"WEE WILLIE" - THE FIGURE OF YOUTH ON THE TOWN MEMORIAL
by Marilyn Stephenson-Knight
Memorial was created by
Richard Reginald Goulden, a Dovorian.
The granite blocks are surmounted by a bronze figure of Youth.
He disregards the thorns coiled painfully about his feet as he
looks up at the flaming cross he bears.
beautiful memorial, and was designed, so the War Memorial
Committee tell us in the programme for the unveiling in 1924, to
educate young people and future generations as yet unborn.
Thus, the figure is deliberately simple and symbolic, shunning
show, discouraging jubilation in victory, and evading emulation
of war dress and weaponry. Its message instead is of
spirituality; of the difficulties in the path of life overcome,
and of duty and self-sacrifice. Suffering may destroy the body,
but cannot harm the spirit, and our reward should be not what we
receive, but the knowledge that we give freely, even of
ourselves unto death.
though, it wasn’t always so. Richard Reginald Goulden’s design
for our War Memorial rendered the entire space one large
memorial, a still spot of calm in the busy thoroughfare, the
grass and the granite kerbs an integral part. It was created in
keeping with and to complement, not obscure or overwhelm, the
17th century Maison Dieu House behind. The bronze figure of
Youth, however, has a longer history.
Goulden, in the first years of the 20th century, was the Art
Adviser for the Carnegie Trust, in Dunfermline. There he
produced a number of works, including a statue of Andrew
Carnegie himself. In 1908 he was commissioned to produce the
centrepiece of a fountain, to stand at Pittencrieff House,
Dunfermline, the estate having been bought by Mr Carnegie in
1902 and given the following year to the town.
figure Richard Goulden created used the concept of the water and
expanded it into a message for young people who might use the
park and play in the paddling pools, which were there for many
years. The statue for the fountain was entitled “Let Noble
Ambition Be the Thirst of Youth Always”, and was of a young lad
(left). He is standing on a plain square base, looking up to a
beribboned laurel wreath. The wings on the wreath bear it high
above his head so that he can touch it only by fingertip,
stretching to full height. With changes in detail, the figure is
exactly that of Youth surmounting our War Memorial.
Richard Goulden was asked to create our War Memorial, time was
short. Insufficient finance and the somewhat animated debates on
form, situation, and design of a proposed memorial had precluded
the commissioning until March 1924, and the public meeting for
acceptance of the design wasn’t held until 30th June 1924.
Fortunately, already having carried out a number of commissions
for War Memorials, as well as other commemorative works, Richard
Goulden had ideas in mind. He was said to strive always to
persuade War Memorial Committees to “see that a spirit glowed
brightly in the hearts of the fallen men, which it should be
their endeavour to perpetuate”. Our War Memorial reflects these
values, and its material elements can be traced in other
memorials of Richard Goulden’s creation.
Fallen of Kingston-upon-Thames were commemorated in 1923 by an
adult male figure (right), holding aloft a cross licked by
flames. One foot of the figure stands on a snake, rearing its
head, fangs exposed, threateningly towards two children.
Square-section (as if a man-made menace) thorny tendrils coil
around the sword held protectively before the children.
Meanwhile, at Malvern, also unveiled in 1923, the figure is that
of a winged youth, bearing high a flaming torch. Malvern stands
on a plain stone plinth, and around his feet are briars, a crown
of thorns fallen and trodden.
and Redhill (left) was another memorial unveiled and dedicated
that year, and features an adult male figure bearing a child in
his right arm, and holding high instead of a torch, a fiercely
burning cross (“the light of life”, as one commentator noted) in
his left hand. A thicket of thorns rises ominously behind him,
like a kraken from the deep; a tendril reaches across the torso
of the figure and another climbs to his left shoulder and the
flaming cross. The figure, protective and strong, dares denial
of the cross and disregards both the wicked barbs and a snake
which has seized his left foot in its mouth.
base is an explanation of the symbolism, “The bronze represents
the triumphant struggle of humankind against the difficulties
that beset him in the path of life. Shielding and bearing onward
the child the figure holds aloft the symbol of self-sacrifice to
light the way. The flaming cross is used to indicate the
suffering endured by men in the war – flames consume the flesh,
the spirit is unconquerable.”
ideas are taken up by the figure on our War Memorial too,
interpreted, just as at Reigate and Redhill, by the programme of
unveiling. Instead of the man, the central figure is now that of
Youth, and instead of reaching, as in 1908, for the laurels of
“Noble Ambition”, hovering tantalizingly just out of reach, he
takes a spiked step further and firmly grasps the sufferings of
the cross, his own flesh mortified, hands and feet, as he does
so. The focus is now no longer on the personal; this is
diminished and discarded in the burning radiance of the
transcendental. The laurel leaves now no longer hover aloft but
adorn the plinth below the feet of Youth, simultaneously an
accolade for those who grew not old and a message that the
mortal life is but the beginning.
Goulden had the ideas for Dover. He had the moulds too. Perhaps
this helped the financial situation and the timescale.
Practically and conceptually his design met the approval
the War Memorial Committee, and the piece was commissioned. It
was unveiled on 5th November 1924.
years later, the figure of Youth would become a memorial to its
creator. On 6th August 1932, the feast of the transfiguration,
Richard Goulden, aged 55, died suddenly at Newhaven. Buried on a
hill there, the laurels now on his grave too, he is commemorated
also by his work of Youth at the entrance to the cemetery,
placed there in 1933. The figure (left), atop a granite plinth,
now is called “The Sacrifice of Youth to a Higher Cause”;
Youth’s path is less thorny, but he bears the flaming cross
dedication, Richard Goulden’s widow, Muriel, called the figure
one of her husband’s best pieces of work. Four years later, the
mould would be used again, this time for a memorial to Edward
Beckwith. He was the first headmaster of the Imperial Services
College (ISC), then at Windsor, at which college the Gouldens’
son, Michael, was a student.
as perhaps befits an educational institution, and a teacher too,
whose work is to inspire his pupils, the bronze figure now bears
again the winged and beribboned laurel wreath. The memorial was
known as the “Statue of Ambition”. It is now believed to be at
Haileybury School in Hertfordshire, the school and the ISC
having combined in 1942. It is not on public view.
are other copies of Richard Goulden’s 1908 figure. In November
1986 Sotheby’s auctioned a work by him, stating in their
catalogue that “Ambition” was created for a fountain in
Pittencrieff Park. The entry added that until the cast in this
lot was placed for sale, the cast in Pittencrief Park, which was
set on a plinth with four drinking troughs above a stone base,
was believed to be unique.
1994 this figure was again auctioned, this time by Christie’s.
They described it as a nude boy under its full title as “Let
Noble Ambition Be the Thirst of Youth Always'”. In their
catalogue they noted that Richard Goulden was an “idealistic and
painstaking artist”, who “often used the figures of children in
order to represent a hope in the continuity of life and a faith
in the next generation. This is particularly evident in the many
memorials which he carried out in the immediate post-World War I
years.” The figure sold for £8,700.
Meanwhile, in Dunfermline, a replica of the original
Pittencrieff figure has been created. It stands in the foyer of
the Alhambra theatre, re-opened in 2008 after having served as a
bingo hall. The figure there is entitled “Ambition” – the word
is inscribed across the plinth on which it stands - and at its
feet are the “drinking troughs” – actually fountains in the
shapes of shells.
original 1908 figure stands no longer at Pittencrieff; it was
removed after repeated vandalism. However, ninety years after it
was created, it was restored, and a year later was presented to
Carnegie College, formerly Lauder College, marking their
centenary. Youth now stands in the foyer of the Carnegie
Conference Centre, Dunfermline, still attempting to capture his
may be awaiting discovery yet more casts of Richard Goulden’s
beautiful bronze figure of Youth and Ambition. If so, there may
be as well other names to add to those given in its various
appearances. In the meantime, however, there is a little more
history, and one more name to bestow.
bronze figure of Youth was created from a real person, a life
model. The lad had been a pupil at St Leonard’s school in
Dunfermline, built in 1902. Did he too go out to serve in the
Great War? Was he even one of the several of that name who Fell?
His family have yet to confirm.
do know the lad’s name. His own youth now eternal – like so many
of our Fallen he commemorates - the lad who modelled for Youth,
was named William Galbraith.
grateful thanks to Kris, the sculptor, who, by happy accident,
spotted the figure in the Royal Academy catalogue for 1908, and
thus began a joyful trail of investigation
This article first appeared in the Dover
Society Newsletter for August 2011
DOVER SCHOOL OF ART
Goulden studied at the Dover School of Art, and its head for 42
years was William East.
East (left, with his wife, Emma) was also a councillor,
and a member of the Committee responsible for the design and
erection of the War Memorial in
This would have been particularly poignant for him as he lost
his own son on 10 May 1915.
Hubert East is
commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres.
was twice, in 1898 and 1901, Master of the Freemason Peace and
Harmony Lodge (no 199) in Dover (right, in Masonic regalia).
He also was a pioneer of Esperanto in Dover. He died from pneumonia in 1925, while in office as Mayor. Mrs
East became in 1926 the first female Freeman of Dover.
The Easts are buried at
Charlton cemetery, Dover. The grave is shortly to be
with thanks to Phil Eyden
Illustrations, top to
From the Royal
Academy Catalogue of 1908
“Let Noble Ambition Be the Thirst of Youth Always”
Photographed by Simon
John Chambers, The Dover War Memorial Project
Kingston-upon-Thames War Memorial
Redhill and Reigate War Memorial
"Youth" at Newhaven cemetery
Richard and Muriel Goulden’s grave at Newhaven cemetery
By courtesy of Mandy
Dover School of Art
Mr East and family
Mr East in Freemasonic regalia
About Richard Goulden