Bradford Rudge 1813-1885 – An Artist of the Nineteenth Century
by Linda Ayres
Bradford Rudge, a renowned artist who spent his adulthood in Bedford, recorded history through his drawings, paintings and lithographs. Much of his artistic output covered the architecture and landscapes of Bedfordshire and its neighbouring counties. He sold many lithographs (prints reproduced from an original artwork) during his long career, and these have often been passed down the generations as treasured heirlooms. He was very well respected by his peers and can be placed high on any list of master British water colourists.
Bradford’s grandfather and father, both named Edward Rudge, were well known artists in the West Midlands, although it seems that none of his grandfather’s paintings have survived. His father was for many years the art master at Rugby School and was well-known for his landscapes of Birmingham and Coventry. Two of his paintings are displayed in the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry.
Bradford was born in 1813 in Coventry, Warwickshire. He was one of eight children born to Edward and his wife Elizabeth, nee Bradford. He was very well educated, attending Rugby School from the age of eleven, and he began to take an interest in water colour and sketching from age seventeen. His first sketch book, containing drawings and paintings of Coventry and the surrounding area, displayed a precocious talent.
He came to Bedford in 1835 on being appointed the first drawing master to the Boys Commercial (Modern) School, with a stipend of £60 per annum. At this time art was a new subject on the curriculum of the Bedford Schools. A year later, on March 29th 1836, at the age of 23, Bradford married Coventry born Martha Ann Latham (aged 29) at Aston Juxta, Birmingham. They set up home in Offa Street, Bedford, which is now known as Tavistock Street.
In 1840 Bradford was appointed to the boys Grammar (now Bedford) School, where he taught drawing as well as continuing to work at the Commercial (Modern) School. His classes were held in the nearby Assembly Rooms – today’s Harpur Suite. In 1848 the classes for the Grammar School boys were transferred to the Castle Rooms at Castle Street (later renamed Newnham Road) and those for Commercial School pupils were moved to the top tower room there.
Bradford’s father, Edward Rudge, died aged 52, at Dunchurch, Warwickshire in 1841 and his mother Elizabeth died five weeks later aged 51. Bradford inherited some of his father’s sketch books and these helped him to develop his style, which was noticeably similar. Some of his paintings were of the landscapes and architecture of Cambridge, Northamptonshire, Dartmoor and Devon. He enjoyed painting landscapes of North Wales, near Betws-y-Coed, where he had spent his holidays as a child.
One of his best known prints, drawn to commemorate its final journey in November 1846, was of the Bedford Times Mail Coach. (The coach had departed on its first journey from the Swan Inn in the 1820s, in the days before the railway arrived in Bedford.) The Mail Coach was co-owned by Charles Higgins, tenant of the Swan Inn, and Benjamin Worthington Horne, a famous coach proprietor, who horsed it out of London. Forty horses were required to work it properly.
The Bedford Times Mail Coach left the Swan Inn every morning at half past eight and returned from the George and Blue Boar Inn in Holborn, London, every afternoon at 2 o’clock. The sketch below shows the coach outside the Swan Inn with local people gathered around. In Bradford’s coloured lithograph, the body of the coach is painted a rich claret and blue, and the undercarriage and wheels are a vivid scarlet. The interior was richly cushioned and padded, mostly with rose coloured silk. The windows were hung with green curtains in the summer and with scarlet ones in the winter.
In the early 1850s Bradford held art classes at Cambridge two days a week for the university students. He also produced a series of lithographical plates for the Cambridge University Almanack for the years 1848-1855. His 1852 plate for the Almanack was a view of the interior of Trinity College Library.
In 1853 Bradford was appointed Worshipful Master of the Stuart Lodge, Bedford. He was the President of the Bedford Literary and Scientific Institute and General Library. He was also a member of the Bedfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society. He illustrated their publications with his lithographs of local antiquities. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in London from 1840 to 1883, as well as at the annual exhibition in the Assembly Rooms – now the Harpur Suite in Bedford.
Bradford’s wife, Martha Rudge, died in September 1856 aged 49 years. Her burial took place on 26th September in St Peter’s Churchyard. They had no children. Eight years later, on 28th July 1864, Bradford married his second wife, Sarah Fereday, at Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, Birmingham. Their only child Catherine was born in 1867. In 1874 Bradford retired from the Grammar and Commercial Schools, although he still taught some pupils privately. He took an active part in the parish work of St. Peter’s church, where he was Rector’s Warden from 1876-1884.
On 3rd December 1885 Bradford died aged 72 at his home ‘Leahurst’, 8 Goldington Road, Bedford. His wife Sarah survived him by 18 years. She died aged 79 on 29th May 1903 and was buried alongside him at Foster Hill Road Cemetery.
Grave Ref: E2.192
The Cambridge Chronicle and Journal 1st November 1851
The Bedfordshire Times and Bedfordshire Independent 5th July 1864
The Bedfordshire Mercury, 28th January 1871
Coventry Evening Telegraph 31st January 1939
Photo of Rudge The Midland Daily Telegraph, Tuesday, 32 January 1939
Photo of Bedford Times Coach Bedfordshire Times and Standard, 22 November 1946
Bedfordshire Mercury 21st October 1843
Bedfordshire Times and Independent 12th December 1941
Bedfordshire Times and Standard 2nd July 1943
Photograph of Memorial by Linda S. Ayres
May 21, 2021