Thomas Brock, one of Worcester’s most successful artists, was born in the City on the 1st March 1847. He was the son of a local painter and decorator, William Brock, and together with his mother Catherine and elder sister Mary, lived at premises in St Paul’s Street and later Sidbury Place.
At an early age he began to show an interest in drawing and painting and when he was 10 years old he became a pupil of the School of Design in Pierpoint Street. This institution produced many fine artists such as Benjamin Williams Leader and Edward Davis, along with local sculptors T Brown (who at the time was considered Brock’s superior) and porcelain modeller James Hadley. He worked very hard at school often staying on extra hours and for his reward he won six medals, a book prize and a box of colours.
After leaving the school of design he signed up as an apprentice modeller for Kerr & Binns porcelain works where he completed his indenture. His grandfather Joseph Brock was also a porcelain worker employed at Graingers Factory, and many people thought that this is where Sir Thomas took his artistic talents from.
At the age of 19 he went to London to work in the studio of John Henry Foley, and 1867 entered the Royal Academy Schools and a year later first exhibited at the Royal Academy, where in 1869 he won the Gold medal for his group – Herculus strangling Antaeus. Foley died in 1874 and it was left for Brock to complete several unfinished commissions which included two statues that now stand in Dublin – Daniel O’Connell and Lord Gough, as well as Lord Canning in Calcutta.
In 1876 Brock and his wife Sarah, whom he had married in 1869, moved into Foleys’ empty studio in number 30, Osnaburgh Street, London, and it was from here that he executed most of his famous pieces including The Black Prince, Captain Cook and The Titanic Memorial. For a time Lord Leighton, another famous sculptor, shared the studio as they had become great friends. Many of the top aristocracy of the time visited Sir Thomas at his studios, these included Queen Victoria herself and in later years King Edward VII and George V and his wife were also known to have called in.
Brock was a leading sculptor of this era and was one of the founder members of gifted artists that set up the British School of Sculpture. He became famous for his busts, of which over 50 were made, several of which are now in the Worcester City collection including this one of Sir Douglas Galton, a prominent engineer from Worcestershire, Sir Charles Hastings and Earl Dudley. Other sitters included Foley, Leighton, Rowland Hill and Queen Victoria. He also created many statues in cities both here and abroad including Sir S.S. Bengallee in Bombay, Gladstone in Liverpool, Bishop Hervey in Wells Cathedral and throughout London Gainsborough, Sir Richard Owen and many others. He was also well represented locally with Richard Baxter and Rowland Hill in Kidderminster along with Bishop Philpott and Queen Victoria in the City of Worcester. He was commissioned to do many memorials and tombs and his crowning glory was The Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace which led to his Knighthood in 1911.
As well as traditional sculpture, Brock will also be remembered for his sculpted designs of medals and coins including the highly acclaimed coinage of 1893. The Jubilee of 1887 was proving very unpopular with society including the Queen herself and in 1891 an advisory committee was set up to discuss the design of a new coinage. Artists from the Royal Academy were asked to submit their designs and the result was that Brock was awarded the task of sculpting the heads and tails of the new regal coinage. These would be eventually minted in 1893 and were known as Old Head coins, many saying this was the best portrait of Queen Victoria to appear on British coinage. His initials T.B can be found beneath the Queens shoulders.
After leaving his native Worcester, Sir Thomas seldom returned, but he did visit in 1913 when he addressed the students at the Art School at the Victoria Institute. He was given the Freedom of the City in a packed Guildhall in the same year.
In 1905 Brock moved to Merrieweathers, a property in Mayfield, East Sussex where he continued his work until his death in 1922. He left a wife and nine children and is buried in the Parish Church of Mayfield where his grave can be seen inscribed SINC MOMENTO ARTES QUAS PROFULIT.
Research by Garston Phillips