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Woodford, James (1893-1976) Sculptor

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James Woodford is perhaps best known for the 10 heraldic beasts which stood at the entrance to Westminster Abbey for the coronation in 1953 of Queen Elizabeth and were especially commissioned for that great ceremony.

There are two files at The National Archives which relate to this sculptor.

File ( STAT 14/3144 ) contains details of the agreement between James Woodford and The Ministry of Public Buildings and Works concerning the copyright of Woodford’s “Beasts” and the various approaches to the Ministry for use of the designs involved and the remuneration which would be due to the sculptor. It had been agreed that any commercial exploitation of the designs were to be the subject of prior consultation and agreement between the sculptor and the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works and that any royalties received were to be divided on a 50-50% basis. In 1955 it appears that requests to reproduce the designs of the “Beasts” were also to be approved by the Home Office. The file also contains a cutting from the Evening Standard of 6th February 1953 which featured an article on the sculptures and two photographs, one of Woodford at work on “The Lion of England” at his Chiswick studio, and the other of Woodford showing the then Minister of Works, Mr.David Eccles, the scale model of the “Dragon of the Tudors”. The article states that five tons of clay were being used to produce the 10 heraldic beasts commissioned together with two tons of plaster.

Another file ( CM 9/114 ) deals with funds received by the Ministry of Works in connection with photographs taken of the heraldic beasts and the sharing of those funds with Woodford. This file contains several handwritten letters from Woodford at his 19 St Peter’s Square, W6 address. One of the reproductions considered was from a comic called “Topper” and a page from this comic is on the file. It was concluded that the reproductions in the comic were from drawings of the set of plain white models then held in The Royal United Services Institute and were not therefore an infringement of copyright. I suspect it is rare to find a page from a comic in The National Archives’ files but there was the page on one side of which was the piece about the heraldic beasts and on the other side the adventures of “Tiny Tim”!

There is another interesting article in this file, which is an interview with James Woodford from the “Home Chat” section of “Picture Post”. In this interview Woodford remembers how as a schoolboy he would watch the Sherwood Foresters drilling in front of Nottingham Castle just where his statue and panels relating to Robin Hood now stand. As we will note later, Woodford served with the Sherwood Foresters in the 1914-1918 war.

Replicas of these 10 figures, also carved by Woodford and from Portland Stone , are now in The Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew. Funds for these replicas to be made came from an anonymous donor. The originals had been made of plaster and had not been intended to be permanent.

Two recently taken photographs of two of the heraldic beasts at Kew are shown below.

The Black Bull of Clarence
The Falcon of the Plantagenets

The remaining eight heraldic beasts are shown in the gallery below:-

Woodford was born in Nottingham and studied at the School of Art there. During the 1914-1918 war he served with the 11th Battalion Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) and was "Mentioned in Despatches". When the war ended he attended the Royal College of Art and during the 1939-1945 war was a camouflage officer with the Air Ministry. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1945 and was a fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors.

Woodford was awarded the Prix de Rome for Sculpture in 1922.

Included in his works are:-

1. The bronze doors and various relief panels at Norwich City Hall. There are three sets of doors and each door has three roundels showing Norwich's manual trades. Three of the roundels are shown below. They are remarkable works.

One of the roundels on the doors of Norwich City Hall
One of the roundels on the doors of Norwich City Hall
One of the roundels on the doors of Norwich City Hall

2. Stone figures and panels for Huddersfield Library and Art Gallery and outside that building the sculptures on either side of the main entrance. These were produced by Woodford in 1939.

3. The Robin Hood statue,side bronzes and wall plaques by the wall of Nottingham Castle. Several studies of this work,taken in August 2008 are shown below.

Closeup of Robin Hood

4. A new design of the Royal Coat of Arms in 1962.

5. The sculpture for Imperial War Graves Commission at the British cemetery in Bolsena in Italy. It was at Bolsena that the 6th South African Armoured Division fought a heavy battle with the retreating German army in 1944. Bolsena War Cemetery contains 600 graves and of these 185 are of South Africans. At the entrance to the cemetery is a single pillar with a lion on the top of it the lion killing a hydra. The pillar and carving were in the hard Pietra Serena, the stone of which the Florentine palaces are built.

6. A cast iron urn with a relief which stands outside of County Hall, Hertford.

7. The British Medical Association Memorial, in Tavistock Square, London. This work was produced in 1954. The central courtyard of the Tavistock Square building does in fact house two war memorials. The first, the Gates of Remembrance, or "Memorial Gates", were designed by Lutyens and commemorate the 574 members of the BMA who died in the First World War. These gates were dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the occasion of the official opening of BMA House in 1925. The gates were manufactured by the Birmingham Guild. The second is a fountain and surrounding statues which form a memorial to the medical men and women who died in the Second World War. This was designed by James Woodford and consists of a bronze fountain in the form of the staff of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, surrounded by four Portland stone figures representing Sacrifice, Cure, Prevention and Aspiration

Several photographs, taken on a visit to the BMA premises on 5th November, 2008, are shown below. The first features the central fountain and the bronze staff of Asclepius.

The central fountain featuring a bronze representation of the staff of Asclepius

The sculpture representing “Prevention” shows a figure of the Jenner period holding an early microscope as a symbol of research. In the lower part of the composition are a dog and a sheep meant to signify the discovery of the value of inoculation in preventing disease.

This sculpture is shown in the photograph below and underneath that photograph is another showing a close-up of the early microscope.

A figure of the Jenner period
Close-up of the early microscope held by figure of the Jenner period

The sculpture representing “Sacrifice” features a representation of Machaon who was said to have been the son of Aesculapius and to have been the first recorded medical war casualty. Machaon was both surgeon and soldier and fought in the Trojan Wars around 1200 B.C. The sculpture shows Machaon in the act of falling, his thigh pierced by an arrow. At the base of the figure the composition includes a sponge which would have been used for staunching blood and a vase which would have been used to hold healing ointments. To link the figure with the war being commemorated, the Second World War, Woodford has added to the shield the symbols of Combined Operations.

Two photographs are shown below, the first features the Trojan figure itself and the second a close-up of the shield.

The figure of Machaon
Close-up of the shield

All the four statues have incidentally become much worn by exposure to the elements and the photograph of the shield is in fact a photograph from the programme covering the unveiling of the war memorial which is held in the BMA’s archives.

The sculpture representing “Cure” features a symbolic figure representing the post-Greek era of medicine. A lancet is held in the right hand and two putti are shown, one holding a dish for receiving blood after the process of “cupping” and the other carries an early drill used for the operation of trepanning and clasps the hand of the central figure. At the base of the group a mandrake plant is added to suggest the lore of the herbalists.

The photographs below show the central figure and some close-ups of the composition.

The figure representing “Cure”

The sculpture representing “Aspiration” features a figure representing “Motherhood” and at the base some carvings of fruit show some of the health giving products of Mother Earth.

Carving at the base of “Aspiration”

Finally a photograph is shown below of Woodford’s signature at the base of one on the four sculptural compositions.

The B.M.A kindly gave the writer access to their files and the notes of the symbolic meaning of the four statues are based on Woodford’s own notes in the official programme issued for the unveiling ceremony.

The B.M.A papers showed that a limited competition was held and that three sculptors were invited to bid, James Woodford R.A., William McMillan R.A and Siegfried Charoux A.R.A. The judges were Bainbridge Copnall, M.B.E., F.R.B.S., William Reid Dick K.C.V.O., R.A., F.R.B.S and Mr.C.H.James R.A .,F.R.I.B.A.

8. Bronze doors and stone pylon figures at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) building in Portland Place.London.The bronze doors are quite spectacular and a photograph is shown below, this taken in August 2008.

The bronze doors of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

In the gallery below are some further images, these of the two stone pylon figues by the entrance to the building. The other sculptor involved on the external work was Edward Bainbridge Copnall (1903-1973). Above the entrance is the work ""Architectural Aspiration" and there are further sculptures by Bainbridge Copnall on the Weymouth Street elevation, these including the work "The Sculptor".

The interior of the RIBA building features many works by James Woodford and these are described in the splendidly informative booklet “66 Portland Place” ISBN 9781859461372 published by the RIBA. This booklet gives full descriptions of these works including the meanings of Woodford’s reliefs on the entrance doors.

The work on the cast bronze doors, each 12 feet by 6 feet and weighing 1.1/2 tons, had the theme “London’s river and its buildings”. Below are three of the features on the door, one features the London Zoo, the second a London Underground tube tunnel and the third bears Woodford’s signature and shows an architect at work.

Apart from the two stone pylon figures on either side of the entrance to the RIBA building, as mentioned above, Woodford also produced several relief plaster ceiling panels; six of these are set in the ceilings on the first floor landings and show the main periods of English architecture, further reliefs on the north and south sides of the main floor area represent the principal trades of the building industry.

One of the plaster ceiling panels featuring tradesmen is shown below.

Plaster ceiling panel

9. Various keystone groups for the DEFRA building in Whitehall.London. Recent photographs of some of these keystone groups are shown in the gallery below. Sadly these keystones are now a little worn by the ravages of time. Woodford also produced the two figures on either side of the main entrance to the building.These are shown in the gallery below.

10. Panels for St John’s Wood Barracks.

We can also see some of James Woodford’s work in the St Thomas the Apostle Church on the Boston Road, Hanwell, Middlesex. The timber screens in the chancel are decorated with angels, each playing a different instrument and these were carved by James Woodford and in the Children's Corner (or Chapel) there are wooden carvings by Woodford over the screen, these representing 'flesh, fruit, fish, flower, and fowl'.

Below are some photographs of some of the carved angels all taken in November 2008 on a visit to the church.

Apart from his public sculptural and ecclesiastical work, James Woodford did a considerable amount of work in the heraldic field.