27 July 2023

Flights of fantasy in
sculpture among shops
in Milton Keynes

‘Sitting on History’ by Bill Woodrow in Milton Keynes was originally designed for an exhibition at the Tate Gallery, London, in 1996 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

One of the many joys of living near Milton Keynes is the commitment to public sculpture by business and local bodies, with sculptures in a variety of public spaces, in parks, shopping centres and parks.

And public sculpture in Milton Keynes, despite the impressions of many outsiders, is about more than concrete cows.

I have written on this blog in recent weeks about the sculpture trail on the campus of the Open University (here and here). But, walking around the shopping centre that now promotes itself as the centre:mk, I whiled away time on a recent afternoon as I enjoyed some of the artworks that are most popular locally.

I cannot say I am ever going to enjoy time spent in shopping centres, unless I can find good bookshops and good coffee shops. After browsing books and sipping coffee in Waterstone’s that recent afternoon, I spent some time admiring Bill Woodrow’s 1996 bronze sculpture ‘Sitting on History’ in the main atrium in the Midsummer Place Shopping Centre.

The sculptor Bill Woodrow has exhibited widely since 1971. His early sculptures were made from materials found in dumps, used car lots and scrapyards, which he cut, altered and placed in new relationships to create new forms, metaphors and stories.

He began working in bronze In the late 1980s, but continued to tell stories through his work. His sculpture ‘Regardless of History’ was exhibited on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2000.

‘Sitting on History’ was originally designed for an exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London in 1996. Bill Woodrow’s idea was to create a sculpture that functioned as a seat and was only complete when someone sat on it.

‘Sitting on History’, with its ball and chain, refers to the book as captor of information from which we cannot escape. History is filtered through millions of pages of writing, making the book the major vehicle for years of research and study. Woodrow proposes that although we absorb this knowledge, we appear to have great difficulty in changing our behaviour as a result.

The books in the original maquette of the sculpture came from a box of books given to Woodrow by a London bookseller who discarded them believing he could no longer sell them. To Woodrow’s amusement, they included three volumes on the history of the Labour Party, which he used for his maquettes.

The sculpture was bought by London and Amsterdam Properties Ltd and is now outside Waterstone’s bookshop in Milton Keynes. Another version of the sculpture is installed in the British Museum.

‘The Conversation’ (1995) by Nicolas Moreton in New City Square, outside Marks and Spencer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Reading and talking go together, of course.

‘The Conversation’ (1995) by Nicolas Moreton is in New City Square, outside Marks and Spencer. It was commissioned by Hermes Properties and is a work in Kilkenny Limestone, bronze and gold leaf.

Nicolas Moreton was born in 1961 in Watford, Hertfordshire, and is best known as a stone carver. Two of his sculptures – ‘The Conversation’ (1995) and ‘The Meeting’ (1995) – are in permanent public locations in Milton Keynes.

Moreton received a National Stone Carving residency at four English cathedrals in 2004-2005. He visited Southwell Minster, Gloucester Cathedral, Lincoln Cathedral and Manchester Cathedral, and was in conversation with Brian Sewell in the BBC Radio 4 series on Divine Art about his residency at Gloucester Cathedral.

‘The Conversation,’ in Kilkenny Black Fossil limestone and bronze, consists of two bronze figures in conversation over a cup of tea, raised from the ground on a plinth, away from the bustle of the people below. The plinth is their table, an intimate and private space elevated above the rest of the world.

Moreton uses the tea ritual as the symbol of a meeting. According to the artist, the column represents an arena of expectation, and the carved river motif and gold-leafed fish act as ‘the natural life forces from which we come … all fish bar one swim in one direction – the one unleafed fish representing the one that would appear to swim against the tide.’

‘Vox Pop’ or ‘The Family’ is a bronze sculpture made by John Clinch in 1988 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

‘Vox Pop’ or ‘The Family,’ a bronze sculpture made by John Clinch in 1988, is in Queen’s Court. Clinch has been creating public sculptures works since the 1960s. His group of larger than life figures was specially commissioned for Queen’s Square by Milton Keynes Development Corporation and Postel, and was donated to Milton Keynes Council.

The concept of ‘Vox Pop’ describes an interview with members of the public for TV or radio. The original Latin phrase vox populi means the voice of the people or public opinion.

John Clinch wanted ‘Vox Pop’ or ‘The Family’ to show the diversity of people in Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Clinch’s work celebrates ordinary members of the public rather than the rich and famous. His multi-ethnic ‘family’ walk a dog, cycle and push a baby buggy following a circular path, encouraging visitors to walk round them and examine the detail of the sculpture.

It was ‘originally intended to show the diversity of people needed to make Milton Keynes a great city’. Clinch intended to place a bronze Union Jack in the centre of the commission on a plinth. But the sculpture was altered and the flag was omitted because of its nationalist associations, and the work was lowered to bring the figures down to the level of visiting shoppers.

‘Dream Flight’ depicts one of Philomena Davis’s children (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A series of bronze sculptures by Philomena Davis are in Silbury Arcade, alongside branches of Marks and Spencer, Rituals, Laser Clinics, L’Occitane and Dune. Her three 1989 sculptures – ‘Dream Flight’, ‘Flying Carpet’ and ‘High Flyer’ – were commissioned by Milton Keynes Development Corporation and Hermes, and were donated to Milton Keynes Council.

Philomena Davis moved to Milton Keynes in 1980 and opened the Bronze Foundry in New Bradwell with her husband Michael. She has undertaken many commissions in Britain and abroad and was elected President of the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 1990.

Her three sculptures in Milton Keynes focus on the theme of flight. Her three figures show children at play and dreaming, and were inspired by her own daughter and a family friend. Two are transported on flying carpets and one is almost in flight as she throws her kite up into the air.

‘High Flyer’ seem to be absorbed in her own adventure (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Although the boy on the ‘Magic Carpet’ engages in eye contact with shoppers and passers-by, the two girls in ‘Dream Flight’ – one of Philomena’s children – and ‘High Flyer’ seem to be absorbed in their own adventures.

The artist says her sculptures depict our ‘fantasy with flight and escapism, in particular, the sorts of escapist dreams that come to us in childhood and adolescence.’

The three works were moved from their original positions in Queen’s Court and relocated in Silbury Arcade in 2009. Now set amidst shrubs and vegetation, they still remain slightly aloof from the commotion of the busy shopping centre.

The boy on the ‘Magic Carpet’ seems to engage in eye contact with passers-by (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (60) 27 July 2023

A detail in the lower clerestory window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, commemorating Bishop Richard Rawle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (23 July 2023). Today, the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship celebrates the life of Brooke Foss Westcott, Bishop of Durham, Teacher of the Faith, 1901.

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

This week, my reflections each morning include:

1, Looking at stained glass windows in Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, Tamworth;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Bishop Richard Rawle of Trinidad and Tobago was Vicar of Tamworth in 1869-1872

Three lower clerestory windows, Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth:

The three lower clerestory windows on the south side of the chancel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, are filled with highly coloured glazing. These windows are by William Wailes (1808-1881) of Newcastle.

Wailes started his own company in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1838 and became one of the largest provincial stained glass producers. The company was making its own glass by 1841 and Wailes was employed to make glass for AWN Pugin, mainly from 1842 to 1845, and he continued to produced glass for him on-and-off until Pugin died in 1852.

Wailes was joined by his son-in-law, Thomas Rankine Strang (1835-1899), joined him as a partner and the business became Wailes & Strang. Wailes lived in Saltwell Towers, Gateshead, from 1859. He died there and is buried in Saint Peter’s churchyard, Bywell, Northumberland.

The window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, commemorating Bishop Richard Rawle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

1, Bishop Richard Rawle window:

The first window, the easternmost, honours of the appointment of the Vicar of Tamworth, Richard Rawle, as Bishop of Trinidad in 1872.

The subject is described, ‘Melchisedec (sic, King of Salem, Priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning, & blessed him.’ The dedication reads: ‘To the Glory of God & in memory of the call of R Rawle, Vicar of this Parish, to be Anglican Bishop of Trinidad. W Wailes makes & dedicates this window with a thankful heart AD 1872.’

Richard Rawle (1812-1889), who was the Vicar of Tamworth in 1869-1872, was the Bishop of Trinidad and Tobago (1872-1888) and the Dean of Port of Spain Cathedral.

Rawle was born in Plymouth on 27 February 1812, the third child and only son of Francis Rawle, a lawyer. He was still only two when his mother, Amelia (Millett), died on 6 October 1814. He was educated at Plymouth Grammar School and Trinity College Cambridge (Scholar 1833, BA 1835, MA 1838, Fellow 1836, assistant tutor, 1836-1839).

He was ordained deacon by Joseph Allen, Bishop of Ely, in 1839, and priest by John Kaye, Bishop of Lincoln soon after, becoming Rector of Cheadle, Staffordshire, in the Diocese of Lichfield, that same year.

Rawle remained at Cheadle until 1847, when he moved to Barbados in association with SPG (now USPG), and became the second Principal of Codrington College (1847-1864). He successfully resisted attempts to have the college revert to its former function of educating the sons of the gentry and college went on to produce many graduates who made their mark in teaching, law, medicine, the civil service, as well as in ordained ministry.

He returned to Staffordshire briefly in 1851, when he married Susan Anne Blagg, daughter of John Michael Blagg, of Rosehill, Cheadle, in Cheadle parish church, on 14 January 1851.

He declined the offer to become Bishop of Antigua in 1859, and remained at Codrington College until 1864, when he resigned due to ill-health and returned to England. After convalescence, he refused the offer to become an honorary canon in Ely Cathedral. He was Vicar of Felmersham, Bedfordshire (1867-1869), before becoming Vicar of Tamworth (1869-1872).

While Rawle was Vicar of Tamworth, a new diocese was created in the West Indies in 1872 when Trinidad was separated from Barbados. Rawle was invited to become the first Bishop of Trinidad and Tobago, and he was consecrated bishop in Lichfield Cathedral on Saint Peter’s Day 29 June 1872.

For the next 17 years, he worked indefatigably in his diocese, and also became Dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port of Spain from 1878. Codrington College became affiliated with Durham University in 1875, and a year later, in 1876, Rawle received the degree DD from Durham.

His wife Susan died in Bournemouth on 1 March 1888 while they were on leave in England, and she was buried in Cheadle churchyard. Meanwhile, an economic depression in Barbados, caused by the fall in the price of sugar, put Codrington in a critical economic position. FM Meyrick resigned, leaving the college without a principal from 1887 because there was no stipend. Rawle volunteered in 1888, at the age of 76, to serve without pay, ‘out of a labour of love.’

He resigned as Bishop of Trinidad and returned to Codrington College as both Principal and Professor of Divinity in 1888. He was then 76. Within a year, Rawle was dead. He died at Codrington College on 10 May 1889 and was buried the next day in the SPG Chapel burial ground with a simple cross as the only mark on his grave.

A detail in the window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, in memory of Waldyve Henry Willington (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

2, Willington Window:

The middle window by William Wailes represents Abraham offering his son Isaac to sacrifice, the inscription being, ‘In memory of Waldyve Henry Willington, who died Dec. 17, 1850, aged 19. God spared not his own son, but freely gave him.’ The top image is of the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei).

This window commemorates Waldyve Henry Willington (1831-1850), the second son of Francis Willington, solicitor, of Tamworth. He was born in Tamworth on 2 April 1831, and died of fever in Saint John’s College, Cambridge, on 17 December 1850, aged 19. His surviving brothers were the Revd Francis Pye Willington (1826-1912), and the Revd John Ralph Willington (1837-1931).

Their father, Francis Willington of Tamworth, donated the Marmion or Saint Editha windows designed by Ford Madox Ford on the south side of the chancel. Their mother Jane Anne Pye of Clifton Camville, was a daughter of the Poet Laureate Henry James Pye and an aunt of the hymnwriter Henry John Pye.

The family was descended from Captain Waldyve Willington, who in June 1643 commanded a parliamentarian force that captured Tamworth Castle, which was garrisoned for the king, and the Moat House, the home on Lichfield Street of William Comberford, who was also actively engaged in supporting the royalist cause. Willington then sacked Comberford village and manor.

The Willington family lived for almost two centuries at No 10 Colehill, Tamworth. The house is now a pub known as the Sheriff of Tamworth, and is one of the pubs listed by Camra. The house was once the home of General Bailey Willington (1755-1822), an artillery commander at the siege of Gibraltar in 1782. Another family member, John Willington, was steward of the Townshend estate at Tamworth Castle in the 19th century, and lived at the Moat House until he died in 1811.

A detail in the window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, in memory of Joseph Gray of Maids Moreton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

3, Joseph Gray window:

The westernmost of these three windows by William Wailes is in memory of Joseph Gray of Maids Moreton, Buckinghamshire. It bears the inscription, ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.’

The lower wording reads: ‘In memory of Joseph Gray of Maids Moreton in the county of Bucks, died November 12th 1846. Buried in the north porch of this Church. A Beloved Husband. By his Widow May 6th 1872 Mary Gray.’

The Willington Window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Matthew 13: 10-17 (NRSVA):

10 Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ 11 He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 13 The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” 14 With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:

“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn –
and I would heal them.”

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’

The Joseph Gray Window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Reflections from the International Consultation.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Michael Clarke of the West Indies.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (27 July 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

We thank you Lord for all Primates, Church leaders and representatives from the Anglican Communion who we able to gather in Tanzania for the USPG International Consultation.


Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Lord God, whose Son is the true vine and the source of life,
ever giving himself that the world may live:
may we so receive within ourselves
the power of his death and passion
that, in his saving cup,
we may share his glory and be made perfect in his love;
for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Lamb of God … a detail in the tracery in the Willington window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org