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Gilbert, Alfred, Monument to Queen Victoria


Core Record

Title Monument to Queen Victoria
Collection Public Monuments and Sculpture Association
Sculptor Gilbert, Alfred
Date Completion 1903
Description A bronze statue of the aged Queen Victoria which, in its balance of naturalism and fantasy, may be seen as a variant of the sculptor's 1887 'Jubilee Monument' at Winchester:(1) the figure is a replica whilst the canopy design is different.(2) The Queen sits with a crown on her head and orb and sceptre in either hand on an elaborate throne. Her diminutive figure nestles within the deeply-modelled folds of a huge, flowing cloak and her feet rest on a large tassled cushion. The back of the throne and, more particularly, the throne's canopy comprise a free arrangement of piled-up, curved pediments, brackets and pedestals which echoes the shape of the lantern of the steeple of St Nicholas Cathedral nearby. Perched on the top of the canopy is a plumed helmet with a crown on top. The statue rests on a bronze base whose gently swelling form and strange helmeted children's heads are a replica of that on the 1887 Shaftesbury Memorial at Piccadilly Circus.This bronze base rests on polished pink granite pedestal, circular in shape with square projecting corners, designed by J.W.Dyson. The orb in the Queen's hand was meant to have an 'ideal representation of Victory' on top but this was lost in the casting.(3)
Additional Information The statue both celebrates the reign of the recently deceased Queen Victoria (1837-1901) and marks the 500th anniversary, on 23rd May 1900, of the office of sheriff in Newcastle which was first granted by Henry IV. W.H. Stephenson explained that the role of the sheriff, the statue's commissioner, was to be 'lord and master over everything that relates to the Queen and the administration of the law.'(4)
It is perhaps rather surprising that Newcastle should have chosen to celebrate the Queen's reign in this way. The city in the late nineteenth cenury was reputedly rather republican in its sympathies, so much so that for a period the Queen always used to lower the blinds on her carriage whenever she passed through.(5)
Id Number Current Accession TWNE48
Id Number Current Repository NEAU03
Inscription Carved gothic lettering on pedestal. Front (west) face: VICTORIA RI / 1837-1901 / THE THRONE IS ESTABLISHED BY / RIGHTEOUSNESS.
South face: THINE IS THE KINGDOM O LORD AND / THOU ART EXHALTED AS HEAD ABOVE ALL.
North face: THINE O LORD IS THE GREATNESS / AND THE POWER AND THE GLORY / AND THE VICTORY AND THE MAJESTY.
Sans serif lettering, east face: ERECTED BY / SIR WILLIAM HASWELL STEPHENSON KNT DL / MAYOR / IN COMMEMORATION / OF THE 500TH ANNIVERSARY / OF THE SHRIEVALTY OF NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE / 1400-1900 / UNVEILED BY THE COUNTESS GREY / APRIL 24TH 1903
Location Newcastle, Tyne and Wear
Measurements Dimensions Base of sculpture(100cm high x 346cm diameter), Base(91cm high x 346cm diameter), Statue(190cm high x 300cm deep), Canopy(285cm high)
Material Bronze, coated with black paint, Pink granite, Bronze, coated with black paint, Bronze
Notes The statue was the gift of Sir William Haswell Stephenson (1836-1918 ). The son of the founder of a fire clay and gas retort works at Throckley, Stephenson established the Throckley Coal Co. in 1867 and went on to become wealthy as the director of various utility companies in the region. He was also an important figure in local politics (mayor seven times) and a generous benefactor of the city: he paid for the libraries at Elswick, Walker and Heaton libraries and the Methodist chapels at Throckley and Elswick.(6) As one speaker put it in 1899, 'To trace Alderman Stephenson's public career would be to give the history of the City.'(7)
In July 1899 Stephenson wrote a letter to the press offering to erect a statue of the still-living Queen as a way of marking the 500th anniversary of Newcastle's shrievalty which was about to fall in the following year. On 2nd May 1900 he reminded the Council of this offer and suggested that since Alexander Laing had recently given the city a municipal art gallery and since the cab shelter and public convenience which stood on St. Nicholas Square were about to be removed, the time was possibly right for them to take up his offer. He explained that he had for some time wanted to show his appreciation of the singular honour he received when he was elected Sheriff in 1887, the year of the Queen's jubilee. The Council received Stephenson's offer with enthusiasm, although it was pointed out to him
that a statue in the position he proposed would mean moving the recently installed Rutherford fountain (TWNE85 q.v.).(8)
Later in the same month, Stephenson was able to report that he had succeeded in commissioning Gilbert. The sculptor had visited Newcastle and been taken to see various possible sites: opposite the Bigg Market, Eldon Square and the Museum grounds. To Stephenson's satisfaction Gilbert had decided that his own preferred site, St Nicholas Square, was the most suitable, if that is, the statue was oriented properly. 'We cannot put Her Majesty with her back to the Church; the statue must be placed square with the tower, looking up Collingwood Street, with the left to the Church and the right to the Town Hall.' Gilbert said that he wanted the statue 'to be in harmony with the tower and the beautiful flying buttresses' supporting the tower. As for the time needed, he reckoned the modelling of the figure in clay would take six months and the 'bronze work' four to six months.(9)
Early in the following year all seemed to be going well. On 6th March 1901 Stephenson reported that Gilbert had told him the statue would be finished within a year as had been agreed, that is, by 23rd May 1900.(10) A fortnight later the Newcastle, Gateshead and District Band of Hope Union agreed, albeit somewhat reluctantly, to move the Rutherford Fountain to the lower end of the Bigg Market.(11)
However, on 4th September Stephenson had to make an embarrassing announcement. The statue would not be ready on time after all. 'Mr Gilbert had got into financial difficulties' and had gone into voluntary exile in Bruges. The unveiling would therefore be in the spring of 1902.(12) In the event even that was not achieved. The statue (cast by the Compagnie des Bronzes of Brussels) was not unveiled until 1903. Gilbert perhaps wisely did not attend the ceremony, explaining in a letter which was read out at the unveiling, that 'he was not able to be with them that morning as he had been called from London to the Continent.'(13) He did, however, make efforts to placate Stephenson and the inhabitants of Newcastle by assuring them that the statue was the 'best thing he ever did', so good indeed that it would 'take the present generation thirty years to get educated up to it.'
Maps of Newcastle suggest that although the statue's orientation is the same as Gilbert intended, the raised paved area on which it now sits dates from the early 1960s when the corner of Mosley Sreet and St Nicholas Street was widened.
Rights Owner Public Monuments and Sculpture Association
Source NE
Work Type Statue
 

 

 

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