Richard Barnes, PMSA member and independent publisher, whose company Frontier Publishing, produced Geoff Archer’s Public Sculpture in Britain, reviews the latest volume in the PMSA’s Public Sculpture of Britain series for 3rd Dimension.
Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk by Richard Cocke, with photographs by Sarah Cocke
PMSA National Recording Project, Public Sculpture of Britain series, Vol. XVI
Hardback ISBN: 978–1–84631–712–5 (R.R.P. £45.00)
Publication date: May 2013
Publisher: Liverpool University Press, 328pp., 300 b.&w. illus.
From conception to publication a decade later, here is the 16th volume in the PMSA’s Public Sculpture of Britain series (eleven more to come) and inevitably it is to be compared with others in the series. I would judge this a favourable comparison because Richard Cocke and his wife, Sarah, have made a fine work of the project. It has the best cover in the series so far, featuring Sarah Cocke’s photograph of one of Alfred Hardiman’s bronze Heraldic Lions from the 1930s set against the flinty Gothic exterior of Norwich’s early 15th century Guildhall (fig.1).
Unlike English Heritage, who add on a further five counties, the PMSA’s region is proper East Anglia, with just the two counties. Back in 2001, when the idea of this volume was first raised, there were voices from Cambridge asking why the Eastern region’s sculpture should be reviewed from Norwich. The late Jo Darke, the PMSA’s much-loved co-founder, knew that Norfolk and Suffolk’s public sculpture was sufficient to stand alone, having researched and written The Monument Guide to England and Wales. She commissioned the volume after meeting Richard Cocke in 2002.
Based at the University of East Anglia and on the point of retiring from a career in Art History, Richard Cocke was senior lecturer and Dean of the School of World Art Studies. His book begins with an introduction, a resumé of the inventory, which contains a useful graphic showing that there were more new arrivals in 2000–2009 than in the entire previous century. The total eventually grew to about 870 entries or sculptural items.
The material at hand – the sculptures of Norfolk and Suffolk – were not a disappointment. Some very old items are listed, from North Norfolk’s 10,000 year-old Seahenge discovered in 1998 to the 13th century carved-oak beams in Halesworth and the 17th century pargetted reliefs at Sparrows House, Ipswich. Other regional specialties include seaside architectural details at Yarmouth, Cromer and Southwold, and the bronze equines at Newmarket by John Skeaping, Philip Blacker and James Osborne, all raised in the last half-century. One quibble is that the dramatic 15’ tall rearing stallion and its handler in bronze by Marcia Astor and Alan Sly, which really is in public view on a roundabout by Newmarket’s race course, received no more than a brief mention on page 236, because it was just inside Cambridgeshire. There are also inclusions which might not have been previously classified as public sculpture, for instance John Flaxman’s Fury of Athamas at Ickworth House, now owned by the National Trust.
Photographs in the Norfolk and Suffolk volume are of a higher than usual standard. Having seen some of Sarah Cocke’s photographs in colour, there was some question as to how well they would be reproduced. The fact is that photos which are effective in colour do not necessarily reproduce well in monotone. The print and paper quality in the PMSA book series has risen consistently, but what would help is closer contact with the publishers, whereby a page designer can warn in advance when pictures converted to monotone appear murky. Further than this, photographic submissions should be flagged in terms of importance of the sculpture they illustrate. For example, the photograph of Charity, the statue outside the old Fishermen’s Hospital in Yarmouth, deserved more prominence. It is possible to view the Sarah Cocke’s colour originals on the dedicated website (see link below).
So much of sculpture history is about stories and, fortunately, Richard Cocke knows how to tell them. I particularly like the occasions where he supplies extra contextual history – for instance for the pyramid at Blickling, or the identity of Violet Vaughan Morgan, whose statue in Norwich cathedral was by Frances Derwent Wood. The author demonstrates tact when dealing with Maggi Hambling’s Scallop memorial to Benjamin Britten at Aldeburgh, contested because it stands on the shoreline, regarded by many as ‘sacred space’ for nature. While researching, the author made discoveries. No previous survey had included the life-size marble Fighting Bulls by Auguste Clésinger, seen outside Lynford Hall. Inside Ipswich Town Hall, he found the elegant lamp-holding figurines featuring the Four Continents, cast in iron by Coalbrookdale and modelled by John Bell in the 1860s. As Bell’s biographer, even I didn’t know about these. Another surprise was hearing about a pair of the original Coade Victory figures from the Norfolk Pillar, located in a private garden.
The book ends with supplementary lists which are a real boon and for which I salute the author. Firstly, in common with the Bristol and Worcester volumes, he has listed one or two memorials in churches, (though PMSA persons know that church items are not within the series’ ‘public’ remit). Secondly, he has included a small section titled, ‘Lost’. This is fascinating, as it includes the theft of Snape’s Henry Moore sculpture, removed from the HMF’s Hertfordshire workshops in 2005. Equally shocking in my view was the story of Herbert Hampton’s 1904 Queen Victoria Memorial in Ipswich. The bronze figure and attendant lions were taken (too late to be of any use) for dismantling and recasting for munitions in WW2.