Art metalworker in the Gothic Revival style, born in Birmingham, the son of a silversmith. In 1822, the family moved to Coventry. Skidmore served a seven-year apprenticeship with his father, learning metalworking and jewel setting. He became a partner in Francis Skidmore and son, and in 1851 showed some church plate at the Great Exhibition (one example, a silver gilt and enamelled chalice, is now at the V&A, mus. no. 1329-1852). In 1852, Skidmore’s expertise was acknowledged by his election to the Oxford Architectural Society. At about the same date, he began a long and close working relationship with George Gilbert Scott, manufacturing, for example, choir screens to the architect’s designs in Lichfield, Worcester, Salisbury and Hereford cathedrals. The first two remain in situ; the chancel gates and surmounting cross of the Salisbury Screen and the whole of the Hereford Screen are now in the V&A (mus. nos. M.4-1979, M.5-2015, and M.251:1-1984 respectively). The Hereford Screen, shown at the 1862 International Exhibition, was awarded a prize for ‘progress, elegance of design, and for excellent workmanship’ (Morning Post, 12 July 1862, p. 7); the Illustrated London News (30 August 1862, pp. 244–46) heralded it as ‘the most noble work of modern times … a monument of the surpassing skill of our land and our age’ and devoted two pages to its illustration. Naturally, it was to Skidmore that Scott turned for most of the metalwork on the Albert Memorial (completed 1872). Despite his high reputation, he outlived the fashion for the Gothic Revival style and died in much reduced circumstances. He was survived by his wife, Emma, and their four children. With the restoration in the 1990s of the Albert Memorial and the installation of the restored Hereford Screen in the V&A, Skidmore’s reputation revived. In 2000, a memorial plaque was unveiled marking the site of his factory at Alma Street, Hillfields, Coventry.
Terry Cavanagh November 2022
Francis Alfred Skidmore, 1896 (photo: CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)