‘Unforgivable act of sacrilege’ on St George’s Hall 70 years ago

‘Unforgivable act of sacrilege’ on St George’s Hall 70 years ago

101
0
SHARE


Described as one of the world’s greatest neoclassical buildings, St George’s Hall stands out for its grandeur and beauty even in a world heritage city.

But a controversial history lies in the empty, triangular pediment which once housed a stone sculpture – visible above the south entrance of the building when it opened in 1854.

One summer’s afternoon in August 1950, large chunks of stone – some weighing around 50lb – fell more than 100ft from the sculpture to the ground below.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt and steeplejacks were called in from other work across the city to make the area safe.

The original plan was to have the sculpture restored in time for the Festival of Britain the following year but was not to be.

The stonework was found to be in such a state of decay after years of exposure to the elements that it was deemed beyond restoration while still situated at the top of the building.

The sculpture was removed with the intention of repairing the damage before being installed back in place.

Later inspections of the piece, however, judged it to be irreparable and the classical frieze was broken up and used as hardcore road-fill – a decision which has since been deemed an unforgivable act of sacrilege.

In 2005, Fred O’Brien, a trustee of the Merseyside Forum for Sculpture, Painting & Allied Crafts said: “St George’s Hall is simply incomplete without it.”

city officals examine the frieze sculpture on the side of st george’s hall shortly before its removal in 1950 the piece is called commerce and the arts bearing tribute to britannia designed by sir charles robert crockerell and erected in 1855

The pediment, or tympanum as it was referred to in records from the 1950s, showed Britannia seated with a lion at her side and the Mersey at her feet.

She was surrounded by figures symbolising America, Europe, Africa and the gods Mercury, Bacchus and Apollo. It bore a Latin inscription meaning: “Freemen have established a place for arts, laws and councils.”

St George’s Hall and I exhibition in the dickens gallery, St Georges hall. punch & judy on the plateau in the 1950s with the pediment sculpture clearly on display

Over the years, attempts have been made to replace the sculpture, designed by Prof Charles Cockerell, although these have all failed, mainly for financial reasons.

However, in the 1990s, it was the representation of the subject matter of the piece itself that was deemed controversial when arguments for recreating the original piece were again made.

Anti-racist groups said one of the figures depicted in the original design was a black slave kneeling before Britannia, and claimed Liverpool’s black community would be offended if it was ever recreated.

At the time, John Haymes Hogg, one of three members of the Merseyside Sculptors Guild who wanted to replace the pediment, argued that the frieze represented the abolition of slavery.

He said: “The figure on his knees is giving thanks to Britannia for his liberty because of the decision by Britain to abolish the horror of the slave trade.”

Keep up to date with coronavirus cases in your local area by entering your postcode below.

A later campaign to recreate the carving was taken up by Terance McGunigle, the then executive manager of the Merseyside Forum for Sculpture, Painting & Allied Crafts.

A story in the Liverpool Daily Post in 2005 documenting the history of the sculpture, reported on Terance’s project to create a redesigned version of the original carving after consulting representatives of Liverpool’s black community.

A new design was submitted and a fundraising campaign started to raise the £3m needed to create the new frieze.

It’s never been more important to stay in touch with the news, so subscribe now to the Liverpool Echo newsletter. Twice a day, seven days a week, we’ll deliver the biggest stories straight to your inbox.

We’ll also send special breaking news emails too for the latest stories that matter. You won’t miss a thing.

How do I sign up?

It’s free, easy and takes no time at all.

  1. First just click on this link to our newsletter sign-up centre.
  2. Once you’re there, put your email address where it says at the top, then click on the Echo Daily News button. There are other newsletters available too if you want them as well.
  3. When you’ve made your choice, press the Save Changes button.

Despite attempts to raise the capital needed, funding was never formally agreed and put in place with Liverpool City Council and the project failed and soon forgotten.

This week, to discover any plans for reinstalling a sculpture in the south side pediment of St George’s Hall, the ECHO spoke to Terance about his history, trying to get a new sculpture put in place years after the original was destroyed.

Terance McGunigle, 57, is a classically trained artist and sculptor from Hunts Cross who has worked for The Pope on sculptures in the Vatican City.

He showed us an image of the design he and fellow sculptor, Terry Macdonald, created in the 1990s to replace the controversial original.

A drawing of the redesigned pediment sculpture by Terance McGunigel he proposed would replace the original
A drawing of the redesigned pediment sculpture by Terance McGunigel he proposed would replace the original

Terance argued that the original figure central to the sculpture may never have been Britannia but Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, arts, trade, and strategy.

He said: “Was it Minerva or was it Britannia? There was a lion there but the actual symbolism of Britannia wasn’t there. There was no shield.”

A statue of Minerva already sits at the top of down at Liverpool Town Hall and has gazed down on the city streets since 1799.

Terance said after a conversation he had with representatives from the black community at the time they were happy with the inclusion of a figure being emancipated from slavery.

He said: “They were happy if we took the chains off him. Ironically, the original chains were broken. The figure wasn’t shackled.”

Asked if he was given the opportunity again to create a new sculpture for the pediment, Terance said he would jump at the chance, adding: “I would do it next week”.

The ECHO approached Liverpool City Council to ask if there are any plans to commission a new sculpture to be put in place, but they said: “As it stands currently, the city council has no plans in place to replace the frieze.”



Source link

LEAVE A REPLY