Selim Rothwell, Artist

Selim Rothwell

Photo of Selim Rothwell from Scraps from an Artist’s Sketch Book

I have a print of a painting of Churchgate in Bolton circa 1840.  I love looking at this picture because it looks so different to the Churchgate of today.  It is full of people; some strolling along, others selling from the numerous stalls lining the road.  St Peter’s is in the background, looking more like the medieval church it was before the Victorians ‘improved’ it. This painting is by Selim Rothwell who was born in Bolton in 1815

This branch of Rothwells appears to have had at least three artists in the family but it is perhaps Selim Rothwell who has become the most well-known.  Selim’s father, Edward Rothwell, married Alice Monks on 22 November 1812 at St Peter’s Bolton by licence.  Edward was a Painter.  Both were ‘of this parish’ (OTP) and all signed their names.


Marriage entry of Edward Rothwell and Alice Monks at St Peter’s, Bolton

Their son, Selim, was baptised on 15 October 1815 at St Peter’s Church, Bolton.  Selim’s father was listed as a painter in the register but Selim, in a letter to the Bolton News, refers to him as a sign-writer.  In this letter, he writes of his early days growing up around Chancery Land and Fold Street in Bolton.

Sir…and first, in reference to the Timbered Building, a relic of Old Bolton.  As to the drawing by Mr George Bury, which I had the pleasure of presenting to the Bolton Public Library, together with an equally interesting drawing of Churchgate, with the Old Church and Vicarage in the distance, also by this excellent native artist, I can confirm the statement by Mr Holden that the drawing had not originally the name of the street at the gable end of its building, and it was not written by my old friend Mr Bury.  I suspect it was added by my father, the drawing having been presented to him by the artist, and he being a sign-writer must needs put one up at the corner of the street in which he lived, so that the account of date and change of the name of the street by Mr Holden is no doubt correct.  I think this drawing would be taken about the year 1822.  I was a pupil of Mr Bury’s at the same time with Mr Holden, and I have now before me the first pencil drawing I was allowed to make upon cardboard bearing this date, my father having written my name upon the back, adding – aged 7 years.

I cannot recollect any occupier of the old house earlier than a well-known vendor of fish and vegetables, commonly called Fish Jim whose name was Darbyshire, a lean character, with an extravagantly proportioned wife and a bouncing daughter, lived here for many years, whilst just a strip of a shop at the end of Fold Street was occupied by West, the watch and clock maker.  The opposite building now occupied by Mr Bromley, and built by Hilton Lever, was at that time the warehouse of Messrs Ormrod, Tayor and Swan, and quite an important looking place of business, with an entrance lobby, and the door at the end having a very highly polished brass plate, with the name of the firm, – altogether a respectable bank appearance.

There are some of the old townsmen remaining who will remember each of these partners in business, long since removed to their rest.  With respect to the other buildings in this street, I can see them all as they were.  Smith’s carrier’s warehouse, with its busy lading and unlading wagons, which at night was very effective and picturesque, being lit up with large oil lamps, high up in the roof, whilst open galleries for the storage of goods went round the building.  The next house past Chantler’s Court now converted into a shop was a school, where many of the youth of the period were instructed, and where I learned my letters.  This was kept by a namesake but no relative.  The ground above and in front of Bowker’s Row was all unoccupied, and the land adjoining these houses was used as a stone yard, a long signboard bearing the name of King, stonemason.  This land was shortly afterwards taken by the father of Sir Thomas Bazley, and the present warehouse built; it was considered a large building at the time, and certainly was a great improvement on the one occupied by the firm in the narrowest part of Mealhouse lane, leading into Deansgate.  At the other end of Bowker’s row, on the land now occupied by Mr Hall, warehouse and the chapel, stood a large old barn and stabling.

I may mention with respect to the christening of another street in close neighbourhood, the house in which I was born was at the corner of Hotel street, opposite the old Queen Anne public house.  This was at one time the Assembly Room, and here still the sessions rooms existed, where the chief magisterial business of the town was transacted…

Pray excuse my troubling you with this communication, which is prompted by my love for the old town,

I am, yours obediently,

Selim Rothwell.

This is a fascinating insight into Selim’s early life and was published in the Bolton Chronicle which ran a series of ‘Gleanings’.  I love the description of Fish Jim and his family and wonder what happened to them.  The part I have emboldened was quite a discovery for me as this is a reference to Robert Rothwell, one of my ancestors.  Robert was a schoolmaster for most of his life but unfortunately, no records survive of his activities so this little snippet is a real insight into who, what and where he taught.  You can find some old photos of Fold Street and the area Selim describes here:

Selim married Mary Ashton at St John’s Church, Manchester in 1837.  They would go on to have 8 children but only 2 would survive and reach adulthood.  Even though Selim moved to Salford he would remain loyal to St Peter’s all of his life with all his children being christened there.  Most of his children were also buried there.

Part of the memorial inscription reads:


Here lieth the bodies of Alfred Monk, son

Of Selim and Mary Rothwell, departed this

Life XIX January MDCCCXLIX, aged IV years.

Margaret their daughter, departed this life

VIIth February MDCCCXLIX, aged XVII months.

Edward Ashton their son, departed this

Life XXIst August MDCCLII, age XI years.

Mary Mable their daughter, departed this

Life VII February MDCCCLII aged 11 years

X months.

Selim Herbert their son, departed this life

XVI April MDCCCLII, aged VIII months.

Ernest Arthur their son, departed this

Life 1st of March MDCCCLIV, aged

XV months.

Mary the wife of Selim Rothwell, departed

This life March XXth MDCCCLV, aged XL years.

In the 1871 census Selim is living in Pendleton and in the household are two female servants, one of which is Sarah Priestly aged 68.  I think this is the same woman who lived with Selim’s parents as a servant for many years and after their deaths sometime before the 1871 census, Sarah went to live and work for Selim.  She was already elderly at this time and working for Selim would have saved her from probably having to go in the workhouse.  Sarah is still with the family in 1881, aged 78.

Selim married secondly Jane Stark in 1872 and they had one daughter – Mary in 1873.  Selim died on 10 August 1881 at Chorley New Road.  A report appeared in the Bolton Chronicle.  It is a long piece, perhaps reflecting the esteem in which he was held at the time.

Awfully Sudden Death of Mr Selim Rothwell

Our readers will learn with feelings of deep regret of the death, which was awful in its suddenness, of our esteemed townsman, Mr Selim Rothwell, artist, of India Buildings, Manchester and residing at Beech View, 122 Pendleton…

On Wednesday morning he left his residence for Bolton with his son T (Thomas) Rothwell who conducts a drawing and painting class at Mr T Bromleys Fine Art Gallery, Bradshawgate.  Selim had organised a fine art exhibition at the Infirmary Buildings.   During the day he had overseen the hanging of the pictures and other work connected with the exhibition.  He seemed to be in excellent health and accepted an invitation to tea at Mr Peter Kevan’s house, Honorary Secretary of the Infirmary; then went to Mr John Musgrave’s and afterwards left with Mr Musgrave and other friends for the West End Bowling Green.  After watching a few games, he ran for the tram to the station just after 8pm.  He was taken ill on the tram which stopped and the guard sent for a doctor but it was too late and Selim Rothwell died.

The sad event cast quite a gloom over the town (as soon as it became generally known) the deceased being greatly respected, whilst his indefatigable labours for months past and journeys up and down the country in quest of loans of fine art for the new Infirmary exhibition are as widely appreciated as they are well known.

He was the son of the late Edward Rothwell who was in partnership with Mr Cooper, father of T Cooper, flax merchant, carrying on business as painters in Fold Street…on the death of Mr Cooper, Mr Rothwell moved to Bradshawgate on the site now occupied by the Post Office, where the son kept a shop for the sale of drawing materials etc.  at this time the deceased gentleman gave drawing lessons and conducted evening classes at the Mechanics Institute, which were well attended.  During his residence in Bolton he sketched many buildings of interest to Boltonians, including Hall i’th’ Wood and subsequently the interior of the old parish church.  In 1842 he published a bird’s eye view of the town from the summit of Blinkhorn’s chimney then just completed.  He was the designer of the monument in the parish churchyard erected by the workpeople in the memory of Mr Benjamin Hick and took an active interest generally in artistic matters.  Passionately fond of sketching, especially architectural subjects, he paid many visits to the Continent and made admirable sketches in Rome, Florence, Venice, Verona, Munich, the Rhine Cologne, Rotterdam etc.  many of these are well known, the finished paintings adorning the mansions of numerous admirers.  The exhibitions of his paintings and original sketches of Continental buildings and scenes, held at Mr Bromley’s Fine Art Gallery have always been interesting to lovers of the beautiful in art.  Mr Rothwell was also successful in etching and had a work in that body of art at the present exhibition of the Royal Academy, entitled ‘Bronze Fountain, Brunswick’.  Mr Rothwell could also in addition to being a successful artist, lay claim to authorship, ‘Scraps from and Artist’s Sketchbook’, with illustrations from the author’s sketches embellishing the volume.

He was twice married.  By his first wife he leaves a son and daughter and by his second, who survives him and resides at Torquay, a daughter.

Further in the newspaper article it describes how he attended the Free Grammar School, was a pupil of Mr Bury, drawing master of Halliwell Lane, Cheetham Hill and among the first original members of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts.

Scraps from an Artist’s Sketch Book by Selim Rothwell was published in 1877 and is an account of his travels in Italy. In it he mentions various artists of the day and a visit to Signor Zocchi, the Professor of Sculpture at the Academy of the Fine Arts in Florence:

The professor spoke to us in the highest terms of the industry and talents of a young Englishman, Mr Robert Stark, of Torquay, at present studying in the academy, an d whose work is so original that it gives promise of future great success, and is the admiration of the other professors and students in the academy.

This Robert Stark turns out to be Jane’s nephew.  After Selim’s death, Jane (or Jennie) spent the rest of her life down on the south coast and died in 1911.  I am unsure of what happened to Mary after her mother’s death but came across a marriage entry for a Mary O Rothwell and Thomas Garner in 1917.  If this is her, she would have been aged about 43 when she married.


Lithograph of a painting of Hall i’th’ Wood, Bolton,  by Selim Rothwell

This entry was posted in Bolton, photographs, Research, Rothwell, signatures and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Selim Rothwell, Artist

  1. Brian Lindley says:

    I have an old picture of the Hall-Ith Wood, I do not know whether it is a print or whether it is an original, it says drawn by Selim Rothwell?


  2. It’s hard to say whether it is an original or not without seeing it. You could always get a second opinion – perhaps from Bolton Art Gallery? Or an art dealer?


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