Completed Maritime Subjects, Northern Ireland: Artists and Subjects, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 45 Can any information be found on the artist J. Crewdson?

The Lady Alice Kenlis
Topic: Artist

This is an unusual painting now made significant by new research. The subject is a vessel the hulked remains of which have been rediscovered beached on the banks of the Deben in Suffolk and recently scheduled on the advice of Historic England. She is the only other craft to have survived as being designed and built by the creator of ‘Cutty Sark’, Hercules Linton. She is also one of only four iron steamships from her period to survive in England.

The painting is in the collections of the Harris Museum at Preston. We have had little information on it since it entered the collection on an unclear date. Signed very clearly ‘J. Crewdson’, it is in a competent hand. However we can find neither further works nor personal identification for Crewdson. Equally, although we record it as being a gift from John Little we cannot find further information for him. A tentative acquisition date may be 1880.

The Art UK listing saying that Crewdson was active between 1900 and 1950 is now suspect as a result new research suggesting it unlikely Crewdson could have seen her as depicted. The ship would not likely have looked like this by 1900. It is recorded as completely changed by 1913 having been reused as a dredger. The authors of the new detailed historical research, (which is under page 10 at the following link, comment that the painting looks as if it was done somewhere near to the entry of service of the ship in 1868. She is shown exactly as described then and looking new. Although not yet proven, the colours of her funnel may well be those of her first owner/operator East Downshire Steamship Co Ltd, Dundrum, County Down, Northern Ireland.

So then who are Crewdson and Little, and is there any knowledge to add to that given in the research paper?

Charles Payton, Entry reviewed by Art UK

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Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. Very little was known about J. Crewdson (active 1900–1950). His life dates (1849–1925) and a biography are now on Art UK.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Jacinto Regalado,

I doubt this is purely amateur work. It looks like something by a pierhead ship painter.

Marian Wood 01,

This may not add anything to the identification of Crewdson, but according to the ship was built for Hugh Andrews jun. of Belfast (where it was registered in 1868, having been built in Kelvindock, Glasgow), but then owned (1871) by Edward Henesey and Co, Dundrum before passing in 1872 to the East Downshire Steamship Co. Ltd. as stated above. As you suggest, identifying the colours should narrow down the period of the painting, and perhaps point to whether Crewdson would best be sought in NI or Scotland. Good luck!

Jacinto Regalado,

The ship's cargo transport service involved Ireland, Scotland and England, so it could have been painted by someone based in any of those areas.

Cliff Thornton,

Further to Marian's information, an 1877 Lloyd's Register entry shows another change in ownership with Preston now her home port, which might explain how the painting ended up at the Harris Museum. And another snippet which may be entirely coincidental, but a James Crewdson (1838-1921) of Ulverston, the port of Lancaster, was a Master Mariner and captained a number of small vessels like the Lady Alice Kentlis.

Osmund Bullock,

That's a good find, Marcie - the only artistic reference (however tenuous) I've so far seen in combination with a 'J. Crewdson'. If, as seems likely (I can find no other possibles) your James Crewdson is the one born in early 1849 at Freckleton (on the estuary of the Ribble, seven miles downstream of Preston), then his family were certainly nautical. This adds at least some circumstantial substance to the idea he might be our man, but we’ll need more to make the hypothesis convincing.

Baptised at nearby Warton on 29/3/49 (though his birth was not registered until the following quarter), James was the fourth son of Jane (nee Salthouse) and James Crewdson (1818-93), a sailmaker. James senr’s father had been a mariner. The family moved from Freckleton up to Preston in 1852/3, where they lived at first in South Meadow Lane, near the river and the upstream quays; and then by 1871 at Swansea Terrace, close by the main dock and wharves. By 1871 James junr had followed his father, elder brother Thomas and Uncle Henry into the sail-making business, and that is the only profession given for him in subsequent censuses. It looks like he never married and stayed living with his parents until their deaths, after which he moved in with a niece and her family. He died at Preston in the third quarter of 1925.

Marian Wood 01,

There was a Captain James Crewdson of the right date-span (see, and there was evidently a Crewdson clan in his home town of Ulverston, Cumbria; this seems to have some active genealogists in it. Possibly they might be able to help.

It is not inconceivable that a captain might (perhaps before rising to that rank) have also done paintings; or else have had relations who made a business to do pierhead painting (ships were built at Ulverston, making use of the canal, so the town had a maritime aspect).

See and

Osmund Bullock,

Marian, Captain Crewdson of Ulverston was mentioned by Cliff yesterday, and is certainly possible from a nautical-connection perspective; and you are right about the town's maritime history. However, there is so far nothing to suggest he was an artist - e.g. in his newspaper and census appearances, which I checked some days ago (along with those of many other Crewdsons with a first initlal 'J'). Those searches were not exhaustive, however, and I could easily have missed something (as I did in the case of the Preston art student James Crewdson).

The other problem is that, although in the late 1860s-1890s (the period I have so far covered in shipping lists) the Lady Alice Kenlis sailed to and from numerous ports, great and small, in Northern Ireland & NW England, as well as some in Scotland & Wales, Ulverston does not seem to have been among them - Barrow-in-Furness is in fact the closest. I have yet to look after 1900, and it may be that something will appear then.

Kieran Owens,

Attached is a composite featuring the signature from this painting alongside three signed by James Crewdson, Master Mariner, in 1871, 1881, and 1891. I believe that there are enough similarities to suggest that these are all by one and the same person.

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The J and C are very like. One thing that might perhaps be sought is evidence of Captain Crewdson having any connection with the ship: annual Lloyds Registers usually include masters' names, though often hit and miss.

Kieran Owens,

Also, the little flick on the right side of the W.

Jacinto Regalado,

Well, Kieran's idea is certainly plausible. If he is correct, there may be some other ship pictures by the same hand in the Preston area, so perhaps the matter could be mentioned in local media.

Charles Payton,

I do not want to be a wet blanket for Keiran's interesting idea, especially not being a handwriting expert but....Looking at the painting signature, it seems to me that there is something singular about it.

Crewdson has written it almost as if an exercise in a school book. Each letter is carefully separate. The J and C are beautifully cast but are not consistent with one alphabet. I do not think it would easily repeat in a cursive script i.e. joined up writing. He (or remember it still could be a she) uses an 'r' that looks like the one we use. Then look at his 's' which is again the same as here as is the 'n'.

The Captain's examples on the other hand are consistent and in particular are cursive script. He always, as would be expected, forms his letters the same way. The 'r' begins below and rolls to the next letter. The 's' is like a snail. The 'n' "flies" if I may so describe it.

I think it unlikely we are looking at a painting by someone in their teens - or am I wrong? Remembering my own signature development it was fixed by then. So either we have here someone who may, just may, not be able to write or they have chosen to make the signature almost a work of art. It was not done in a facile way and took careful time.

Of course I may be talking a load of twaddle, but it is a thought - is it not?

A quick look at Lloyds Register, 1875-1900 and in 5/10-year searches only, shows 'J. Crewdson' in 1875 as master of the 134 ton schooner 'Ann Crewdson' built 1873 at Ulverston for William Postlethwaite of Holborn Hill, Cumberland, (who owned quite a lot) and registered at Barrow. J.C was still her master in 1877 but then disappears entirely,though that ship goes on under other masters and owners to at least 1894. We know he was still in sail ('Mary Barrow') into the 1880s, but his name seems not to be in Lloyds then.

Just toping and taling that 'J. Crewdson' first appears as master of the schooner 'Ann Crewdson' when it does in 1873 and after 1877 not at all, based on 5/10-year searches to 1920 ( he died 1921).

Osmund Bullock,

I'm afraid that I, like Charles, am not convinced by the comparison with Capt. Crewdson's signatures. First and foremost, comparing signatures written rapidly on paper in a cursive hand with a name painstakingly painted in oils letter-by-letter (for whatever reason) is seldom a fruitful exercise, unless there is some particularly idiosyncratic way of forming a letter that is shared. I don't consider any of the suggested similarities at all unusual.

By way of proof I have extracted eight other written examples of the same name (‘James Crewdson’) from the 1911 Census. They are not signatures per se (a good thing), each is an image of a person’s name as recorded on the original form - sometimes written by that same person, sometimes by a different head of household. See attached, where I’ve retained Kieran’s image, but added four new examples on both left and right. To my eye most or all of them are no less plausible than the Captain’s signatures, and in several cases more so – the twin-loop capital ‘C’ is pretty universal, the capital ‘J’ on two is much closer, several have an ‘s’ more alike, and one (arrowed) is the sole example we can see of the same sort of ‘r’. But none of these new James Crewdsons has an artistic or significant maritime connection, and I’m not suggesting any is remotely likely – they are just random examples of homonyms taken from NW England in the census.

What we’re looking at in Crewdson’s signatures is, I think, just a common way of writing in the late 19th & early 20th centuries.

Osmund Bullock,

Pieter, I've already done a lot of searching along those lines in shipping reports in the BNA. There is no sign that Capt. Crewsdon ever commanded or was otherwise connected with the ‘Lady Alice Kenlis’, and it would be surprising if he had: all the ships of which he was master (and in some cases also owned) were sailing vessels, not steam. He started off (as boy apprentice and later skipper) on small coasters in the 1850s-60s; but by 1867 he was commanding bigger, faster ships over much greater distances – mainly three-masted schooners of 120-180 tons burthen, which he sailed to South America and the West Indies, as well as many European ports from Scandinavia and the Baltic to France and Iberia. One, the ‘Ann Crewdson’ already mentioned, was named for his wife.

Three of the 10 or 11 ships I’ve identified that he captained (not an exhaustive search) were named for the Barrow family – the Continental-trade schooner ‘Elizabeth Barrow’ (from 1867-70); the clipper schooner ‘J H Barrow’ (for much of the 1870s, both before and after the ‘Ann Crewdson’ in 1874-6); and his final command, the ‘Mary Barrow’. The last was Falmouth-built for the Rio Grande trade (Brazil), and he skippered her (though not exclusively) for nearly 20 years from 1891 – his last recorded voyage as Master was in Oct 1910, though he’d not made an Atlantic crossing in her since early 1897.

Osmund Bullock,

Soon after his retirement he gave a short speech at a dinner in Barrow for notable local men of 70 years and more, and the following year was in the papers again when he celebrated his golden wedding. There was a fair amount of biographical information given, mainly about his life at sea, but an interest in art was not mentioned (see attached). Absence of evidence, of course, is not evidence of absence…but one might have expected (or at least hoped for) some hint of it if it was significant in his life.

I still tend to think that the sailmaker and (probably) former art student James Crewdson of Preston is a more likely contender, especially as the painting ended up in Preston. Sadly his handwriting is not to be found in the 1911 Census, as he was not then the household head; but even if it were, and proved a vaguely decent match, that would not really be enough for an attribution, and I think the best one can say without further evidence is “possibly by…”. If it is by him, it perhaps dates from the years when coastal shipping reports show the 'Lady Alice Kenlis' was regularly in and out of Preston (c1876-79), though it was still registered there for some years after.

Charles Payton,

Marcie noted that there was a James Crewdson receiving an arts prize in Preston in 1863. A little more digging in the newspapers shows that he received maybe a first prize for freehand drawing as a pupil of Christ Church School, under the auspices of "Preston Schools of Art", which seems to have been quite famous. As with other schools of the time there may survive attendance records that sometimes reflect personal details. It does not appear this may be done online so it is one for a local search. if we can pin James to an address we may be able to do some genealogy.

Osmund Bullock,

Charles, that's the James Crewdson (1849-1925) I identified a few days ago (02/11/2023 04:53) - he does indeed seem to be the only namesake in Preston of the right sort of age in the 1861 Census - or at least the only one with a nautical connection.

I gave some genealogical / biographical info on him and his family previously (mainly from his census entries 1851-1911), but anything else you can find could be valuable. Since my post I've discovered in the BNA his exact date of death, which was 22 Aug 1925.

Well-excavated Osmund. I agree: the details underpin my original doubt when we first heard of him as master of the 'Mary Barrow' in 1883 since someone already a master in sail in mid-life would not be likely to transfer to steam. The time that did happen was in the 1820s/30s when junior naval officers who started in sail but didn't get further in rank terms are among those who got into early commercial steam navigation, some after first encountering it in the Navy. Captain C. is also a good case of a master in quite small vessels which did long-distance deep-sea voyages. Parallel pictorial example here, though may be a large brige rather than a schooner

Lets see if anything more emerges about the art student or/and sailmaker.

Charles Payton,

Thanks Osmund, I should read more closely and remember with better facility...oh age oh decay! May I just comment on the suitability beyond being artistic? The Lady Alice Kenlis had from launch the (I think??) unusual fore and aft sail rig. Unusual enough to interest a sailmakers son?

Osmund Bullock,

At least half my fault, Charles - if I didn't write at such inordinate length, my posts would be easier to follow and absorb.

Marcie Doran,

In 1901, John Little’s home at 15 Church Street was a two-minute walk from the Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library (founded in 1877). His Red Lion Hotel was at 13 and 14 Church Street (02/11/2023 10:32).

The school (05/11/2023 11:41) that James Crewdson attended, Christ Church School, Bow Lane, was also located in that part of Preston.

Jacinto's suggestion at 03/11/2023 18:12 has merit. Time, perhaps, for the Harris Museum to put a photo of the picture in the local paper or other Preston media -inc. local history society etc.- and see if any more pop up.

Charles Payton,

Just a small review of the wonderful contributions and discoveries here so far, if I may? I am attaching a file of clips aand cuttings to remind.

The only reference to Crewdson as a name anywhere in connection with art seems to be the award for free hand drawing to a J or James Crewdson by the Preston Schools of Art via his school Christ Church, Preston.

He and his family is found in the 1861 census living at an address in the Christ Church Ward of Preston....see copy

He died in 1925 in Fleetwood leaving three sons and four daughters.... see cutting

One daughter married Gilroy and herself had issue.... see cutting.

I and my brother are running the family through genealogy for an up to date contact with it. Once that is achieved...if it is...then questioning in the family can commence. If anyone else is doing this please please carry on!!

One piece of research says he died in the home of a niece but I do not know who...trying to find out. Was it you Osmund who kindly passed this on?

I agree with Pieter...a local exposé might be a very good idea in the county of Lancashire...not just Preston.

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Osmund Bullock,

Charles, I think you need to are confusing/conflating two different men called James Crewdson! This is entirely understandable (I also became confused at one point), as they were born just a year apart (give or take), both had marital connections with women née Salthouse (but in different generations), and both were sailmakers - indeed they were probably cousins.

I can't deal with this in full detail until tonight, but here are the basics:

Number one is the art prize-winning James C of Preston - born Freckleton 29/5/1849 & seemingly baptised at Warton the same day; son of James (a sailmaker) & Jane née Salthouse; died unmarried at Preston 22/8/1925.

Number two is James C of Fleetwood - born Hesketh Bank, bap. Hesketh with Becconsall 21/4/1850; son of Henry (a labourer and/or sailmaker) & Jane née Sharrock; married 2/2/1873 Dorothy Salthouse, 9(?) children; buried Fleetwood 7/9/1932.

Charles Payton,

Screech of brakes and wet towel on head….thank you Osmund.

Charles Payton,

Further to Marcie's finding that James Crewdson was awarded a prize by the Preston Schools of Art in September 1863, there now comes to light that, reported in the Preston Chronicle of 24th June 1865 is another award to James Crewdson, by the same body after examination. He is still at Christ Church School (now aged 16) and gazetted excellent.

Marcie Doran,

That’s an interesting find, Charles. James Crewdson seems to have received his “excellent” in modelling in 1865. The article mentions that “all the other students [Crewdson included] are under the tuition of Mr. Gilbert, master of the Preston School of Art”.

Just a follow-up on John Little. By 1910, John and his wife Kate/Kathleen were managing Haddon Hall Hydro in Buxton (‘Buxton Advertiser’ - 11 June 1910).

My guess is that this work entered the collection no later than 1910.

Charles Payton,

Through Ancestry, we have found what seems without doubt to be the family tree of that to which our James belongs. When he died he was with part of it called Nelson in Preston. The tree is filed as a public access and we have sent a contact message to its moderates. Ther is only waiting now!

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, that’s right, Charles. Emma Nelson - with whose family the sailmaker and former art prizewinner James Crewdson (the younger) of Preston was living in 1911 and later - was the daughter of James C’s eldest brother Thomas (b.c.1841). Emma (bp. Mar 1870) had married Thomas Nelson (then a soldier) at Farington, just south of Preston, in May 1895.

James Crewdson of Preston (1849-1925) was, as I suspected, first cousin to his confusing namesake James Crewdson of Fleetwood (1850-1932). Their fathers were brothers – James C the elder (1818-1895) of Freckleton & Preston, and Henry C (1824-?1899) of Hesketh Bank, respectively; they were two of the sons of Thomas Crewdson (or Crowdson) of Hesketh, a mariner. The surname is usually found as ‘Crowdson’ in earlier records.

It can’t do any harm to get in touch with your Ancestry contact, but I very much doubt they will know anything helpful. The fact remains that James Crewdson the younger had no known children himself, and at best you’ll be talking to a collateral descendant of his niece or some other relative; it would be a miracle if they know whether an uncle of their forebear 150 years ago was involved as an adult in art in a minor way. Moreover, in my experience knowledge of family history tends, however unfairly, to be greater in those who bear the same surname – i.e. generally the male line. On that basis you might be better off looking for any male offspring (and their male descendants) of James’s three surviving elder brothers, Thomas (b.c.1841), John (b.c.1844) and Henry (b.1846), though even they would be a very long shot.

Osmund Bullock,

Sorry, the 1911 Census image posted above has the wrong James marked in red - James Crewdson is at line 9, not line 7.

Charles Payton,

Excellent Osmund and thank you. I am hoping, faintly I admit, that within this family somewhere will be another painting or even two! That occured in my own family over much the same period and I still have some. Luck is the thing we all want I think.

There has been no addition here since November 2023.

As already suggested, it would be in the interest of the Harris Museum to try some local publicity to see if any other works by James Crewdson could be flushed out, but since nothing further has appeared here since then I suggest we close the discussion.

Many thanks to Charles for raising the matter and to all who have pitched in, especially Osmund for disentangling the genealogical/homonym misdirections in the fairly extensive Crewdson cousinage.

We have not identified the exact date of the painting or whether the funnel livery is that of the East Downshire Steamship Co Ltd, Dundrum, Northern Ireland, but - since it saw ports on the Lancashire coast from the start of its working life - Crewdson could have painted it either before or after it became based in Preston from 1877.

I attach a draft summary of what we know of him for adding to the Art UK artist list. Note the pious hope expressed at the end.

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Charles Payton,

Thank you Pieter and for the excellent draft now in my files. Thank you also to all colleagues who contributed to Pieter's ability to summarise so exactly on the man I know in my mind as "the missing Crewdson". Closure here is fine. I will stay on the case with the Harris as it emerges from its long closure into a world not all that encouraging to museums right now. There is nothing wrong with pious hope and maybe....well DV

Thanks Charles: I'll send Marion a separate copy with a typo corrected and a perhaps necessary final line that 'His identification here is at present based only on the painting signature ‘J. Crewdson’ and elimination of other alternatives in north-western England.'

With the profile added, the current final sentence in 'More Information' above can be shortened to just 'At present this is the only recorded picture by the artist.'