Michael Groser, sculptor


Michael Groser was born in 1918 in his grandfather's rectory in St Winnow, Cornwall. In the 1920s his parents moved to London, where he attended the Mercers' School. After obtaining a first class honours degree in English Literature at Leeds University, he studied for the priesthood at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, Yorkshire, but realised that he lacked a vocation. At the start of the second world war, as a conscientious objector, he was sent to work as a coal miner near Huddersfield. He managed to arrange his working hours so that he could study sculpture part-time at Leeds School of Art, where he was inspired by African wood carvings and the work of Henry Moore.


The larger proportion of Michael Groser's work can be seen in various Oxford colleges in the form of grotesques, real and imaginary creatures, portraits and decorative work. He also had a great interest in lettering, admiring the work of Eric Gill, and enjoyed designing and carving inscriptions, particularly gravestones. These included his parents' and Eileen's mother's in Watlington and Appleton respectively.

Interviewed in retirement, he said that he had begun by drawing copies of fourteenth century grotesques and trying to imitate them. "They weren't successful at all, so I did some drawings just from my own imagination and they were accepted. After that, on nearly all the jobs I did in Oxford I was given a free hand and I just invented."

For most of his working life he kept a photographic record of his carvings. This website will feature a selection of those photos, beginning with many of the grotesques and other beasts and heads he created for New College. It is intended to add a number of his other carvings, but as he not only had a special relationship with New College through the choir but was also able to exercise his own imagination with the greatest freedom, it seems evident that these carvings represent the most characteristic and personal aspects of Michael Groser's work.

Theological student, with glove puppet, 1939

After the war he attended St Martin's School of Art in London, supporting himself by singing alto in the choirs of St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, whose evensong services were so timed that he was able to cycle rapidly from one to the other. He met Eileen at St Martin's, and was in a position to ask her to marry him in 1951 on the strength of earning money from other singing engagements and from acting in two films. Their first child was born in London in 1955, and in the same year they moved to Kirtlington, Oxfordshire, wishing to bring their children up in the countryside. Michael had already sung occasionally with the choir at New College, Oxford, and gratefully accepted their offer of a lay clerkship.

This was a period when the stonework in Oxford colleges was being restored and many carvings needed to be replaced. Michael was able gradually to build a reputation as a sculptor. In 1962 the family moved to Charlton, near Banbury, where he had his first workshop at home, although on a few occasions when he was carving large blocks of stone he would need the space of a barn or a builders' yard.

Michael and Eileen shared a love of Early Music, and enjoyed playing recorders and viols in an amateur capacity when living in Appleton, from 1967, and Kennington, after 1988. Michael was also occasionally called on to play the bass viol professionally. He retired from New College Choir in 1982, and gradually reduced his carving work, although he continued to accept the odd commission into his eighties. In 2004, he and Eileen moved to County Cork, where two of their daughters lived, and where their first great-grandchild was born in 2007. Michael died in Bantry in 2009, and is buried at Church Cross, near Skibbereen.

Thanks to the Bursar and Archivist of New College, Oxford, for their expressions of encouragement and interest in this project

Contents page

Carvings for New College, Oxford