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.
In London, so off to Tate Britain to see the exhibition ‘Queer British Art: 1867- 1967’, held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passing of legislation to partially decriminalise homosexuality. The gallery was heaving with visitors heading for the major David Hockney show; somewhat telling that a gay artist drew bigger crowds than this attempt to show how being gay influenced the art.
I had a few problems with this exhibition, the largest being that not all the artists featured were known to be gay. The suggestion that he or she might have been is just a posh version of what the awful tabloid newspapers do when they want to ‘suggest’ a person’s sexuality.
Having grown up in the 70s when being thought to be gay by others was enough to bring around the abuse, it was a bit disappointing to see the same (but more refined) approach being used on people who are long dead and cannot speak for themselves. Lord Leighton’s work is here which seems to be enough to decide he must have been gay. I take the point, made by the curator, that many paintings were coded to convey messages that would have been picked up by gay people but that does not mean that all the Victorian artists here were gay themselves.
The two paintings I loved rose above the rest, with only the door of Oscar Wilde’s cell from Reading Prison of equal poignancy. Lord Leighton’s ‘Icarus and Daedalus’ and Henry Scott Tuke’s ‘The Critics’ were stunning.
Cordoba impressed me because it celebrated its multi- religious heritage. Around the corner from the statue of Jewish scholar Maimonides, was this statue to Muslim scholar Averroes.
Averroes was a Muslim lawyer rather than a Jewish physician but, otherwise, the two men were similar. Averroes was an authority on Aristotle and wrote a significant work called ‘The Incoherence of the Incoherence’. He, too, was exiled from Cordoba when the Berber dynasty took power and his books were burned. He died in Marrakesh in Morocco.
It is heartening that the city of Cordoba pays tribute to significant figures from different religious backgrounds.