A lecture by John Blatchly is always delivered with a natural ease. There are some facts which you didn't know and some amusing anecdotes, and at the end you realise it's all added up to much more than the sum of its delightful parts. On this occasion, I thought I knew most of what Dr Blatchly would have to say about Wolsey and the creation of the statue but it turned out to be only a fraction of what I enjoyed on the evening of 14 December.
The need for a Wolsey statue first occurred to him about twelve years ago but the final push came from James Hehir, IBC's then Chief Executive, at the unveiling of the Prince Obolensky statue. So it was all the more sad and problematic when James suddenly died, because he had said, "You deal with the history, John, and I'll look after the fundraising." Despite that major setback the campaign turned out to be quite short, with the launch (and first cheque) at St Peter's in October 2009, the interview of the seven short-listed sculptors (out of 57 applicants) in December 2009, the proceeding work by the chosen artist, David Annand, the second publicity launch in St Lawrence's Church, ongoing fundraising and the unveiling of the finished Wolsey on Ipswich Charter Day, 29 June 2011.
Most of the applicants had proposed a Wolsey standing up blessing the populace. But what we see now is Wolsey seated and, as it were, teaching children. Dr Blatchly's explanation was that "the average Ipswichian wasn't looking for a blessing" and having Wolsey seated on Curson Plain, near the site of Curson House which he wanted to retire to, meant that he could be under the trees, one or two of which would have had to be removed if he' d been a standing figure. That would have got him off to an unpopular start!
For those critics of the statue who question the length of Wolsey's robes, we learnt that a cardinal's Cappa Magna is some 16 feet long and needs two or four train bearers. And the cat on the statue is authentic in that Wolsey allowed his cat to sit on a stool on his right side even when presiding in the Star Chamber. It will of course help to attract children to the statue and, after all, as it says around the base, "Pleasure should mingle with study so that the child may think learning an amusement rather than a toil."
Fascinating snippets also came out of the talk. Sculptors re-use their clay and David Annand used the clay of Wolsey's head to model Alex Salmond's! We learnt that there are nursery rhymes relevant to our great man - apparently Old Mother Hubbard is Wolsey. The huge black marble tomb intended by Wolsey for his own corpse was left around royal circles unused until Nelson's body was inserted and placed in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral.
Most important to Dr Blatchly is the legacy aspect apart from the statue itself. Two more Wolsey heads were made by David Annand, one of which serves as an 'advertisement' in the Tourist Information Centre for the statue and the other will be unveiled at DCS, where the 200-seater lecture room will be the venue for the Annual Wolsey Lecture, to be given on 24 April (7 for 7.30 pm) by Phillip Lindley, author of Cardinal Wolsey, Church, State and Art. He will describe Wolsey's role as patron of the arts and architecture in Renaissance England.
We were told that, at the unveiling of the statue, a bystander was heard to say, "Yes, Wolsey. I know about him. He built the theatre." Dr Blatchly is keen that we should all keep learning so that we know better than that.