William Shayer was born in Southampton in 1787 and lived in the town for most of his 92 years. He was son of the landlord of the Turk’s Head public house in Spring Gardens, and later the Horse and Jockey in East Street. William began his working life as an ornamental furniture painter, from which it can be assumed he showed a promising artistic talent from a very young age. In 1801 or 1802 he left furniture painting to serve an apprenticeship as a coach painter and heraldic artist. Shortly afterwards he moved to Guildford and thence to Chichester, where, in 1810, he was working for coach builder George Parsons. He married Parsons’ niece, Sarah Earle, that same year.

During his stay in Chichester, Shayer, to supplement his income, began painting portraits, landscapes and rural scenes. He soon made a reputation in the art world and gradually made the transition from coach painter to professional artist. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1820.

On his return to Southampton in 1819 he lived at 54 French Street, next to the theatre, for which he may have painted scenery. In 1828 he moved to 158 High Street, next to Henry Buchan’s Hampshire Picture Gallery, a venue which gave him more opportunities to display and sell his work. During the gallery’s first season in 1827-28, 30 paintings were sold, the most popular works with the buyers proving to be Shayer’s.

In c.1832 he moved to 10 Hanover Buildings and in 1842 to Nursling before finally settling at Bladon Lodge on Winchester Road in 1843. He was still living there when he died in 1879. He was buried in the churchyard at St James, Shirley. Shayer Road, off the south side of Winchester Road, was named after him, and nearby Bladon Road commemorates his home.

After the death of his first wife in 1823, Shayer married Elizabeth Waller in 1825. Both wives bore him five children and four of his sons followed him into the art world. His first son, William Joseph (1811-1892), specialised in painting sporting subjects. Edward Dashwood Shayer (1821-1864) was a successful art dealer who lived in Pall Mall in fashionable St James, London. His death certificate lists his occupation as “artist”, so he too may have produced a number of paintings. Henry Thring Shayer (1825-1894) and Charles Waller Shayer (1826-1914) lived and worked with their father in Southampton and helped produce paintings under his direction. Henry specialized in landscapes, Charles in painting animals, particularly horses.

William Shayer

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Undated portrait.

see also

Further reading:
More Stories of Southampton Streets, by A. G. K. Leonard, p111-114. (HS/h)
Southampton People, by John Edgar Mann, p80-81. (HS/t)
The Shayer Family of Painters, by Brian Stewart and Mervyn Cutten. (HS/q)


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