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Thomas Churchyard 1798-1865
Born in Melton, he was the only child of Jonathan Churchyard, butcher and meat trader and Ann White of Peasenhall. In 1808 Thomas went to Dedham Grammar School, living in the Headmaster's house as a boarder. He studied Classics, French and English poets, philosophy, religious speculation and natural history. John Constable was an old boy of this school, from two decades earlier, and was often found sketching in the Dedham Vale during these summers. In 1815 Thomas left school and the following year became an articled solicitor with Crabbe and Cross at Halesworth. Thomas left Halesworth for London in 1820 to complete his final year of articles.
During his time at Halesworth, Thomas began to copy paintings of John Crome and his son John Berney Crome and subsequently developing his own style of landscape painting. He also illustrated a book of botanical subjects with William Hooker, botanical draughtsman and later Director of Kew Gardens.
He married in 1825, Harriet Hailes, a neighbor of his family in Melton. Their first child Thomas, was born a few months later. They set up home in Well Street (now called Seckford Street), Woodbridge. The following year Ellen was born with Emma following in 1828.
While still working as a solicitor, he began to exhibit at the Norwich Society to much acclaim and was elected an Honorary member of the Institution.
In 1830 Laura was born and Thomas began to exhibit in London, at the Society of British Artists in Suffolk Street. 1832 brought child number five Anna, and further exhibitions in London and Ipswich. Thomas was a founding member of the newly formed Ipswich Society of Professional and Amateur Artists. Another member was Edward FitzGerald, later to become a great friend. Thomas sent works to the Royal Academy but they were not hung, he had better luck at the Society of British Artists.
He set off to make his career as a professional artist in London, together with a neighbor and friend George Rowe. Thomas joined the Society of Painters in Watercolor but success eluded him as it did other natural landscape painters of the time. In 1833 he returned to his family, and resumed his career in law. The family moved into The Beeches in Melton, and he opened a makeshift office in Quay Street, Woodbridge, taking newly qualified Edwin Church Everitt as his partner. Having more success as a solicitor the practice thrived and in 1834 moved to a part of Marsden House, Cumberland Street (Everitt living in the rest of the house). His sixth child, Bessie was born and in 1836, Harriet arrived. Baby number eight, Charles was born and died within a few months. Katherine or Kate followed in 1839. After the birth of their last child Charley in 1841, the family needed more room and in 1843 moved into Marsden House. From there Thomas worked with just a couple of clerks. He preferred attorney's work and avoided taking solicitor's or commissioning work.
An inventory of his possessions made in 1854 lists the art collection which he had accumulated. He owned works by Gainsborough and Constable, Crome, George Morland, Richard Wilson, Turner, Stothard, Dunthorne, Rowe, Rubens and Etty. Cash poor, the family had to leave Marsden House and moved back to Melton for a year or two. But by 1856 they returned to Woodbridge, to Hamblin House a little further down Cumberland Street and almost opposite Marsden House.
By 1865 Thomas was beginning to have heart trouble. He knew that he was not going to be leaving his family well provided for. He had sorted out four hundred or so of his paintings and had made up albums of his water-colours and sketches. These he gave to his daughters, writing their names on the back to ensure that they could not be sold as a part of his estate. He told them, 'my dears there won't be any money for you but I will leave you my paintings which will one day be worth more than any money I could ever have hoped to make.'
Thomas died in 1865, having sold very few of his paintings during his life-time.
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