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  • Reviews for The Lost Pre Raphaelite by Nigel Daly
  • Nigel Daly |  Review |  The Lost Pre Raphaelite
Reviews for The Lost Pre Raphaelite by Nigel Daly
'I KNOW it sounds corny," reflects Nigel Daly of the night he and partner Brian Vowles first took a tour of the semi-ruined Biddulph Old Hall, "but the lady who owned it was showing us round and she was suddenly called away. "It was raining outside, and we were in this room with a smashed window in this terrible bleak, wrecked tower. On the floor was a dead jackdaw full of maggots. It was then that Brian turned to me and said 'it has got a certain atmosphere here, hasn't it?'. "He was right. It wasn't old house spooky. It was more like someone wants to talk – there is something here that needs to be sorted." It's a story that could have formed the start of a Hammer Horror. Instead what needed to be sorted was a Victorian romance of heart-achingly agonising proportions. A story of forbidden love with a cast – Buffalo Bill, sacrificial vicars, and horribly abandoned children – which would have had old school Hollywood directors frothing at the mouth. As it is, I'm surprised the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts trained Nigel isn't working on the musical. Instead, Nigel has encapsulated months of detailed research into the kind of page-turner which makes The Da Vinci Code look like the Yellow Pages. The Lost Pre-Raphaelite winds an unusual course from Biddulph to India, on to Canada, Wyoming, Peru, a Bristol cigarette factory, and back to North Staffordshire. Anyone who saw Victorian life as all pressed collars and ankle length skirts would do well to think again. For Nigel, the story began when Brian thrust an image of the for-sale Biddulph Old Hall on to his drawing board at his Knutsford architectural consultancy. He didn't need to look twice. "I said to him 'we're going to have to have that, aren't we?'." It wasn't quite that easy. The pair were already somewhat embroiled in another 'project', Bletchley Manor, near Market Drayton. Not wishing to miss out on Biddulph, for a while – as they tried to shift the Shropshire pile – they owned the two, a typically anxious bank eventually threatening forced sale of both. It was then an unexpected saviour hovered into view. "Janet Street-Porter," reflects the 65-year-old, "she was our guardian angel." As difficult as this image might be to conjure up, it was, minus the wings and halo, actually true. Bletchley had been entered into the Grand Designs Restoration Awards. Describing the pair as 'superheroes of the restoration world', awards advocate Street-Porter adopted Bletchley as her pet project – it won, and the subsequent publicity saw it sold post haste. All efforts could now be put into Biddulph Old Hall, a mesmerising property dating back to 1558 and in good health until, a royalist stronghold, it had an unfortunate argument with a Cromwellian cannon and never quite recovered. In close association with English Heritage, Nigel and Brian are currently engaged with the restoration of the hall, the first year of their work featuring on BBC2's Restored To Glory. Nigel still remembers the first time, within hours of seeing that fateful photo, he clapped eyes on it for real. "We'd gone down the track," he says, "and through the farmyard, and it was pitch black and raining. Then the lady who owned it came out, and the lights came on outside, and there it was. Amazing!" Whether Nigel's a fan of Daphne du Maurier is unclear, but if the setting suited the Cornish pot-boiler, then so would the story within. Moving through generations of owners, Nigel eventually encountered mention of a late Victorian painter by the name of Robert Bateman. The third son of Biddulph Grange owner James, when basic research threw up little mention Nigel initially dismissed him as a 'bit of a playboy, soft hat and neckerchief'. "I thought he was just playing at art," he admits. Delving deeper, however, what he found was a Pre-Raphaelite of rare talent, a man whose few known pictures, while studiedly odd, were much revered. And a man who, at the height of his renown, had somehow vanished from view. "It was a story full of anomalies," he says, "none of it made sense." Indeed, why would a young artist with the world at his feet, ready to be embraced by the London artistic elite, abandon it all for the anonymity of Biddulph? Answers would eventually come to light in a number of Bateman's paintings, their apparently biblical themes in fact displaying numerous autobiographical clues as to the artist's unenviable situation – in love with a woman he couldn't have, father, evidence suggests, to a son he couldn't declare, trapped in a society that could never understand. Life as a recluse in this socially strait-jacketed world suddenly made good sense. Thing was, Bateman had fallen for Caroline Octavia, daughter of the Dean of Lichfield. Except, mysteriously, she'd married Penkridge churchman the Reverend Charles Wilbraham, 30 years her senior, and who'd perished three years later after apparently deliberately hopping into a freezing cold plunge pool while ill. With the clergyman gone, the couple finally married. Indeed, Bateman marked the occasion by painting his new bride, except, mysteriously, not in glowing delight at the life ahead, rather in mourning for the one she'd lost. For Nigel, it was yet another pointer in the pursuit of the truth to his home's former occupant. The work had hung on the wall of art critic Richard Dorment for years, its owner forever puzzled at its subject's impassionate gaze. A call from Nigel began to explain why – Bateman was clearly sensitive to the social mores that dictated a widow should be chained emotionally to the past rather than exhibit happiness at her future. And anyway, while their love could finally be celebrated openly, there remained the question of their lost son Henry. Put on a boat to a Canada with the words of a Dickensian guardian, "if there's any good in you, you'll make good", ringing in his ears, Henry's rags to riches (twice) tale is one that again makes The Lost Pre-Raphaelite the natural successor to Downton Abbey. In later life, Henry's desperation to conceal his illegitimacy meant him covering over as many tracks as he could – aiding Bateman's slide into anonymity. It's a dissociation with his past that adds to the heartbreak of Bateman's own sketch of the infant Henry enveloped in his mother's grasp all those years afore. "People say it must have been dreadfully hard work researching it and piecing it together," says Nigel of his quest, "but it never felt like that. "At the start you have these preconceptions. I thought Caroline was probably a bit of a stuck-up cow! But she was actually a lovely person. The same goes for the vicar. You think of a man of older years, maybe quite reserved, but actually he had a great sense of adventure, and just wanted the best for her as best as he could provide it. "As we got into it, the characters became very real to us." Nigel is well versed in bringing such personalities to life. Born in Cheshire, he initially trained as an actor before becoming a scriptwriter and then forming his architectural design practice in 1985, specialising in the restoration of period properties, their interiors and gardens, throughout the UK. He's a regular in the glossiest of home and garden magazines. "I have always had a niche when it comes to buildings with a certain feeling, period houses, listed buildings," he says. "I have always thought of them as being living things. You think of everything that's happened there, the lives of people, the struggles. But the crucial thing is to balance that with the clients' needs. You are, after all, making a home for people to live in today." Even now, he and Brian are uncovering reminders of the hall's former resident – dates carved into stones, the extensive gardens where he and Caroline might have walked, lost beneath the undergrowth. "Knowing the history of the people who lived in your house does," he says, "absolutely make it a different experience living there." A landmark moment came when the 9ft portrait of Caroline was purchased, hung in the hall's former chapel, once Robert's studio. Did Nigel get the feeling that the old maestro was there on his shoulder? "It was," he admits, "a goose pimply moment." And so here we have a story of two love affairs. One between societally stilted lovers, and another between history-dripping house and new owners. The detective work of the latter has brought closure for the former. "You don't," says Nigel, "put clues in paintings unless you want them to be found.' - Stoke Sentinel
‘Although I keep an eye on the new releases of books about Pre-Raphaelite subjects, I had completely missed mention of the book I'm reviewing today until David Thompson emailed me about it over on my Facebook page, The Stunner's Boudoir. I immediately begged a review copy from the publishers...When offered a book about a 'lost' Pre-Raphaelite artist called Robert Bateman, my arrogant-cow attitude immediately said 'Well, I've heard of him, how lost can he be?' Indeed, I've used his best known paintings here on the blog before, especially The Dead Knight. I've always loved this picture because you can barely see the subject. Anyway, my arrogance aside, that is not the point of the book. Certainly this is an account of a Pre-Raphaelite artist who is not as well known as the others, who fashion and time left behind a bit, but there is more in the attribution of 'lost' then mere reputation. Robert Bateman was an artist in the second wave of Pre-Raphaelitism. He was a member of the Dudley School, a grouping of artists that included Edward Burne-Jones and Simeon Solomon and he moved to being a part of the Grosvenor Gallery set. His artistic output appeared spasmodic and he also dabbled in architecture, sculpture and botany. He came from reasonable amounts of money, mixed with people with reasonable amounts of money and many of the names in the story will be familiar to you. He married later in life to an older widow and they died within a month of each other in the 1920s. These are the facts and it's easy to see why Bateman may have been overlooked in favour of other artists whose lives had a bit more public spice, shall we say. Mind you, isn't that so utterly true of life, that those who clumsily and publicly mishandle life's eventuality are given far more notice and public worth than those who just get on with things with rather more dignity. The early mention of Burne-Jones and Solomon in the book makes complete sense as you progress through Bateman's life and secrets. Bateman's artistic reputation was pretty much lost between the wars. He doesn't appear in my early 20th century Pre-Raphaelite books, although some really random people are present in the Percy Bate one from 1910. I suppose I'm lucky enough to have started my Pre-Raphaelite research (and life) after the 1960s when more of the artists were rediscovered and written about. Bateman himself enjoyed a brief rediscovery in 1966, and his paintings of a dead knight and some mandrake pluckers started appearing in books and exhibitions in the 1990s. But you wouldn't think there would be enough to hold your interest for over 300 pages.. Firstly, Nigel Daly is a wonderful writer. I would not have loved this book half as much if it wasn't for the pace and humour of his narrative. This is not a straightforward biography and galloping through it with such charming company is worth anyone's time, in my opinion. In essence, this is a book about two lovely chaps buying a house and uncovering a mystery. Anyone who looks at a mad old house in an advert and responds 'We'll have to buy it, obviously' is welcome to come round for tea whenever they fancy it. The adventures of Nigel and his partner Brian (who restore period houses when they are not embarking on art mystery capers) are what makes the book. They are experts in houses and the details of the buildings they visit make you feel like you are there beside them. However, the knowledge they have about the Victorian art scene is learnt as the story goes on. I thought this would irritate me, that the reader would be informed of 'discovered facts' as if no-one else knew who Burne-Jones, Simeon Solomon etc were. I could not have been more wrong. The sheer joy of discovery, the seeking to understand, to place in context is refreshing. There is no pretension that the author knows more than the reader, just an exuberance of sharing, of us all tumbling along towards the final chapters by which point I was too emotionally involved with everyone not to cry a bit. There is only so much I can tell you about the revelations of the book because there are twists and turns. I agree that it is like a real life Possession by A S Byatt, or That Summer by Lauren Willig, where the art leads you to some real life revelations that you don't see coming at all. Yes, there are things I wished had been explored like the connection to the Souls (even though Nigel and Brian visited Mells) and the final chapters are quite speculative. Saying that their reasoning is well argued and very persuasive and it's one hell of a story. I can only urge you to buy this wonderful book and be swept along by it. ‘ - The Kissing Mouth
‘For Nigel Daly and his partner Brian Vowles such dreams have become reality. Viewers of BBC2's Restored To Glory will remember that both were featured in the BBC2 series, working on the early stages of the restoration of Biddulph Old Hall in Staffordshire. They discovered that the house had once belonged to pre-Raphaelite artist Robert Bateman, and Daly admits that they soon became infatuated with the house, and its vanished occupants. The artist's sudden move to Somerset, a ruined mansion, family graves in a village churchyard, and Wild West showman Buffalo Bill are key players in the extraordinary story Daly unravels in his investigation of “The Lost Pre- Raphaelite ”. In researching the life and work of the now little-known artist, and his aristocratic wife, they have thrown up intriguing clues which they believe point to a hidden scandal and a great tragedy. That is not the end of the story for this is a tale of redemption as well as loss. It is difficult to write a review of this unusual book without giving too much away and destroying the thrill of the chase, the poignancy of succeeding revelations. Daly brilliantly conveys his enthusiasm for both Bateman and the battered old building they had decided to save. His lively, down-toearth style is also highly informative. He can pack in detail on Bateman's influences and associates, or restoration problems back at the house, and still carry the thrust of what is essentially a detective story forward with real pace. Many of these “revelations ” must remain speculations, but there is no doubt that their reading of clues in Bateman's work, and in his life, could indicate the scandal that they suggest, although other solutions are possible. Bateman's sudden quitting of London, abandoning his life as an artist in middle age, his marriage to his adored wife, Caroline Octavia Howard, granddaughter of the Earl of Carlisle, their sudden move to Somerset at a crucial time in the life of a relative, are all suggestive. To villagers at Nunney, near Frome, the couple who bought Nunney Delamere house (now Rockfield House) in the early 1900s held no mystery. They were seen simply as a devoted pair, keen gardeners and founders of bowls clubs. But the move may have been linked to a mystery involving their nephew, Henry Burke, who had just moved to Bristol, a young man with an astonishingly adventurous past. He had already worked hard and lived rough in Canada, the United States and Peru. In Bristol he joined BAT (British and American Tobacco Company) and eventually became general manager for all BAT interests in Bristol. Bateman and his wife lie buried in the village churchyard at Whatley, near Frome. If they did take secrets to the grave then this book may have brought them into the light of day. Summing up their researches Daly concludes: “On our journey we found cruelty, rejection, fear subterfuge, but perhaps most surprisingly, loyalty, integrity and pure, unselfish love.' - Western Daily Press
'The Lost Pre-Raphaelite is fascinating and engrossing book, as well as an important contribution to our knowledge of Victorian painting, Victorian gardening, and the crippling rule of Victorian social convention. Remembered because of his contemporaries' admiration, Robert Bateman, with only a single intriguing work in any public collection, has until now been an extremely difficult artist to see, truly a "Lost Pre-Raphaelite". Daly has fleshed him out with biographical information and a corpus of often beautiful (and beautifully reproduced) works, largely unearthed by his determined sleuthing, and has composed a totally unexpected but convincing portrait of the man, which bears directly upon the content of his otherwise often inexplicable pictures. This is not a book by an art historian, but perhaps a better book for that, written with an engaging freshness and originality which make it a pleasure to read.' - Allen Staley, Professor (Emeritus) of the History of Art at Columbia University, New York, and author of The Pre-Raphaelite Landscape.
‘This beautifully illustrated, handsomely produced volume makes a game attempt to relate three interrelated and not always compatible stories. Beginning with the discovery, purchase, and restoration of Biddulph Old Hall, an “Elizabethan mansion on the edge of the Staffordshire moorlands” (15), The Lost Pre-Raphaelite next tells the author's experiences of discovering and then interpreting the works of Robert Bateman (1842-1922), a painter associated with Simeon Solomon and Walter Crane, who lived briefly at Biddulph. The encounter with his painting and carving prompts the author to interpret first them and then piece together the artist's biography, particularly as it relates to his work, and this in turn leads to several enigmas. Why, Daly asks, does such sadness permeate Bateman's paintings, particularly the enormous one of his wife, and why did the artist leave London for the isolation of Biddulph? Then, too, why did the man who became his wife's first husband abandon his beloved parish for a smaller one with a lesser income and then marry a woman thirty years younger than himself? Finally, why did Robert and Caroline Bateman bequeath all their worldly goods to a nephew, Henry Burke? The front and back covers of the The Lost Pre-Raphaelite, which emphasize two of the book's major subjects — Biddulph Old Hall and the portrait of Caroline Bateman, Daly's ways into the mysteries of the artist's life and career. According to Daly, Bateman's “work, through most of his active life as a painter, was inspired by his love for Caroline and constituted an encoded record of the critical events of their story” and this is the story told by The Lost Pre-Raphaelite: the artist, who married the widowed Caroline Howard when she was 40 and he 37, had loved her for many years, and the love was reciprocated, but a series of financial, social, and artistic scandals prevented their marriage in their younger days. Unable to marry, they became lovers, had an illegitimate child, Henry, who was placed with a relative, and Caroline then married the saintly and well-connected Rev. Charles Philip Wilbraham, who abandoned his beloved parish and portions of his morals and belief to save the family from scandal. After Wilbraham's death, the two lovers marry but mourn the loss of their child, whom they can never acknowledge for fear of scandal but to whom they bequeath all their worldly goods. Having located their graves, Daly summarizes the results of his long quest, which he has pursued so arduously and imaginatively: That was the story the graves told - the same story that the wills told, and the house told, and the lost paintings told, and retold; the story that Henry, Katrina and Ulick Richard set out to suppress. We now knew that the dry words on Robert and Caroline's headstone had been put there by them, and reflected their priorities. They had chosen to forget everything except Robert's status as a JP and Caroline's exalted Howard connections. But they could not forget the true story, because it was woven into the fabric of all their lives. They had all stood, huddled together in this churchyard, in 1920, when John's little coffin was lowered into its grave. They must have known why it had been brought from their home in Bristol, where he died. They were here again, in the very same spot, two years later, when Robert and Caroline were interred near the child, and again, nine years later, when their wife and mother was placed with them. . . . We felt that the relentless series of anomalies that made up the pattern of Henry Burke's extraordinary life, and the repeated evidence of Robert and Caroline's determination to benefit and bond with him and his family, was only explicable if they, and not Ulick Ralph and Katherine Burke, were his parents. It was a bold assertion to make, in the face of the fact that every written document defined Henry as their nephew, including their own wills. Indeed it is! Daly supports his interpretation of the lives of the married couple and Bateman's paintings with an often exciting narrative of relentless archival scholarship that reminds one, perhaps too much, of A. S. Byatt's Possession: both books, one fiction the other supposedly non-fiction, devote much of their texts to carrying out similar scholarly detective work that reveals a previously unknown sexual relationship between people from two different backgrounds that produces a child who grows up apart from one or both the lovers. Typical of the mixed genres that constitute this book, despite its self-conscious display of scholarly archival research it has neither footnotes nor a bibliography. Footnotes and bibliographies are to humanities research what laboratory experiments are to scientific research — the means by which others can test the validity, the truthfulness, of the work described. If, and only if — as the Oxford philosophers say — Robert and Caroline were in fact lovers and had a child out of wedlock, the tale Daly has crafted has plausibility, but the reader must accept a great many “if's.” First of all, would it have been as impossible as Daly asserts for a highborn spinster to marry someone like an artist well below her in the social scale? The Way We Live Now and other Trollope novels suggest that such marriages were not all that unusual. Daly also repeatedly emphasizes the immense wealth and power of her family, the Howards, but George Howard, himself a capable artist, was the friend and patron of William Bell Scott, the lover of a wealthy woman. And were the scandals that Solomon and Burne-Jones created as damaging to Bateman as Daly insists? Crane's career doesn't seem to have suffered at all from the association with them, and would scandals involving two other artists have mattered to the Howards? Daly certainly tells a plausible, if not necessarily convincing, tale, but what about other possible explanations for the events Daly finds so enigmatic? Take Rev. Wilbraham, for example. Perhaps he, rather than Caroline, had become involved in something scandalous, say, something involving pedophilia, homosexuality, or both, and his powerful family moved him to a smaller parish and married him off to Caroline to create a respectable marriage? This is one of those books that starts arguments and investigations with “if,” quickly moves to “possibly” or “might be,” which then becomes “probably,” and effortlessly metamorphoses into “certainly” and “must have been.” Another problem with Daly's credibility arises in prose that often seems to belong more to a bodice-ripper than a work of scholarly detective work. In the paragraph quoted above, Daly describes those attending the burial as "huddled together," but surely we can not know how they stood at the funeral. His characteristically overheated prose mixes with unsupported imagined reconstructions in his description of Rev. Charles Philip Wilbraham's supposed reaction to a supposed proposal that he marry the woman who supposedly has had an illegitimate child: How Charles must have longed for them to leave, and allow him to confront the profound implications their scheme had for the faith in which he had put his trust all his life. He needed to think, and to pray for guidance, before he could respond to so morally complex a dilemma. The only undertaking he could give, if there was any prospect of his doing what they were asking, was to agree to go and speak to Caroline, as one fallible human being to another. He needed to understand the intensity of the forces that had driven her to abandon the virtuous path down which she had been guided by her saintly father. How agonising his dilemma must have seemed as he knelt alone in his empty church, scouring his conscience for a truthful, valid response to the conflict between the doctrinal clarity of scripture on physical abstinence except within marriage, and the inexhaustible forgiveness and love of Christ for the penitent sinner. How often did he read and re-read St John's account of the woman taken in adultery . . . . Surely he was shocked to discover his own ability to empathise with Caroline's account of the pain of forbidden love, and to recognise echoes of it deep within himself. Did it reawaken the memory of his devotion to Beatrix Egerton, and her father's disdainful rejection of him? How thrillingly new to him those hushed confidential talks must have been, when this beautiful, enigmatic creature opened her broken heart to him and acknowledged her and Robert's inability to contain the urgency of their desires within the confines of their families' wishes. She must have wept bitterly, and prayed with him for forgiveness, both for her lapse from grace and for the shame she had brought on her father's memory. One question that Daly doesn't answer convincingly, and granted the available evidence perhaps no one can, is why Bateman, whom he presents as such a powerful painter, simply stopped painting. Looking at the Batemans' magnificent country house, Daly offers this explanation: The longer we stood gazing at Benthall, the more we came to perceive the fundamental consistency of Robert and Caroline's personalities, despite an apparently abrupt change in the pattern of their daily existence after they moved there. This house represented the final fulfilment of the prime motivating drive of their earlier lives, their longing to be permanently together. The achievement of that aim changed their priorities and led Robert, in particular, to adopt a far less focused, driven approach to his creative life. While from an art history perspective this may seem regrettable, from their own standpoint they were merely continuing to give the stability and development of their relationship priority over every other achievement. All the striving of their lives, even the phase at Biddulph after their marriage when they had set out to promote Robert's work so that he could achieve a sufficiently established artistic and financial position to make him acceptable to her family, had been leading to this place, and this life, which at last resolved some of the external pressures on their relationship and held out the prospect of a secure, loving future. Well, maybe. Still, Nigel Daly has given us an often enjoyable read.' - Victorian Web
‘I am not even sure how to begin. A full five star rating does not give this beautiful work enough merit. What Nigel Daly and his partner Brian Vowles have done is a stroke of pure genius! This is not a biography folks; The Lost Pre-Raphelite begins with the setting of a home called Biddulph Old Hall, the remnants of a great Elizabethan mansion on the Staffordshire moorlands. You see, due to author Nigel Daly's day job dealing in antiques and restoring houses, his presence at Biddulph Old Hall leads to the discovery of one former owner, Robert Bateman. Robert Bateman was a rather unsuccessful, not very well-known, nineteenth century artist with some very now infamous friends. For instance, a young man named Edward Burne-Jones, Rossetti, and Simeon-Solomon are brought into the fray as well. Once Nigel Daly's interest in the house and its history is piqued, well, hold on readers because you are in for an incredible artistic journey getting to know a fascinating recluse, Robert Bateman and his wife, Caroline Octavia Howard. Her marriage to Bateman was her longest but her second marriage and without giving much away let's just say that fact is very important to know beforehand. Take a good long look at that woman on the book cover in the painting by Robert Bateman called, 'The Artist's Wife' that's her! She was related to one of the most prominent nineteenth century families The Howards and cousin specifically to painter, George Howard, ninth Earl of Carlisle and his wife Countess Rosalind Howard. From the Introduction, I was engrossed and found myself begrudgingly only putting the book down when I had no choice. Nigel and Brian write not only detailed and descriptively on geographic settings and locations but manor house period room furnishings and restorations. Dear Reader the entire book is broken up into six parts, chronologically according to the life span of Robert Bateman and his wife Caroline Howard. I loved reading about the interiors of Biddulph Old Hall including gorgeous photographs leaving nothing to the imagination in a very good way! I felt as if I was on a manor house tour with both of these passionate men and when they discover Robert Bateman's presence hidden within the interior of Biddulph well, then more fun begins. The Lost Pre-Raphaelite changes in tone and texture with the 'artistic' discovery of artist RB-Robert Bateman and with each passing chapter his life unfolds from a young single recluse of a man living very Wagnerianesque to a happily married man still artistic, still creative, still passionate until his last days. Not only will the readers read about these beautiful manor homes throughout England, they will read Nigel and Brian's exquisite background on all of Robert Bateman's paintings including catalogue notes and family anecdotes! The Lost Pre-Raphaelite is a journey of discovery about one man's artistic life as he viewed the world through his paintings. For those are his legacies containing clues that he left behind. This is a detective story in the sense that you discover the human being behind the artist. Nigel and Brian take you through Robert Bateman's life into old age and trust me you do not want to miss this book. If you are an art lover of the Victorian era, or even The Pre-Raphaelites then please check out The Lost Pre-Raphaelite by Nigel Daly. I absolutely loved this entire book and it belongs on every art lovers shelf! I hope you will enjoy it and all the discoveries along the way!' - Kinmberlyeve.musings of a writer
‘It is rare for a non-fiction title to warrant the moniker page-turner but this thrilling story is engrossing. The author and his partner, who restore old houses, bought Biddulph Old Hall in Staffordshire and, during restoration, discovered an extraordinary tale. By decoding the secrets of the house and the pictures that Robert Bateman, whose family bought Biddulph in 1861, left behind, Daly unearthed a Victorian melodrama. His story involved financial ruin, breached social boundaries, clandestine meetings and a glamorous aristocratic lover who married the local vicar, all part of a conspiracy of silence hidden from view for a hundred years. While revealing Biddulph's secrets, Daly also allows for a reassessment of Bateman and his work, and lays to rest a pair of fascinating ghosts. Top drawer.' - The Field
‘If ever there were a life that proves the adage about truth beating the wildest imaginings of fiction it's that of Robert Bateman, an artist almost lost to memory. It entailed both the brutal suppression of a love affair between a Victorian artist and his social superior and the extraordinary lengths to which the lovers and their accomplices went in order to ensure that their story didn't see the light of day in their life time. More lurid than any Victorian novel, it features an unconsummated marriage, a crucial will, a cruel stepfather, an abandoned child, a selfless vicar and a sudden death. Buffalo Bill also puts in a critical appearance. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about this strange story is that it has only come to light because the lovers left a trail of evidence hidden in plain sight, in the paintings of Bateman, an odd, unclassifiable painter associated with the Aesthetes and Romantics. The clues have been pieced together by Nigel Daly in a new book: The Lost Pre-Raphaelite; the Secret Life and Loves of Robert Bateman. He only stumbled on the trail because he bought and renovated Bateman's old home, and the truth he uncovered--revealed in the final chapter—would not, with all its twists and turns, have been out of place in a novel by Wilkie Collins.' - Telegraph
‘Isn't this a classic set-up? Two amateur detectives follow a trail that immerses them in a mystery far greater than they'd envisaged. Having intended merely to unravel the history of the ruined house they'd bought to restore, they quickly found that the house had had a previous owner (the Lost Pre-Raphaelite, Robert Bateman) who, as they gradually discovered, had been regarded in the late nineteenth century as a major artist (exhibiting alongside Burne Jones and others) before, following scandals around the trendy Grosvenor Gallery, he vanished into a long recluse-like existence with his unlikely wife, who he had plucked from the Howard family (the Howards of Castle Howard). He had married Caroline Howard as soon as possible after her previous husband – the much older Reverend Wilbraham – died following a cold bath outside in December. That marriage (an aristocratic woman to a mere minister) also seemed inexplicable. And Bateman, his wife, his works, and almost every document about them, had been expunged, almost certainly by the family a century before. Why? What had he done? What was the truth about Robert Bateman? This is, in fact, a true story, written by a man whose restoration of Biddulph Old Hall was covered in BBC2's Restored To Glory, a man who, with his partner, had the money, time and determination (soon to become an obsession) to uncover the truth – a truth that turned out to be as murky and serpentine as in any Victorian novel, with many of the tropes of a Victorian novel (though I won't spoil your pleasure by revealing them here). The main objectives of the two detectives were eventually gained: family secrets were exposed, (some) lost paintings were rediscovered, and Biddulph Old Hall was persuaded to give up its secrets. Nevertheless, some of the now valuable Bateman paintings remain undiscovered (check your attic!) and some of Daly's historic detail remains conjecture. We might argue with the motives he ascribes to the elderly Reverend Wilbraham, for example – did the old man marry to oblige an aristocratic master or had he secrets of his own? Did the scandals around the Grosvenor and Simeon Solomon play a larger part in Bateman's earlier life than is suggested here? These tiny quibbles must not detract from the curiously gripping present-day story of the two men's quest among aristocrats, adventurers and the art-world (not to mention abandonment and architecture) all presented by Wilmington Square Books this year in a superb format. The book is graced with family trees, over 120 pictures (mainly in colour) and is, oh particular joy, sewn rather than merely glued together. A lovely thing. This is not the normal stamping-ground for a crime fiction reader; it is real-life detection, the painstaking, often wearisome teasing out of the truth. But we owe it to ourselves to sometimes return to reality (where truth, as we're so often told, is stranger than fiction). Plunge yourself into this extraordinary story. As Bateman himself carved into stone: Carpe Diem! ‘ - Shots Magazine
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  • Nigel DalyReviewThe Lost Pre Raphaelite