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John Greenshields, Sculptor   1795 - 1835

Lesmahagow near Lanark was the birthplace of the mason sculptor - John Greenshields. He was born in 1795, the eldest of six sons of James Greenshields and his wife, Betty Jack. When Greenshields was young the family moved to Willans on the Clyde near Carluke and it was in the neighbouring village of Crossford that he began work as an apprentice mason and in his leisure time made his first attempts at sculpture. These included a carving of a greyhound and likenesses of his father and one of his brothers modelled in clay.
When he was about thirty, Greenshields was employed by Robert Forrest who at that time was carving a statue of Lord Melville for  Edinburgh. His friendship with Forrest stimulated Greenshields’ interest in sculpture and he began to devote more time to studying art and modelling in clay.

During the late 1820s when working as a journeyman in Glasgow, he is reputed to have sought out and studied every work of art that he could. On establishing his own business about 1829, his practice consisted almost exclusively of commissions for gravestones, architectural decoration and ornamental figures for gateposts and gardens. In addition he worked on an uncommissioned project carving a small statue of Lord Byron. This he sent to John Flaxman whose admiration of the work encouraged Greenshields to reproduce it life- size and to carve several more figures including a pugilist and two cherubs, all of which were sold. A statue of George Canning, which was exhibited at Edinburgh, attracted much attention and brought Greenshields extensive patronage.

The most influential of his early patrons included James Stewart of Allanbank, William Blackwood, the eighth Earl of Elgin, William Lockhart and Sir Walter Scott. Lockhart provided him with blocks of freestone for statues of the Duke of York and King George IV and when the Duke of York statue was completed James Stewart arranged that it be displayed to potential patrons at Brompton. William Blackwood was a constant advisor to Greenshields, particularly in matters relating to the sale of his work and may have provided financial assistance as well as guidance in his business venture to sell small plaster reproductions of his statues.

Lord Elgin invited Greenshields to Broomhall to study the art treasures there and both he and James Stewart recommended Greenshields to Sir Walter Scott. While staying with William Lockhart in 1829, Scott visited Greenshields' studio which was on Lockhart's estate.

He was greatly impressed by Greenshields' work and was prepared to provide financial assistance to enable him to study in London but the offer was declined. - Greenshields received considerable publicity from his meeting with Scott and from his visits to Broomhall and to Blackwood House in Edinburgh where he met, among others Professor John Wilson (Christopher North) who in Noctes Ambrosianae referred to the sculptor as an original genius.

His workshop in Willans became such a fashionable visiting place that he was obliged to restrict visitors to one day a week to enable him to work undisturbed. Influenced by the popularity of James Thom’s work in the early 1830s, Greenshields turned to the production of figures illustrative of Burns’ writings. His group, “The Jolly Beggars” was a particular success; it was exhibited in several cities including London where it was on display in 1836 when Greenshields died. The previous year he had won the competition for the Glasgow statue of Sir Walter Scott; the work was unfinished when he died and was completed by
John Ritchie q.v. who had been second in the competition.  A model of Greenshields’ group “The Jolly Beggars” was exhibited at the Glasgow Burns Exhibition of 1896. 


GENEALOGY for JOHN GREENSHIELDS (Sculptor) 1794 — 1835.
John Greenshields was bom at Abbeygreen in Lesmahagow Parish, Lanarkshire, Scotland on the 28'h of September 1794. He was the eldest of tive sons born to James Greenshields and Betty Jack. Betty Jack was born in Culter Parish in the year 1774.
James and Betty were married in Lesmahagow Parish on 23"J‘ December 1793. It is alleged that they had six sons, but only John and four others are recorded in the Registers of Baptism/Births for Lesmahagow Parish. George born Langlands on 9th June 1797, William Born Langlands on lst April 1799, Clarke bom Kerse* on lst February 1802 and James bom Bowbridges on 25th June 1804.
(*Probably Langlands as it was located in the lands belonging to the Kerse Estate.)

John died at Willans in Carluke Parish on the 20th of April 1835 and was buried in Lesmahagow Churchyard on the 24th of April 1835. His father James died some three years later in 1838 also at Willans aged 84 years and was interred in Lesmahagow churchyard on the 4°h of August of that year. If James Greenshields age is correct at the time of his death, he was born in 1754. A search of the Lesmahagow Register of Baptisms/Births for that period, reveals that the eldest son of John Greenshields and Helen Shearer, was John born at Abbeygreen, Lesmahagow on the 18th of October 1757. John and Helen were married on the 21st of May 1749 and had, in all, six children. Jane born at Johnshill, 6th November 1750, an unnamed female child at Abbeygreen on 31st January 1752, the said James in 1757,
Marion born Abbeygreen, 7th September 1761, a second Marion bom Abbeygreen, 2nd July 1764 and George bom Abbeygreen, 6th September 1769.

John’s brother William married Agnes Weir. He died at Aitkenhead Cottage near Uddingston on the 21st August 1876 aged 78 years. The death certificate related that William was a Retired Farmer. It also states that his father James was a Road Contractor. His death was registered by his son John Greenshields.
John’ s brother Clark was resident in Shettleston at the taking of the 1851 Census. He was a lodger and unmarried. His occupation is given as a Colliery Manager. He died at Willans two years later and was buried in Lesmahagow Churchyard on the 11th of July 1853.
A gravestone bearing an inscription relating the death of Jolrn’s brother William can be found in the Old Churchyard of Lesmahagow. It appears to have been a Table Stone, now removed from its pillars and set in the soil. Much ofthe inscription is illegible but traces of the name James and the word Abbey Green are visible. This James may have been William’s father as referred to above who was born at  Abbeygreen and died at Willands, Carluke.


Created before 2012