Winter gives way to spring 1959, and as these Lambeth Council minutes of the council’s Public Services Committee show, the thoughts of Lambeth’s Borough Engineer and his fellow philistines lightly turn to obliterating one of Vauxhall’s few remaining public works of art.
The documents, unearthed in the archives by local resident and former chairman of The Vauxhall Society Michael Keane, detail the ineffable decision to remove from Vauxhall Park an 1890 memorial to local social reformer Henry Fawcett MP, pioneer of woman’s employment, defender of open spaces, Fawcett also championed the welfare of colonial India.
His memorial, 1 donated by the then-local firm of Doulton, was a masterpiece by a star Doulton sculptor, George Tinworth, the ‘Tinworth’ of Tinworth Street. The Lambeth Council minutes dignify this vandalism as an ‘improvement’. Doing away with the statue and the bandstand would yield ‘additional grassland for small children.’
Perhaps even more shameful than the decision is the complete lack of interest that the minutes show in helping would-be saviours give the Tinworth memorial a new home. One possibility, just a few streets away from Vauxhall Park, was the primary school (still there today) named after Henry Fawcett. The Park itself had been created in memory of him, for Fawcett had wanted a park as a ‘lung’ for Vauxhall’s poor in what in the 1890s was a reeking, polluted industrial slum.
The statue was the gift of Doulton, an enlightened local employer, who as well as offering opportunity to Tinworth gave many women work as artists and artists’ assistants, from ‘A’ for Adelaide Aaron to ‘Y’ for Bessie J. Youatt.
Read through these Lambeth minutes and despair at the unheeded litany of alarm in Vauxhall and beyond at the council’s meat-headedness. Would it be surprising if the council’s casual destruction of Doulton’s Fawcett monument bequest were a factor in Doulton’s decision to quit Lambeth altogether (which it did 1969)?
Learn more about the history of the park by joining Polly Freeman of the Friends of Vauxhall Park on The Vauxhall Society’s guided walk around the Park.
Saturday 18 March 2017, 2pm prompt
Meet: Parco Café, Vauxhall Park
Duration: About an hour
All welcome, no booking required
Cost: On-the-spot contribution to Friends of Vauxhall Park