Nearly three years ago when this blog was in its infancy, I wrote a piece about ‘Doctor Salter’s Daydream’ statue; a public sculpture which was sadly stolen (most likely by scrap metal thieves) in November 2011.
The statue’s theft was all the more cruel considering the background of the man whom it represented; Dr Alfred Salter, a humble Quaker born in Greenwich in 1873.
Aged just 16, Alfred won a scholarship to study medicine at Guy’s Hospital where he proved to be an outstanding student.
After qualifying as a doctor, Alfred and his beloved wife, Ada vowed to dedicate themselves to helping London’s poor and set up a practice on Bermondsey’s Jamaica Road, then at the heart of a deeply impoverished area.
Their practice was revolutionary in that Dr Salter charged little or nothing at all for his services; a sort of prelude to today’s NHS.
In their quest to help London’s many downtrodden inhabitants, Alfred and Ada also turned to politics– and with great success, Alfred served on Bermondsey Borough Council and later went onto become MP for Bermondsey West in the 1920s.
Ada too served on Bermondsey council- becoming London’s first female councillor in the process and, in 1922 was elected Mayor of Bermondsey- thus becoming the UK’s first female, Labour Mayor.
Alfred and Ada lived on Stork’s Road, Bermondsey amongst their friends and patients and in 1902 had a daughter whom they named Joyce.
Loved by locals, the folk of Bermondsey fondly nicknamed Joyce, “our little ray of sunshine.”
Tragically Joyce died of scarlet fever at the tender age of eight.
Alfred and Ada never truly overcame their grief and placed a fresh vase of flowers on their mantelpiece every single morning in their daughter’s memory.
In 1991, artist Diane Gorvin created an installation for Bermondsey Wall East featuring the kindly Dr Salter in old age, sitting on a bench which the public were invited to share.
The sculpture of Dr Salter was waving at an image of his daughter, Joyce and her pet cat playing beside the Thames. Sadly, as the sculpture’s ‘daydream’ title suggests, the two little figures are simply memories; shadows of things that have been as Alfred remembers happier times.
This sculpture was by far my favorite in London and I was devastated when I discovered its cruel violation.
However, thanks to the marvelous work and fundraising of the Salter Statues Campaign, a replacement how now been created.
Dr Salter has been recreated by Diane Gorvin and the original sculptures of Joyce and her cat (which the thieves thankfully didn’t bag and have been kept safe by Southwark Council since 2011) will be returned to their location.
Even better, Ada Salter will also be included- which means London will receive its first public statue of a female politician and trade unionist. Improved security will be installed to protect the figures.
The new and thoroughly deserving artwork will be unveiled on Bermondsey Wall East at 2pm, Sunday 30th November 2014.
I’ll certainly be there with my camera and I hope you can make it too to witness this wonderful event!
An article which I wrote back in May 2013 for LTDA Taxi Magazine details the story of Alfred and Ada and can be read below (please click to enlarge).
Tucked away close to the peaceful Cherry Garden Pier in Rotherhithe, there lies a modest, medieval ruin.
These remnants are all that is left of a royal manor house, originally commissioned by King Edward III around the year 1350.
At the time, the land upon which the king chose to base his Rotherhithe mansion was in fact a marshy island, lying a short distance from the southern shore of the yet to be tamed Thames.
The small palace was well equipped for royal visitors, boasting private chambers, a kitchen and a large hall with ample room for a big, crackling fireplace.
Accompanied by his entourage, King Edward would travel to Rotherhithe by boat, sailing across the Thames from the monarch’s main home at the Palace of Westminster, a journey of approximately three and a half miles.
It is generally understood that Edward used the country retreat as a place to indulge in his love of falconry; a sport in which he was highly accomplished.
A few years after Edward’s death, his grandson, Henry IV spent much time as a recluse at the lonely manor house. Suffering from a dreadful skin disorder believed to be leprosy, tragic Henry is said to have spent his time at the Rotherhithe retreat swathed in bandages.
By the 16th century land reclamation meant the small island was able to merge with the mainland. The receded water of the Thames was replaced by a neat moat; a feature which led to Edward’s old palace becoming known as the ‘moted place’.
Sold by the Crown, the buildings were converted into a pottery works in the 17th century and, as London’s docks expanded, the building disappeared for good beneath clusters of hulking warehouses.
In 1839, the artist J.M.W Turner sat just in front of this spot, peering out across the Thames to paint The Fighting Temeraire.
Rather like Edward’s old palace, this once mighty ship (which had fought in the Battle of Trafalgar) had seen better days, and was being towed to Rotherhithe to be broken up. The painting is now part of the National Gallery’s collection.
What was left of Edward’s manor house remained buried and forgotten until 1985 when the derelict docklands were undergoing extensive redevelopment. At Cherry Gardens Pier, it was the construction of a new housing estate which unearthed the ruins.
Sadly, due to bouts of vandalism, much of the historic structure has been purposely reburied for protection.
Such mindless behaviour has also soured a beautifully moving artwork known as Dr Salters Daydream which once stood opposite the palace ruins. I have devoted an earlier post to this sculpture; please click here to read.