Elias Bancroft’s landscapes were often depicted from a close, restricted viewpoint, creating a momentary snapshot down a narrow alleyway or an open door. The present work is a particularly charming example of this approach, with the open gate at the centre of the composition offering a glimpse out of the enclosed courtyard into the open landscape which expands beyond.
This is a painting of the courtyard at Speke Hall, a rare Tudor timber-framed manor house in an unusual setting on the banks of the River Mersey. The current building that can be seen here was constructed in 1530. Built by the devout Catholic Norris family, eager to impress visitors with the grandeur of their home, Speke Hall embodies more than 400 years of turbulent history.
Its secret priest hole reflects Catholic persecution in the Tudor period, whilst much of the Hall’s upkeep was financed first by the Norris family’s, and later by the Watt family’s, longstanding involvement in transatlantic slavery. From building the world’s largest slave trading port to slave-ownership, investment in slave-trading voyages and shipping of slave-produced goods, these aspects of the owners’ histories are embedded in the Hall’s walls. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Speke Hall experienced years of neglect and decay, including a spell when it was used as a cow shed. Finally pulled into the Victorian era of improvement and technology, the Hall was resuscitated with a Gothic revival style.
Elias Mollineaux Bancroft
Elias Mollineaux Bancroft was born in Barton, Cheshire in 1845. Already by the time that he was 24 years of age, the 1871 census describes him as an ‘Artist – Fine art’, which would be the way he would come to make his living throughout his life. He was married twice and had two children.
Elias studied at the Royal College of Art and later taught at the Manchester School of Art. He is most well-known as a landscape painter although his paintings often feature the building and life of the local people. He was elected to the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts in 1872 and was President from 1891 – 1892. He also played a vital role later as Secretary, a position that he held for a record 29 years.
He often exhibited at Manchester City Art Gallery, as well as the Royal Academy, the Royal College of Art and elsewhere. Elias Bancroft and his wife Louisa were both prominent members of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts.
Before the outbreak of the First World War, many artists were increasingly travelling to France, Germany, Italy and Greece to find inspiration from the continent. Until late July 1914, Britain was largely preoccupied with domestic issues. Social, industrial and political unrest and the threat of civil war in Ireland received most of the nation’s attention. However in August 1914 Germany invaded Belgium and all eyes turned to Europe.
Britain issued an ultimatum demanding Germany withdraw its troops, the deadline passed without a reply and Britain declared war. All this happened relatively quickly and Elias and Louisa Bancroft, found themselves trapped in Germany. They were painting, as they had done for several years in Rothenberg, and had not bothered to get passports. The authorities gave them papers for safe passage, stating that they were artists not spies, and they began a hair-raising journey home amidst hundreds of troops, field guns Italian refugees and ordinary Germans returning from their holidays. These people proved friendly and helpful when offices wanted to arrest the Bancrofts. Elias and Louisa eventually arrived back in England, relieved but exhausted.
Elias died on 22nd April 1924 at 10 Acomb Street, Manchester, and left an estate valued £1442 to his wife Louisa. He was buried at the Chorlton -Cum-Hardy Cemetry, plot 322.