Painter showed gritty reality of industry to upper classes

William Holt Yates Titcomb's The Steam Hammer, 1895,exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1897.''MUST CREDIT: On loan from Corus Engineering Steels, images courtesy of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust.
William Holt Yates Titcomb's The Steam Hammer, 1895,exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1897.''MUST CREDIT: On loan from Corus Engineering Steels, images courtesy of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust.
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A PAINTER who spread an awareness of South Yorkshire’s grimy 19th century steelworks with his vivid art works has been included in a prestigious national reference guide.

William Holt Yates Titcomb, who painted steelworkers in Rotherham at the height of South Yorkshire’s steel boom in the 1890s, today enters the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for the first time.

Titcomb, who lived in St Ives in Cornwall, spent several months every year in Wickersley, where he inherited a house from his father, a vicar.

It was there, in his late 30s, that he started exploring local industry in search of scenes and themes that had not been painted before.

Driven by his concern for the plight of the poor and the conditions in which they had to work, in 1895 he sat for three months in a Rotherham factory.

The two works he produced were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1897, bringing an awareness of the grim conditions of South Yorkshire’s steelworks to the upper crust of Victorian society.

The paintings - The Wealth of England: the Bessemer Process of Making Steel, and The Steam Hammer, are today exhibited at Kelham Island Industrial Museum in Sheffield.

Titcomb is one of 103 new biographies added today to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which chronicles the lives of notable British figures who died before 2007.

Also added to the important reference work today is pre-Raphaelite Barnsley painter John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, who was born at Cannon Hall, Cawthorne.

The 19th century artist rose to fame for his work with George Frederic Watts.

Stanhope’s entry describes him as being “crazy on pictures” as a young man.

His depiction of a young woman’s descent into prostitution, Thoughts of the Past, is in London’s Tate Collection.

Although he travelled widely and died in the Italian city of Florence in 1908, Stanhope was always proud of his South Yorkshire roots. When he married Elizabeth King in 1859 he lived in Hill House, a farm cottage in Cawthorne.

His friend Lady Paget, who later knew him in Florence, said: “He looks like what he is, a Yorkshire squire.”

He was consciously a northern artist and regularly put on shows in Liverpool and Manchester, and did important work in churches near Cannon Hall, most notably at St John’s in Hoylandswaine.