07 March 2024

Public sculpture and
art in Old Wolverton
could inspire similar
works in Stony Stratford

Martin Heron’s ‘Reaching Forward’ in Wolverton Park is in two parts … a tribute to the town’s railway heritage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Milton Keynes has a collection of over 230 public artworks located throughout the city. The collection includes sculptures, installations and art in the public realm, often reflecting the people, place and time when they were commissioned.

From the very early days of the development of the city, Milton Keynes placed public art at the heart of its design and communities. In recent months, I have enjoyed discovering, exploring and blogging about these works, include numerous sculptures in the city centre, in shopping centres, in parks like Campbell Park, and in open spaces.

But they are not confined to the centre of Milton Keynes. There are sculptures too in the satellite towns and villages and their parks, and I have blogged about sculptures in a variety of locations, including Bletchley, Great Linford and Bradwell Abbey.

It is regrettable that more of these sculptures and installations are not seen on the streets and in the corners of Stony Stratford. Yet neighbouring Wolverton has an interesting collection of works of public art.

Martin Heron’s ‘Reaching Forward’ in Wolverton Park is in two parts … a super hero by the banks of the Grand Union Canal (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

As I was strolling around Wolverton earlier this week, I noticed the attention given to providing publicly accessible art even in private developments such as Wolverton Park, in among the apartment blocks.

Martin Heron’s two figures of ‘Reaching Forward’ stand on either side of the pedestrian bridge over the Grand Union Canal. They have been part of the award-winning Wolverton Park development since 2012, and they reflect the distinctiveness of each of the waterway.

Martin Heron carried out extensive research into the Wolverton area and met many groups and individuals to understand the identity of the place and the aspirations of the community. Through a series of workshops, he explored and tested ideas, all of which informed his final proposal for ‘Reaching Forward.’

With ‘Reaching Forward’, the artist captures both the past and the future of Wolverton. He responds to place by the way the new development takes forward the old railway buildings into a new life as modern and contemporary homes.

Martin Heron’s ‘Reaching Forward’ by the Grand Union Canal in Wolverton Park recalls the town’s railway heritage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The figure on the heritage or south side of the canal is made from steel that is rusting and aging in harmony with the qualities of the old brickwork of the railway building. a A steam train is running along his arm, reminding viewers of the heritage of the site. This is a model of a 19th century Bloomer locomotive of the type once built at the railway works. The supporting columns represent railway tracks in a design inspired by the railway works.

The old railway buildings behind this sculpture were in use when steam trains stopped to be refuelled with coal and water. While the trains were being refuelled at Wolverton, Victorian passengers would alight and retire to the reading rooms to spend time and to enjoy the refreshments.

It is said that when the London to Birmingham railway was being built, Northampton declined to have a station with these facilities, fearing it would attracted the ‘riff raff’ from London. So, the tiny rural village of Wolverton was chosen instead and it grew into being a thriving railway centre. The Reading Room remains but it now part of a development that includes offices, caf├ęs and restaurants beside the canal.

On the north bank of the canal bridge, atop a straight pole set at an angle, a spring-heeled stainless steel superhero bursts through ribbons of metal as he sprints forward. On the upper side of his outstretched left arm, a row of seven cyclists ride assorted bicycles, a theme inspired by the velodrome that was once located nearby.

A brightly coloured mural at the corner of Cambridge Street and Stratford Road in Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Nearby, in the Secret Garden in Wolverton, a couple on a couch are the creation by art pupils from the Radcliffe School under the direction of Phil Smith and Bill Billings. The sculpture was unveiled in October 2007 shortly before Bill died on 26 December 2007.

There are interesting, locally inspired works of public art at the entrance to Tesco in Wolverton, and a photograph of a brightly coloured mural on a wall at the corner of Cambridge Street and Stratford Road attracted favourable responses when I posted it on Facebook and Instagram earlier this week.

So, why are there fewer works of public art on the streets and corners of Stony Stratford to date?

Luke McDonnell’s mural of Queen Eleanor on the corner of New Street and High Street in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Luke McDonnell’s mural of Queen Eleanor on the corner of New Street and High Street always attracts attention. The mural was painted in August 2018 and is a reminder of the town’s long lost Eleanor Cross.

A fading mural on the gable end at the corner of London Road and Horsefair Green represents the legend of ‘Cock and Bull’ stories and the coaching heritage in Stony Stratford, but is as far south of the Cock Hotel and the Bull Hotel on the High Street as one can get.

But there are many suitable sites for more murals in Stony Stratford, including the gable walls of the Library on Church Street, facing the door of Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, where the statue of Saint Giles must be one of the earliest sculptures in the town.

There are up to a dozen sculptures in the Sculpture Park beside York House in Stony Stratford (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

After enjoying Martin Heron’s two figures of ‘Reaching Forward’ in Wolverton earlier this week, I returned that afternoon to the interesting Sculpture Park in Stony Stratford. Ten or twelve sculptures in a green area beside the car park at York House recall Edward Hayes and his Watling engineering and boat works.

Sadly, only one of these sculptures is immediately visible to passers-by on London Road, and the others are almost hidden in a secret and overgrown green area, squeezed between the car park at York House and a modern housing development off London Road.

In Galley Hill, Ian Freemantle’s beautiful carved oak leaves and poetic words on his bench in Galley Hill are a reminder of a gib and gallows in the past that give Galley Hill its name.

Only one of the sculptures remembering the boat works is immediately visible from London Road in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

There are so many places in Stony Stratford I see as suitable locations for modern sculptures and art. I can see how new sculptures and murals along the High Street, in Market Square or on Church Street, in the front of the library, in Cofferidge Close, on Horsefair Green, or, say, at the junction of London Road and Wolverton, would add to the attractions of the town, make it more interesting for residents and visitors alike, and retain and increase footfall for shops and businesses.

And there so many appropriate, potential themes too, beyond the old ‘Cock and Bull’ themes. Those that suggest themselves include:

• the town’s old tanneries;
• the ‘Princes in the Tower’;
• the former light railway between Wolverton and Stony Stratford;
• the colourful Prince Louis Clovis Bonaparte, a grandnephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, who once lived in Stony Stratford;
• Stony’s possible links with the family of William Penn of Pennsylvania;
• the supposed connections through the Shell House with Sir Christopher Wren and John Radcliffe; • long-standing business like Odell’s, Cowley's or Cox and Robinson;
• a celebration of Stony featuring in the 1987 film Withnall and I;
• or even Sir Herbert Samuel Leon of Bletchley Park, the man who was singularly responsible for once saving the tram line between Stony Stratford and Wolverton and effectively saving the town’s economy.

The ‘Cock and Bull’ mural on the corner of the corner of London Road and Horsefair Green in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Lent with
early English saints:
23, 7 March 2024,
Saint Boniface of Crediton

Saint Boniface depicted in a window in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Exeter (Photograph: Julian P Guffogg / Geograph / Commons)

Patrick Comerford

The Season of Lent began on Ash Wednesday (14 February 2024), and this week began with the Third Sunday in Lent (Lent III, 3 March 2024).

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (7 March) remembers Saint Perpetua, Felicity and their Companions, Martyrs at Carthage in the year 203.

Throughout Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on the lives of early, pre-Reformation English saints commemorated in Common Worship.

Before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, A reflection on an early, pre-Reformation English saint;

2, today’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Saint Boniface depicted in the 11th century Fulda Sacramentary, baptising (above) and being martyred (below)

Early English pre-Reformation saints: 23, Saint Boniface (Wynfrith) of Crediton

Saint Boniface (Wynfrith) of Crediton, is commemorated in the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship on 5 June. He was born Wynfrith at Crediton in Devon ca 675, and took the name Boniface when he entered the monastery in Exeter as a young man. He became a Latin scholar and poet and was ordained when he was 30.

Boniface rejected a safe ecclesiastical career in England and, in the year 716, became a missionary to Frisia, following in the steps of Willibrord. He eventually was commissioned by the pope to work in Hesse and Bavaria, where he went after his consecration as bishop in 722. He courageously felled a sacred oak at Geismar and, since the pagan gods did not come to the rescue, widespread conversion followed.

He was the founder of a string of monasteries across southern Germany and made sure that they were places of learning, so that evangelisation could continue. He was made Archbishop of Mainz in 732, where he consecrated many missionary bishops. He worked assiduously for the reform of the Church in France and managed to ensure that the more stable Rule of Saint Benedict was observed in French monasteries.

Saint Boniface crowned Pepin as the Frankish king in 751, but was already very old. While waiting for some new Christians to arrive for confirmation, he was murdered by a band of pagans on 5 June 754. He is the patron saint of Germany and the Netherlands. Although he is little known in Britain, Boniface has been judged as having a deeper influence on European history than any other Englishman.

A statue of Saint Boniface by Werner Henschel in Fulda (Photograph: Frank Schulenburg / Wikpedia / CC BY 2.5)

Luke 11: 14-23 (NRSVA):

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. 15 But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.’ 16 Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. 18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? – for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. 19 Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. 22 But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.’

Saint Boniface fells Thor’s sacred oak in Geismar

Today’s Prayers (Thursday 7 March 2024):

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 ‘International Women’s Day Reflection.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Right Revd Beverley A Mason, Bishop of Warrington.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (7 March 2024, Saint Felicity and Saint Perpetua) invites us to pray with these words:

Let us pray for those persecuted for their faith. May they find solace in the prayers of others, fortitude under threat and hope in despair.

The Collect:

Holy God,
who gave great courage to Perpetua, Felicity and their companions:
grant that we may be worthy to climb the ladder of sacrifice
and be received into the garden of peace;
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.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God our redeemer,
whose Church was strengthened by the blood of your martyrs Perpetua, Felicity and their companions:
so bind us, in life and death, to Christ’s sacrifice
that our lives, broken and offered with his,
may carry his death and proclaim his resurrection in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday: Saint Willibrord of York

Tomorrow: Alcuin of York

Saint Perpetua and Saint Felicity are commemorated on 7 March … a modern icon by Brother Robert Lentz OFM

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