Randolph Caldecott was born in Chester on 22 March, the son of an accountant. He was educated at the local King’s School, where he won prizes for art. He worked first as a bank clerk in Whitchurch and Manchester, but took classes at Manchester Art School and from 1868 also drew for the local papers. His real break came in 1871, with contributions to London Society, and in the following year he moved to London. Working for Punch and other periodicals, Caldecott studied at the Slade School and with the sculptor Dalou, and began to exhibit at the RA and elsewhere. In 1875 the publication of Washington Irving’s Old Christmas launched his career as a book illustrator, and in the following year he started to contribute comic narratives, in colour, to the Christmas and Summer numbers of the Graphic.
In 1878, he produced the first of the sixteen picture books for Routledge which won him the title of ‘lord of the nursery’. A member of the Manchester Academy of Arts (1880) and of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-Colour (1882), he worked successfully in watercolour and greatly influenced later illustrators of colour picture books. Despite his own physical frailty, he managed to instil his delicate view of the eighteenth century with a robust humour. He died in St Augustine’s, Florida on 12 February 1886. His spirit of an ideal rural world lived on in the work of many imitators and devotees such as the brothers Brock.