The most prominent member of a family of sculptors, stonemasons, modellers and plasterers. His grandfather, John Seale, a mason and builder of Bradford, Wiltshire, had two sons, John Wesley Seale (1825–1885), who by 1857 had relocated the family’s architectural sculpture business to south London, and John Whitfield Seale (c.1835–1900), who by 1871 had similarly moved to south London but seems to have worked outside the family firm. Gilbert presumably trained with his father and by 1887 the firm was listed as ‘Gilbert Seale (late J.W. Seale & Son)’. One of Gilbert’s own sons, John Hector Seale (1884–1949), later joined the firm which, from 1910 operated as Gilbert Seale & Son. For at least twenty-five years Seale’s firm enjoyed a continuous succession of important contracts from some of the leading architects of the day. E.W. Mountford engaged him to work on Battersea Polytechnic Institute, 1890–93 (interior decorative plasterwork); Battersea Town Hall, 1892–92 (exterior decorative carving); St Olave’s Grammar School, Bermondsey, 1893–96 (interior plasterwork); and Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, 1900–07 (plasterwork and sundry carving). A section of Seale’s plaster ceiling panels for R.W. Edis’s rebuilding of Cheveley Park, Cambs, 1896–98 (demolished 1925) was illustrated in The Builder, 30 May 1896, p. 468. By 1900, a rare privilege for an architectural sculptor, Seale was allowed to sign below his work, usually to the right of the architect’s name on the building’s frontage. Examples include the cupids seated on the entrance arches of H. Huntley Gordon’s St Bartholomew House, Fleet Street, 1900, and Reginald Morphew’s Marlborough Chambers, 70–72 Jermyn Street, 1903; one of the pair of carved escutcheons on W.E. Riley’s screen wall, Buckingham Palace Road, 1905, for Victoria Railway Station; and the merfolk framing the corner window of J.S. Gibson, Skipwith & Gordon’s No 41 Kingsway, London, 1910 (this last signed ‘Gilbert Seale & Son’). In 1925, the firm published a book showcasing its work entitled Architectural Decoration. Gilbert Seale seems to have retired by this date as the names beneath the company name are J. Hector Seale and his younger brother, (Arthur) Barney Seale (1896–1957) who would go on to establish himself as an independent sculptor and painter. The firm continued to trade as G. Seale & Son and was finally dissolved in 1949.
Sources: Builder: (i) 30 May 1896, pp. 468, 469; (ii) 4 March 1899, p. 230; Cavanagh, T., Public Sculpture of South London, Liverpool, 2007; Gray, A.S., Edwardian Architecture, London, 1985, p. 324; Lloyd, F., et al, Public Sculpture of Outer South and West London, Liverpool, 2011; Mapping Sculpture: Seale, John Wesley; Seale, George Whitfield; Seale,(John Hugh) Gilbert; Seale, John Hector; Seale, (Arthur) Barney; Merritt, D., et al, Public Sculpture of Bristol, Liverpool, 2011; Seale (Gilbert) & Son, Architectural Decoration [London, 1925] (RIBA Library); Ward-Jackson, P., Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003.
Terry Cavanagh November 2022