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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8 Comments to “London’s Saddest Statue Gets Even Sadder”

  1. Jeremy says:

    Very sad indeed. Let’s hope scrap metal merchants know about this statue’s importance and do the right thing.

    Working link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-15879563

    The blue plaque was still there earlier this week- I think it’s above Inside, or near.

  2. Thanks Jeremy – I’ll change that link now…

  3. There’s another picture of the statue (though with an Iron Mountain white van in the background) on his Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Salter which gives a lot more information about the family. Ada Salter was mayor of Bermondsey in 1922 – must have been one of the first women mayors in Britain

  4. DaveH48 says:

    Makes you want to……..these people have no respect for anything or anybody.

    Never seen this and sadly it looks like I never will.

  5. RogerW says:

    Not long ago I got to visit the Italian city of Trieste. In recent years they have commemorated three local figures (one of them being James Joyce) with life-size statues, placed around the town, and it was great to see them not only in their own right, but also because it provided a happy reminder of home… such as the Salter statue(s) along the Thames.
    So sad to hear they’re now gone.

  6. Frank McNab says:

    Is there a campaign to raise funds for a replacement statue? I have begun a painting about this remarkable man and I am willing to donate it, if it helps. (I am an artist working in Glasgow)

  7. Sea Witch says:

    When I see things like this I get angry…is nothing sacred to some people?

  8. Dean says:

    A few years ago I decided to walk from Greenwich to Westminster and to keep the river on my right hand side for the total distance. I was surprised when I got to these statues never having heard the story before.