Ecclesiastical and architectural sculptor, born in London. He initially worked as a cutler, following the trade of both his father and grandfather, but subsequently learnt wood and stone carving, honing his skills in London and Italy. His first major contract was for the architectural carving on the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter (1866–68). He at first took lodgings near the museum but eventually settled permanently in the city, establishing a flourishing workshop, the Ecclesiastical Art Works. In 1868, Hems married and in 1877, his son Wilfred, who would succeed his father as head of the firm, was born. The firm showed, and were usually recipients of medals and prizes, at the Centennial International Exhibition, Philadelphia (1876), the Exposition Universelle, Paris (1878), the Chicago World Fair (1893) and the Antwerp Exhibition (1894). For Exeter, Hems designed the Livery Dole Martyrs’ Memorial, 1909, but the commissions considered by contemporaries to be his most important were the restoration, for Sir Arthur Blomfield, of the high altar screen, 1884–99, at St Albans Cathedral, Herts, and the design and execution of the reredos, 1912, for St Louis Cathedral, USA.
Bibliography: T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. 197, 250; Daily Mail, 6 January 1916, p. 3; ‘Harry Hems – ecclesiastical sculptor and wood carver’ (updated 1 March 2019), Exeter Memories; Mapping Sculpture; D. Merritt and F. Greenacre, with K. Eustace, Public Sculpture of Bristol, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 16–18; E. Morris and E. Roberts, Public Sculpture of Cheshire and Merseyside, Liverpool, 2012, pp. xvii, 14; The Times, 8 January 1916, p. 3.
Terry Cavanagh November 2022
Harry Hems in his studio in Longbrook Street in Exeter, Devon, on 12 June 1896. He is carving a grotesque for one of the pedestals at the bottom of the grand staircase in the Municipal Corporation Building, Mumbai, India (photo: public domain)