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Obadiah Short

Obadiah Short
Obadiah Short.jpg
Undated photograph by J. L. Brewery (Norfolk Museums Collections)
Born(1803-07-26)26 July 1803
Died15 July 1886(1886-07-15) (aged 82)
Educationno formal education or training
Known forlandscape painting, fabric pattern design
MovementNorwich School of painters
Spouse(s)Susan(nah) Kyburt

Obadiah Short (26 July 1803 – 15 July 1886) was an amateur British painter of landscapes. He is associated with the Norwich School of painters, which was the first provincial art movement in Britain. He wrote a detailed account of his childhood memories and produced accurate paintings of Norwich scenes, both of which have provided historians with a valuable record of the city.

Born of poor parents, he was orphaned during the Peninsular War when his mother, who was a camp follower with the British Army, fell sick and died in Lisbon, and his father was killed at the Battle of Corunna a few weeks later. The young Obadiah was subsequently brought up by his grandparents, and worked as a Norwich textile labourer before learning the trade of a weaver. He went on to become a pattern designer for Edward Willett, Nephew & Co., which manufactured shawls, and worked for the firm for fifty years.

After 1829 he began to draw, strongly influenced by the work of James Stark. In 1832 he walked from Norwich to the residence of the Earl of Leicester, and was permitted to study paintings in the Earl's collection. He was commissioned to illustrate the Norwich surgeon John Green Crosse's essay on urinary calculi, which won the Jacksonian Prize in 1833. His paintings usually feature wooded landscapes around Norwich, or rural river scenes.


Obadiah Short was associated with the Norwich School of painters, a group of artists connected both by geographical location and their depictions of Norfolk landscapes, as well as by personal and professional relationships. The school's most important artists were John Crome, Joseph Stannard, George Vincent, Robert Ladbrooke, James Stark, John Thirtle and John Sell Cotman, along with Cotman's sons Miles Edmund and John Joseph Cotman. The school was a unique phenomenon in the history of 19th-century British art,[1] and Norwich was the first English city outside London where a school of artists arose, and which had the right conditions to create a provincial art movement.[2][3] It had more local-born artists than any subsequently-formed schools elsewhere.[4] The city's theatrical, artistic, philosophical and musical cultures were cross-fertilised in a way that was unique outside London.[2][5] The leading spirits and finest artists of the Norwich School were Crome and Cotman.[6]

The Norwich Society of Artists was founded in 1803.[7] It arose from the need for a group of Norwich artists to teach each other and their pupils. Not all of the members of the Norwich School were members of the Norwich Society,[8] which held regular exhibitions and had an organised structure, showing works annually until 1825 and again from 1828 until it was dissolved in 1833.[9] Unlike most of the Norfolk-based members of the Norwich School of painters, Obadiah Short never belonged to the Norwich Society of Artists.[10]

At the end of the seventeenth century, other schools of painting had begun to form that associated with artists such as Francis Towne at Exeter and John Malchair at Oxford, and other centres of population outside London were creating art societies, whose artists and drawing masters influenced their pupils.[11] Unlike the artists of the Norwich School, many other provincial artists did not benefit from wealthy merchants and landed gentry demonstrating their patriotism at a time of international unrest by acquiring picturesque paintings of the English countryside.[12] The Norwich Society of Artists (1803-1833), the first group of its kind to be created since the formation of the Royal Academy in 1768, was remarkable in acting in its artists' interests for thirty years, longer than for any other similar group.[13]

Early life

Obadiah Short[note 1] was born on 26 July 1803 in a house close to Bethel Yard, Norwich, the son of Joseph Short and Elizabeth Cubitt.[note 2][15] Born six months after the marriage of his parents, he was baptised a day later at St Augustine's Church, Norwich.[16][17] His father worked converting raw grain into malt on Mousehold Heath and was the sexton for the Norwich parishes of St. Augustine's and St. Saviour's. His mother was a Norwich cotton weaver. Two of Obadiah's younger brothers died in infancy and another, William, was baptised in 1807.[18][19] His parents died within weeks of each other in the Iberian Peninsula during Napoleon's campaign of 1808–1809. As a son of a British soldier killed during the Napoleonic Wars, Obadiah could have attended the Royal Military Asylum at Chelsea, but he was instead brought up by his grandparents in Norwich. His family's poverty forced him to seek poor relief and to be taken by his grandmother to Duke's Palace Plain, where employers came to hire boys as cheap labour.[18]

It was the practise of Mr Thurlow to make all the Boys and Apprentices to leave work when there happened to be any executions – so we all went and he said it might be a warning to us, so that for the best 45 years of my life I have seen all the executions in Norwich though I cannot say that ever it done me any good.

Obadiah Short, Recollections

Later in life, Short wrote an autobiography of his childhood in a small leather-bound book, now kept in the Norfolk Museums Collections at Norwich Castle.[20] In the book, which he called Recollections, he recorded many boyhood memories, as well as information given to him about his family. He gave an invaluable eyewitness account of events that occurred in Norwich in the first part of the nineteenth century. These included the arrival of the news from London by mail coach; public celebrations after the announcement of the end of the Napoleonic Wars; the procession of the 'Gregorians' on the River Wensum; bull-baiting; the annual fair held north of the city; the public executions at the Castle; Norwich Guild Day and the procession of Snap the Dragon; the spectacle of prisoners being transported by wagon to Thetford; pitched battles on Mousehold Heath; and lamplighting.[18] Short's Recollections have provided modern historians with a link to the past and allowed the revival of previously forgotten traditions, such as wassailing.[21]

According to his Recollections, Obadiah, who was known to his family as Oba, supplemented his parents' income by working as a small boy in the textiles industry. He was paid to turn a cord wheel, for a master who treated him with relative kindness. He later worked for another master, running errands and polishing boots. His book recollects his memories of his parents and of what he was told about their fate.[18]

Short wrote in Recollections that in 1808 straightened circumstances forced his father to become a substitute soldier in the East Norfolk Militia. Such militia units, which did not have to serve overseas, were used to supply trained soldiers in time of need. It was acceptable practice for a soldier in the militia to pay a substitute such as Joseph Short to serve on his behalf.[22][14] Having later enlisted in the army, Joseph Short was promoted to the rank of corporal. He travelled that year to Spain as a regimental sergeant in Sir John Moore's army, along with Elizabeth, who came with her husband as a camp follower.[note 3] After falling ill during the retreat of the army across Spain, she was sent with the sick and wounded to a military hospital in Lisbon, where she died. As Joseph Short failed to return to England and was never heard from again, it was assumed by his family that he was killed on 16 January 1809, in the midst of the Battle of Corunna.[24][18][note 4]

Working life

An example of a shawl made by Edward Willett, Nephew & Co.

Before the 1840s many of Obadiah Short's family were employed in Norwich's textile industry. Spinning and weaving were mainly done in the workers' homes, but due to both the fast-changing fashions, and competition with the mills of the north of England, these methods were obsolete. Norwich had textile mills, but the mill owners had to buy their fibres from manufacturers in the north, where they were made more cheaply. The Jacquard loom allowed manufacturers to invent their own cloth designs, but these were an expensive investment. Textiles mills around the city, such as St James Mill near Whitefriars, ultimately failed to compete with mills located close to plentiful raw resources, such as coal.[25][26]

Short worked as a weaver from the age of about thirteen,[24] and learnt to weave bombazine.[27] In 1834 he obtained employment as a pattern designer at Edward Willett, Nephew & Co,[24] a large manufacturer of silk shawls initially based in Pottergate, Norwich.[note 5] As a designer, Short would have been regarded one of the most important men in the shawl trade, albeit a part of a large team of workers. The pattern designers for a firm were seldom named and so nothing is known about many of them. Not all were locally based employees, or noted artists, as was the case with Obadiah Short, who remained with the same firm for fifty years.[31][24]

There are no surviving records of Short's designs for Willett & Nephew,[27] but a single example of a fabric known to come from one of his designs has survived. It is now held in the Norfolk Museums Collections. Measuring 41 by 41 centimetres (16 in × 16 in), it is a silk Jacquard square made from eight pieces of shawl fabric, sewn together to make what may have been a cushion cover. Each quarter of the square shows a long pine and lily shape.[32]

In the 1841 census Short was described as an 'artist', but in later decades the census returns give his profession in the textile industry variously as a 'designer', a 'designer of textile fabrics', and a 'designer artisan’.[10]

Family life

Short married Susanna (or Susan) Kyburt at St Saviour's Church, Norwich in 1821.[note 6] Their children were Elizabeth (born in 1824),[34] Harriet (born in 1826),[35] Ann (born in March 1830, but died in February 1831),[36][37] Obadiah (born in July 1833, died in infancy aged 10 months),[38][39] Obadiah (born about 1835),[40] Rachel (born in 1838),[41][42] Charlotte (born in 1841),[43] and Emma (born in 1844).[44]

According to the census for 1851, their second son Obadiah followed his father in the textile trade and became a designer's assistant.[27] The parish record of his marriage on 30 December 1856 to Elizabeth Wurr stated his occupation (and his father's) as 'designer'.[45] He died in 1863, aged only 28.[46]

Obadiah's wife Susan Short died in 1871, having been married to him for fifty years.[47]

Artistic career

Sketch of Mousehold Heath (undated), Norfolk Museums Collections

Some time after 1829 Short saw an artist named Harbord of St. Stephen's Church Alley copying a work by John Crome, which may have been the reason why he began to sketch and paint. He was later acquainted with another artist, Edmund Sparshall,[14] a local patron of the arts, who lent him pictures by James Stark to copy. Short was influenced strongly by the works of both these artists.[48]

In 1832, Crome's physician the Norwich surgeon William Dalrymple took an interest in Short and provided him with a letter of introduction to give to the Earl of Leicester.[24] Short walked over 30 miles (48 km) from Norwich to the Earl's stately home at Holkham Hall. Upon his arrival he was treated with kindness and remained there for several days studying the Earl's artworks, before walking home again.[48] Later in the year Short was commissioned by Dalrymple to draw birds for Norwich's Castle Museum, and produce drawings of pathological subjects for use by the students of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital,[24][14] all of which were kept in Dalrymple's museum of pathological specimens.[49]

Plate 1
Plate 16
Two of Short's illustrations from A treatise on the formation, constituents, and extraction of the urinary calculus (1835)

Short learnt the art of landscape painting by copying the works of the Old Masters such as those he saw at Holkham.[24] Short's individual artistic style probably originated from his access to the Earl of Leicester's collection.[50] It was influenced by both the artist Alfred Priest, whom he met in about 1851,[48] and possibly the London-born water colourist John Varley.[51]

The famous Norwich surgeon John Green Crosse was fascinated by cases of bladder stones and in 1833 he used his expertise to produce an award-winning essay for the Royal College of Surgeons's Jacksonian Prize on the "Formation, Constitution and Extraction of the Urinary Calculus", completing it within a few weeks.[52] Obadiah Short was commissioned to produce the drawings for the plates,[53] and he included O. Short, del. on each page of the drawings used to illustrate the essay. Crosse received the prize in London at a meeting of the College in 1833 and his essay was published in 1835.[54][note 7]

The Norfolk Museums Collections based at Norwich Castle has over thirty drawings and paintings by Short, as well as a sketchbook and some hand-written notes.[55] His pictures of Mousehold Heath were drawn many years after most of the original heath had been enclosed by landowners. They depict the heath as treeless and free of human activity, but only because the viewpoint of each drawing deliberately points away from the Norwich skyline.[10]

Output, reputation and legacy

According to his obituary, Obadiah Short produced a large number of oil paintings, described as always having a "charming choice of subject".[48] Of his paintings, only four were exhibited in his lifetime. These were shown in the last two annual exhibitions of the Norwich Society of Artists in 1832 (Cottages at Thorpe and Beach Scene, Yarmouth) and in 1833 (Beach Scene at Corton and Scene at Trowse).[56] His artistic output was limited by being fully employed for much of his adult life. As a devout Christian he may well not have worked on Sundays, which if so would have limited still further the time he devoted to art.[14] His paintings came to light after his death when they were exhibited at the 1927 Loan Exhibition in Norwich, when three oil paintings and a watercolour, Landscape at Costessy, Norfolk, were shown.

He most frequently painted tranquil landscapes of someone walking down a wooded country lane, or of cattle near the bank of a small river within a flat Norfolk landscape.[14] In contrast to his usual artistic style, he produced a series of twelve small watercolours of Mousehold Heath, which were praised by the art historian Derek Clifford for their "dark, rich tones".[51] Sam Smiles' article Mousehold Heath, the Norwich School and Similar Landscapes Beyond uses Short's depictions of the heath as an example how the selected view point was crucial in enabling it to appear treeless and devoid of human activity.[10]

Early art historians such as Dickes and Cundall did not mention Short, but more recent authors have praised his work, whilst still regarding him as a minor painter. Derek Clifford rated him as a "pleasing minor talent" and Harold Day, who noted that Short could produce paintings that were charming, also described him as "not one of the great men of the Norwich School".[51][24] The Norfolk Museums Collections, which holds works at Norwich Castle and around Norfolk, has the only public collection of works by Short in the UK.[57] Few historians have commented on Short's individual works, but according to a review of an exhibition of East Anglian art in 1975, which included Short's watercolour St Benet's Abbey, the reviewer noted that "the subject is so charming that one is in danger of missing Short's sensitive treatment of it".[58]

Several of Short's paintings show buildings which no longer exist. As with other works by the Norwich School, they are now a valuable source of information for historians. Examples of such paintings by Short include his depiction of the area around St Laurence's Church, Norwich on Westwick Street,[59] a watercolour of Cromer, showing the town's early wooden pier in 1870,[60] and paintings of buildings beside the River Yare at Thorpe and at New Mills.[61][62] His painting of one of the city's towers has been used by Norwich City Council as part of a survey of the city walls.[63]

Several of Shorts's paintings have been sold at auction in recent years. Landscape with Oak Trees, which was sold in 2005, fetched $2,758, and A View Of Cromer From The Northrepps Road was sold at auction in 2007 for $1,931.[64] Other prices for his works have been lower, such as when £300 was fetched in 2017 for Whitlingham Lane, Norwich.[65]



Obadiah Short died peacefully on 15 July 1886 at Heigham, Norwich, aged 82. His obituary, published in the Bury and Norwich Post a few days after his death, asked its readers to appreciate "a life not barren of interest to those who care to mark the events of a well-spent career", and "to notice the success of perseverance under difficulties". Obadiah was described as kindly, unambitious, undemanding, and a devout Christian, whose art was praiseworthy for its “charming choice of subject” and "delineation of foliage".[48] His will was proved in Norwich (in which he was described as a 'Pattern drawer'), with his estate valued at £208.[66]


  1. ^ Incorrectly transcribed as Obediah in numerous parish records.
  2. ^ Joseph Short's parents were John and Mary Short of Laxfield in Suffolk.[14]
  3. ^ The King's Own landed in Portugal on the 25th of August 1808. After reaching Lisbon and liberating the Portuguese, an army under the command of Sir John Moore marched to aid the Spanish, but Napoleon directed eighty thousand men and two hundred cannon against them. The British were forced to mount a daunting retreat of two hundred and fifty miles over the mountains to the coast, travelling over hostile terrain in the depths of winter. Arriving at Corunna, the army of fourteen thousand five hundred men sheltered and rested, awaiting transport for England. On the 16th of January 1809, it was attacked by 20,000 French troops. After fierce fighting, British forced the French to retreat, but near the end of the battle, Sir John Moore was killed. That night the British began embarking for England.[23]
  4. ^ Passages from Obadiah Short's Recollections describe the family's futile attempts to find out what happened to Joseph Short in Spain, and track down the letters he sent home: I could never hear for certain what became of my Father, as the lost letters which he sent us immediately after those weeks retreat even the War Office could not ascertain, yet as he was a Sargent I should have thought this account would be sent, but I could never make anything out about them but when many Soldiers came home from the war one told one tale & another to another for in those days the people (Related to those who had died in the war) treated those who returned with Beer and all kinds of drink and sure enough as long as the Beer was forthcoming so long the news lasted either true or false. … …my Father Volunteered in the 40th Regiment of Foot and went with the Regiment to Spain and was with the army under Sir John Moor In the Retreat to Corrunna My Father sent a letter (the last he wrote) saying that the Army was in Retreat over hills & Mountains for the Week, which was the Retreat of Sir John Moore and where Sir John Moore was killed, and buried on the Ramparts of the City. My Mother was carried with the sick and wounded to Lisbon Hospital and after a short time she Died. My father sent no more Letters after the one in which he said that My Mother was dead I never heard what became of my Father – though my grandfather wrote to the War Office more than once but could never hear anything of him.[18]
  5. ^ Edward Willett, Nephew & Co. were "manufacturers of fancy dress fabrics" based Fisher's Lane, Pottergate.[28] Few of the firm's records have survived. Jacquard looms, introduced in about 1828, were so unpopular with the workers that they attempted to halt the funeral cortege of Henry Willett in 1845. Willett & Nephew occupied a floor of the nearby St James Factory in 1869, whilst continuing to use their Pottergate premises to store materials for weavers working from their homes.[29] The firm continued to trade until 1904.[30]
  6. ^ Susanna Kyburt was younger than the 18-year-old Obadiah Short at the time of their marriage.[33]
  7. ^ Crosse's biography, written by his granddaughter in 1968, named Crosse as the illustrator.[52]


  1. ^ Moore 1985, p. 9.
  2. ^ a b Cundall 1920, p. 1.
  3. ^ Day 1968, p. 7.
  4. ^ Hemingway 1979, pp. 9, 79.
  5. ^ Walpole 1997, pp. 10–11.
  6. ^ Cundall 1920, p. 12.
  7. ^ Rajnai & Stevens 1976, p. 13.
  8. ^ Hemingway 1979, p. 17.
  9. ^ Rajnai & Stevens 1976, p. 4.
  10. ^ a b c d Sam Smiles (ed.) (2016). "Mousehold Heath, the Norwich School and Similar Landscapes Beyond". In Focus: Mousehold Heath, Norwich c.1818–20 by John Crome. Tate Research Publication. Retrieved 28 October 2018.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Clifford 1965, pp. 6-7.
  12. ^ Clifford 1965, pp. 10-12.
  13. ^ Moore 1985, p. 12.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Stuart J. McLaren (2010). "Obadiah Short, Norwich Painter (1803-1886)". St Augustine's Resident's Association. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  15. ^ Obadiah Short (1861). "Recollections". Short Family Tree. Murray Short. Retrieved 29 October 2018. The only yard that resembles this name is Bushel Yard, off St. Augustine's Street, which be seen on the 1884 Ordnance Survey map of Norwich.
  16. ^ Joseph Short and Elizabeth Cubitt in "England Marriages, 1538–1973", FamilySearch (Joseph Short).
  17. ^ "Obadiah Short". Ancestry. 2018. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  18. ^ a b c d e f Short 1861.
  19. ^ "William Short (born/baptised Norwich 1807)". Ancestry. 2018. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  20. ^ "Notebook - Recollections 1861 (notebook)". Norfolk Museums Collections. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  21. ^ "Vicar revives beer and carol tradition in Norwich parish". Network Norwich. 2 December 2017. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  22. ^ "Militia substitute certificate for William Ashton in the place of Charles Gray, 1826". National Army Museum. Retrieved 20 January 2019.
  23. ^ Cannon 1839, pp. 91-94.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h Day 1968, p. 229.
  25. ^ Blyth 1842, pp. 59–62.
  26. ^ An illustration of a textile fragment whose design attributed to Obadiah Short can seen at Nicky Eastaugh's learning log for Textiles 1: Mixed Media for Textiles.
  27. ^ a b c Hoyte 2010, p. 39.
  28. ^ "History, Gazetteer and Directory of Norfolk, including the city of Norwich, and comprising a general survey of the county and separate historical, statistical, and topographical descriptions of all the hundreds, boroughs, towns ... / by William White. (1883)". Historical Directories of England and Wales. University of Leicester. Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  29. ^ Clabburn 1995, p. 137.
  30. ^ Hoyte 2010, p. 88.
  31. ^ Clabburn 1995, p. 60.
  32. ^ Clabburn 1995, p. 131.
  33. ^ Obadiah Short and Susanna Keybert in "Norfolk Bishop's Transcripts, 1685-1941", FamilySearch (Obadiah Short).
  34. ^ Elizabeth Short in "England, Norfolk Bishop's Transcripts, 1685-1941 (Norfolk Archdeaconry of Norwich 1824 N)", FamilySearch (Elizabeth Short)
  35. ^ Harriet Short in "St. Edmund Baptisms 1598-1685 Marriages 1562-1685 Burials 1550-1685", FamilySearch (Harriet Short)
  36. ^ Ann Short in "St. Edmund Baptisms 1598-1685 Marriages 1562-1685 Burials 1550-1685", FamilySearch (Ann Short - baptism)
  37. ^ Ann Short in "Bishop's Transcripts for the Archdeaconry of Norwich", FamilySearch (Ann Short - burial)
  38. ^ Obadiah Short in "St. Edmund Baptisms 1598-1685 Marriages 1562-1685 Burials 1550-1685", FamilySearch (Obadiah Short - baptism)
  39. ^ Obadiah Short in "Bishop's Transcripts for the Archdeaconry of Norwich", FamilySearch (Obadiah Short - burial)
  40. ^ Obadiah Short in "Bishop's transcripts for the Archdeaconry of Norfolk", FamilySearch (Obadiah Short)
  41. ^ Rachel Short in "Bishop's transcripts for the Archdeaconry of Norfolk", FamilySearch (Rachel Short
  42. ^ "Entry Information (Rachel Short, St Faiths district, 1838)". FreeBMD. Free UK Genealogy CIO. 2018. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  43. ^ Charlotte Short in "England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975", FamilySearch (Charlotte Short)
  44. ^ "Entry Information (Emma Short, Norwich district, 1844)". FreeBMD. Free UK Genealogy CIO. 2018. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  45. ^ Obadiah Short and Elizaberh Wurr in "Parish Registers of St. Giles, Norwich, 1538-1900", FamilySearch ((Obadiah Short)
  46. ^ Obadiah Short in "British Newspaper Archive, Family Notices", FamilySearch ((Obadiah Short)
  47. ^ "Entry Information (Susan Short, Norwich district, 1871)". FreeBMD. Free UK Genealogy CIO. 2018. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  48. ^ a b c d e The Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald (Bury Saint Edmunds, England), Tuesday, July 20, 1886; pg. 5; Issue 5418. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900.
  49. ^ Streeten 1845, p. 595.
  50. ^ Walpole 1997, p. 162.
  51. ^ a b c Clifford 1965, p. 50.
  52. ^ a b Cross 1968, p. 139.
  53. ^ Crosse 1835, pl. I–XXIV.
  54. ^ Cross 1968, pp. 144, 152.
  55. ^ Clifford 1965, p. 150.
  56. ^ Rajnai 1976, p. 80.
  57. ^ Wright & Gordon 2006, p. 923.
  58. ^ B. N (1975). "The Burlington Magazine: Special Issue Devoted to Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century Art". The Burlington Magazine. 117 (872): 744–747. JSTOR 878231.
  59. ^ George Plunkett. "Norwich Street Photographs". George Plunkett's Photographs. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  60. ^ "A View of Cromer showing the Early Pier ,1870". bidtoart. 2019. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  61. ^ "Cottages at Thorpe, Norwich". MutualArt. 2019. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  62. ^ "New Mills Norwich". MutualArt. 2019. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  63. ^ "City walls survey: (36) Wall Below Kings Street and Boom Towers". Norwich City Council. 2005. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  64. ^ "Art auction result for Obadiah Short". FindArtInfo. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  65. ^ "Lot 1076". Rowley's Antiques and Fine Art Auctioneers. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  66. ^ "Find a Will". UK Government. Retrieved 30 October 2018. (Short/1886/page 2)

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