Treasure 17: The George Woodward cartoon collection

This treasure is a collection of nearly 500 prints and drawings by the artist George Murgatroyd Woodward (1765-1809). Brought up in Stanton by Dale, Derbyshire, Woodward’s artistic talents were apparently evident at a young age, and according to his father ‘he used to draw before he could speak plain’.

The Woodward collection includes his earliest known drawings, a series of pen and ink sketches produced when still in his teens, as well as a series of portraits of actors in Shakespearean roles from between 1782 and 1787.  These include an image of Nick Bottom from Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is available for adoption on our Adopt A Piece Of History page.  In this video, Lien and Mark have a look at this and other illustrations:

Depictions of the earliest balloon flights in England are also included, as are a number of preparatory drawings for his published caricatures.  Here are some of the balloon pictures:

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We have now added digital images of all the Woodward cartoons to our online catalogue.  You can browse them by following this link – this takes you to an overview page showing each image’s file title, but you can then click on any given entry to see the full description and a thumbnail image.  If you click on the thumbnail image, you will see your chosen cartoon in all its full-screen glory.  To search within the collection, click on Advanced Search, then use a keyword or two in conjunction with the reference D5459* (don’t forget the asterisk).  I tried using the word “clown” in the title field and got a single image of a clown – if you try the same thing, you may see why some people have nightmares about them!

During his brief career Woodward collaborated with some of the best known caricaturists of the day in order to produce his prints, and the collection includes examples of work produced in conjunction with Thomas Rowlandson, Isaac Cruikshank and Thomas Newton.

Woodward was more interested in the humour to be found in everyday life than in high politics and his caricatures provide a fascinating insight into the tastes and fashions of 18th century England.

As our Senior Conservator Lien explains in the video, she nominated the Woodward collection as one of Derbyshire Record Office’s 50 Treasures after being introduced to the archive during her job interview.  ‘There was this massive heap of dirty and damaged prints, drawings and watercolours lying on a table and I was asked what I would do with them…we certainly ended up doing all the work I’d suggested.’

As mentioned above, the Nick Bottom illustration is one of the Treasures listed on our Adopt A Piece Of History page – but if you have a personal favourite Woodward cartoon, you can still adopt that.  Just give us the details after choosing “adopt a unique piece of history”.

Explore Your Archive – On This Day: Wirksworth Balloon Ascent

From the Derby Mercury, 12th November 1823:

On Friday evening last a very numerous and respectable assemblage of the inhabitants of Wirksworth were highly amused by the ascent of a fire balloon of extraordinary dimensions, the property of Mr. James.  It ascended from the bottom of the hill called Oakcliffe, and took a southerly direction over Ireton and Kedleston, and is supposed to have travelled at least 12 or 14 miles.  The inflation commenced about a quarter past 8 o’clock, and at nine the balloon was deemed sufficiently distended; the light was then attached to the bottom, and it ascended very majestically amidst the reiterated shouts of the assembled multitude.  From its amazing magnitude (being about 6 yards in height) it was visible for the space of nearly 20 minutes.  The crowd of spectators was immense, and the company retired highly delighted.  We are happy to add that no accident occurred on the occasion.

D5459/1/28/11 [A Balloon], George M. Woodward, [1783-1786]

D5459/1/28/11 [A Balloon], George M. Woodward, [1783-1786]

explore-flyer (cropped)