The Men of City Square
Article by: Georgina Collins - First Published: 12 May 2011
The four bronze men situated in City Square - James Watt, John Harrison, Doctor Walter Hook and Joseph Priestley - stand facing the city from outside the old Post Office, as though watching how Leeds changes after their living selves have been and gone.
Their sculptures were all created as part of plans to celebrate Leeds' elevation to the status of a city.
James Watt (1736 - 1819)'s sculpture, by H. C. Fehr and the gift of Richard Wainwright, shows Watt holding a pen and a scroll.
Watt was a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer, who improved the efficiency and reliability of the steam engine. These changes brought about immense social change, resulting in the relocation of millions of rural families to Britain's towns and cities. It was precisely these changes which resulted in the development of Leeds as a city, which seems a very appropriate reason to position James Watt as the first character in the square which was redesigned in celebration of this change from town to city.
The next character, John Harrison (1579 - 1656) was a prominent inhabitant of Leeds in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, mainly as a benefactor of Leeds. The sculpture, again by H. C. Fehr but the gift of Councillor Richard Boston, depicts Harrison holding a Bible.
Harrison was one of the first Leeds cloth merchants, and added considerably to his inherited fortune. He was well respected throughout the city - Harrison and six other townsmen combined to buy the manorial rights (such as the right to hunt, shoot and fish in the manorial land) of Leeds from the Crown, and he also built a market cross in Leeds at his own cost. In 1624, Harrison built a new home for the Grammar School on a piece of his own property, between the top of Briggate and Vicar Lane. A house at the school was later named after him. Harrison also built, endowed and saw consecrated the Church of St. John at the head of Briggate. Such a generous benefactor of the city would be difficult to leave out of this line-up, and his influence can still be seen around the city.
The third character in the Square, Dr Walter Hook (1798 - 1875), is shown holding a Bible and raising his right arm as though preaching a sermon. The statue is by F. W. Pomeroy and the gift of T. Walter Harding.
Hook was the Vicar of Leeds in the mid-nineteenth century, responsible for the construction of the current Leeds Parish Church and for many improvements to the city.
Leeds invited Dr Hook to be its Vicar in 1837, and one of his first acts was to arrange for the rebuilding of the church, to be paid by the church rate levied by the city authorities. Hook went on to drive through the division of Leeds into twenty-one parishes, each with its own church. He took a cut in his income, and moved to a smaller parsonage - on condition that every ground floor seat in all the parish churches in Leeds should be bought by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, in order to end the rental of pews and to provide seating for free.
He also fostered the building and support of thirty schools. Hook's insistence on the necessity of education, to some extent, went in the face of some of his richest parishioners at a time when education for the poorer classes was scant to say the least. Here again, we have a prominent Leeds figure whose influence can still be seen today around the city.
The final sculpture, by Alfred Drury (the creator of the nymphs of City Square) and the gift of T. Walter Harding, shows Joseph Priestley (1733 - 1804) looking through a magnifying glass at a mortar and pestle.
He is usually credited with the discovery of oxygen, Priestley having isolated it in its gaseous state. Priestley's science was integral to his theology, and he consistently tried to fuse Enlightenment rationalism with Christian beliefs.
Priestley moved with his family from Warrington to Leeds in 1767, and he became Mill Hill Chapel's minister. When Priestley became its minister, Mill Hill Chapel was one of the oldest and most respected Dissenting congregations in England; however, the congregation was losing members to the Methodist movement.
When he moved to Leeds, Priestley continued his scientific experiments, aided by a steady supply of carbon dioxide from a neighboring brewery.
Priestley was eventually forced to flee, in 1791, due to the controversial nature of his writings and his outspoken support of the French Revolution; first to London, and then to the United States, after a mob burned down his home and church.
The sculpture of Dr. Hook is from 1902; the sculptures of Joseph Priestley, John Harrison, and James Watt, all date from 1903.
Alfred Drury: Edward Alfred Briscoe Drury (1856 - 1944) was born in London. Shortly after creating his Leeds City Square statues, he was elected Associate of the Royal Academy. In London, his two major works are on the front of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and four figures on the downstream side of Vauxhall Bridge. The V&A figures depict Inspiration, Knowledge, and a series of six panels around the archway, as well as portrait statues of Queen Victoria and Albert. Drury also created the eight nymphs in City Square who accompany Edward the Black Prince.
H.C. Fehr: Henry Fehr (1867 - 1940) was born in Forest Hill, London. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1887, and in 1893 created "Perseus and Andromeda", which was selected as a permanent fixture on the West Balcony of the Tate Gallery, London. He spent 50 years exhibiting at the Royal Academy and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors.
F. W. Pomeroy: Frederick William Pomeroy RA (1856 - 1924) entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1880, where he won a travelling scholarship to Paris and Italy. He was elected ARA in 1906, and RA in 1917. Pomeroy's largest outdoor works are the four bronze figures on the side of Vauxhall Bridge in London, which represent Pottery, Engineering, Architecture and Agriculture.
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