IN Assisi, where he was chaplain to Fillipino nuns, he was known as Padre Francesco. Back in his home town of Silsden, he was Hildred Harpin, from a non-conformist family.

It was on a European trip he took as an art student that Hildred was introduced to religious paintings that changed his life forever.

Hildred is one of the artists featured in Colin Neville’s book, Past Silsden Artists. Celebrating the work of largely forgotten artists who emerged from the town - Stan Boardman, Jack Clarkson, Doris Schrecker, Augustus Spencer, Dorothy Wade and Joseph West are the others - the book highlights their distinctive styles, personalities and lives.

“If a single characteristic can be found among them, it is in their determination to use their art abilities to best advantage, not just for themselves but for others too. In this they were fortunate to live locally, with art schools in Keighley and Bradford, and, importantly, have families that were prepared to support and encourage their interests,” says Colin, who showcases artists from the district, past and present, on his website Not Just Hockney.

Hildred was born in 1907 in Marsden. His father was an amateur painter and Hildred showed a talent too, later studying at Huddersfield School of Art then the Royal College of Art, where he won a travel scholarship. Inspired by his European trip, and exposure to religious art, he converted to Catholicism in 1928. After graduating from the RCA, and travelling further across Europe and the Middle East, he became a freelance artist, specialising in church painting.

In the 1930s he took a teaching post at Keighley School of Art and also taught art at Keighley Boys’ Grammar School. A popular teacher, he painted an image of the Risen Christ against Gordale Scar as a memorial to former pupils killed in the Second World War.

Hildred organised religious discussion groups for young people, and sketching trips. He was also involved with local politics - in 1955 he was elected onto Silsden Urban Council and was founder chairman of Silsden Town Centre Development Committee.

He edited and contributed illustrations for a quarterly magazine, Zest - For Your Leisure, sold in the Keighley area for a shilling. And, until the end of his life, he painted many watercolour landscape scenes in Yorkshire, which were exhibited regularly and published in The Dalesman.

He also painted religious scenes and covered walls of his cottage at Swartha, near Keighley, with murals depicting incidents in the life of St Francis of Assisi, his patron saint.

In 1957 Hildred left Silsden to study for the priesthood in Rome. He was ordained in 1961 and became known as Father Francis Harpin.

Suffering from chest problems, he was advised by his doctor to spend winters away, so he went to Assisi in Italy and became an English speaking chaplain to Filipino nuns. He spent the last 18 years of his life in Assisi, where everyone knew him as Padre Francesco.

* Past Silsden Artists is published by Silsden Local History Group. To order a copy visit