Bright future - restoring statue to 'democratic son of the people'

The Birmingham Post has revealed that a statue of one of Birmingham's great forefathers, MP John Bright, is being restored, Conservation contractor in Birmingham statues deal. Midlands conservation contractor Eura Conservation is working on restoring the statue of John Bright following it's successful work on the statue of Bishop Gore, the first bishop of Birmingham, standing outside Birmingham Cathedral and the refurbishment work on the state of Admiral Nelson in the Bullring.

Work is currently taking place to refurbish the John Bright statue, which has been in storage in the city’s collection of artefacts, and was sculpted by Albert Bruce Joy and originally erected in John Bright Street in 1888.

Although we are yet to hear from Birmingham City Council on the resiting of the statue it is a welcome return for one of Birmingham's many public statues which have been languishing in storage. In 2008 Birmingham City Council announced plans to move the statue of Edward VII, originally sited in Victoria Square, from it's languishing state in Highgate Park to a site adjacent to Baskerville House in Centenary Square.

The Birmingham Post article notes that a management survey at Eura identified 42 separate items in need of attention which bodes well for the city following plans announced in February 2008, City art out of the closet, for forgotten statues, paintings and relics in storage being used in buildings around the city to brighten up public buildings and show unseen works.

Image of the statue reproduced from Public sculpture of Birmingham By George Thomas Noszlopy edited by Jeremy Beach.

The book Public sculpture of Birmingham By George Thomas Noszlopy edited by Jeremy Beach notes that the statue from 1887 by Albert Joy is of Seravezza Carrara marble is not listed and it's condition fair, owned by Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery.

The statue was commissioned by the Birmingham Liberal Association in 1883 in honour of John Bright. It marked 25 years of service to the city and intended to be a permanent memorial to him to be displayed in the new city art gallery.

Joy's statue depicted him in a natural pose in contemporary dress. The clay model was approved by Bright himself with the statue itself taking 4 years to carve from a 27cwt faultless block of Seravezza Carrara marble.

It was presented to the Council after some difficulty with it's siting on the 6th June 1887 being unveiled inthe art gallery on the 11th April 1888. The model was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1893 with Joy making a replica for the Houses of Parliament installed in 1902.

John Bright

John Bright is an important city father who as a newly-elected Member of Parliament for Birmingham made a speech on October 27th 1858 which launched a campaign for parliamentary reform which culminated nine years later in the Great Reform Act which gave the vote for the first time to the working class,

Bright like Chamberlain was an adopted Brummie. He had represented Manchester in Parliament but lost his seat over his principled opposition to the Crimean War. Following the death of one of the two members of Parliament for Birmingham an election committee, including Joseph Sturge, offered the seat to Bright despite having no previous connection with Birmingham. Once Bright accepted the Conservative Party candidate withdrew and Bright was elected.

Thereby was sealed a partnership with profound consequences for democracy and parliamentary reform. In the words of G. M. Trevelyan, Regius Professor of History at Cambridge, “No public man has ever been treated better by his constituents. If the story of Burke and Bristol stands for the mixed good and evil of that married state of a great man with a great city, Bright and Birmingham stand for a perfect form of the Union".

He went onto represent Birmingham for 25 years and change the political environment, 'being the mentor of Abraham Lincoln and the scourge of slavery, inspirer of Joseph Chamberlain and vehement opponent of the breakup of the United Kingdom and the author of modern democracy and parliamentary reform'. Manchester's loss was Birmingham's gain as Bright's friend Cobden noted that the independent course of the people of Birmingham and their 'exemption from aristocratic snobbery' would give him a better home than Manchester.

Indeed his devoted friend and colleague, Richard Cobden, in their successful campaign for the Repeal of the Corn Laws a decade before wrote, contrasting Manchester with Birmingham, that “the honest and independent course taken by the people at Birmingham, their exemption from aristocratic snobbery and their fair appreciation of a democratic son of the people confirm me in the opinion I have always had that the social and political state of that town is far more healthy than that of Manchester … In my opinion, Birmingham will be a better home for him than Manchester.”


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