James Meadows was born in Dublin on August 12th 1798. It seems that his father William James and family left Ireland shortly after the rebellion of that year. Edwin Lewis’ notes describe how, due to a lack of funds, the family could not afford to travel back in London together. Their very loyal Irish nurse, Hannah, walked from Liverpool to London carrying James on her back!
In his diary, Edwin Lewis promises to write more about his father, but unfortunately he never does and not much is recorded of James’ early years.
An unattributed and nearly unreadable family note reveals that James went to India in 1816 and made a name for himself as an actor in Calcutta. A local newspaper described him as ‘the one plus ultra in acting’. He returned to London in about 1820 and married Ann Cross on June 2nd 1824 at St James’s Church in Clerkenwell Green. After his marriage James and his wife Ann moved to Mountnessing in Essex where four of their seven children were born: William James (1825); James Edward (1826); Alfred John (1833); and Anne (1835). Edwin Lewis (1839); Frances Amelia (1840); and Arthur Joseph (1843) were all born at 5 Hope Place in the East End of London. Our website concentrates mainly on Edwin Lewis and his family. Alan Hart, Alfred John’s great-great great grandson, deals very thoroughly with James and all of his children on meadowsfamilytree.net.
By the time of the 1941 census the family were back in London at Hope Place in Tower Hamlets. By 1961 they were living at 12 Coborn Street with the two youngest children, one servant and one lodger: Frances Amelia’s new husband, George Self.
Frances Amelia and the Self family
Edwin Lewis’ younger sister Frances Amelia was born in Stepney in 1840, a year after Edwin. James made several portraits of his youngest daughter. Three of these, from the private family collection of one of her descendants, are reproduced below by kind permission of the owner.
In June 1860 Frances Amelia married George Self (1837-1887) at St Mary’s Church, Stratford Le Bow. They had five daughters: Fanny Emily Self (born 1862 in Poplar); Kate Anne Self (born 1866 in Tower Hamlets); Amy Edith Self (born 1873 in West Ham); Jessie Meadows Self (born 1876 in West Ham); and Nellie Hilda Self (born 1878 in West Ham). The photos of George and his daughters are reproduced below by kind permission of Lesley Hayward, Nellie Self’s granddaughter.
James appears to have gained a considerable reputation as a scenic artist working initially with William Beverley. A lengthy Times review of ‘Theseus and Ariadne’ staged at The Lyceum on March 2nd, 1848 noted: “The scenery, by Mr W Beverley and Mr J Meadows, surpasses, if possible, anything hitherto done for the decoration of burlesque. Mere magnificence is common enough, but here magnificence is combined with the best taste, and with truly classical feeling. The Cretan port, the bird’s eye view of labyrinth, and the departure of the galley, are specimens of high scenic art.”
James developed into a very accomplished painter and started an extraordinary family tradition of landscape painting. His own paintings are mainly evocative seascapes but he was also a skilled portrait painter as seen in his self portrait and in these studies of his children Edwin Lewis and Frances Amelia.
William James, James Edward, Alfred John, Edwin Lewis and Arthur Joseph all followed in their father’s footsteps to become successful painters. Several amongst their children also acheived recognition as artists.
James died in 1863 aged 64 at 12 Coburn Street, Bow Road after an affection of more than three years with diabetes. He was buried at Trinity Church.
We’ve not been able to find an obituary for James, but he does receive the following brief entry in Frederick Boase’s 1897 book: ‘Modern English Biography: Containing Many Thousand Concise Memoirs of Persons who Have Died Since the Year 1850’:
MEADOWS, JAMES (son of Wm. Meadows, comedian). b. Dublin 1798; an officer of the ship Kent 1818; resided in Calcutta some years, where he was well known as an amateur actor; scenic artist to many of the London theatres; exibited 21 marine pictures at R.A., 14 at B.I. and 18 at Suffolk st. 1854-63. d. 12 Coborn st. Bow road, London 5 May 1863. bur. Trinity church, Bow road. Era 17 May 1863 p.10.