Frederick William Reaveley was born in the ancient coastal town of Tynemouth on 31st August 1870, the second son of Daniel Reaveley, a house painter, and his wife Jane (née Slater). As with most births at that time, his life began in the Reaveley's family home at 1 Pearsons Terrace, Tynemouth. In addition to his elder brother and sister, Frederick would eventually be joined by six further siblings; large families were more commonplace at that time, especially in the industrial areas such as the North East of England.


Tynemouth, as its name suggests, is the town which marks the place where the North Sea joins the mighty River Tyne, once the lifeblood of the trading port of Newcastle. In contrast to the heavy industry further along its banks, Tynemouth was a more genteel town, a well-established settlement dominated by its ancient Benedictine Priory and the adjoining castle - founded under the patronage of the Earl of Northumberland in 1090 - perched precariously on the headland. During the 1800's it became a fashionable seaside resort due in part to its patronage by the Duchess of Northumberland who kept a summer residence on the coast.

That elegant building is today is Tynemouth's luxurious Grand Hotel. During the town's heyday later in the 19th Century scores of elegant town houses were built overlooking the sea, and Tynemouth eventually expanded along the coast towards the traditional fishing village of Cullercoats and the more modern seaside town of Whitley Bay. Today, it retains a separate identity to those towns, although its boundaries have been almost completely blurred with both Cullercoats and North Shields - famed for its ship building and thriving fishing industry - further along the estuary.

Reaveley's Stairs, Tynemouth

Traces of the coastal scenes which would later inspire F.W.Reaveley's accomplished seascapes can, however, still be seen and the countryside and picturesque towns of Northumberland, such as Alnwick - today the home of the Dukes of Northumberland - Warkworth and Rothbury, which became the subject of many more of his compositions, remain largely unaltered today.

Research into our family history has shown that many of the Reaveleys had lived in the North East for a good number of years, although many more would make the trip across the Atlantic to begin new lives in the United States and Canada (the spelling of the surname changing often in the process). We know that many of F.W.Reaveley's family lived in and around Cullercoats and Tynemouth. According to census details, his uncle John Reaveley (Daniel Reaveley's brother), a local baker, kept a shop at 21 Middle Street at least for a number of years from 1861, and possibly beforehand. This building also had 'rooms' to rent - the entrance to this property became known locally as 'Reaveley's Stairs'.

F.W.Reaveley went to school in Tynemouth, but unfortunately little information is to hand regarding either his childhood or those of his brothers and sisters. We do know that at some point after leaving school, he found employment locally as a tailor, working in Lyons and Sons of Rudyerd Street, North Shields.

F W Reaveley, photo taken circa 1900

During his twenties he began a relationship with a woman by the name of Elizabeth 'Bessie' Holland, an actress some years older than him; she had been married before and already had a large family of eight children! The couple would only have one child together, Clarence William (Bill) Reaveley, born on 26th July 1899 in their house at Eleanor Street, Cullercoats. Although Fred and Bessie would remain together until her death in 1939, the pair did not actually marry until 1st April 1912; the wedding took place at the Register Office in nearby North Shields.

Information regarding F.W.Reaveley's artistic career is also scant. We do not know, for example, when he took up painting on a serious basis, although the earliest dated painting uncovered so far is from 1891 - when he was just twenty-one years old. This piece is relatively accomplished and suggests that it is likely that he had been painting from childhood. We have recently also received information that his paintings were featured in an exhibition of local and amateur artists' works held at John Chambers' studio at 58 Borough Road, North Shields on 31st October 1903. According to records retained in Newcastle's prestigious Laing Art Gallery, however, we now also know that between 1908 and 1921 a number of his paintings were featured in exhibitions in the gallery. The Laing Art Gallery was one of the premier galleries in North of England and still exhibits pieces on the highest quality today. To be of a skill and aptitude sufficient to meet their exacting standards, and working in the twin disciplines of oils and watercolours, it would be reasonable to deduce that by 1908 he must already have spent a number of years perfecting his technique.

F W Reaveley in his studio

It has since also been suggested through another source that one particular oil canvas, a large seascape entitled 'Cliffs at Tynemouth', had been exhibited in the Royal Academy of Art at some point in 1913. Enquiries made directly with the research department of the Royal Academy, however, have since confirmed that according to their own archived records, this information unfortunately seems to be incorrect.

Whatever critical acclaim was awarded to his work, F.W.Reaveley was certainly financially able to maintain his own studio, which was situated in Back Beverley Terrace, Cullercoats. In 1920 F.W.Reaveley was one of the founder members of the North East Coast Art Club, together with his good friend and fellow artist John Falconar (J.F.) Slater (see Reaveley's portrait of Slater in the gallery section). J.F.Slater was some years older than Reaveley and was already one of the most well-known and well-respected artists working in the North East of England. His reputation helped to promote the Club, but for Slater however, the benefits would be short-lived, as he passed away the following year.

In addition to providing artists with a functional studio, the Art Club helped many members achieve success further afield. One acclaimed example was George Horton, the son of a North Shields butcher, who kept studios in London and sold his canvases internationally. Horton later returned to display one of his paintings in one of the North East Coast Art Club's annual exhibitions, in 1936, an event which was covered at the time by the local newspapers such as the Whitley Bay Guardian. The club promoted local artists and staged numerous exhibitions of their work, latterly in the Imperial Buildings, in South Parade, Whitley Bay and ran until 1963, when declining membership numbers brought about its eventual closure.

F W Reaveley on stage as the 'Emperor of Mexico'

In addition to his artistic interests, for a number of years F.W.Reaveley was actively involved in local amateur dramatic productions, for which he quite often also made many of the costumes - making use of his first trade as a tailor. We have recently unearthed several articles from local papers which make mention of F.W.Reaveley's acting; as a young man he participated in societies in both North Shields and Chester-le-Street, and always received good notices. Later, he also became well known locally as the 'dress' judge in local carnivals and parades, in addition to the 'Trader's Dances'. The stage would be a passion which he would pass on to his son Bill, who performed in plays in the fledgling radio industry whilst living in Canada during the late 1920's. Upon his return to the United Kingdom - and to his home in the North East - he would also help sustain amateur dramatic groups in nearby Monkseaton.

By the 1930's, Frederick and Bessie Reaveley were living in Sycamore Avenue, Whitley Bay, with their son Bill and his new wife Muriel (Minnie) (née Crossman); the couple would name their first child - and Fred's first grandchild, a daughter called Elizabeth, after her paternal grandmother. Their second child was called William after his grandfather.

Fred stayed on with the family after the death of Bessie on 31st October 1939 and became a friendly and attentive grandfather (Bill and Minnie would have a large family, with eight children, although one daughter died as an infant). Childhood memories of the house at Sycamore Avenue are that the walls were covered with paintings which had been brought to the house after Reaveley had ceased to operate his studio. Family hardships would mean that the majority of these would eventually be sold.

F W Reaveley, taken on the promenade

F.W.Reaveley remained a popular figure locally, with a great many friends - a number of whom he had made during his amateur dramatics days - until his death. He passed away quietly in the family home at Sycamore Avenue, as had his wife some years before, on 10th May 1950.

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