Other names: Henry
Born 12 June 1842
Died 5 January 1916
Active: 1861 - 1911
Country of birth and death: England
Sculptor, architectural sculptor, ecclesiastical sculptor
Born in London. He was the son of Henry Hems (born c.1819 in Whitechapel, London), ironmonger and cutler and grandson of George Wostenholm Senior, cutlery manufacturer. Harry began working as a cutler and was then apprenticed as a wood carver. After a visit to Italy in the 1860s, he was commissioned to work on the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (1866-8). Hems moved permanently to Devon and established the Ecclesiastical Art Works, Exeter which was a highly successful ecclesiastical sculpture and church fittings business. He built new workshops in Longbrook Street (1883) which were noted in the local press for being the first public building in Exeter to be adorned with sculpture (a female in contemplative attitude holding a tablet and a pair of callipers). The premises were greatly extended in 1884 with a street frontage of over 300 feet, they included a tramway to connect the various workshops and a telephone.
Hems's Ecclesiastical Art Works won medals at the Centennial International Exhibition, Philadelphia, 1876 and were represented at the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1878 by an oak chest and a sculpture in alabaster entitled 'Safe in the Arms of Jesus'. The firm also won prizes at the Chicago World Fair, 1893 and the Antwerp Exhibition, 1894. Among the commissions carried out by Hems's firm were: the reredos at St Ann's Church, Hessenford, Cornwall (1883); the pulpit, Holy Trinity, Westward Ho! (1885); restoration of 14th century screens at St Andrew's, Aveton Gifford, Devon (1885); the pulpit, alabaster font, oak carved screen, stalls and miserere seat designed by the architect, G.H. Prynne of Newton, for St Peter Port Church, Guernsey (1886); a carved oak scroll for the Guille Allés Library, Guernsey; carvings in the choir stalls at Truro and Lincoln Cathedrals (the latter c.1891); restoration of the high altar screen at St Albans Cathedral under the supervision of Sir Reginald Blomfield, architect, including the addition of figures to blank niches and a cross (a 'Resurrection' in marble by Alfred Gilbert was also added) (1899); restoration of the village cross at Northlew, Devon (1900); memorial tablet and window to R.D. Blackmore, Exeter Cathedral 1901-4; a memorial to H.M.S. 'Doris' (captured during the South African War), Devonport Park, 1903; and works in America and Australia.
Three of his children joined the firm before 1900 (Greville Chester (born c.1870), Harry Turner (born c.1874) and Wilfred Westenholm Preswell (born c.1886)) when it became known as Harry Hems and Sons. Harry served as a town councillor in Exeter.
See http://www.exetermemories.co.uk/em/_people/hems.php and http://www.exetermemories.co.uk/em/_buildings/hemsworkshop.php for further details of Hems' career and the subsequent history of the business. A photograph of Hems and a short text about his life appears in 'The Stone Trades Journal', vol XXI, No. 5, November 1902, pp. 101-2.
Wealth at death: £13,027 4s. 5d.
Probate date: 20 March 1916
Personal and Professional Connections
Employed John Edward Hyett
Based on the proximity of Hyett's lodgings to Hems' home address.
Gave favourable review to Thomas Wilkinson Wallis
Hems wrote an appreciation of Wallis's work to mark the latter's 80th birthday
Descriptions of Practice
Occupation given in Census Returns of England and Wales, 1861
Occupation given in Census Returns of England and Wales, 1871
'Stone & Wood Carver own [illegible] 3 Men'
Occupation given in Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881
'Master Carver & Church Fitting Maker - employing 23 Men & 7 Boys'
Occupation given in Census Returns of England and Wales, 1901
Harry and his three sons (Grevil, Harry and Wilfred) all 'Sculptor, Ecclesiastical Art Worker', the father was the employer and three children workers
Occupation given in Census Returns of England and Wales, 1911
Harry and his three sons all 'Ecclesiastical Sculptor' and employers
Occupation given in Census Returns of England and Wales, 1891
Harry and his oldest son, Greville 'Sculptor & Church Furnisher' (employer and worker respectively), also Harry and William 'Sculptor & Church Furnisher Apprentice' both workers
19th Century British Library Newspapers
Trewman's Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser (Exeter, England), Wednesday, January 9, 1878; Issue 5891 AND Wednesday, April 3, 1878; Issue 5903 AND Wednesday, May 2, 1883; Issue 6025. AND Saturday, January 6, 1900; Issue 10134 The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, England), Wednesday, September 13, 1893; pg. 7; Issue 12190.(accessed 27 April 2011)
Census Returns of England and Wales, 1861
Class: RG9; Piece: 3474; Folio: 113; Page: 11; GSU roll: 543138
Census Returns of England and Wales, 1871
RG10 piece 2061 folio 123 page 32
Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881
RG11 piece 2149 folio 20 page 33
Census Returns of England and Wales, 1891
RG12 piece 1687 folio 144 page 19
Census Returns of England and Wales, 1901
RG13 piece 2042 folio 55 page 51
Census Returns of England and Wales, 1911
RG14PN12670 RG78PN728 RD271 SD1 ED2 SN180
The Times Digital Archive 1785-1985
The Times, Saturday, Jan 08, 1916; pg. 3; Issue 41058; col F News in Brief Category: News in Brief
Citing this record
'Harry Hems', Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011 [http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=ann_1303935746, accessed 09 Mar 2014]