The two railway artists
Two artists feature most prominently in the early history of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR). Thomas Talbot Bury was an architecture student who recorded the early days of the L&MR and then went onto a well-documented career as an architect.
By comparison what we know of Isaac Shaw is far more tentative and based largely on the (unverified) record of his financial misfortunes following his time in Liverpool and Manchester. As ever, it is difficult to assign a relatively common name to a particular person so there is significant guesswork in what follows and the distinct possibility that two (or more) individuals, possibly relatives, have been conflated into one. Potentially fake news, in fact.
Early days in London
Shaw may have been born in London in 1811. According to the Gazette, he became apprenticed in Soho Square to engraver William Bernard Cooke who most notably worked with WM Turner on scenes of the south coast. Cooke generally did good work but much of it was unsuccessful commercially. His association with Cooke at an end, Shaw went to live in Camberwell but, out of work, he moved to burgeoning Liverpool.
Liverpool and Manchester
In Liverpool Shaw lived variously in Clarence Street, (Old) Post Office Place and Bold Street (rather than Fold Street as shown), working as an engraver and artist.
If this coincides with the period of his railway art he would have been a very young 19 in 1830, two years younger than Bury. Shaw's railway art was published in part by Rudolph Ackermann (as with Thomas Talbot Bury) but also subsequently self-published. Not all his projects reached fruition.
The locations listed may have had some strategic value. We know that Shaw self-published his book of railway prints from Post Office Place and simply being close to the Post Office may have been helpful!
However, Post Office Place was also just a few yards from the former site of the Dispensary. This had been demolished and turned into a block of shops with exhibition rooms above used by, among others, the Liverpool Academy for its annual show. Indeed, Shaw exhibited three railway pictures in 1831 plus a view of the new cemetery, presumably St James' cemetery. His address is at the time given as 57 Bold Street so he had already moved on.
Later Bold Street was the location of a number of flourishing photographic concerns so it is possible that it was already a good location for engravers and print dealers, better anyway than being tucked away in Post Office Place. While it is no simple matter to equate the two addresses, number 57 Bold Street was also the location of Richard Formby's Medical School in 1818.
Perhaps more financially secure, he then moves to Manchester where he becomes a stock and share broker. The career change is either not entirely successful or not to his taste as he next becomes a theatrical scene painter (probably a more steady living for an artist) and stage comedian (under the stage name I. Lenox). Thereafter I conjecture that he is periodically known as Isaac Shaw Lenox, Lenox perhaps being his mother's maiden name.
Finally in his sojourn in the north-west he moves back to Liverpool and lives in Mount Pleasant and then Warwick Street, Toxteth, reverting to his calling as an artist.
On his return to London Shaw appears to have fallen on hard times as in 1836 he is declared insolvent. He had again been moving around a lot and working as an art teacher, portrait painter, wax modeller and dealer in fancy stationery. He may have sketched the London & Greenwich Railway which was constructed around this time.
At this stage my limited understanding of the Gazette entry phrase "late of Paradise Row, Chelsea" allows for two alternative explanations, i.e. that he died there in 1836 or that this was his last known address. Subsequent statements may therefore refer to a different person or, indeed, persons.
Photography and later life
Subsequently Shaw may have moved to the west of England. His later artworks appear to have focused on drawings and paintings of country houses and landscapes in the vicinity of Shropshire (Acton Burnell, dated 1842; Ludlow Castle, dated 1840; Stokesay Castle, undated).
Shaw appears to have made a return visit to Lancashire around 1845-7 to undertake a series of prints of country houses. Otterspool House, the home of L&MR chairman John Moss, is among them. Moss is believed to have hosted George Stephenson in the first instance and local legend has it that the engineer built a model of the railway in the grounds.
Some of the images were destined for the 1846 book by Twycross entitled Mansions of England and Wales, County Palatine of Lancaster (3 vols). Examples can be seen on the RIBA website.
A number of poster art sites list a sketch of St John's Church, Newcastle credited to Isaac Shaw and dated 1848. This is presumably the Church of St John the Baptist on Grainger Street.
Thereafter he may have taken up portrait photography in Bristol as Isaac Shaw Lenox with his wife Amelia. Yale University has an ambrotype of a woman attributed to Isaac Shaw Lenox with his calling card as backing. It is dated 1858-63. His wife has an almost identical card.
Matthews's Bristol Directory of 1863 lists two addresses for Shaw Lenox: 2 Bridge Street, just off the High Street (an area badly affected by bomb damage in WW2), and the Colonnade at Hotwells, an extant shopping arcade formerly adjacent to a pump room which closed in 1867 (the spa flourished in the C17). His occupation is described as scenic and photographic artist so it seems likely that the theatre connection was maintained.
The Sheffield Indexers list an Isaac Lenox as a photographer at 9 Church Street (source: White's 1864 Sheffield Directory).
Later they may have moved to Brighton. An Isaac Shaw Lennox (NB spelling) is listed as occupying a long-established Brighton studio at 40A North Street in 1871-72. In the last conjectural record of him he is aged 72 and living on his own in lodgings in Brighton.
More questions than answers
Shaw made a significant contribution to our understanding of the L&MR and his early railway art is arguably his most important if not necessarily his best work. However, even there conclusions at this stage are very limited and more information is needed to get a better picture of Shaw's time in Manchester and Liverpool. The most we can say is that he seems a restless spirit, forever moving, but whether through choice or force of circumstance is impossible to say.
Are Shaw and Lenox one and the same? There is only the tenuous link of the Manchester stage name but maintaining a separate persona for painting and photography may have had strategic value.
This blog is a work-in-progress. Please check back for updates.