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THIS is the seventh in the series Public Sculpture of Britain, published in association with the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association; and it tells the histories of more than 200 important public sculptures in the Square Mile, from the 16th century to contemporary pieces.

Along with the author’s own black-and-white photographs and wittily informed and fully researched comment, this book gives a detailed cultural history of that financial and commercial powerhouse that was once the leading centre of public sculpture in the country.

Historian Philip Ward-Jackson has worked for three years on Public Sculpture of the City of London, taking time off from his base at the Courtauld Institute, and it is a delight when it could have been a pompous, portentous, dry thing.

On the famous 1890s friezes of The Institute of Chartered Accountants’ building in Great Swan Alley/Moorgate Place uniting architecture and sculpture in the best tradition of the New Sculpture, Mr Ward-Jackson notes: “In anticipation of the frieze, correspondents to
the Accountant, speculated in Pooterish vein on its contents, one suggesting that it should ‘consist of a row of figures balancing themselves,’ while another thought that one of the ‘early’ statues should be a figure of a count.”

The diversity is remarkable; reflecting the City’s preoccupation with itself, not only as a major world port and heart of the Empire, but with banking, the stock market and trade.

From the works of artists enouraged by the City’s Mr Bigs after the Great Fire of 1666, to the sculpture sponsored by private corporations, with complexes such as the Broadgate showing off the new corporate wealth in the economic boom of the 1980s, there has been no centralised theme as in Paris, hence the ad hoc nature of the sculpture.

One of the strangest sculptures in this book is in the old churchyard behind St Botolph’s, Aldersgate. It is the Memorial to Heroic Sacrifice, the inspiration of Victorian painter G.F. Watts who believed “art could play in drawing a universal moral from seemingly haphazard fatalities, which were usually only reported in newspapers before being long forgotten.”

After a few false starts, plans for the “covered way” were accepted, with the records put up during Watt’s lifetime and in the years immediately after his death being made by William De Morgan, all identically painted in blue and with a bluish glaze.

The criteria were that all candidates should be from the London district and should have met their end after the accession of Queen Victoria.
This sad memorial includes a tablet dated 1900, dedicated to a Mrs Yarman of Bermondsey, who refused to be deterred from three attempts to climb a burning staircase to save her aged mother and died of the effects, and one for Alice Ayres, who in 1883 lost her life while saving those of her master’s children.

A book for sculpture historians, the detail includes full sculpture descriptions, comprehensive note references and literature, a 39-page biographies’ section and a masterly bibliography.