Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (1793-1864) Thomas Hosmer Shepherd was probably the most talented member of a family of London topographers, his once famous images outstanding in their vivacious detail. Thomas Hosmer Shepherd was born in France on 16 January 1793, the son of a watchcase maker. On returning to England, the Shepherd family settled in a neighbourhood close to the City Road, and Thomas was baptised at St Luke Old Street, on 24 February.
Throughout his career, from 1809 to 1859, Shepherd was patronised by the celebrated interior designer, Frederick Crace, who became equally famous as a collector of views and maps of London. Crace commissioned him to produce watercolours of specific London buildings and locations, and also bought others from him. The fame of the Crace Collection then acted as a springboard for Shepherd’s career, as he began to receive commissions from others, including Rudolph Ackermann. From around the time of its foundation in 1809, until its demise in 1828, Shepherd produced a series of street views for Ackermann’s magazine, The Repository of Arts, sometimes in collaboration with his elder brother, George Sidney Shepherd.
Though he became virtually synonymous with the modern city, Shepherd was equally skilful in representing the countryside.
To this end, he made a number of sketching tours, the first in 1810.
Eight years later, Shepherd visited France, probably on his honeymoon, an event apparently commemorated in the naming of the first of his seven children, Frederick Napoleon Shepherd, who was born in June 1819. By 1820, the family had settled at 26 Chapman Street (now Batchelor Street), Islington, one of the new streets on the west side of the Liverpool Road, on the edge of the built up area of the city. He used his home address when advertising as a drawing master.
From this time, Shepherd established himself as a book illustrator, with contributions to the part work, Londina Illustrata (1819-25), again in collaboration with his brother, George, among others. Security and success soon arrived, with his first commission from the publisher, Jones & Co, based at the Temple of the Muses, Finsbury Square. The first part of Metropolitan Improvements appeared in 1827, and comprised numerous steel engravings after drawings by Shepherd, with a commentary by the architect, James Elmes. Its popularity not only ensured further commissions for Shepherd from Jones but ‘induced many publishers to embark on similar works’ (an unsigned review in the Gentleman’s Magazine for March 1829, cited by J F C Phillips, Shepherd’s London, London: Cassell 1976, page 11).
The sequel to Metropolitan Improvements, entitled London and its Environs, would begin to appear in 1828.
During 1827, Shepherd made sketching tours of the West Country and Scotland in order to prepare his drawings for Modern Athens! (1829) and Bath and Bristol (1829-31), published by Jones with commentaries by the well-known antiquarian, John Britton. Yet, while Jones and Shepherd planned other volumes about parts of Great Britain (and Shepherd responded by travelling to Ireland in 1828), no further such publication materialised.
Shepherd began to work with other publishers, often reworking the images of London that he had drawn for Jones, while also broadening his horizons. So he exhibited four watercolours of Scotland at the Society of British Artists, in 1831 and 1832, and produced illustrations of Westmorland and the Rhine, by 1832 (though not necessarily on location).
A decade later, Shepherd moved to 2 Bird’s Buildings (now part of Colebrooke Row), north of Camden Passage, Islington – probably to better accommodate his growing family. From that time, he provided some images for TheIllustrated London News, but became very poor, and was sustained only by the continuing patronage of Crace, who died in 1859.
Shepherd himself died in Islington on 4 July 1864. His wife, Jane Maria, and at least three of his children survived him. They included Frederick Napoleon Shepherd, who carried on the family tradition of topography, and Valentine Claude Shepherd, a wood engraver.
The Crace Collection in the British Museum contains nearly 500 images by Shepherd, including 38 views of Edinburgh for Modern Athens!
His work is also represented in numerous other public collections, including Kensington & Chelsea Library and the V&A.
Further reading: Brian Reginald Curle and Patricia Meara, Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, 1793-1864: a descriptive catalogue of watercolours and drawings in the local collections of Kensington and Chelsea libraries, London: Kensington and Chelsea Public Libraries, 1973; Lucy Peltz, ‘Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (1784-1862)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 50, page 245; J F C Phillips, Shepherd’s London, London: Cassell 1976