Thomas Bewick’s snowman

Here in Lincolnshire in the English Midlands, we’re yet to see any real snow this winter and it’s beginning to look a little unlikely now. Certainly, we have not yet been able to build a snowman so, while we wait for a good snowfall, today we’re going to take a closer look at an engraving of a snowman built by a young boy and his friends in the eighteenth-century.

Thomas Bewick, wood engraver and natural history author, was born in 1753 in the village of Mickley in Northumberland, in a cottage known as Cherryburn. With a talent for drawing, young Thomas was apprenticed at the age of fourteen years to Ralph Beilby, a Newcastle engraver, later becoming a partner in his business.

(c) The Natural History Society of Northumbria Great North Museum: Hancock; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Thomas Bewick in later life, painted by Thomas Sword Good, 1827. The Natural History Society of Northumbria Great North Museum: Hancock

The following two vignettes supposedly show Thomas Bewick as a child, building a giant snowman at Cherryburn. Bewick is the boy standing on the stool, putting the finishing touches to the snowman, while his childhood friend, Joe Liddell, stands behind him, shivering and with his arms crossed.

bewick-snowman
© The Trustees of the British Museum

 

bewick-snowman-engraving
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The cottage shown in the background is Cherryburn and, in the latter image, Bewick’s bedroom window, which was next to his bedhead, is visible to the right of the horse’s head. The image appeared as a tailpiece woodcut engraving at the end of British Birds, 1797. Another tailpiece in the book shows Joe Liddell out hunting in the snow.

bewick-snowman-hunter-in-the-snow
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Cherryburn is now owned by the National Trust. For more information on Thomas Bewick, his life and works, see The Bewick Society.

 

Sources not mentioned above:

Berwick Gleanings by Julia Boyd (1886)

Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick by Jenny Uglow (Faber & Faber, 2011)

 

Header image:

Cherryburn.

Thomas Bewick’s childhood cottage and farmhouse on a hillside, with fence at left, seen from an orchard; frontispiece to ‘A Memoir of Thomas Bewick’ (London, 1862). © The Trustees of the British Museum

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