There are few 19th-century memorials as beautiful as this wonderful neo-Classical urn-topped column in Weston Park, Sheffield. It commemorates the Victorian craftsman Godfrey Sykes (1824-1866) who, among other things, supervised the decoration of the South Kensington Museum. Created by James Gamble, an assistant of Sykes, and erected in 1875, the plinth bears a column of Sykes’ own design.IMG_7656

This is a Grade II listed monument and it had been painted in the late 20th century, but is now bare and a golden yellow again. Surrounded by cast-iron railings, the monument comprises a square base with a moulded plinth. Upon this is an elaborate Corinthian column surmounted by a bronze urn.

The wonderful bronze plaques show a portrait of the man (south side) and on the opposing side a representation of the artist’s palette, brushes and canvas (north side).

The bronze plaque on the plinth bears a text on the west side which reads:

THIS MONUMENT WAS/ ERECTED IN THE YEAR/ 1871 BY THE INHABIT-/ -ANTS OF SHEFFIELD/ IN MEMORY OF GODFREY/ SYKES THE COLUMN/ PLACED UPON THIS/ PEDESTAL IS HIS/ WORK

Meanwhile, on the east side a comparable plaque reads:

GODFREY SYKES BORN/ AT MALTON IN THE / YEAR 1824 A PUPIL AND/ AFTERWARDS MASTER/ IN THE SCHOOL OF ART/ OF THIS TOWN HE WAS/ CALLED TO LONDON IN THE YEAR 1859 TO SUPER-/ -INTEND THE DECORA-/ -TION OF THE SOUTH KENSINGTON/ AND DIED THERE 1866.

The column contains three perambulations of figures, akin to a Roman triumphal column. The details of these figures aren’t apparent, but we seem to see the three ages of man depicted – children above, young men in the middle, and old men below.

So the ‘ashes’ of Sykes are alluded to in absentia via the urn: his burial place was in Brompton cemetery, London and his death was before such allusions to ancient Greece and Rome had (in part) inspired the cremation movement. The column is also overtly a ‘ruin’: ivy grows up it just as the man’s life declines downwards from top to base through the three scenes.

The monument was ‘resited’ in the late 20th century, but I’m unsure of its original location.

So despite the fact that details of the panels are not discussed in the information available online for consultation, this ivy-covered ruin of antiquity created to honour a dead man, partly a form of auto-commemoration using the designer’s own craft, depicting the cycle of life and death, is a wonderful and enduring memorial to a local ‘hero’ (in terms of creativity) of the 19th century.

 

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