bronze cabinet, representing the four seasons, the four elements, the twelve signs of the zodiac, and the globe, merited exhibition in London and Paris.
“I had the spirit within me to make this cabinet as a monument to my father who was so fond of flowers.”
His studio was at North Church Street, later relocating to Bank Street, and ending up at 19 Shrewsbury Road, opposite his home at No.18, a listed building that survives. (It subsequently became Samuel Walker’s sweet factory).
Charles Green married the daughter of Dr Wright Wilson, and had four daughters, one of which, Florence, also became an artist, modeller, and designer.
Before the Society of Artists was formed, local artists met at his studio in North Church Street as far back as 1859, he being one of the first members of the society. He was invited by John Ruskin to attend the first meeting of the Ruskin Museum, and the Sheffield Art and Crafts Guild was formed at 18 Shrewsbury Road in 1894, he being the first master.
He also wrote Artist’s Rambles In and Around Sheffield for the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent.
Charles Green was a lifelong collector of works, and at his studio on Shrewsbury Road, he had a large library, priceless antiques, and prints.
Amongst these were two original models by Francis Chantrey, one was a plaster cast of Sir Walter Scott, and the other, an early model of Rob Roy, thought to have been the only one. He also had several masks taken after death of Lord Brougham, Napoleon, Oliver Cromwell, and others.
Sadly, one August evening in 1911, Green was heating wax in his studio, when it boiled over, a sheet of flame enveloping him in fire. He managed to rip off his apron, but flames spread to the whole property.
The Chantrey busts were lost, as were pieces of carved oak, old oak chairs, pencil drawings, and sketches by Thomas Creswick, Alfred Stevens, William Ellis, E. Stirling Howard, and Robert Baden-Powell. Amongst his huge collection of books lost were a first edition of Rhodes’ Peak Scenery and early editions of Ebenezer Elliott, and first editions of James Montgomery.
“The scene after the fire was a particularly distressing one. Near the entrance was a ruined China cheese dish, huge enough to take a stilton cheese, obviously of high value. All around were prints and frames and statues of beautiful design, hopelessly wrecked, whilst the valuable library, too, was utterly destroyed.”
Green died at No. 18, High Bank, Shrewsbury Road, in April 1916.
“The last of the arts craftsmen of the type that won for Sheffield its proud pre-eminence, associated with Alfred Stevens, Godfrey Sykes, Henry Hoyles, Hugh Stannas, William Ellis, James Gamble, Reuben Townroe, and Robert Glassby. He also enjoyed the friendship of Ruskin, Onslow Ford, Tom Taylor, and James Orrock.”
One of Green’s last unfinished works was a bronze bust of conductor Dr Henry Coward, presented to him by the Sheffield Musical Union, and completed by his daughter. He had also made a Florentine bronze tablet for the Hunter Archaeological Society, with various panels with portraits of the Earl of Surrey, Mary Queen of Scots, Cardinal Wolsey, Chaucer, and Joseph Hunter.
Some of Green’s work survives in private collections but an internet search reveals extraordinarily little. However, we can still see some of his work in Sheffield, including the Lord Mayor’s Chain of Office (which he designed aged 21), and some of the ceilings in the Cutlers’ Hall.
But where did that prized ebony and bronze cabinet go?
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