Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Finding Alice Gostick

In this special post, our brilliant Research Volunteer, Katie, tells us about her experience tracing the life of Alice Gostick, an influential local art teacher, who worked at Castleford School from 1911 - 1930.


Finding Alice's past


Born in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Staffordshire in 1875, Miss Alice Gostick was later to move to Castleford and become the art teacher for Henry Moore, one of the most influential sculptors of his time. But what about Alice herself? My task as a Research Volunteer was to investigate Alice and find out more about her life aside from teaching Moore. However, finding information on Miss Gostick was no easy feat.

Initially, I was advised to start my research by browsing the family history website, Find My Past. This website is a phenomenal resource, which includes copies from censuses, birth, marriage and death records, the 1939 Register and more. As I had not used this site before, I needed some time to become familiar with how to navigate the records. However, this did not take long as the site is certainly user-friendly.

From here, I was able to gain an understanding of Alice’s early life. Her parents were Clair (b.1845) and Arthur Gostick (b.1844). She had one older sister named Constance (b.1874) and one younger brother named Frank (b.1878). Before Alice moved to Castleford and began teaching at Castleford School, she worked as an Art Mistress in Staffordshire and lived with her sister.

There were some difficulties with using Find My Past. As the site has all public records, there were some occasions where my search would return multiple people called Alice Gostick, which required some figuring out to ensure I was using the correct record. For example, there were several Alice Gosticks, who may have died at around the same time. Additionally, the site does not have any qualitative data, so I could not find much information about Alice as a person.

As there was not any marriage record for Alice, that led me to believe that she remained unmarried. This idea was furthered when I began to read biographies on Henry Moore that had some information on Alice. In Roger Berthoud’s The Life of Henry Moore (1987), Alice was noted to have lived with a ‘companion’ rather than spouse until her death. Alice is referred to on numerous occasions in this study. Interestingly, she was noted by Berthoud to be,

‘a pleasant looking woman with brown hair, full of enthusiasm yet gentle and generous.’

I was surprised to learn that Alice invited her students to her home and remained friends with Henry Moore until her death, decades after she had taught him at school.
 
Alice Gostick's pottery class, December 1919.
Alice seated far left. Henry Moore sitting on floor, far left.
© The Henry Moore Foundation.


Making the news


Whilst in Castleford, Alice taught school pupils and students at evening classes how to decorate pottery by hand in a style known as Peasant Pottery. Alice became synonymous with her pottery painting classes. I was pleasantly surprised to find them mentioned in local newspapers. These newspaper articles also offered some information on what Alice was doing where and when. Before she moved to Castleford, she was also part of evening art classes run by the art school she worked at in Staffordshire. The Staffordshire Sentinel (7th September 1908) published an article naming her as one of the art teachers assisting with the classes, which were a roaring success. 

I also found out that by 1921, at age 46, Alice was living with her mother, Clair, in Glasshoughton, near Castleford. Then there was a small but fantastic article from the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer in 1930, marking Gostick’s retirement from teaching after she had worked for Castleford School for 19 years. Alice’s work was celebrated in this local newspaper, which revealed that 170 art centres across the country had taken on the idea of individually decorating pottery by hand, which she is said to have ‘initiated.’

Hand-painted dish, Clokie & Co Ltd, Castleford. Believed to have been decorated by Alice's student, Henry Moore.


Overall, it has been an exciting opportunity to research Alice, who was relatively unknown apart from her teaching of Henry Moore. Although the research generated some challenges, including the limited qualitative documentation on her life, with most information being in relation to Moore, it is thrilling when you do come across something interesting or surprising about her. She led an interesting life, fulfilling her passion for art and pottery in Castleford, where she was a favourite of many of her students.

By Katie Simpson

 

Thanks to generous donations from our amazing supporters and visitors, Wakefield Museums & Castles have been able to purchase examples of Castleford Peasant Pottery, hand decorated by Alice Gostick and her students. 


Sugar bowl and side plate, hand-painted by Alice Gostick, c. 1919

Tea set, hand-painted by Alice Gostick, c. 1918

Vase, hand-painted by Gostick's student, Albert Wainwright


Donations help us develop and care for our collections, including purchasing objects that tell the inspirational, unique stories of  the Wakefield district. Donate here to support our work. 

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