Hilda Coles – An Appreciation

Gifted artist and teacher who inspired many in a long and productive life

The funeral of Hilda Coles (née Clayton), of Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, and Cheeverstown House, Clondalkin, Co Dublin, took place in St Mary's Church, Rathvilly, Co Carlow, on January 10th.

A large congregation gathered to say farewell to a much-loved family member, artist, teacher and friend. She was born on February 19th, 1916, in what was then the rural village of Clondalkin in south Dublin. The middle child of three, she was educated first at home, and at the age of 10 went to St Margaret's Hall School, where she received an honours Leaving Certificate. She entered the National College of Art, Dublin, in 1935, where she studied anatomy, poster design and decorative metalwork under the renowned Prof Percy Oswald Reeves. She graduated as an Associate of the College of Art (ANCA). During her college years she was awarded prizes for metalwork, jewellery design and the history of Irish stained glass. Her artistic speciality lay, however, in calligraphy and illumination, and for some years after college she worked for the Office of Arms in Dublin Castle designing and executing the official grants of arms and other illuminated works. She also designed and executed presentation addresses for individuals, companies and societies.

From the Office of Arms she moved to pursue a teaching career in art, beginning with part-time teaching posts in many of Dublin's long-vanished secondary schools – Morgan's School, the Collegiate School, Celbridge, St Margaret's Hall, the Masonic Boys' School and Avoca School. She later accepted a full-time teaching position in Omagh, and remained there until she returned to Dublin, following her marriage to Albert Coles. Back in Dublin she taught for a while in Wesley College but eventually she and Albert moved to Nuneaton in England.

Her calligraphy may be seen all around Ireland and Nuneaton, and her illuminated book plates are the pride and joy of family members and were executed with great skill and devotion to detail. She designed the wooden altar rails in the chapel of St Laurence O'Toole in Dublin's Christ Church Cathedral and a copper and enamel alms dish for the use of the Mothers' Union in this chapel in the cathedral. This alms dish is the cathedral's only example of Irish craftsmanship and design from the 1940s and is still in use to this day.


Hilda was also a keen sportswoman; she played badminton, table tennis (for Leinster) and tennis, and from an early age played competitively with her brother, William.

Hilda was a devout Christian, a cradle Anglican by conviction, but an extraordinary ecumenist. She attended church all her life, participating fully in parish life in St John’s Church, Clondalkin, and following her move to England, the parish church of All Saints’ Chilvers Coten, Nuneaton. In Nuneaton she was involved with the ministry of healing, bible study, and was a member of the parochial church council (the equivalent of the Church of Ireland’s select vestry) and spent much time visiting and caring for the sick and housebound.

Her beloved husband Albert died in 1993, and following his death, Hilda continued to throw herself into parish and community work, with recreation time spent gardening and also frequent visits home to Ireland to visit her sister Ruth and other family members and friends. Hilda’s love for her family and friends was legendary and letters and cards were dispatched to mark all birthdays and anniversaries. She remained in touch with many of her past pupils and fellow teachers, and over the years many of them enjoyed her wonderful hospitality in Nuneaton. Her death, on December 9th, 2017, in her 102nd year, has left a void in her family.

Her funeral was, at her request, conducted by her great-nephew, and was full of cheer and happy remembrances; she requested that those who might care to attend wear bright and cheery clothing, as she, by her own admission, was an extraordinary age, and that this should be something to celebrate! As an artist and a teacher she is remembered with great affection, and as a family member, with enormous love and great happiness.