Gresley Society Council and the ‘duck controversy’

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Nigel Dant and Dennis Butler – the two Gresley Society Council members to resign over the decision to remove the mallard – have written the following in response to a piece in the Gresley Observer (the Gresley Society magazine for members):

Gresley Society members have been told by Council (the Society’s ruling body) that the ‘duck controversy’ over the proposed statue of Sir Nigel Gresley is the fault of the Council subcommittee who worked tirelessly for over a year to translate the germ of an idea into a full-blown, accepted by the necessary authorities, proposition . The subcommittee’s crime? ‘Inexplicably’ not consulting the Godfrey brothers (Sir Nigel’s grandsons) about the statue’s design.

As the two surviving members of that subcommittee, we strongly contest this interpretation of the situation. Sadly, Andrew Dow, who lead the subcommittee is no longer here to join us in this.

Firstly, the ‘controversy’ – ie a significant and ongoing amount of bad press and bad feeling towards the Gresley Society – has been caused by Council’s inept (not to say partisan) handling of the project since the Godfreys made their objections known. To decide to remove the mallard from the statue four months into an international fundraising appeal featuring the with-mallard design was bad enough. But to do it without consulting rank and file Society members (in whose name the statue will be erected) nor the people who had already contributed to the fund, was a huge mistake. No wonder people are upset.

Subsequent statements by senior Council members and Tim Godfrey himself have just made matters worse. Berating anyone who disagrees with the decision to remove the mallard, and saying the public have no interest in the statue, is no way for a (once) respected organisation to behave.

Which brings us to the second point of contention. Council members – as evidenced by their stated disregard for public interest in the statue, and their devotion to the Godfreys – appear to have forgotten that the statue was supposed to be a public memorial to Sir Nigel. Not a family tribute. The Council’s agreed goal was for a public statue, in a public place, paid for (as much as possible) by the public.

The with-mallard design was approved by Council last summer before planning consent was sought, and apparently endorsed by members at its AGM that Autumn. We say ‘apparently endorsed’ because no words of dissent were offered to any of the subcommittee members, all three of whom were present – even by the member of the Godfrey family who also attended the meeting. We have learnt over recent weeks how close a friendship Council members enjoy with the Godfreys. If any of them were at all concerned about the presence of the mallard, why did they not pick up the phone and have a chat about it? Council members were happy with the original statue design until the Godfreys intervened. Now, Council are telling us what a terrible idea the mallard is, as if it is some sort of satanic figure. They must be seeing something they didn’t notice before.

With a project of this size and complexity, the proposed statue was never going to please everybody. If, at the outset, we had been asked to consult the family, we might still be working on it, since other family members supported the original design. Added to that there was a great deal to do in finding and commissioning the sculptor, negotiating with Network Rail for a prime position, getting the essential consent from Camden Council, organising a new website, as well as delivering publicity and infrastructure for the fundraising appeal. A year’s solid work before the Godfreys stepped in and demanded changes.

Of course the mallard was only one area of contention. The cut of Sir Nigel’s suit, lack of tie pin, hand in pocket and the magazine in his left hand were other dislikes. Interestingly, the magazine he is holding is a copy of Locomotive dated 15 July 1939 on the front cover of which is, you’ve guessed it, a picture of Mallard. So, a mallard at his feet and Mallard in his left hand, the juxtaposition is inspired and the insult that the Gresley Society have levelled at Hazel Reeves by rejecting her design is without compare.

To blame the subcommittee for the mess the Gresley Society now finds itself in is like the Captain of the Titanic saying the engine room crew were responsible for hitting the iceberg. Rather than looking for scapegoats, Council should concentrate on getting the Society out of dangerous waters before it sinks without trace.

emprie of indiaDennis Butler and Nigel Dant, Ex Gresley Society sub-committee


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