Like many teenagers I liked horror fiction and when I’d read all the James Herbert and Stephen Kings novels I read some Edgar Allan Poe. His macabre short stories were relieved by some the scary artwork. I knew he was American but didn’t know the man behind the artwork - James Wallace - was from Liverpool and died a pauper. Forty years on from reading those books I never thought I’d find myself strolling around a cemetery hunting for the unmarked spot of his bones.
James was born on New Year’s Eve in Liverpool in 1857 but life was poverty-stricken. His mum died when he was 6 years and his dad when he was 10. He was forced to beg for food and money but became known as "the little chalker" as he drew on the paving stones to procure money.
Aged 5 he made his way to Ranelagh Street in the town centre to find the most suitable smooth flagstone to crayon on. By luck prize-fighters champion Tom Sayers and John C Heenan were there and so impressed by James’s talent they threw him some coins. The streets of Liverpool became James’s studio though, unlike most of the street artists in Liverpool, he didn’t draw the same picture twice. On some days rain washed away his work, on other days the police would chase him away if gentry were using the street. He preferred to draw in the vicinity of the large houses as the toffs threw more coppers. Poor folk who wanted to show their admiration for his work gave him cockles, shrimps and periwinkles.
One Christmas Eve the eight year old was grabbed by a policeman, threw him into the workhouse for a week and ordered him to spend six years in St. George’s Industrial School. This was a good move as the headmaster Father Nugent cared about his charges and James learnt to read and write.
Aged 14 he travelled to America to join his elder brother Henry and to attempt to become as successful artist. Here he supported himself by drawing on the pavements and being a Vaudeville caricaturist.
Aged 23 he entered a competition in Harper's Magazine to illustrate a special edition of the Edgar Allan Poe poem The Raven. Oddly he didn’t win but later these 23 illustrations were used and are now exhibited in the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia.
Fate cares for nobody though. Aged 29 James returned to Liverpool in 1887 with intentions to study art and further his career. Though he enrolled at the National School of Art it’s unlikely he entered the doors. He became ill and died and was so poor he was buried along with 15 others corpses in an unmarked paupers grave in Walton Park Cemetery.
I wasn’t sure if I would find an unmarked burial ground. I have a grainy photo a man looking over the pauper’s grave. He was leant on a tree and when I got into the grounds of the Walton Cemetery I found it choc-full with trees. I knew the grave was number 16 in Section F though there didn’t seem to be any sign posts.
In the photo was a fence and, walking in circles, I eventually matched the fence with the one before my eyes. This was it. As I took a fee photos I found a stone about 18" square a few feet away from the by the tree. Was this supposed to be a memorial stone? Not sure.
You wouldn’t know 16 paupers were buried by that tree. Even now James Carling’s life is celebrated in Liverpool with The James Carling International Pavement Art Competition. Once day they might raise some money to erect a small headstone in the cemetery.
Pointing to a drawing James did of himself…
Strolling round looking for the unmarked grave. Walton Prison across the way…
After much searching with the photo on the left I found the unmarked paupers grave…
Pointing to a couple of James’s drawings…. The grave of 16 paupers is a few feet in front of me…