The Bishop and the Sculptor

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Bishop H. W. Yeatman – Biggs, first post-reformation Bishop of Coventry

2018 was the centenary of the designation of St. Michael’s as a Cathedral. Of course it had been a Church for a lot longer, since the Normans built it as a Chapel to the Castle in the eleventh century.

It’s interesting that as early as 1818 St. Michael’s was regarded as a National Monument which would require extra funds for its upkeep beyond the local parish. This was especially important as it was one of the largest parish churches in the country.

There had been some local pressure for a separate Coventry diocese beginning in 1860 and in 1908 the Bishop of Worcester, H. W. Yeatman – Biggs, constituted St. Michael’s as a collegiate church or ‘pro-cathedral. But the First World War interrupted the process, and it was not until 1918 that the Bishopric of Coventry was formally created by Act of Parliament and St. Michael’s Church was elevated to Cathedral status. Bishop H. W. Yeatman – Biggs himself became Coventry’s first Bishop since the Reformation.

But unfortunately Bishop Yeatman – Biggs was only Bishop of Coventry for four years and died at the age of 77 in 1922.

Huyshe Wolcott Yeatman was born in 1845. He added the name Biggs by Royal License when he inherited the family estate via his mother when his elder brother died in 1898.

After his death he was buried in the Cathedral and a bronze effigy was commissioned. It was made by Hamo Thornycroft a very famous sculptor of his time.

Thornycroft had creaated many famous memorials, including one of the British statesmen W. E. Gladstone, a bronze made in 1905. Other public statues around the country including Alfred the Great, Oliver Cromwell, General Gordon, Alfred Lord Tennyson and a Sower in Kew Gardens.

Hamo studied with his parents and learned a lot about classical sculpture before going to the Royal Academy of Arts. He won the Gold Medal of the Royal Academy in 1876 with his statue ‘Warrior Bearing a wounded youth’ when he was 26 years old.

HamoThorneycroft
Hamo Thornycroft

Hamo with knighted in 1917 aged 67 and he spent the following five years working on Bishop Yeatman-Biggs’ effigy. He died in 1925 aged 75.

The bronze of H. W. Yeatman – Biggs was pretty much the only surviving Cathedral artefact after the firebombing of the Coventry Blitz of 1940.

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