James Dow, son of the former Gresley Society Vice Chairman Andrew Dow BEM, kicked off a slew of pro-mallard letters in the Times last week. Dow Senior was the driving force behind the statue project, and resigned when most of his colleagues voted to remove the mallard. (James’s grandfather George Dow was Press Relations Officer for LNER during WWII.)
The following day (27th Jan), a second letter highlighted the importance of the molehill in the St James’ Square statue of William III.
On 28th Jan a third letter-writer felt the mallard deserved a standalone statue, whilst a fourth the next day talked of other notable statues that include animals.
Camden Council granted planning permission for the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley and Mallard in November 2014, with the words “the works hereby approved are only those specifically indicated on the drawing(s) referred to above”. The ‘drawings‘, of course, and all the supporting documentation (such as the computer-generated picture shown here) clearly indicated a mallard duck at Gresley’s feet. This was the design the Gresley Society trustees had approved, and the one submitted to public consultation through the planning process.
And yet, now that the trustees have had their minds changed and have changed the design of the statue by asking the sculptor to remove the mallard, Camden Council apparently do not intend to insist the installation goes ahead as per the permission, ie with the mallard. This is despite overwhelming public support for inclusion of the mallard, and as we understand it, in breach of planning law.
It remains to be seen whether protesters will pursue this latest point and call for judicial review of Camden’s decision, but one thing does seem certain: there will be ducks on the statue. So many people have told us about plans for their own ducky tributes to Sir Nigel at King’s Cross that Camden looks set to have its own version of Glasgow’s Duke of Wellington statue, forever sporting a traffic cone.
Camden could avoid this potential embarrassment now: by making it clear to the Gresley Society Trust that the statue must be installed lawfully, with the (bronze) mallard.
Mark Rand, who writes at Settle Station Water Tower says:
Like it or not, statues of animals have more popular appeal than those of people. I was much involved with the now famous statue of Ruswarp the dog at Garsdale station.
That too was criticised at the time by many and it almost did not happen. Happily it did happen and proves to be the most talked about item among the glories of the Settle-Carlisle line – second only to the Ribblehead Viaduct probably.
It is a bit of fun which speaks powerfully about the fight to save the line from closure and of the loyalty of Man’s Best Friend. It seems relevant in the present context.
One of the many contentious arguments the Gresley Society has used in defence of its decision to remove the mallard from the statue of Sir Nigel concerns the duck’s role as an ‘attribute’ – defined in artistic terms as ‘some distinguishing addition to the principle figure.’
The Gresley Society say:
… artistic opinion is by no means unanimous that a modern statue needs something ‘extra’ in order to attract attention.
And whilst they may well be right that not everyone agrees an attribute is necessary (is ‘artistic opinion’ ever unanimous about anything?), the award-winning sculptor they commissioned for the statue thought it was.
As do the commissioners and designers of many other modern statues. Relevant examples include:
- John Betjeman (St Pancras Station, 2007. Attribute: shopping bag)
- Matthew Flinders (Euston Station, 2014. Attribute: dividers and his cat)
- Terence Cuneo (ex Waterloo Station, 2004. Attribute: easel (and mouse))
- Isambard Kingdom Brunel (Paddington Station, 1982. Attribute: top hat)
- James Henry Greathead (outside Bank Station, 1994. Attribute: plans)
- George Stephenson (Chesterfield Station, 2011. Attribute: dividers, wheel, model Rocket)
A few commentators have suggested other attributes for Gresley’s statue might work better than the mallard, for example a scale model locomotive (see Stephenson’s statue). But a mallard duck, in its apparent incongruity, is instantly recognisable across the concourse, and makes the link between Gresley and the thing that made him world famous – steam speed record holder Mallard.
Iconic and unforgettable. Which is why the sculptor chose it. Add to this Gresley’s well-known affection for waterfowl, and the mallard attribute works on all levels.
Only the star-struck Gresley Society hierarchy seem to think Sir Nigel is already so recognisable that he just needs to stand there looking benignly across King’s Cross station, and everyone seeing the statue – now and for the next 100 years or so – will know, or want to know, who it commemorates. Without the mallard, they will not.
Sculptor Hazel Reeves – commissioned by the Gresley Society to create the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley – has been blogging about the design and build process. Here’s her latest post, which explains how her clay scale model (maquette) of the statue was replicated in bronze:
The clay maquette of Sir Nigel Gresley and the Mallard arrived safely in the Docklands at Bronze Age Sculpture Casting Foundry. Their team made the two moulds – one for the figure and one for the Mallard – and cast them in wax. Two weeks later I was presented with the wax version of the sculpture to check. There is always a need for me to do some minor tweaks at this stage. Additions are made in white wax. I use my wax tools to make other amendments. Time also to position the Mallard. One of the Bronze Age team are always nearby to provide advice or assistance – and a welcome cup of coffee.
Sculptor Hazel Reeves, who has been commissioned by the Gresley Society to make the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley, writes about the process from inception on her blog, and it makes for fascinating reading.
She describes the initial brief here, and her painstaking research:
We wanted a larger-than-life sculpture of Sir Nigel Gresley, with his old [King’s Cross office] building as a backdrop, representing the past, with him looking out to the new concourse, and to the future.
There were still so many more questions to answer. At what age should he be depicted? What pose would be appropriate? What should he be wearing? It was time for me to get stuck into researching the man, his life and his engines.
This post on Hazel’s blog talks about the decision to include a mallard duck in the statue:
Caught off guard in a moment of reflection, Sir Nigel appears relaxed and relatively informal, with his hand in his jacket pocket and a copy of his trade journal, The Locomotive, in his other hand. This is his terrain. This is where he works. A twinkle in his eye suggests his good sense of humour. He was an authoritative yet not an autocratic man. He demanded excellence and commanded loyalty.
But why the duck? This is no mere whimsy. This companion to Sir Nigel, alludes to his record-breaking Mallard locomotive but also his well-documented love of waterfowl. According to his Grandson Tim Godfrey, Sir Nigel “used to live at Salisbury Hall in Hertfordshire, which had a moat, and he started a collection of wildfowl – wild ducks and so on – that he was very keen on….some of his locomotives were named after them” (Shropshire Star, April 29, 2013).
In addition, the Mallard duck was to rouse the curiosity of those unfamiliar with the man, including the younger generation: getting them to come closer, to read the wall plaque and scan the QR [Quick Read] code, to find out more about this incredible engineer. So, the inclusion of the Mallard was to attract interest far beyond the ranks of committed railway enthusiasts.
Hazel Reeves’ Sir Nigel Gresley and Mallard took pride of place at the Society of Women Artists Annual Exhibition preview on June 4th, when HRH, Princess Michael of Kent visited, as did Michael Portillo.
The show is open to the public until 3pm on June 13th, at Mall Galleries, The Mall London SWl
HRH is pictured here (left, with Hazel Reeves (wearing glasses), right; photo Ed Sepple).
Hazel discussing the maquette with Michael Portillo (photo Ed Sepple).
Sculptor Hazel Reeves’ scale model (maquette) of the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley has been on public display this month, at Brighton’s Artists Open Houses Festival, and the Society of Portrait Sculptors FACE2015 exhibition in London (details here).
There’s another chance to see the maquette from June 5th to 13th at Society of Women’s Artists Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries, The Mall London SWl.
A comment from a supporter who saw the Brighton show:
I went to see the duck statue and the way it’s all balanced, the duck is essential! Such a shame if it goes ahead without the duck.
These photos were taken at FACE2015 by Ian Kay, who said:
Trip out today to see the maquette, looks best with the duck!
There are so many great comments on the petition – it’s impossible to keep up with them all. This one from Deirdre Clenet caught the eye today – what a brilliant idea to give Sir Nigel a voice as part of Talking Statues:
[The mallard] will attract a lot of attention to the sculpture. Children will love it and direct the very busy parents to “Look at this Dad or Mum”
It should also become part of the “Talking Statues” project where people can log on, get a telephone call (from the statue) and talk to Sir N Gresely who will tell them about his life, his work etc.
This project already includes the Newton statue outside the British library/ Queen Victoria and even Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Your statue would be a perfect addition to the scheme to get MORE people to look at sculpture.
There’s a lovely article in CityMetric today that considers representations of ducks in public art, not altogether seriously. Here’s one picture they found of Hong Kong: