Henry Backhouse: Exhibition [1896]


Henry Backhouse was a sculptor and lived at Clipster Hall, Siddal.

For the Royal Visit of 25th July 1896, Backhouse he took it upon himself to put together an artistic exhibition to be displayed on the occasion of the Royal Visit to Halifax to open the Royal Halifax Infirmary.

The exhibition was on vacant Corporation-owned land on the Heath estate at Skircoat and apparently, the legend Artist & Hungered was inscribed over Henry's show.

Joe Turner Spencer, editor/proprietor of the Halifax Comet, and fellow Freemason, was unimpressed with Henry's efforts, and in the 1st August 1896 edition of The Comet, he described it as a

a hideous collection of absurdities

and reported that two Corporation Committees and the Royal Visit Committee had initially

resolutely declined to allow the abortion being erected at all

but had eventually succumbed to pressure and

in consequence of the delicately artistic instinct of our ex-Mayor ... the contraption ... gained a footing and finally blossomed into the hideousness displayed.

The Comet went on to gain

a crumb of comfort in the thought that the public had not caught on to such art as this and to wonder if Mr Backhouse would not have done himself more credit if he had made his exhibit in the back yard of the Goux Department!

The exhibition appears subsequently to have been vandalised and Backhouse obviously thought that Spencer's criticism had encouraged those responsible. He wrote several strong and rather unhinged letters to all the masonic lodges in the area and distributed this leaflet to the public.

From the content, it is not difficult to discern that the politics of Backhouse, the self-proclaimed starving artist, and Spencer, the stockbroker and pillar of the establishment, must have been miles apart even though they were both Freemasons.

It is not yet known what the exhibition actually contained, although The Comet mentions that there were photographs

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 15:13 / 15th May 2021 / 4425

Page Ref: MMB4250

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