London’s Saddest Statue Gets Even Sadder
It was the only statue in London that actually had me shed a little tear whenever I passed it.
I had been meaning to talk about Doctor Alfred Salter for just about ever. His memorial might have been in Bermondsey but his red-plaque is (still, as far as I know – hope the tea-leaves haven’t got that too) above a building in South Street that commemorates his birth in 1873.
I was just waiting for a time I wasn’t passing on the 180 and I had a camera. Ditto, if I have photos of the sculpture that some low-life scum stole for scrap yesterday they are lost in the Phantom photo collection. Happily Joe has come to the rescue with an unusual view of the sculpture – so I can finally add a photo…
Doctor Alfred Salter was one of life’s ordinary heroes. The Roan-schoolboy-turned-local doctor could have just lived a nice, comfy life with his wife and daughter Joyce, but instead he chose to go and work with the inner-city poor, living with them – and their myriad diseases.
Being a quaker and a socialist, he literally practised what he preached, treating people who couldn’t pay for free in pre-NHS Victorian Britain, in full knowledge that he – and his family – were as vulnerable to the germs he treated as anyone else. He lost little Joyce to scarlet fever.
His loss merely strengthened his resolve and he went into politics to try to improve the life of the working classes in a less direct, but hopefully more generally effective way. The fact that there is a school, garden and a bridge dedicated to the Salters’ in addition to the plaque and the statue is testament to how the people of Bermondsey felt about their doctor.
Which brings me to the sculpture. Doctor Salter’s Daydream was cast in bronze by Diane Gorvin ten years ago as a centrepiece to the Dr. Alfred Salter Conservation Area around Wilson Grove. It depicted a life-size Dr Salter himself in mature years, sitting on a bench at Cherry Garden Pier, looking out across the Thames. What disgusts me so much about this particular scrap metal theft is the sheer damn ignorance of the individuals concerned. If they had bothered to learn anything at all about the statue – or the man himself, they would have known they could have pinched even more.
For Doctor Salter’s Daydream wasn’t just the cast of the old man. It depicted his fantasy – his young daughter, healthy again in death, playing with her pet cat on the river wall. I don’t think I ever passed it without a tear pricking my sentimental Phantom eye. The thieves missed both Joyce and her cat, though they too are now gone from the area, being kept safe from any return visit by the thieves.
I daresay Dr Salter himself is a big block of solid bronze by now. It’s my wager we have no chance of seeing him in that particular form again. But I do wonder – this was only cast back in 1991. Diane Gorvin is, as far as I know, still around. I wonder whether the £1000 reward for the sculpture’s safe return would be better spent on the start of a fund to recast the entire piece in some low-value base metal with a bronze-effect finish so that we can at least get the impression of what this deeply moving sculpture was like. Perhaps Joyce and her cat can find a home in the Pumphouse Museum but I’m willing to bet most people who ever saw them in situ would agree – it won’t be the same without them.
See the BBC story here
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