In London so I crossed to the Holborn area on my way to the British Museum because I wanted to seek out the statue of Fenner Brockway. It was created by Ian Walters and unveiled by Michael Foot in 1985 when the subject was still alive; he died in 1988 at the age of 99.
Throughout his life he campaigned for race equality, peace and anti-colonialism. He was a conscientious objector in the First World War but later thought that taking up arms might be necessary. His change of mind was influenced by the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War.
He served as a Labour MP twice but with a twenty year gap between his two periods in the House of Commons. He lost his seat in 1964 which was surprising as it was a year of a Labour victory but he was considered to be a supporter of immigration to his constituency. He later served in the House of Lords and he continued to be a campaigner until his death.
In London, so I went to see the Leighton House Museum in the Holland Park area. I have long been an admirer of the work of Frederic, Lord Leighton and wanted to see the oriental influences in the decoration of the house he lived, worked and died in. I arrived just as the museum opened so had the place to myself (apart from the people who worked there, of course) for the first hour of my visit. Other visitors started arriving as I finished.
Frederic Leighton commissioned George Aitchison to build him a house that could be both home and studio. Additional parts were added in later years but the central feature was the Arab Hall with tiled walls, a dome and running water into a pool in the floor. Since I was on my own I kept stepping both ways through a doorway in and out of the drawing room since it was a contrast of East and West. Crossing between them seemed to be a good way of capturing the spirit of the British artist inspired by the East. A Millais painting hangs in the drawing room and Islamic inspired tiles decorate the Arab Hall; the combination is a good evocation of the man.
Queen Victoria visited the man and his house but she probably had lots of retainers with her. I was on my own! The works on show here are interesting but his best known paintings and sculptures are elsewhere in the big national galleries. Interestingly, there is a colour study for the painting ‘Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna is Carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence’, a painting in the National Gallery that I have to visit every time I am passing that way!
An interesting fact I picked up on this visit was that he did not have his peerage for very long. He was made Baron Leighton in the 1896 New Year Honours List, making him the first artist to be honoured in this way, only to die the next day!
In Winchester so I had to walk down through the city to the statue of King Alfred which I first saw on a boyhood visit. It is reassuring to see him still in place. The King of Wessex was a fifth son so was never expected to rule the kingdom; he became an active student instead and devoted his time to learning. He earned the title ‘great’ because he had a unique combination of statesmanship, scholarship and military skill.
The statue looking up the main street of the city shows him holding his sword in a gesture of victory or authority or both. He stands at 17 feet from the plinth so is an imposing figure. The artist Hamo Thorneycroft was a member of the Royal Academy. His statue of Alfred was erected in 1899 to mark a thousand years since his death.
Despite being clean shaven in most other depictions of Alfred, including coinage from his reign, this sculpture has him with a full beard; the type of beard those late Victorians thought befitted a King!
In Winchester for the first time in years, so off to see the Elizabeth Frink sculpture of ‘Horse and Rider’ erected in 1975 at the top of the High Street. It is a companion piece to the one of the same title in Mayfair, London installed a year earlier. The man is naked and sits on the horse with no saddle or bridle.
In Manchester so off to find the sculpture called ‘Casuals’. It is on the canal side on land that used to be industrial when the Manchester Ship Canal was at its height. Designed by the artist Broadbent, it is a representation of the union cards dock workers needed to be able to gain employment. The conditions were harsh, though, and the men were not guaranteed work. They needed to line up every day to see if they would be taken on. The casual nature of this employment made it very difficult for people to know if they could support their families. It also led to conflict when the same group of men were competing for the places on a job.
Names and photographs of some of the workers are included in the artwork which now sits on the walkway along the canal near to the regenerated Salford Quays.
In Manchester so I went to find the statue of Alan Turing which acts as a memorial to the great man who was instrumental in the Bletchley Park code breaking programme in the second world war and the development of computers. He worked at Manchester University after the war and it was while living in the city that he was arrested for gross indecency since he was homosexual at a time when it was against the law.
His statue is in Sackville Park near Canal Street, the centre of Manchester’s gay village. It is fitting that he is here. The artist Glyn Hughes shows him sitting on a bench in a slightly ill-fitting suit. He is eating an apple, a significant addition since he committed suicide by eating an apple laced with cyanide in 1954 just before his 42nd birthday. His conviction in 1952 resulted in chemical castration as an alternative to imprisonment.
So, here his memorial sits. It is possible to sit next to him, should you choose. It isn’t possible to undo the harm done by unjust laws. The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, issued an apology on behalf of the British Government in 2009 for the way Alan Turing was treated. His conviction must have seemed harsh to a man who is credited for playing a significant part in the allied victory of World War Two.
In Brighton, so I headed off to find the statue of Olympian runner Steve Ovett. This sculpture was made by locally based artist, Peter Webster and was unveiled in 2012 as part of the nation wide celebrations of the London Olympics.
The statue replaced one that was previously placed in the city’s Preston Park but which was stolen in 2007. The location of this one, on Brighton’s sea front, is more prominent and is a worthy tribute to the athlete who was born and educated in Brighton.