The familiar image of the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon helmet, as represented in sculptor Antony Robinson’s 1995 Longship screens at the Old Cattle Market (repositioned in 2017)
Those with good memories may recall a Society Winter Illustrated Talk in 2013 to accompany the publication of The Public sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk by Richard and Sarah Cocke. Richard, who had visited many towns in East Anglia made an interesting point about Ipswich. ‘You have a fine range of public sculpture and very few ‘breeches statues’ which clutter other towns’. He was referring to the almost inevitable statues of ‘great and good’ (mainly) men who made money, held high office, did good works etc. to be found in other conurbations. In Ipswich we don’t seem to go in for this, even for the most deserving characters – perhaps it’s our history of slightly bolshie non-conformism. Even Herbert Hampton’s large, cast iron statue of Queen Victoria, 1904, complete with stone plinth and four lions couchant, which was once sited in front of Christchurch Mansion was melted down for armaments in World War II.
So, taking a stroll around the town can provide a wonderful survey of three-dimensional art through time, but you’ve got to know where to look. The figure of Ceres, repurposed for the first Corn Exchange from the figure of Justice which had topped the Market Cross, can be seen in her weathered state at the foot of the staircase of the Town Hall. An oft-overlooked, and rather good, bust of Wolsey (shown on our front cover) stands at the top of the staircase.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Ipswich boy that he was, has taken his time to be immortalised in sculpture. There is Barnabas Barrett’s 1867 central head on the frontage of the Town Hall facade, followed by A.W. Bellis’ relief tondo on the Wolsey Gallery (our April 2018 issue tells the story of the maquette) and finally David Annand’s 2011 seated portrait at the top of St Peters Street. This last was a major achievement by the late Dr John Blatchly and others.
Of course, everybody has a view on a public sculpture, if they notice it at all, and these opinions can be quite strong – for and against. This might be the place to speak up in favour of the fabled Sor of Hing on St Matthews roundabout. This 1963 modernist construction by West Suffolk sculptor Mervyn Crawford was made to fit into the rather brutalist 1960s architecture of the Civic Drive development. Apparently, its informal nickname derives from a critical letter to the local press, where the writer referred to it as being the ‘sort of thing’ appropriate to London but not Suffolk. Unfortunately the paper’s press malfunctioned and the letter ’t’ didn’t reproduce; the name stuck. Nick Wiggin, proprietor of the well-known local chemist’s shop on the corner of Berners Street and upon which the sculpture was fixed, tells us that he got some grief from the Conservation Officer when he installed the burglar alarm see in the photograph. Even the pigeons like it and have nested on the open end of the hollow tube.
Back to the figurative: local artist Sean Hedges-Quinn created statues of Ipswich Town managers both of whom went on to manage England: Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson, 2000 and 2002 respectively, sited close to the football ground. But a more sensitive, thought-provoking figure sits cross-legged in the shade of trees close to St Mary-at-Elms: Tam by Honoria Surie. Her daughter Tam (Tamasin) is seen moulding a piece of clay – quite appropriate as her mother, now Honor Hussey, went on to run Butley Pottery.
Barley sculpture, Felaw Maltings
Tucked away in the middle of Felaw Maltings, now Maltings Terrace, is a large work by Vanessa Parker of the Hitcham-based Land & Sculpture Design Partnership: Barley sculpture, 1999. Tall, elegant and very site-specific to the former maltings, it is seen more by those inside the buildings than by passers-by. Another well-kept secret is the fine work Spirit of youth, 1990, by John Rivera in St Mary's Court, off Museum Street. This through-way (thanks to negotiations with the office owners) is open to the public during office hours. The bench in the small garden once boasted a bronze, large-brimmed hat – to accompany the running children – resting on a wooden bench, but metal thieves ripped it off to be melted down. [At this point the writer uttered an expletive, not wholly complimentary to metal thieves.]
If you like pure abstraction, Innocence by Linda Thomas, 2007, is pleasing in its simplicity and beautiful design (it has the dimensions of the ‘golden ratio’). This work is sited close to the Christchurch Park play area and provides a tapered ‘eye’ for viewers to observe either rolling parkland, or playing children and families. It has survived vandals who discovered how hard Portland stone is. See the October 2017 issue for Linda’s own photograph of her work.
This really scratches the surface of Ipswich’s riches. The Borough Council, to coincide with the London Olympics of 2012, produced a fine guide to the town’s public art entitled the (only slightly strained) Artathon. Once a paper publication, now only on the web:
but it lacks the map and actual trails. Still useful, though.
The memorial sarcophagus at the foot of the Cenotaph in Christchurch Park by sculptors Earp, Hobbs & Miller; bronze on Portland stone plinth and support, 1924.
‘The sarcophagus which was inspired by Renaissance models with two feet on a plinth is made up of up of weaponry including bundles of spears, regimental standards, bandoliers of ammunition, maces, machine-guns and a Stokes gun – invented by Sir Wilfred Scott-Stokes (1860-1927) who was the managing director of the engineering firm Ransomes & Rapier of Ipswich. The draped Union Jack and flag of St George shows respect for the dead whose victory is suggested by laurel discretely growing around the knapsack and bayonet. At the top is a rifle and British army round helmet accompanied the rest of the soldier’s equipment: gas mask, water bottle and ammunition belt.’
The photograph and description are from the invaluable Public Sculpture in Norfolk & Suffolk website: http://racns.co.uk created by Richard and Sarah Cocke.
The relief mural in decorative brickwork, coloured ceramic and cobbles (uncredited artist) built into the side wall of the town centre Sainsbury’s supermarket, Dogs Head Street.
Harvest: a ceramic mosaic, oft-overlooked, on the rear wall of the Co-operative store, over Cox Lane. An uncredited work: ‘1962 in a spirited rendering inspired by Picasso’.