William (Billie) Hughes - Artist and Librarian

    Part of the joy of our work is bringing back to life people and their stories. One such story has been included in our latest book - A Moorside Minglement - which tells the tragic story of two young people whose relationship did not have the fairy-tale ending.

    It came about with the showing of an episode of The Antiques Roadshow back in November 2012 when Mrs Stockdale, a local resident of our town, took along a fascinating collection of pictures, cartoons and paintings which had been given to a relative of theirs, one Miss Marjory Rickaby by William or Billie as he was known.

    This led to the uncovering of a wonderful story of forbidden love, disapproving parents and the tragic accidental death of Marjory in June 1925. It also proved how easily someone with such an amazing talent could disappear from the world.

    We do know a little of Billie’s early life. His father, William Hughes, was a Welsh lay clerk from Caernarfon. Whilst working at the Carlisle Cathedral he met and married Miss Dora Crosthwaite in 1890.

    The couple had three children with Billie born in 1894. They grew up in Rickergate, Carlisle until the death of their father. His mother remained for a while in the family home, taking in lodgers from the cathedral lay staff, until she met and later married Edgar Dyson. When Edgar was offered a post in Wiltshire, Dora, William and his brother Hugh went to live in Salisbury. 

    Billie had a real talent for art and studied at Bishop Wordsworth School in Salisbury where there was a newly founded Art Room. This highly regarded grammar school was founded as a Church of England school by the then Bishop of Salisbury, John Wordsworth, in 1889. His grandfather was brother to William Wordsworth, the famous poet.

    After leaving school Billie went on to work at the Salisbury Public Library under the guidance of Mr Butcher. His career was interrupted by the outbreak of WWI. In 1915 Billie went out to serve in India with the Territorial Army, which allowed regular Army units to be redeployed to the front line. A few faded images remain showing a young man with a mop of curly hair, sitting in front of his canvas tent clutching his art books and pens.


    After the war Billie came to work for the North Eastern Railway Library, now part of the National Railway Museum on Leeman Road, York. His job was to re-classify and re-catalogue the collection, but would also bring him into contact with his true love - Marjorie Rickaby.

    The couple created their own unique world with nicknames for one another - his name for Marjory was 'Nazi'. At the heart of it was Billie’s art and poetry. He drew her into a world of excitement and romance which must have been breath-taking for a girl from a quiet market town. They became engaged, but for some reason the relationship ended.

    Billie applied for and won a position as City Librarian at the Salisbury Public Library, where he had first begun his career with Mr Butcher. On 27th October 1922 he returned to Wiltshire. Marjorie never joined him. When Marjory was found lying in Spring Wood in the early hours of 27 June 1925, it was clear she had not survived the exposure and injuries of her fall. Kirkbymoorside mourned the tragic loss of such a young girl - only 22 when she died.

    Whether he ever knew what had happened to Marjorie is not known. What we do know is that he stayed on in Salisbury and is remembered by the children of the town. Below is a caricature of Billie, surrounded by books and paint by the cartoonist from The Evening Standard.In the BBC WWII Archive of stories there is one which mentions him:

    "Billy Hughes, the Salisbury Librarian, who organised concerts, was a talented artist. With plenty of encouragement from the audience he drew pin-up pictures, threw a ping pong ball into the crowd, and the lucky winner took away the resulting work of art. It would be interesting to know where some of those pictures ended up! Once, I made my appearance from a large painting of an Easter Egg, which Mr Hughes had prepared."

    He would also entertain the local children with drawings and sketches as they hid in the air-raid shelters.

    Researchers from the BBC rang to tell Mrs Stockdale that when Billie retired from the library service, he had moved down to Devon where he died in 1974. Whether there is any remaining family, it is not known. 

    Billie's artwork was discovered after Marjorie’s death and kept by her sister, Winifred. There are three folios of his work, all dedicated to his beloved ‘Nazi’.

    These images capture the spirit of the twenties and show just how much the relationship meant to them both. Marjorie kept every doodle and cartoon Billie drew for her and there are even a few surviving poems he wrote. Charming verses filled with idealised images.

    They had their own coded language and some of the postcards are written in shorthand, a skill Marjorie had used in her daily work in York as a shorthand typist.  

    The folders are still in the care of the family and Mr William Hughes has been rediscovered once more - thanks to his true love - Marjory Rickaby.

    Latest news - this story featured in the Salisbury Journal on Thursday 10 September 2015 - what this space for any developments or leads...