A HEREFORDSHIRE rugby fan is selling his signed set of 1,000 handcrafted wooden models of the game's top players – valued at £20,000.

John Wilesmith, 64, has spent the last two decades making oak figurines of rugby union's greatest stars.

His models span rugby history and include Willie John McBride, Bill Beaumont and Beauden Barrett.

And the grandad-of-three is now selling the "Handpainted Heroes" set – many of which are signed.


Mr Wilesmith, of Ledbury, said: "I'll be very sad to see them go. But I went into overdrive in the lockdowns and they have overtaken me

"I've got signed figures of players from all over the world.

"The most fun for me is taking a black and white picture and creating a figurine in colour."

Mr Wilesmith started making the figurines 20 years ago, picking out players from rugby history.

Some of his favourites include Dave Gallaher, captain of the "original" All Blacks, and Alexander Obolensky – a Russian prince who played for England in the 1930s.

Ledbury Reporter: New Zealand rugby player Beauden Barrett with a model by John Wilesmith. Picture: John Wilesmith/SWNSNew Zealand rugby player Beauden Barrett with a model by John Wilesmith. Picture: John Wilesmith/SWNS (Image: John Wilesmith/SWNS)

And he also makes figurines of famous faces away from the sport - including royalty and prime ministers - although these are not up for sale.

Mr Wilesmith, who is head of operations at the Three Counties Showground in Malvern, said: "Making [the figurines] is the most relaxing thing I do.

"My job is high pressure, which I enjoy, and making these is like therapy.

"I was just enjoying making them for myself - but people are just so pleased to get them and that is encouraging.

"Modern shirts are the hardest part to paint, they take as long as the whole figure because of the logos.

"It's so important to me to get them accurate."

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The Welsh supporter makes two versions of each model – one for his mancave and one to give away.

His work has seen him praised by many of his subjects.

He said a particular highlight was when Gareth Edwards – thought by some to be Wales' greatest ever player – gratefully accepted a model.

And he even received a letter from a lady-in-waiting to the Queen over a model of Prince Philip.

He said: "That letter from the Queen was very touching. It's really precious.

"Boris Johnson was very grateful too and wrote a nice letter."

His collection skyrocketed during lockdown, prompting him to decide to sell.

The figurines are being sold online at handpaintedheroes.com and via auctioneers Mullocks on April 26.


Mr Wilesmith, who is married to Suzanne, 60, has valued some figurines at as much as £100 – and the whole collection is worth £20,000, he said.

Mr Wilesmith, who played for Ledbury RFC for 28 years and is now chairman, has rugby running through his veins.

He said he's descended from the man who wrote the Welsh words to the hymn Bread of Heaven, sung by the nation's fans at international games.

His grandmother Mary Williams – her maiden name – was a direct descendant of William Williams Pantycelyn, who wrote Arglwydd, arwain trwy’r anialwch in 1745.

The hymn was translated into English decades later – which includes the Bread of Heaven line – and is now sung to the tune of Cwm Rhondda.