Kelvin Way Bridge – Sculpture and Symbolism
article by Paul Troy [AKA C21 Troy]
What relevance does twentieth century public art have in our “modern Britain” now, and is there anything truthful about it that can tell us who we are, where we came from and what paths we may have as options in the future? The statues on Kelvin Way Bridge have a story to tell anyone who will “listen”.
Kelvin Way is an important road that crosses the River Kelvin in Glasgow’s west end, joining Sauchiehall Street to the roundabout at University Avenue. Here you can get the connection to Byres Rd, Great Western Rd [via Gibson Street] and Woodlands Rd, which thousands of vehicles take each day to enter the junction on to the M8, to travel east out of the city.
During the best part of the day, the sound of birds and even the river is drowned out by heavy traffic, people, all in a rush to get somewhere else. For pedestrians however, assuming that is, that the vision is not lost to you, tapping on your mobile communications vice, the experience is altogether different, as you walk through a parade of evergreen splendour, amidst some of the most magnificent metropolitan parkland scenery in Scotland. Kelvin Way – The River Kelvin, Park and Grove, all that remains of the ancient woodland.
Kelvin Way is predominately used by young people, on their way to University, and Kelvingrove Park of course, with Tennis Courts and bowling green near by. In the long summer nights, many attend evening performances at the Bandstand, which has seen a resurgence of use since it’s restoration, hosting small festivals with some “quite big name bands”. Opposite the Bandstand, that area that used to be the Putting Green and now used by local people to walk their dogs at weekends. I have seen amateur “sheep dog trials” there. Also its one of the main routes for people visiting the spectacular, Gothic Revivalist Epic Fantasy in Red Sandstone, and of late, my home from home, Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. Where I am writing this now.
Making my way to the bridge, and the main subject of this writing, I have to mention the huge trees that flank each side of the road. These are really more like old friends to me, “been through the wars together”, so we have. The trees literally! They are living art works in themselves. I often wonder if any of them are originals? Were they planted at the time of the International Exhibition of Science, Art and Industry in 1888 or The Glasgow International Exhibition of 1901? I suppose I should try to find out…
If you know anything about the trees then contact me.
One cant help notice their roots!
One of my first memories of Kelvin Way is of being bumped along broken tarmac in my pram, [push chair if you prefer] my mum having to navigate the small ramps and troughs made by the large roots that spilled out along the way.
This is how the woodlands announced it’s self to me, bursting through the pavement, letting me know that from now on, “Forrest Rules Apply” and I would be engaging with “Wild Nature”. To my mom, well she was just taking her kid in his pram to the park and she never complained about the bumps which were there since even when she was a child… and to do so? Oh that would just be a little disrespectful! The only way to do it properly was by making “wheelies” lifting the front wheels up and driving on the back ones for ease of control. I’m not sure if she experienced ease but for a toddler it was certainly a fun ride…and we hadn’t even got to the park yet. . . .
That jolly jostling always indicated to me that we were near the park and with growing excitement knowing, that even if it rained, as it often does here, we may go to the museum! Whatever the weather, it was always an adventure.
As we got on to the bridge over the Kelvin, I remember the smooth pavement and the steady rumble of pram wheels and looking up at the fearsome statues. Strange green behemoths, their features obscured by oxidisation, though i never understood that at the time, I was a little scared to look at them for long as i expect most people were ….and never… NEVER catch their eye!… in case they noticed me. The ghastly peering and leering, perched up there, and an eerie bright green, as if they were sea creatures covered in algae, looking very much like remnants of a lost civilisation. What were they all about? .. and they have lights on them… do they light up at night?…. I bet they are even more scary at night. My mom said they were “Guardians of the Park” , which I thought was very possible, and in time, I grew to see them that way and was grateful for their protection.
KELVIN WAY BRIDGE
The bridge here is KELVIN WAY BRIDGE, built by architect Alexander Beith McDonald (1847-1915) and it is a single arched, red brick bridge, clad in red Locharbriggs sandstone and spans the River Kelvin on the west side of Kelvingrove Park. On the road side, standing on the pedestals of the abutments at the four corners of the bridge, are four groups of ornamental bronze sculptures that have always fascinated me. The statues are of allegorical figures, arranged symmetrically with each sitting with their back against an ornate, central bronze column. This column is decorated in Scottish Baronial style and makes the base for a lampstandard or “street light” if you prefer, which is supported by four stylised dolphins. As far as I know, these statues are the only bronze sculptures of human figures on any bridge in the city.
N.B. Kelvin Way was originally Radnor street, a small section of the street remains south of the bridge with the Doctors Surgery on it.
In 2014 Glasgow held the Commonwealth Games and as part of preparation for that important event, the bridge and the woodland area round about went through a large restoration program, with repairs to the stonework and all the statues cleaned and brought back to their original condition of dark, shiny bronze. The surrounding trees and hedges were cropped back to allow a better view from the park. All it needs now is to set the road in cobble stones for the desired effect of an authentic looking , early 20th Century urban vista.
[Cobble stones are preferable even though they had tarmacadam in 1901]
As a way to commemorate the restoration and make some record of it before the elements, take their toll again, I thought it would be nice to take some detailed photos of each group and allow you, dear viewer, to get a better “swatch at ’em”.
As you can see, this documentation became an “I&D media” project and I have written a brief history of the sculptures with some comments on their symbolism and what I think is going on with them. If you want a closer look then just click the image to open up a larger photograph in a new tab. Some of them are in High Definition.
– Troy 7/11/ 2016
What do we know about these strange objects amongst us?
THE SCULPTURES – BRONZE CASTING
a ‘dignified addition to the decoration of the bridge’
The sculptures were made by Englishman, Paul Raphael Montford,(1868-1938). A rising star in London at the time of the commission, with quite a few impressive works of public statues and architectural sculpture already under his belt.
Montford was awarded this commission in 1914 after winning a competition, with the purpose of creating a ‘dignified addition to the decoration of the bridge’. The competition was adjudicated by George Frampton who had supervised the original sculptural work for Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Paul Raphael Montford competed against twenty eight submissions from all over the UK. Glasgow’s Alexander Proudfoot and Richard Garbe from London were the runners-up, each awarded £50 for their designs.
The outbreak of World War One saw an increase in the demand for raw materials which ultimately created a scarcity, and as a result the casting was delayed for twelve years, although Montford had full scale models exhibited in the The Royal Academy in 1918. It was not until 1926 before the finished bronze masterpieces were installed on the newly named, “Kelvin Way Bridge”* , cast by founder A B Burton of Thames Ditton.
There is some great information about Paul Montford’s time in Australia here. He certainly was a prolific artist.
* previously known as Radnor street Bridge.
Kelvin Way Bridge – Sculpture and Symbolism – ALLEGORICAL FIGURES
– and what they mean to me anyway….
There are four groups of figures on Kelvin Way Bridge, these are named:-
1) PHILOSOPHY & INSPIRATION (north-west abutment)
2) PEACE & WAR (north-east abutment)
3) COMMERCE & INDUSTRY (south-west abutment)
4) NAVIGATION & SHIPBUILDING (south-east abutment)
1: PHILOSOPHY & INSPIRATION
PHILOSOPHY: A wise looking elderly scholar with one hand stroking his beard the other, placed on a book that sits open on a pedestal. Beside him a human skull; a symbol of man’s mortality, rests on another book.
The scholar is rendered fixed in contemplation, between two books. Although they balance the composition, they seem to be of opposing ideas… opposing forces. Perhaps one is a book of science the other theology. He “looks to his laurels” and considers if he can reconcile the two, pondering the perplexity of the material universe and wonders if there is any meaning to human existence.
His right hand rests on an open book, as if he was about to turn a page. . [perhaps a new chapter in his life] The book sits on a pedestal symbolising the institution of religion, a foundation pillar of society, the tenets of “Divine Law”.
Around the back of the skull, is the branch and leaves of a bay laurel. It is wound in the ancient “horseshoe” fashion, positioned, as if to suggest a “Laurel” awarded to victors or in this case a “Masters Degree,” as the branch or wreath is given in some countries. So the book under the skull may represent science, “materialism,” the so called “Enlightenment”. Perhaps this is something the scholar had invested a great deal of his life in and where he had made many achievements. Now in later life, he looks away to contemplate more spiritual matters – the existence of the soul. Here the laurel branch in it’s position around the skull, calls into question the value of such academic achievements in the sight of god. A necklace of prayer beads or prayer rope, as used in many religions, is caught in the folds of his gown beside the skull and book and this reinforces the idea of theology. So this configuration of elements within the sculpture denotes the classic philosophical dilemma.
N.B.: The word “laureate” in ‘poet laureate’ refers to the laurel wreath. Common usage is for “victory”. The expression “resting on one’s laurels” refers to someone relying entirely on long-past successes for continued fame or recognition, where to “look to one’s laurels” means to be careful of losing rank to competition. -from Wikipedia.
INSPIRATION: A young woman musician with a rather pensive expression, raises her lute heavenward, in a gesture as if to invoke divine intervention to help her compose her next song. By her side, her free hand rests on a well-used music manuscript or song book that she seems to have exhausted. Her fine, bountiful clothing is reminiscent of a well-to-do Florentine woman during the Renaissance. She bares a striking resemblance to Francesca Cassini, known as “La Cecchina”, Italian singer, composer, poet and lute player in the early Baroque era. Indeed this statue is probably based on her and Florence is considered the birth place of the Renaissance. Over her dress and blouse she wears an apron, heavily embroidered with flowers. This again associates her to the city of Florence which was previously named “Florentia” meaning “Flowering ” by Julius Caesar in 59BC. Over her manuscript behind her, a bunch of roses are lain on top. Flowers, and more specifically roses, are significant symbols in World Mystery tradition. As a symbol of the “Chalice”, the receptive vessel of the soul opening to receive the in-pouring of Divine influence and inspiration.
View Francesca Cassini Wiki <HERE>
N.B. The Latin word “calyx” meaning cup or Chalice is the name given to the sepals of a flower which are cup-like and which support the petals.
The rose has long been recognised as the western equivalent of the eastern lotus as a symbol of the unfolding of higher consciousness and this “unfolding” can take the form of Inspiration.
2: PEACE & WAR
PEACE: A young woman sits working by her spinning wheel, in what must have been a typical domestic scene of a handcraft industry, spinning flax in the early 1770s. At that time Glasgow was Britain’s leading linen town before the industrial revolution and the demand for cotton.
She pauses for a moment to glance lovingly at her child, who sleeps peacefully beside her. The sleeping child holds a rag doll in it’s right hand, which really sets the scene of calm and stability.
Symbolically, the 12 inner spokes of the wheel suggest time, the hours marked on a clock as the Earth travels round the Sun. The artistically rendered gear design on the wheel face, suggests motion, connected beyond the wheel. The stability and harmony of planetary movements, in a fixed system around the sun. All is in order, in balance and harmony, a time for peace and prosperity and doing the “real work”.
The sleeping baby. Is he not the cutest? He is safe in his slumber, his mother quite vigilant…shhhh you might wake him.
N.B.The spinning wheel also resonates as a symbol with the “Twelve-Petalled Lotus”. One of the body’s energy centres associated with heart, knowledge and sacrifice, in Indian mystical tradition called “Chakra”. Spinning wheels originate from India and were first used between 500 and 1000 C.E.
The spinning wheel or “Charkha”[different spelling] was the ” ever moving wheel of divine law and love” according to Mahatma Ghandhi. and became the primary emblem on the flag of the Provisional Government Of Free India in the late 1920s and an icon of deliverance from poverty and serfdom to the world’s factory workers.
WAR: By stark contrast to “Peace”, we have “War”. A fearsome Celtic warrior in a kilt, bare-chested and wearing a head scarf crudely tied around his head. Perhaps he is engaged in a guerrilla war against one of Scotland’s ancient occupiers. He turns as if stirred, belted plaid thrown sporadically over his shoulder and rising, as if to defend from an attacker? Or, is he startled, caught mid flight, as he attempts to run with his spoils?
In his right hand he holds what now looks like a medieval”pike head” but more likely the hilt of a Scottish [broad]sword that has since been damaged and the main part of the blade now lost.
[I will have to find out about this – If you have any information on what the sword looked like then please contact me]
Beside this sword, his dagger, sheathed but ever-ready for combat.
He sits upon a heavy blanket that has a faint trace of grid pattern, under which lie the crushed skull of a bull with horn on one side and at the other [street side] what could be another bull horn, although looking at the dimensions, it looks like the horn of the Aurocks, an extinct type of large wild bovine.[ Extinct by 17th Century] There is some detail on it to suggest that this horn was fashioned into a trumpet, perhaps symbolising vanquished Norse or even indigenous native tribes of Picts. . . but of course, horned-skull and bones also suggests a foundation built on the bestial nature of man. Lets hope he can rise above it.
Under his left arm he holds as if guarding, what appears to be a Norman helmet, the contents of which first appear to be religious items but on closer look are actually a mixture of precious trinkets, money pouch, prayer beads and crucifix – perhaps they were made from gold – Are these the ill gotten spoils of war or is he running with them, carrying them off for safe keeping, defending them? Either way it is all very ambiguous.
Everything about this statue is raw and brutish and it was the one which frightened me the most when i was a child. His gaping mouth and wild animal stare made him look possessed. As an adult, I can appreciate all the effort the artist made in rendering the detail. Like the ancient leather wound shoes and strapped leggings. It is really the most intriguing amongst all of the groups to me.
N.B. From A.D. 400 to 1000 , northern Great Britain saw the withdrawal of Roman forces and arrival of the Scotti from north-eastern Ireland. It also marked the time of disappearance of the Picts, colonisation by the Norse and the formation of a united kingdom of Scotland.
3: COMMERCE & INDUSTRY
COMMERCE: This sculpture is represented as a young woman merchant dressed in fine flowing silks and gown. You can just about make out a delicate floral pattern in the weave or print of her dress.
She is a trader on the “Silk Road” which was a network of trade routes that linked the Far East with the Mediterranean and Britain going back into antiquity. Her curly-toed “Persian” shoes indicate her area of operation and remind us that European Merchants were welcomed in many eastern counties, embraced the culture and made them their second home.
Her foot rests on two books, a reminder that it was not just consumer commodities like cloth and spice that were bought and sold, knowledge was also shared:- in literature, science, art, religion and philosophy. Her right arm extends out with a hand gesture as if to receive payment for goods while her left hand is offering a bag of money. This portrays the “money-go-round” of a healthy economy.
On her head she seems to be wearing a kind of padded belt thing over her scarf that I presume was used to support bails or merchandise being carried on the head. In fact, I think that bundle of folded material with the buckle on it beside here is probably the very container used to carry her wares. You can get a better look at it here. So our merchant was not shy of putting in an honest days graft.
She gazes down, to passers-by on the pavement, offering them a bag of money or rather, she is showing them a philanthropic side to commerce, where the profits from a nations trade are returned to it’s people in many forms, including wonderful arts-works such as these, for people to enjoy and be inspired by.
INDUSTRY: An earnest looking man in the garb of foundry worker at the height of the industrial revolution, delicately props the handle of a heavy sledge hammer with one finger, as he takes a moment to rest from his labour.
This action of “propping and balancing” offers a hint from the artist to show the science and ingenuity of precision-design, in the art of manufacturing for heavy industry and not just “muscle power”. Although the industry could not have achieved the heights it did without it. Behind our blacksmith, machine parts and heavy metal arranged like a sculpture within a sculpture, for use in shipping and coal mining and in all the vertexes where steam-powered industry met industrial manufacturing in Scotland.
[ -> high resolution image gallery from this photo set and more here ]
4: NAVIGATION & SHIPBUILDING
NAVIGATION: A young woman steers her vessel steadily, her expertise at boat handling suggested by the calm and confident expression on her face.
The tiller she holds to steer her rudder, is like one found on what was once called a “lighter” or now more commonly know as a “barge”. This is interesting because instead of the theme of “sea navigation,” and the usual references to “Clyde Shipping” one see so much of in the city, here the sculpture is making reference to the navigators of the man-made Canals. Indeed her other hand is making a signal gesture indicating that she is about to approach another barge and it is alright to pass. As if she is saying “go ahead” or “pass on this side”, not getting her ropes tangled up being horse-pulled and all. It is certainly very subtle and unique, I cant think of any other public sculpture dedicated to the canals in this way here in Glasgow.
The Glasgow branch of the The Forth & Clyde Canal or “The Great Canal” as it was referred to in 1790s, was cut as a junction from Stockingfield in Maryhill, to the terminus at Port Dundas. [between 1782 and 1790] Ships normally restricted to deliver to coastal ports could now unload their cargo at Bowling on the Clyde or at Grangemouth on the east coast. In fact Grangemouth was founded by Sir Lawrence Dundas in 1768 to serve the purpose as the east coast entrance of the Forth and Clyde Canal. Goods could be transferred to Glasgow by horse-pulled barge. Coal, timber and grain were the main commodities. and so much trade came into the city by canal that Port Dundas operated mainly, by way of extension, as an east coast port. Also there are prints from etchings that clearly show larger vessels with tall masts at Port Dundas so some of these could have come in from the Atlantic. As the Forth & Clyde Canal was originally made deep enough to take them.
Another subtle and clever use of the term “Navigation” is that it could be applied to describe a section of the large workforce of immigrant Irish who came to settle in Glasgow. Known as “navvies” short for navigator, they were the elite workers who dug the trenches and plied the waters of what was the largest scale, engineering project the country had ever seen since the building of Roman walls, that was The Forth & Clyde Canal.
I think her bare feet, like the foundry worker, are a statement of her connection to the earth and so not a “sea faring” navigator..
The massive ship’s block and tackle at the back of the sculpture is obviously from a seafaring ship so a connection to Ocean Navigation is not entirely neglected.
When you mention “Glasgow” in any other country, the first thing that people say is “Shipbuilding”
Next to alcoholism and street brawling what they really say is “Train Spotting”!
SHIPBUILDING :To represent shipbuilding we have a young woman dressed in plain, loose-fitting blouse and skirts, with a heavy shipwright’s apron over her dress.
She gazes at a model hull, which she holds balanced in one hand and contemplates the sea worthiness of a design of what appears to be a “Northern Cog,” a medium sized, sea trading vessel, built in Europe at their height during the 12 Century. Her look is cold and analytical although her face radiates health and beauty. At her side, her other hand rests on a wooden mallet, to be used for butting and aligning wood joints, such as the large beam her foot rests on. She looks to me as if she is ready to start on the full scale version now.
On her head she wears a simple cloth band – used to keep her braided hair in place, which has been rolled up, like loosely spiralling rams horns on each side of her head. This hair, fashioned so, is a clever device to denote her ancestral linage as a Norse. Those ancient Vikings who sailed down the Clyde in conquest of Dumbarton and got buried in Govan on the south bank of the Clyde. It goes without saying that the Vikings were renowned ship builders and navigators, the best in the world, and I believe had sailed to America, 500 years before Columbus. Another subtle indication of her pagan, Nordic, tribeswoman’s ancestry, is the embroidered “wheat design” around the neck of her blouse. Traditionally, wheat signifies harvest, fertility and productiveness.
Govan is where we find the Viking “hogbacks”, graves stones in the parish church and of course Govan was the centre of Shipbuilding in Scotland for close to 100 years. The Scottish owned, Fairfield yard, founded in 1834 took the upper Clyde to world prominence, before mergers and going into decline then finally being sold to the Norwegian Kvaerner group in 1988.
I love how this sculpture portrays the whole gamut of wooden shipbuilding on the Clyde. From medieval times to the time of the tall ships, as represented by the block and tackle on the back mentioned earlier. An idea so well conceived and subtle in it’s execution, it’s a nice touch, especially as these statues were installed at the height of industrial Clyde metal works and yards. – Yet it is the origins of the wooden craft of shipbuilding on the Clyde we are being reminded about, and where there is a river and people gathered – then there will always be the need for a boat.
N.B. Both ship and wheat are on the “coat of arms” of Partick, long associated with Govan.
All of these figures with the exception of one, are seated in the same posture, with one foot raised on a pedestal of some sort and the other on the ground. Perhaps this is a device to express the idea that they have the potential to realise a spiritual dimension, that they are already partially elevated, by their integrity, sincerity and honest living. However with one foot on the ground they are for all intentions, very human and “earthed” .Perhaps the foot symbolism denotes that they are balanced between both worlds. The exception of course is “War” with both feet on the ground perhaps indicating his turning away from the spiritual and embracing his bestial nature..
DAMAGE DURING WORLD WAR II
During the Second World War, on the night of 13-14 March 1941, two of the groups, ” Philosophy and Inspiration” and ironically, “Peace and War”, were badly damaged during an air raid by the Luftwaffe, who dropped landmines on parachutes on their bomb-run over the River Clyde’s shipyards near by, during the Clydebank Blitz . My mother who lived with her family in Kelvinhaugh Street at the time ,remembers her brothers and some local kids running out, early next morning, and salvaging bits of torn parachute to keep as souvenirs…Kids Eh!
The bombs shattered the granite balusters throwing them into the river, statues and all, a fair distance below. The blast range was sufficient to take out most of the north facing windows of the Museum which also suffered some minor structural damage. The statues lay on the river bed until 1951 until being retrieved by Benno Schotz who, along with Morris Singer & Co Ltd, repaired them, re-casting the missing right arm of one of them, presumably the arms of “Philosophy & Inspiration” since they are closest to the main blast zone. You can see the jagged cracked seam along the jaw-line of the head of “Inspiration” if you look closely. The original arm was eventually spotted and retrieved by some local people who saw it lying in the exposed sediment of the river bank in 1995.
You could be forgiven for mistaking the sculpture on Kelvin Way Bridge as “fanciful.” Since no one seems to say much about it, except that they are “allegorical figures” They are apparently some of Glasgow’s most photographed statues. Yet no one seems to be looking at them, except perhaps children, and anyway “these statues could not possibly have a connection to every day Glaswegians….could they?.. well maybe that guy wie the hammer once did”.
Perhaps that is why the use of allegory is so appealing to me, as it tries to convey something of the complete immensity and complexity of the “real story” and the force of nature behind it, using the language of symbolism.
What relevance does twentieth century public art have in our “modern Britain” now, and is there anything truthful about it, that can tell us who we are, where we came from and what paths we may have as options in the future?
The statues on Kelvin Way Bridge have a story to tell anyone who will “listen”.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about these amazing public artworks and if you happen to be in the park area near the university or museum then please visit Kelvin Way to view them in person.
Always remember to look up.
bye for now – Troy
Paul Troy A.K.A. C21 Troy A.K.A. Twenty-first Century Troy is a artist and film maker living in Glasgow Scotland.
© C21 Troy / Internet & Digital 2016
[ I&D media have made a wonderful image gallery of the statues of Kelvin Way Bridge some of them as high resolution images for you to study. The gallery from this photo set and more can be seen on their Flickr web site portal here ]
A bit about Benno Schotz whose sculpture ” The Psalmist” is near by Kelvin Way
Benno Schotz was later given a site west of the bridge by the riverbank to install his modern abstract sculpture in metal, titled “The Psalmist”, in 1974. Situated in the Tom Honeyman Memorial Garden, near the north bank of the River Kelvin. It is my belief that this modern art sculpture is actually a representation of an oarsman a “gondolier” to be specific and the sculpture is commemorating the 1888 Exhibition Of Glasgow. For the exhibition, they dredged the River Kelvin and had a gondola specially imported from Venice, as one of the attractions. used to give short pleasure cruses on the river. The gondola was driven by two gondoliers who worked in shifts and who were quite popular with visitors, who affectionately gave them the nicknames of “Signor Hokey” and “Signor Pokey”. So perhaps the sculpture could be one of those or even suggestive of a third unknown and mysterious gondolier, “Signor Cokey!” Was the title “The Psalmist” given to the piece to commemorate the artist who was renowned for his religious art works elsewhere?
This article is original writing and intellectual copyright laws apply.
Paul Troy, A.K.A. C21 Troy,
A.K.A. Twenty-first Century Troy
is an artist and film maker living in Glasgow Scotland.
© C21 Troy / Internet & Digital 2016
High Resolution image from this article and more in the Flickr gallery here.