THE  DOVER WAR MEMORIAL  PROJECT

 

war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper
 

 

The Memorial


"WEE WILLIE" - THE FIGURE OF YOUTH ON THE TOWN MEMORIAL
 by Marilyn Stephenson-Knight

Our War 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. 

It’s a 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. 

Perhaps, 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.  

Richard 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. 

The 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. 

When 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. 

The 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. 

Reigate 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. 

At the 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.” 

These 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. 

Richard 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 of the War Memorial Committee, and the piece was commissioned. It was unveiled on 5th November 1924. 

Seven 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 still. 

At the 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. 

There, 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.

There 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.

In 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. 

The 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 laurels. 

There 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. 

The 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. 

But we 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. 

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with 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

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Richard Goulden studied at the Dover School of Art, and its head for 42 years was William East.

Mr 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 Dover. 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.

Mr East 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 refurbished.

with thanks to Phil Eyden

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Illustrations, top to bottom:

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 Whall
Dover School of Art
Mr East and family
Mr East in Freemasonic regalia

About Richard Goulden


Copyright 2011-13 © Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved