03 April 2023

Rugby’s sculptures celebrate
poets, writers, inventors and
many great rugby players

‘The Writer’s Rest’ by Michael Scheuermann focuses on writers with links to Rugby (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

The statue of William Webb Ellis by Graham Ibbeson is one of the most visited sites in Rugby. But the world’s greatest rugby players are also celebrated in small sculptures and plaques throughout the town, placed on the footpaths and pavements and in open ground.

But Rugby celebrates not only the rugby players of the world but also the its own writers, poets and inventors in statues and sculptures dotted around the town.

Close to the statue of Webb Ellis, Michael Scheuermann’s stone carvings in the Percival Guildhouse celebrate Rugby’s rich literary history. ‘The Writer’s Rest’ focuses on works by authors with links to the town, including many old boys of Rugby School.

A chaise longue in the gardens of Percival Guildhouse is surrounded by books and carved paving stones. Scheuermann, who is based in Birmingham, carved all the pieces from sandstone and chose Chinese granite for the paving.

A public consultation helped choose the authors celebrated in the carvings. Lewis Carroll, Rupert Brooke, Salman Rushdie, Thomas Hughes, Anthony Horowitz, Arthur Ransome and Gillian Cross are among the many writers featured in the finished pieces.

‘Stands the Church clock at ten to three? / And is there honey still for tea?’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scheuermann incorporated many literary references in his works, such as his carving of a church clock in the paving displaying the time of ten-to-three – inspired by Rupert Brooke’s poem, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’ which includes the line:

Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

‘The Writer’s Rest’ was commissioned by Rugby Borough Council and supported by Rugby First and Warwickshire County Council. It was unveiled in 2009.

The Percival Guildhouse is an independent adult education centre beside the Rugby Art Gallery, Museum and Library. The building on Saint Matthew Street dates from the mid-19th century, and was once the home of the antiquarian Matthew Bloxam (1805-1888).

The Percival Guild was founded in 1925 to promote adult education in Rugby, and is named after Bishop John Percival (1834-1918), a former headmaster of Rugby School, godfather of Archbishop William Temple, and the first chair of the Workers’ Educational Association. Some old boys of Rugby School bought Bloxam’s old home and created the Guildhouse. It offers a variety of adult education classes throughout the week, and its café and gardens are open to the public.

The statue of Rupert Brooke by Ivor Roberts-Jones at Regent Place, Rugby (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The sculptor Ivor Roberts-Jones was commissioned in 1988 to produce the statue of Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) in the Jubilee Gardens, a small triangular open space at Regent Place. The statue was unveiled by Mary Archer.

Rupert Brooke, who was born at 5 Hillmorton Road, Rugby. His father, William Parker Brooke, was Housemaster of School Field House at Rugby School. As a pupil, Brooke was a boarder at his father’s house. He was happy and successful at school, gifted both as an athlete and academically. He was a member of the cricket XI and also played for the School XV.

Writing of the game that started on the Close, Brooke wrote tongue-in-cheek, as from a new boy:

When first I played I nearly died;
The bitter memory still rankles.
They formed a scrum with me inside.
Some kicked the ball and some my ankles
I did not like the game at all …

Rupert Brooke began writing poetry at an early age and won two prizes at school for ‘The Pyramids’ (1904) and ‘The Bastille’ (1905). At King’s College Cambridge, he was deeply involved in literature, art and drama, and he eventually gained a Fellowship at King’s.

The time he period spent at the Old Vicarage, Grantchester, was fruitful for Brooke, and the many friends he made there included Edward Marsh, Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary, the writer Virginia Woolf and the poets John Masefield and Edward Thomas.

He is probably best known for his Sonnets (1914), for the poems ‘The Great Lover’ and ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester.’

Brooke responded to the outbreak of World War I with enthusiastic patriotism: ‘Blow out you bugles over the rich dead.’ He died from blood poisoning at the age of 27 in the Aegean on the way to join the Gallipoli campaign, and is buried on the Greek island of Skyros:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England …

Stephen Broadbent’s sculpture celebrating the work of Sir Frank Whittle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Those far corners and foreign fields are possible for so many to visit because of the work of Sir Frank Whittle, the ‘Father of the Jet Engine.’ A bronze sculpture by Stephen Broadbent, unveiled in Chestnut Field in 2005, reflects Whittle’s spirit and energy and his determination to succeed. He led a team of engineers and technicians who developed and tested the world’s first jet engine at the British Thomson Houston factory in Rugby.

The shape of Broadbent’s sculpture is reminiscent of an airscrew, with the aircraft propeller being transformed into the shape of an turbine, reflecting the new technology of power jets. The open window is symbolic of Whittle the visionary, who could see the potential of jet power. This image is inspired by a painting that shows Whittle at the testing of his first engine with its exhaust pipe projecting through the factory window.

A world map indicating international flight paths recognises Whittle’s vision in the 1930s for travel by air jet. His determination to succeed helped realise the possibility of travel across continents, something many of us now take for granted.

Ireland’s Mike Gibson is among Rugby’s greats celebrated in plaques and works dotted around the town (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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