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Biographies of Samuel Henley and his son, the painter William Bidwell Henley



Samuel Henley

William Bidwell Henley

Examples of paintings by WB Henley

Joanna Elizabeth Henley

Maria Lucy Henley


While researching the story of the Victorian Malvern based painter James Charles Oldmeadow, we came across the name of Samuel Henley in Slater's Worcestershire Directory of 1862.

Listed under the heading 'Artists' for the district of Great Malvern and neighbourhood were:

Downe and Co (photographic), St Ann's Well

Evan's Wm (photographic), Worcester Road

Henley Samuel (landscape), West Malvern

Oldmeadow Jas Charles (landscape), Church Street

Tipping William (photographic), North Malvern

It was interesting to find that photographic studios were established in Malvern as early as 1862.

On another page you will now find a fuller list of artists and photographers associated with Malvern.

Many people paint and are quite good at it, and there are many amateur painters in Malvern today; though some are able to sell their pictures, few achieve prominence or fame. The painter Edward Webb (1805 - 1854), who is buried in the churchyard of Great Malvern Priory, is listed in the Dictionary of Victorian Painters, as is James Charles Oldmeadow, who is buried in Great Malvern cemetery. However, Samuel, who is mentioned in Slater's Directory with James, does not have an entry in the Dictionary.

Samuel Henley was a Birmingham based accountant who seems to have retired and taken up painting late in life, after his first wife died. His eldest son WB Henley also became a painter, as did two of Samuel's grandchildren.

Nothing seems to have been published about Samuel Henley and his son, the painter WB Henley. Their lives are somewhat of a mystery, but here is a short story about the family that we have pieced together. It may not be correct in all respects, but at least it will give others some clues to explore further.

We have also appended the story of two of Samuel's daughters Joanna and Maria, who moved in musical circles, and the people connected with them.

Samuel Henley

Early life

Samuel, born Newton, Devon, was possibly the son of merchant William Henley of Newton-Bushel, Devon, who was cited for bankruptcy in the London Gazette of 10th March 1795. There was a son Samuel born to a William and Joanna Henley at Newton in 1794.

Robson's London and Birmingham Directory of 1839 listed Samuel as an accountant of 67 New Street, Birmingham. The electoral roll of 1838 had listed him as having a house and offices in New Street.

In the 1841 census, we find that accountant Samuel Henley is living at Aston with his wife Frances, and children Mary, Joanna, Maria and Samuel. Their eldest son William Bidwell Henley was living at a different address; he married soon after and is mentioned below.

We think Samuel's first wife was Frances T Coward who married a Samuel Henley at St Leonards, Exeter on 22nd August 1818. Sadly Frances died, a young woman, in 1848.

Second marriage

So far we have not found Samuel in the 1851 census, but we discovered Samuel's second marriage to Louisa Griffin at the church of St Peter and St Paul, Aston, Birmingham, on 7th August 1852.

Samuel Henley is described as a widower and accountant, aged 49, of Stourbridge, son of merchant William Henley. She is Louisa Griffin, spinster, of Aston Manor, aged 38, daughter of merchant Joseph Griffin. Aston Manor probably refers to the area where she lived, and not a mansion.

Cassey's Directory of 1858 lists Samuel as a drawing master of New Street Ledbury, so we assume that soon after his marriage he retired from business and augmented his income by teaching drawing.

The 1861 census records Samuel and his second wife Louisa living in West Malvern at Blackheath Cottage. The census records him as a Professor (or teacher) of drawing, born Newton, Devon about 1806, and his much younger second wife Louisa born Walsall, Staffordshire about 1822. None of Samuel's children by his first wife, now adults, are staying with them.

Artists are often poor, so Samuel may have had a private income which he attempted to supplement by teaching drawing and possibly selling sketches to local families and  visitors.

Samuel's death in 1868 was recorded in the Ledbury Registration District, and he may well be the Samuel Henley buried at Mathon on 21st November 1868.

Spouse Louisa (second wife)

In 1871 Samuel's widow Louisa was living at Northend, Leigh (to the north of Malvern Link) in Worcestershire next to the Congregational Chapel, with her sister Catharine Cooper and two nieces Emily Painter and Helen Walters. Louisa is described as a Teacher of Drawing, a skill she may have learnt from her husband.

By 1881 Louisa had moved and was living at Poolbrook near Barnards Green in Malvern where she is described as an Artist, Landscape Painting. With her was her unmarried and unemployed brother Joseph Henry Griffin.

In 1891 Louisa was living at Peach Terrace, Poolbrook, and described as an Artist in Painting. With her was her widowed sister Maria Rowlandson who died at Weston Cottage, New Road, Poolbrook in 1892.

In 1851 Louisa had been living with her widowed mother Ann at Park Crescent, Aston.

William Bidwell Henley

The 1881 census listed another landscape painter William B Henley residing at Lansdowne Cottage, Link Common, Malvern with his (second) wife Mary. He was born Exton Somerset about 1823, and Mary was born St John's Worcester about 1839.

We are pretty sure William was the eldest son of Samuel and Frances mentioned above and is very likely the 'WB Henley' who has this small entry in the Dictionary of Victorian Painters:

Flourished 1854 - 1856

Exhibited three landscapes: at Yardley, Worcestershire; at King's Norton; and on a river near Birmingham, at the British Institution 1854-6. Address in Birmingham.

We wondered if William, while staying in Malvern at Lansdowne Cottage in 1881, visited his step mother at Poolbrook.

William's early life

In 1841 William, single, had been a Japanner of 83 Colmore Row, Birmingham. His work probably involved embellishing boxes and furniture with painted decoration over, typically, black lacquer.

Soon after on 5th July 1841, at the church of St Peter's, Harbourne, William Bidwell Henley, aged only 18, married Sarah Greatley. He is again described as a Japanner, son of accountant Samuel Henley. She is the daughter of James Greatley (deceased) steel tie manufacturer. We think James Greatley was in fact a blacksmith.

By 1851 William, described as a 'Japan Manufacturer' was living in Gower Street, Aston, with his wife Sarah and children Frederick (Albert), Herbert (William), and Agnes (Cecelia).

Later life

1855 Trade Directories start listing William Henley as an Artist of Balsall Heath, and perhaps it was William who encouraged his father Samuel to take up a new career teaching drawing at about the same time.

The 1861 census points to some changes in William's household. He has now moved away from Birmingham and is living at Dennison Place, Rusholme, in Manchester with  a new 'wife' Mary H, and children Herbert (William), Agnes (Cecelia), Amelia (Susanna), Sidney (John) and Edith (Mary); his occupation has reverted to a Japan manufacturer. No evidence has yet been found whether or not first wife Sarah is still alive at this time.

By 1871, after his father's death, William was back living in the Birmingham area at Kings Norton, again with wife Mary H. There are now four children in the household, Sidney John, Amelia, Edith, and Ernest. William's occupation is difficult to read, but it looks like 'General Dealer'.

In 1875 William Bidwell Henley married Mary Harriet Williams the daughter of Alfred Williams a Professor of Languages, at the church of St Peter and St Paul, Aston. William is described as a widower and painter, the son of accountant Samuel Henley. Since William and Mary had seemingly already been living together for at least 14 years, one wonders why they left it so late to get married. One possibility is that William deserted his first wife Sarah in order to live with Mary, and they were only free to marry after Sarah's death.

As mentioned above, William and Mary were living at Lansdowne Cottage, Link Common, Malvern, in 1881, and perhaps like his father twenty years earlier, he had come to paint rural scenes of the Worcestershire countryside.

William Bidwell Henley died at Newton Abbot, Devon, the place of his father's birth, in 1887. He must have produced a significant number of landscape paintings as some are still in circulation, bearing the signature 'WB Henley' (see below).

William's widow Mary Harriet Henley was still in Newton Abbot in 1891, living with a niece; she died at Uxbridge near London in 1905.

William's children

The census points to painter William Bidwell Henley having six children by Sarah and Mary.

  • Frederick Albert (1844 - unknown)

  • Herbert William (1848 - 1907)

  • Agnes Cecelia (1850 - unknown)

  • Amelia Susanna (1853 - unknown)

  • Sidney John (1856 - 1922)

  • Edith Mary (1860 - unknown)

  • Alfred Ernest (1862 - 1917)

Frederick only appears in the census aged 7 years.

Herbert William became a Birmingham based landscape painter like his father. He married twice but had no children.

Agnes Cecelia married Thomas Frederick Greenfield, a glass cutter. They later lived in Scotland.

Sidney John Henley, aged 15 years was recorded as a telegraph clerk in the 1871 census. His trail after that is obscure, but a Major Sidney St John Henley of the right age arrived at Southampton from South Africa on the Union Castle steamship Gaika in 1911. In 1922 that Sidney died in South Africa when his occupation was recorded as an attorney at law - he had married Annie Jeanette Barter.

Edith Mary married Thomas Campain Cook in 1884. In 1901 they are living in Malvern Link. He is a piano tuner and she is a florist.

William's youngest son named Ernest in the census could be the man later recorded as Alfred Ernest Henley born Rusholme, Manchester in 1862. He was also a landscape painter and married Elizabeth Coburn Capleton, the daughter of a Southampton grocer, in 1888. The couple lived in Southampton where they both died in February 1917.

Examples of paintings by WB Henley

We have found the following references to paintings by WB Henley. Many are of rural scenes by a river; his paintings, like many of the Victorian era, typically now sell for a few hundred pounds.

  • The Malvern Hills, derelict cottage in the foreground.

  • A Winter Landscape with figures by a cottage, said to be near Tamworth signed 'W.B. Henley ' (lower left) oil on canvas 16 x 24 in

  • A Summer River Landscape with an Angler in the Foreground, signed, oil on paper, 38 x 63 cm. The artist was Birmingham based and travelled to North Wales frequently for his subject matter.

  • Bridge at Betws-y-Coed

  • An extensive upland landscape, figures by  a stream

  • Angling at the bend in a river

  • Wooded river landscape with anglers

  • River landscape

  • Village messenger

  • Landscape with two cows and a milkmaid by a waterfall

  • Figures before trees in an extensive landscape

  • Figure before a watermill

  • Figures by a mill in a wooded landscape

  • Country landscape with mill, figure on a path, and cottage in the distance, signed lower right.

  • Devonshire mill

  • Couple on a riverside path

  • A tranquil stretch of the river

  • Mountain landscape

  • Figure on a path before a mountain landscape

Joanna Elizabeth Henley

We know little of what became of Samuel Henley's daughter Mary Anne and his youngest son Samuel Charles, but his daughters Joanna Elizabeth and Maria Lucy seem to have led interesting lives.

Joanna baptised at St Mary Newington on 24th August 1825, married in Devon on 25th January 1845, (Frederick) Albert Seume who was born Prussia about 1810.

Albert was a musician who in later life became bandmaster of the 9th Lancers based at Aldershot. However it would seem the couple travelled widely as their son Albert Samuel Seume (1846 - 1915) was born in New Orleans, USA, while his brother Frederick William Seume was born 1854, Dublin, Ireland.

In 1851 Joanna and her musician husband were living in Yorkshire with their son Albert aged 4 and Joanna's sister Maria, described as a singer.

In 1861 the couple are living at the Lord Campbell public house in Aldershot with their sons Albert and Frederick.

In 1871 Albert (senior) described as a music master is living with his youngest son Frederick in Aldershot. He is described as married, but Joanna is not at home.

In 1881 Albert (senior) aged 70 years is living with his eldest married son Albert in Fulham. He is described as a widower and late bandmaster.

Possibly Joanna died abroad about 1876 as we have not found her in the index of deaths. Neither have we found her husband in the index of deaths and one source suggests Albert (senior) himself might have died in Frankfurt.

Albert Samuel Seume

The couple's eldest son Albert Samuel Seume married Emma Spedding at Chelsea in 1867.

In 1881 they are living at May Cottage in Fulham, and he is a teacher of music; in 1891 he is a musician of Ash Vale near Aldershot. The 1911 census records them at The Woodlands, Wood Green, Ash Vale, Surrey, which has 6 main rooms. He is a musician, and they have been married 43 years and had 8 children of whom 7 are living.

Albert died in 1915 and his obituary published in the Surrey and Hants News of Friday 13th August 1915 gives a colourful account of his life. It appears he was a popular musician entertaining troops and their families at Aldershot Camp.

In 1914, Albert must have been very sad to find Great Britain at war with the country of his father's birth.

More sadly on 20th November 1916 his eldest son Herbert Thomas Seume, Private 532229, Canadian Army Medical Corps, 12th Field Ambulance was killed in France aged 47 years. He had joined the Queen's West Surrey Regiment in 1890 and served in India and South Africa. Discharged in 1902 he had worked in Canada where he re-enlisted in 1916.

Herbert's brother, Sidney Archibald Seume, Private 133339, 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Driscoll's Scouts), also died in the Great War in Tanganyika (German East Africa) now  known as Tanzania on 3rd August 1917. He is buried in the Dar Es Salaam war cemetery.

Frederick William Seume or Simer

Joanna's son Frederick (1854 - 1940) also became a musician like his father and eldest brother. In 1881 he is described as a Professor of Music lodging at Montpellier Terrace in London.

About 1885 he seems to have taken married Sarah Ann Jones Dring, maiden surname Miller, as his 'wife'. She appears to have left her husband Charles Henry Dring, whom she married in 1877 at Denbigh in Wales, and their son Charles Henry S Dring, born 1878, who became a newspaper reporter.

Frederick and Sarah had three children, two of whom lived to adulthood. They married at West Ham in Essex, in 1898 following the death of her first husband.

In 1891 they were living in Lancashire where he was described as a musical director. In 1900 Frederick, now using the name Frederic William Simer, joined the Royal Navy as a Chief Bandmaster at the shore establishment known as HMS Pembroke at Chatham barracks. He had to leave on grounds of age in 1907, and the 1911 census and later trade directories record him as a newsagent and tobacconist.

His son William Albert Simer born Rochdale 1894 died in North Wales in 1981.

Maria Lucy Henley

In 1851 Samuel Henley's daughter Maria Lucy Henley (1828 - 1902) was staying with her married sister Joanna in Yorkshire, following their mother's death. She is described as a vocalist.

In 1863 at St Andrew's, Marylebone, Maria married James Clark. Both gave their age as 30 years and occupation Professor of Music. She is actually a little older. One of the witnesses was Mary Henley, probably her sister. The other was Harriet Angelina Hicks sister of the groom, who late in life married William Browne, an artist, in 1866.

Census returns suggest that Maria and James had  at least four children:

  • Amy Lucy Nora Hicks (1859 - 1903)
  • Cecil James Henley Hicks (1861 - 1928)
  • Lina Mary Dolores Hicks (1867 - 1919)
  • Alfred Samuel Edwin Hicks (1868 - 1917)

Maria and James were probably already living together as the 1861 census records they had two children, Amy and Cecil. Staying with them was her sister Mary Anne Henley, described as a vocalist.

In 1871 the family was living in London and James is described as a musical professor. She is older than her husband and underestimates her age by ten years.

In 1881 the family is living in Bury, Lancashire. James is described as a fiddler, Maria a vocalist (musician), Cecil a flautist, Lina an actress and Alfred, aged only 12 years, a musician.

In 1891 Maria, described as a professional pianist, is lodging in Yorkshire.

In 1901 Maria, now a widow and described as a vocalist retired (music) is in Droitwich with her daughter Lina, an actress, not many miles from her married eldest daughter Amy in Worcester (see below). Possibly she had come to visit her sister Mary Anne, a spinster who died at Droitwich on 8th July 1901.

Soon after this Maria herself died in 1902 in Putney, not far from her youngest son Alfred.

We don't know exactly when Maria's husband James died, but think he was the son of Cecil Hicks (1790 - 1866) who in the 1851 census was described as a commercial traveller.

Here is a little more about Maria and James's children who seem to have also moved in theatrical circles.

Amy Lucy Nora Hicks (1859 - 1903)

Maria's daughter Amy married widower William Gomersal  at Gloucester in 1879. He is described as a comedian, son of William Alexander Gomersal, also a comedian. The witnesses were her uncle William Bidwell Henley (the painter, mentioned above) and Louisa Laura Stephenson.

William Gomersal was a much older man, born about 1830, who had been living with Alexandrina Gomersal in 1861 and Maria Gomersal in 1871, and had a daughter Louisa Blanche Gomersal born about 1865 in Boston, USA.

The 1881 census records the family living in Worcester where he became manager of the theatre in Angel Place. William is now described as a comedian and lessee of theatre; Amy and Louisa are described as comedians. At Christmas in 1882 they were members of the cast of a production of 'Puss in Boots'.

In 1891 the couple were still living in Worcester, at 20 The Tything, and William was a theatrical manager. With them was grandson William Ambrose Billham aged 2 born Worcester, the son of William's daughter Louisa Blanche and William James Billham.

William Gomersal died at Worcester in 1902 and Amy in 1903. Their story can be found on the website theatricalia.com

Grandson William Ambrose Billham appears to have changed his name to Willie Manning by the 1911 census when he is living in London and described as in the 'theatrical profession'. He had a sister Dorothy Mary L Manning, previously Billham. We had wondered if the grandchildren were abandoned by their parents at an early age, as they do not appear with them in the census, but we have been told the family stayed together (ref 7).

Changes in name and different locations are common amongst theatrical people, often making it difficult for historians to trace families.

Cecil James Henley Hicks (1861 - 1928)

Maria's son Cecil is recorded as a flautist and teacher of music in the census. In 1887, at Newcastle upon Tyne, he married Elizabeth Allen Harper also a teacher of music. Their children, as recorded in the 1911 census were, Cecil William a clerk, out of work, George Alfred a chauffeur, Amy Lucy, and Harry Harper a mechanic. Youngest daughter Ruth Allan Hicks died aged 5 years in 1902.

Lina Mary Dolores Hicks (1867 - 1919)

Maria's daughter Lina did not marry. In 1911 she is recorded in the census as an actress living in London and had earlier been described as a vocal artist. Lina died 22nd April 1919 at Charing Cross hospital.

Alfred Samuel Edwin Hicks (1868 - 1917)

In 1901 youngest son Alfred, described as a musician, is living in London with a wife Edith and a daughter. In 1898 he had married at the Strand, London, Edith Annie Budd Musgrove (1872 - 1908). They had two children Edith Lucy Budd Hicks and James Alfred Budd Hicks. Following Edith's early death Alfred married second Ada Frances Taylor in 1910 by whom he had a daughter Frances. Alfred died at East Sheen in 1917 aged only 49 years.


Yet again we travel along many paths once we begin to research members of a family. It seems Samuel Henley (1794 - 1868) was not a professional artist but an accountant who took up painting and drawing in later life. In contrast his eldest son, Birmingham based William Bidwell Henley, spent his life as an artist painting both lacquer work for furniture and landscape pictures. Both men visited Malvern to paint.

Samuel's daughters went down a different path and became involved with musicians and the theatre, as did their children. The husband of one grand daughter, William Gomersal, ran the theatre in Worcester from 1880  to his death in 1902.

Two of Samuel's grandsons became landscape painters and, with the introduction of the first motor cars, another became a chauffeur and his brother a mechanic.

The Great War took its toll of Samuel's family and two of his grandsons were killed, one in France and the other in German East Africa. However we imagine from such a large family there may well be descendants of Samuel Henley living today and to them we apologise if any of our deductions are wrong - please do get in touch if you can correct or add to this story.


  1. Census of England and Wales
  2. Census of Scotland
  3. Index of Births Marriages and Deaths
  4. National Probate Calendar
  5. Wikipedia
  6. Dictionary of Victorian Painters
  7. Communication from L Van Kleek, October 2015.

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