PEOPLE OF THE PALACE
The man who turned Joseph Paxton to stone....
The Crystal Palace may have been gone for approaching 60 years, but neither the building nor its creator have been forgotten. That Sir Joseph Paxton will be remembered is assured by the work of a man who died lOO years ago, for William Woodington's giant bust of Paxton continues to dominate the entrance to the National Sports Centre.
William Frederick Woodington was born at Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham, on 10 February 1806. He first learned drawing under Robert W. Sievier, the engraver, to whom he was articled at the age of twelve. Four years later, in 1822, W. Sievier took up sculpture, and Woodington's attention was also turned to that branch of the arts.
Whilst best remembered for his sculpting, Woodington was also a painter, studying at the Academy Schools, where he was a contemporary and associate of Etty, Scot-Lauder and others.
Woodington exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1825 to 1882, particularly in the summer exhibitions. In 1851 he was appointed curator of the Royal Academy's School of Sculpture where he taught sculpture and assisted the Keeper in the day-to-day running or the school. He remained in this post for about five years. In 1876, he was elected an Associate of the Academy.
In 1838 it was announced that a monument to Admiral Lord Nelson was to be erected in
Trafalgar Square, a somewhat tardy recognition of Britain's great naval hero. A competition for the design of the monument was won by William Railton, and Woodington was commissioned to sculpt one of four bronze plaques to be located on the pedestal.
The plaques were to be cast from guns captured from the French. The following is a contemporary review of Woodington's plaque:
"Some time since we had the satisfaction of recording the completion and erection of Mr Carew's Alto Relievo in bronze, one of the four illustrations of events in the career of Nelson, which are to adorn the column in Trafalgar Square. We are now enabled to state that the second of these works, designed by Mr Woodington, and executed in bronze, has been elevated lo its appointed place - the side of the pedestal which faces the National Gallery.
We were yesterday favoured with a private view of Mr Woodington's production. IL
illustrates the well-known incident in the life of the noble hero when, having at the
Battle of the Nile received a very severe splinter, He refused to be attended out of his turn by the surgeon, but magnanimously waited until the brave fellows who had suffered before him were cared for. Nelson, faint and falling, supported by Captain Parry and a common sailor, occupies the centre of the plaque. The sailor holds a handkerchief over the eye immediately over which the splinter had taken effect. In the foreground, and in the rear of the principal group, are wounded sailors, and by the side of one of them, whose head is bandaged, is a boy holding a lantern for the surgeon.
On the extreme right, two sailors are bringing another wounded sailor down the ladder into the cockpit, where the scene is supposed to take place. Immediately opposite Nelson is the surgeon, who appears anxious to offer him his first cure; and it is at this moment that the wounded hero is supposed to utter the noble sentiment which contributed so much to attach to him the affection of his men.
Mr Woodington's treatment of his subject differs from that of Mr Carew in presenting greater breadth and simplicity of design; there are fewer figures, less action and more repose. But this difference followed naturally from the nature of the subjects on which the two artists had to work. Mr Woodington has happily expressed the sentiment of his subject, which finds a reflection in the countenances of the sailors and others surrounding Nelson.
The figures are drawn with masculine vigour and they stand out from the surface in bold relief. The idea of pain and suffering is conveyed without any recourse to its more harrowing physical development. Its suggested rather than depicted, and this is especially shown in the head (only partially seen) of the wounded man who is being brought down the ladder.
Mr Woodington has contributed a work of great power and unique effect one withal, like Mr Carew's, that has the merit of a certain originality and nationality of character.
The whole is cast in five pieces and it weighs three tons."
Other important works are the marble bas-reliefs decorating the chapel in St Paul's Cathedral,. statues for the House of Lords and six statues in the Royal Exchange Building in Liverpool.
A fascinating chapter in the Woodington story concerns a pair of lions which once adorned the Lion Brewery on the South Bank, one surmounted the building and a smaller one was situated above the entrance gate. They were cast in Coade Stone from an original by William Woodington. The brewery was demolished when the South Bank site was clear for the 1951 Festival of Britain, but, luckily, the two lions were saved, the large one at the request of George VI. Today, the large lion is on permanent loan to the All-England Rugby Football Club at Twickenham, where it stands near the Rowland Hill Memorial Gate (Gate 3). The small lion is situated at the southern approach to Westminster Bridge.
This was completed in 1873 and erected on 10 June of that year. Originally it stood atop a huge brick plinth between the main steps on the Italian Terrace, but was relocated to its current position more than twenty years ago. For many years the bust was anonymous, but this situation was remedied on 30 November 1981 when a new plaque was unveiled by His Grace, the eleventh Duke of Devonshire. The name of William Frederick Woodington is inscribed on the rear of the bust.
The unveiling ceremony was reported in the times of the 11 June 1873.
Yesterday was the nineteenth anniversary of the opening of the Crystal Palace by the Queen and the authorities availed themselves of the occasion to hold a grand commemoration fete there.
The weather being very fine and the programme of amusement more than usually attractive, many thousands of visitors were present. The building opened at noon and by four o'clock, when the concert commenced, the centre transept and the galleries were crowded to excess. The great orchestra was almost filled by the members of the Handel Festival Choir, said to be 2,500 strong, and by a very fine band of musicians, who took the leading part in the project The soloists were Mlle Titiens, Madame Patey, Mr Vernon Rigby and Signor Foli and the conductors Signor Arditi and Mr Manns. Dr Stainer, of St Paul s Cathedral, was the organist.
The principal item of interest in the concert was the performance of a Commemoration Ode in memory of the Prince Consort, the words being written by Mr Walter Maynard, an of official of the Crystal Palace, with the music composed by Signor Arditi. This met well-deserved success, and some parts of the music, particularly those sung by Mlle Titiens, were loudly applauded: Signor Foli afterwards sang "The Brave Old Oak" and Mr Vemon Rigby the air "Sound an Alarm" from Judas Maccabaeus, and "God Bless the Prince of Wales". The choir obtained an encore for their exquisite rendering of the prayer in Rossini's Mose in Egitte.
At the conclusion of the concert they proceeded in a body to the grounds, where, on the second terrace, a handsome memorial of Sir Joseph Paxton, the architect of the building,
The memorial, which had been erected by private subscription, consists of a colossal marble bust 8ft high and 4ft 6in at the base, carved in Carrera marble by Mr W. F. Woodington. The pedestal is 11ft square at the base and 31ft high making the total of 39ft from the ground. The lower part of the pedestal is in Portland stone, the upper part in Portland cement, in imitation of red Porphyry.
In the base four incised slabs of Cornish serpentine will be inserted, the first containing a diagram of the principal on which the building of the Crystal Palace is constructed, and the others the following inscriptions:-
The Crystal Palace was opened
by Her Majesty Queen Victoria on
June 10th 1854
The whole monument is designed by and erected under the care of Mr Owen Jones. The carving on the base is by Mr Smith, the masonry and cement work by Mr Charles Bool and Mr Enoch Bool. The memorial was unveiled yesterday by Lady Frederick Cavendish, as a representative of the ducal House of Devenshire, with which Sir Joseph Paxton was intimately associated.
Mr Scott Russell, as an old friend and colleague of Sir Joseph, made a speech of some length, which except for the very few who were standing near him was quite inaudible. In the course of it he described Paxton as a man of noble creative genius, who had devoted his highest energies to securing the well-being and the moral and mental improvement of the people, and added that a better or kinder friend, and a wiser man of business, never existed. Mr Thomas Hughes, MP, on behalf of the Crystal Palace Company, of which he is chairman, accepted the gift of the memorial from the subscribers, and expressed the public sense of the great debt of gratitude which they owed to Sir Joseph Paxton, without whose aid the Palace could never have been a success if ever it could have existed in the present shape. With that the ceremony ended.
The band of the Coldstream Guards under Mr F Godfrey, afterwards played a charming selection of music on the terrace while inside the band of St George's Rifles, under Mr Phasey, was similarly engaged. At 7 o'clock Senor Romah performed some wonderful feats on the flying trapeze and at 8 the Crystal Palace Choir sang a number of glees and choruses in the grounds. The day was brought to a close by one of those splendid displays of fireworks for which the Palace is now famed. Admissions by season tickets, 14, 135, ditto on payment 11,592: total number of visitors, 25,727.
Woodington died at Brixton Hill on the 24th December 1893. The majority of his sculptures and his paintings endure and, as open writer observed, "His works were marked by much dignity and refinement."
Much of the original material used in this article was provided by
Mrs Hilda Rockwood, greatgreat-granddaughter of William Woodington;
her assistance is gratefully acknowledged.
11/11/99 Last updated 11/11/99