Ministers of ‘the Black Art’

My newly-submitted thesis, alongside various items involved in its creation


Yesterday, on 5 March, I submitted my thesis, Ministers of ‘the Black Art’: the engagement of British clergy with photography, 1839-1914. As many of you know, I’ve been working on my Ph.D since September 2014, but my research into Victorian clergy-photographers stretches back many years prior to this. It was my original intention to write a book on the topic, but when publishers showed no interest and the opportunity arose to apply for doctoral studies, the project was turned into a Ph.D. The viva will follow in a couple of months and we’ll see how that goes, but in due course I expect to adapt the thesis for publication as a book.

Ministers of ‘the black Art’ looks at clergymen from all denominations – Anglican vicars, cathedral precentors, Catholic priests, monks, Methodist missionaries and so on – who were active photographers between 1839 and World War One, exploring the relationship between their religious background and culture, and their photographic work. This is a topic that has been overlooked by both photo-historians and church historians, largely because there are very few researchers who possess sufficient knowledge of both disciplines to make the connections. Having spent many years with my feet planted squarely in both camps, it seemed a good idea to attempt it myself.

Conceptual theories do not interest me, and so the thesis focuses on what people actually did on a grassroots level, looking at original photographic material – paper prints, glass negatives, lantern slides etc – and examining a wealth of printed and manuscript material from archives, museums and libraries all around the country: theological works, printed sermons, diaries, correspondence, exhibition catalogues, photographic society log books and ephemera. I managed to identify over 200 clergymen-photographers (and yes, it’s a shame that they’re all men – but inevitable given the period in question) and amassed a huge amount of information about their work. I think this project can contribute a great deal to our understanding of Victorian visual culture and I have really enjoyed the challenge of shaping my mass of handwritten notes (some written last century) into an ordered argument. It’s been hard work, and I won’t deny that finally submitting my thesis brings with it a sense of relief, unburdening and liberation. Time now to prepare for the viva, and also crack on with other projects. Further developments will be announced here….

Rev. Roderick C Macleod, 'Mitford Castle with Mrs Macleod'

Rev. Roderick C Macleod, ‘Mitford Castle with Mrs Macleod’

Caldey Postcard – New Order for an Old Postcard

Caldey Abbey by Joseph Pike

Readers of this blog will already be familiar with my biography of the artist Joseph Pike and my original post about his 1913 set of twelve postcards showing the monastic buildings and other scenes on Caldey Island.  He did those drawings while staying on the island with Bede Camm, who had assisted the Anglican monks in their mass reception into the Catholic Church in March of that year. For various reasons, not least of which were the effects of World War One and the withdrawal of support from High Anglican donors, the community struggled in the years after the ‘Caldey Conversions’. Although Aelred Carlyle was blessed as Abbot of Caldey in 1914, he resigned in 1922 and was replaced by Dom Wilfrid Upson as Prior. I have written elsewhere – in A Monk and His Movies – about Dom Wilfrid’s time in Hollywood. Eventually the monks left Caldey in December 1928 and moved to Prinknash in the Cotswolds. Caldey then passed from the Benedictines to the Cistercian Order, as it became the home of Cistercian monks from Scourmont Abbey in Belgium. This monastery is home to the Chimay brewery, where the monks produce three ales: Chimay Rouge, Chimay Bleue, and Chimay Blanche. While staying in Brittany last summer I was able to pick up a few bottles of Chimay ale in the local supermarket, but a new venue has opened up in Exeter – the South Street Standard – that serves Chimay on draught, which I would definitely recommend. Anyway, I digress – the point of this post was that I recently picked up the postcard above, which is obviously been printed for French-speakers interested in the abbey, and reveals that the Trappist monks of Caldey re-used Joseph Pike’s postcards after 1929. They have printed additional French text in the border space at the bottom and appear to have given the card a deeper sepia tone than the original. I wonder if the artist continued to receive payment for the reproduction of his artwork on the same terms as he had arranged with the Benedictines?

Joseph Pike: the ‘happy Catholic artist’


Joseph Pike: The Happy Catholic Artist

My latest book, Joseph Pike: The Happy Catholic Artist (Kibworth: Matador, 2018) is a detailed biography of a master of the art of pencil drawing. Joseph Pike (1883-1956) produced evocative sketches and illustrations that were commissioned by authors, architects and publishers, reproduced in books and on postcards, sold as prints and exhibited on the walls of the Royal Academy.

It was due to his postcards of Caldey Island – drawn in 1913 – that I became interested in Joseph Pike, and you can read all about this on my original blogpost here. After reading this, one of the artist’s grandsons contacted me, and we began discussing the idea of my writing a short memoir about the artist. What began as a fairly modest project ended up being rather larger than originally intended, but the Joseph Pike’s friendship and collaboration with Benedictine monk Bede Camm meant that I was able to incorporate some of my PhD research on visual culture and monastic life. With access to family papers and photographs, augmented with my own collection of Joseph Pike artwork and knowledge of the Catholic literary revival, there was ample material for a detailed and illuminating biography.

Further research in various archives uncovered more little-known details and rare illustrations, and I was able to show how developments in the publishing world and printing technology impacted upon his work, as well as exploring the importance of the Catholic faith side in his personal and professional life – his acquaintance with Bede Camm and other leading figures in Catholic cultural life, such as Ronald Knox, played a key role in shaping his career as an illustrator.

Joseph Pike: The Happy Catholic Artist (Kibworth: Matador, 2018) – ISBN 9781788037778 – is available from various outlets, including direct from the publisher here 

An e-book is also available, ISBN 9781788034746

I would love to hear comments and feedback from anyone who has read the book or wishes to share their thoughts on Joseph Pike and his art.


Caldey Island, 1913 – postcards by Joseph Pike


Over a decade has passed since I last visited Caldey Island; just over a century has passed since these drawings were made. The scenes depicted are nonetheless much as I remember them, and could well have been drawn in recent years.

Caldey Abbey & Priory Bay

These images are from my set of a dozen postcards, and today’s blog post commemorates the event that took place on Caldey on this day in 1913.

PictureCaldey Abbey Church from the Narthex

Executed with superb skill in pencil, they are the work of Joseph Pike (1883-1956), one of five brothers from an old Catholic family of Bristol. They were all educated at Ampleforth College, where Joseph studied art under William J. Boddy. While two of his younger brothers – Fr. Bertrand Pike 0.P. (1884-1954) and Fr. Alfred Pike, 0.P. (1887-1962) – went on to join the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), Joseph joined the studio of John Hardman & Co., manufacturers of stained glass, altars and other church furnishings.

PictureThe Choir, Caldey Abbey

Pike’s interest in church interiors is evident from these pictures, as is his care in rendering precise details of architecture and metalwork. His great break came when he was asked by the Benedictine historian Bede Camm O.S.B. to provide illustrations for Forgotten Shrines (London: Macdonald & Evans, 1910). In his Preface, Father Bede wrote: ‘I feel a very special debt of gratitude to my artist, Mr Joseph Pike, for the very beautiful drawings with which he has illustrated and adorned the text. Mr Pike is still a young man, and there can be no doubt as to his great talent.’


The Refectory, Caldey

PictureThe Old Priory Church, Caldey Island

Caldey Island was at this time home to a community of Anglican monks under the leadership of Aelred Carlyle. I have written about this community elsewhere – there are references below under the Monk and His Movies blog post, and it is interesting to compare Peter Anson’s line drawings with Joseph Pike’s more nuanced depictions of textures and shading.


The Abbot’s Chapel, from the lane

Carlyle’s attempt to introduce Benedictine monastic life to the Church of England placed him and his community on a collision course with the Anglican authorities, particularly with regard to liturgical rites and ecclesiastical obedience. Matters eventually came to a head in 1913, resulting in almost the entire community being received into the Catholic Church. This took place 101 years ago today – 5th March 1913, the day before Joseph Pike’s thirtieth birthday.

Bede Camm had followed events on Caldey for some years, defending the community in a letter to the Catholic Times in 1905. He landed on the island on 28 February and said Mass in the monastery chapel – probably the first time this had been done since the Reformation. After the conversion, he became novice master to the monks. It was presumably through his involvement with the Caldey community that Joseph Pike visited the island to carry out these drawings.


The Village Church, Caldey

PictureThe Oratory (top), The Guest House (bottom), Caldey

After the outbreak of the First World War, Pike left Hardman’s and joined the 7th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, where he saw active service as a Lieutenant. He was badly injured in 1916 and invalided back to England where he spent some months convalescing at a sanatorium in Dartford.

PictureThe Priory Gatehouse, Caldey

After the war Pike worked as a freelance artist, publishing a series of attractive little volumes: Chester: a sketch book (London: A. & C. Black, 1920), Ampleforth College: a sketch book (London: A. & C. Black, 1921), and Bruges: a sketch book (London: A. & C. Black, 1922), while his pencil drawings of London included locations such as St James’ Palace, Westminster, Marble Arch and the Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Southwark, John Butt, commissioned two drawings of St James’ Church, Spanish Place, and Pike also sketched St Edmund’s College, Ware, plus other scenes in Cardiff and Chepstow. He got married in the 1920s and had three children, a son and two daughters. He accompanied his brother Alfred to Lourdes in 1951, recording the pilgrimage with two fine studies of the Marian shrine which were reproduced as popular Christmas cards. He died in July 1956.


At Star Cliff, Caldey Island


St Margaret’s Island,from Star Cliff, Caldey


Caldey Abbey from High Cliff

Pugilist Parson: the strange tale of Radford of Lapford


To celebrate the publication this week of my article ‘Pugilist Parson: the strange tale of Radford of Lapford’ in the autumn 2013 issue of Vintage Script magazine, I thought I would post a few photographs showing scenes relating to the story. In what is surely one of the strangest manifestations of ‘muscular Christianity’, the Rev. John Arundel Radford (1799-1861) – rector of the church of St Thomas a Becket, Lapford – earned himself a fearsome reputation as a bare-knuckle fighter and all-round ruffian. His violent character presents a stark contrast with the beautiful old parish church, which I have visited on several occasions.

This is the church on a bright spring day, surrounded by yew trees. Judging by their size, these were around when John Radford was rector here.


This is his grave, at the side of the church. The inscription reads:

In memory of
John Arundel Radford
Rector of this Parish
Who died 18th May 1861
Aged 63 Years
And also of
Thomasina Elisabeth
(His Wife)
Who died 12th March 1870
Aged 63 Years


This is the village as it used to be, looking up towards the church.

PictureSome of the magnificent wood carvings inside the church


Ill met by moonlight…..It was on this road that Radford confronted the Hon. Newton Fellowes.


Radford’s rectory, Lapford