The man behind the Mallard, but not a duck in sight

 

img_0674-2King’s Cross was quiet yesterday morning as I waited for the York train to become ready to board. Had it not been, I probably would have missed the recent addition of a statue honouring the engineer Sir Nigel Gresley by Hazel Reeves.  The bronze of the statue blends in with the bronze of the brickwork that forms its backdrop. The statue was unveiled on April 5th, the 75th anniversary of  Gresley’s death and is sited a few yards from the Kings Cross office in which he worked for London & North Eastern Railway (LNER).

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No plaque is yet in place and a typed sheet of A4 in a plastic wallet stuck to the wall nearby is the only written acknowledgement of the locomotive engineer who gave us those famous steam locomotives the Flying Scotsman and the Mallard. 

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The Closest reference to a duck!

Reeves original conception was for Sir Nigel to be accompanied by a duck – a reference both to the fastest steam locomotive in the world (Mallard achieved 126 mph) and his hobby of breeding water fowl in the moat of Salisbury Hall, his Hertfordshire home. Sadly, this witty and human touch didn’t meet with universal acclaim. Two of Sir Nigel’s grandsons felt that the addition of a duck would be “demeaning” and the dispute split the trustees of the Gresley Society Trust, three of whom resigned.
According to press reports, when the statue was unveiled last week by members of the Gresley family and Network Rail Chair, Sir Peter Hendy, there was a protest by the pro-duck lobby with several yellow rubber ducks in evidence. No ducks remained yesterday. No doubt they have decamped to the nearby Regent’s Canal or perhaps they caught the eye of Trim, Matthew Flinders’ statuary cat, from nearby Euston Station!

Some London Cats

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Laura Ford Cats 1 & 2

I recently stumbled across Camden-based, Laura Ford’s 2012 work Cats 1&2.  Situated at the end of Bishopsgate, appropriately close to the junction of Leadenhall Street with Whittington Avenue, these two anxious and distracted larger-than-life size cats are part of a series called Days of Judgement. Ford was inspired by Masaccio’s fresco, The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, but instead of Adam and Eve, she gives us these tall, thin, distracted and abject creatures.

I started to think about the other London cat statues I know, all of whom serve either to emphasise their human companion’s humanity or serve as a memorial to the humans with whom they are connected.

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Image ©PAUL FARMER and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Hodge, Dr Johnson’s  “very fine cat indeed”, portrayed in Jon Bickley’s 1997 statue with one of the oysters he favoured, gazes out in a very proprietorially feline attitude across Gough Square from his position on a copy of Johnson’s famous dictionary. He is also at good height for visitors to the Square to stroke or drape an arm round.

IMG_1531Trim, Matthew Flinders seagoing”close companion” looks as though he has his own interests but seems content to stay close by in the busyness of the Euston Station concourse.

 

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Image by By Jim Linwood (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Image by By Jim Linwood (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
These two Bloomsbury cats were indeed real and local. Humphry, on top, used to live in Queen Square (the statue, that is) but was relocated to the Alf Barrett children’s playground in nearby Old Gloucester Street.  Humphrey, the real cat, lived at the Mary Ward Adult Education Centre the Square. He was named after Humphry Ward, husband of the centre’s founder Mary Augusta (Mrs Humphry) Ward, the Victorian social reformer and novelist.  Humphry is the first and only sculpture completed by Marcia Solway who attended sculpture classes at the Centre and lived nearby. Sadly, Marcia died of epilepsy aged only 34 in 1992. The statue was donated by her mother Carole Solway.

Sam, portrayed jumping down from a wall in a corner of Queen Square, lived with a active local resident Patricia Penn (Penny).  Penny was a nurse,  actively engaged in the local residents association and a campaigner for the preservation of the area’s historic buildings.  The sculpture by John Fuller, was erected in 2002 and funded by local people to commemorate Penny’s life.  The current version is mark two as the original was stolen in 2007. However, Sam won’t be able to jump down from the wall this time as the new sculpture is fixed to the brickwork with steel rods!

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Image by Stephen Craven [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The cat in the Salter family grouping at Bermondsey returned  to the embankment wall in 2014 after a spell in protective custody with Southwark Council. Although daughter Joyce and her pet cat were unharmed, the statue of her father, local GP and Labour MP, Dr Alfred Salter was stolen in 2011.  Happily, a fundraising campaign meant that sculptor Diane Gorvin, who created the original trio in 1991, was able to make a new statue of Alfred and  to complete the family grouping with a statue of Ada Salter.  Ada, who had been omitted from the original commission was the first Labour woman mayor in Britain and the  first female mayor in London. An ethical socialist, she successfully campaigned for improved housing and the greening of London through Deptford’s Beautification Committee.

You may like to read more about Trim and Matthew Flinders

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