At prestigious awards ceremonies, like the BAFTAs or the Oscars, recipients take the stage, receive their coveted statues and deliver speeches expressing gratitude to various individuals who played a significant role in their journey. Frequently, among those acknowledged is a favourite teacher whose encouragement propelled them into their chosen profession. In the case of esteemed artists Henry Moore and Albert Wainwright, both hailing from the West Riding industrial town of Castleford, a prominent figure on their lists of thank-yous would undoubtedly be Alice Gostick.
Now, you might be wondering, ‘Alice who?’ – a sentiment not uncommon and, indeed, not surprising.
Born nearly 150 years ago, in 1875 in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Staffordshire, Gostick takes centre stage as the unsung hero in a new play Breaking the Mould: The Story of Alice Gostick by Empath Action CIC. The play sheds light on her life, her unconventional pottery classes, and her extraordinary impact on boundary-breaking students, including the likes of Henry Moore and Albert Wainwright.
Profound influence on her pupils
The journey to recognise Gostick began when the theatre company received a Culture Grant from Wakefield Council. While they were initially focused on Albert Wainwright, they discovered the profound influence Gostick had had at Castleford Secondary School, shaping pupils like Wainwright, Moore and Arthur Dalby. This realisation prompted a shift in focus, leading to the development of the project ‘Breaking the Mould’.
Gostick assumed the role of art mistress at Castleford Secondary School in 1911, working under the headmaster Richard Thomas Dawes, who was known as Toddy. Toddy’s progressive approach to education, emphasising freedom and creative exploration, presented challenges for Gostick, but she rose to the occasion. She quickly formed strong bonds with her favourite pupils.
Initiative founded on ‘Peasant Pottery’
While in Castleford, Gostick taught students the art of hand-decorating pottery – which was known as Peasant Pottery – both during regular school hours and at evening classes. Her classes, attended by Moore, Wainwright and Dalby, left an indelible mark. Gostick’s impact extended far beyond Castleford, with 170 art centres nationwide adopting her initiative, as revealed in a 1930 article in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer marking her retirement.
Gostick’s influence is particularly evident in Wainwright’s case, because she encouraged him to abandon an engineering apprenticeship in 1914 to pursue studies at Leeds School of Art. Moore, Wainwright and Dalby, having survived World War I, found in Gostick a champion –who even assisted Moore in convincing his father to support his sculpting ambitions. The connection between Gostick and these artists persisted for many years.
Gostick to be recognised by blue plaque
The play, funded by Wakefield Council as part of ‘Our Year – Wakefield District 2024’, contributes to a broader initiative celebrating Gostick’s life, culminating in a blue plaque. Director Steven Busfield expressed gratitude to Red Ladder Theatre Company for their support, and acknowledged the ‘Forgotten Women of Wakefield’ project, striving for blue plaque parity for women in the district. He continued:
“It’s an immense privilege to help bring attention to Alice’s life and work. She seems to have been a quiet but incredibly powerful force for good for the students she taught, and her fierce loyalty and encouragement sit as a key piece of the foundation on which Henry Moore built his artistic career. When we talk about Henry, I hope we can all start talking more about Alice, her sister Constance, headmaster Toddy Dawes and so many others who embody the spirit of a creative and vibrant Castleford.”
Jack Moorby, portraying Henry Moore in the play, highlighted the remarkable example set by Alice Gostick and Castleford Secondary School:
“This play showcases a shining example of belief and tenacity through [their] actions. Their students thrived despite a difficult time in history. Without Alice, these artists would not have flourished as they have. She inspires us all.”
Where to catch the show
The play, a testament to the thriving artistic community nurtured by Gostick, is scheduled for performances at various venues in Wakefield.
The Cluntergate Centre, Horbury
- Saturday 10 February: Doors 6pm (Start 6.30pm)
- Sunday 11 February: Doors 2pm (Start 2.30pm)
- Sunday 11 February: Doors 6pm (Start 6.30pm)
Queen’s Mill Castleford
- Saturday 17 February: Doors 2pm (Start 2.30pm)
- Saturday 17 February: Doors 6pm (Start 6.30pm)
- Sunday 19 February: Doors 6pm (Start 6.30pm)
Tickets £5, available at https://www.theatreroyalwakefield.co.uk/whats-on