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1898-1925: Childhood and Education

Born in 1898, Henry Spencer Moore was the seventh of eight children to mining parents who encouraged their children's education.

Henry Moore was born at 30 Roundhill Road, Castleford, on 30 July 1898, to Raymond Spencer Moore and Mary Baker. Moore's recollections of his mother evoke a dignity that we see inform his sculpted female figures. For Moore she was un-resting yet a source of stability and protection. From his father, a politically active and self-taught miner who read Shakespeare and learnt the violin, Moore gained an appreciation for education. 

Growing up in Yorkshire as the child of a mining family, the early landscape of slag heaps and the cavernous subterranean world below, combined with the rocky outcrops of the nearby countryside such as Adel Crag, can also be said to have had an impact on the young artist. Indeed, the landscape is one which Moore would recall in works throughout his career.

From the age of three Moore attended his local elementary school in Temple Street, where his teacher John Holland first noticed he had a facility for drawing. By the age of 11, after hearing a story about Michelangelo at Sunday school, Moore had decided he wanted to be a sculptor.

In 1910 Moore won a scholarship to Castleford Secondary School where he was taught by progressive teachers including Headmaster T.R. 'Toddy' Dawes and art teacher Alice Gostick, who nurtured his talent. Moore wanted to continue studying art, and in particular sculpture, after leaving school but his father encouraged him to complete teacher training, as it offered greater security. Henry's oldest brother, Raymond, was the first of the family to become a schoolteacher and was followed by two of his sisters, Mary and Betty. At age seventeen Moore worked as a student teacher at his old elementary school in Temple Street but did not enjoy the experience. At the age of eighteen he enlisted in the army.

Moore went to London to volunteer, meeting on the way Douglas Houghton (later a Labour cabinet minister). He was turned down by the Artists' Rifles regiment (the obvious choice) because he was considered too short but eventually he and Houghton were accepted by the Civil Service Rifles and assigned to the 3rd Battalion. During active service in WWI Moore was gassed during the Battle of Cambrai in 1917 and returned to England to convalesce. Following two months in hospital he spent spent the remainder of the war as a physical training instructor before returning to France just as the Armastice was signed. 

After the war Moore received an ex-serviceman's grant to attend Leeds School of Art and was finally able to pursue his dream of becoming an artist.

It was in those two years of war that I broke finally away from parental domination which had been very strong. My old friend, Miss Gostick, found out about ex-servicemen's grants. With her help I applied and received one for the Leeds School of Art. This was understood from the outset merely to be a first step. London was the goal. But the only way to get to London was to take the Board of Education examinations and to win a scholarship.

Henry Moore in James Johnson Sweeney, 'Henry Moore', Partisan Review, New York

March-April 1947, p. 182

At Leeds School of Art Moore initially completed the two-year drawing course in one year. He could then finally begin to realise his childhood ambition by enrolling on the sculpture course. Sculpture had not been taught at the school since the war but in 1919 a sculpture department was set up just in time for Moore to become its only full-time student. At Leeds Moore met fellow artists Raymond Coxon and Barbara Hepworth. After two years at Leeds, Moore won a scholarship for the Royal College of Art, London, and moved to the capital in 1921. Coxon and Hepworth also enrolled in the Royal College. In London Moore absorbed as much as possible, not only from his formal training but also from the museums that were now on his doorstep.

I knew that not far away I had the National Gallery and British Museum and the Victoria and Albert with the reference library where I could get at any book I wanted. I could learn about all the sculptures that had ever been made in the world.


Henry Moore, in 'Conversations with Henry Moore', John and Vera Russell

Sunday Times, 17 December 1961

After Moore had finished the three-year sculpture course at the Royal College of Art he was granted a travelling scholarship to visit Italy and study the Old Masters. In 1924 Moore had also accepted a teaching post at the Royal College so had to delay his trip until 1925, when a replacement tutor was found. Moore continued to teach at the Royal College on a part-time basis until 1931.