National Recording Project

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Detail from: Memorial to 158 Squadron by Peter W. Naylor, 2009

The Birmingham Man: Thomas Attwood (1783-1856)

Summary

Type Sculpture , Statue

     Coppinger and Peever's piece is a consciously non heroic statement, with Attwood reclining casually on the steps of Chamberlain Square, his papers left to lie at the base of the soap-box from which he has presumably just stepped off. Indeed, the soap-box acts as a reminder of the pedestal which these artists have rejected as a base for their sculpture: Thomas's Attwood is raised on a pedestal as an exemplar to the masses; Coppinger and Peever's is a man of the people, at their level. The contrast with the Chamberlain Memorial is also marked. The memorial is a grand scheme, with plenty of detail taking up a lot of space; Attwood also uses space but in a completely different manner - the public may walk through the different components, and the detailing is left to the impressionistic modelling of Attwood's face and clothes. Three steps have had one of the slabs replaced with a key tenet of Attwood's inscribed (Reform, the Vote and Prosperity), and each of the bronze papers has a slogan written on them reflecting his views. Coppinger did the sculptural work, while the lettering and papers were carved by Peever.(1) Set low down to one side of the square, at the back of the Concert Hall, it is a source of surprise to many pedestrians when they come on the figure, sitting on the steps like anyone else might do on a summer's day.(2) However, it has been the object of vandalism and calls for its removal by some councillors have had to be resisted by the Department of Leisure Services.(3)
     The work was commissioned and donated to the city by Mrs Priscilla Mitchell, the great great granddaughter of Thomas Attwood. The maquette for this piece is in store at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
     Thomas Attwood (1783-1856), the son of a Birmingham banker, achieved renown in Birmingham by agitating for the repeal of Parliamentary Orders restricting trade, and for Parliamentary reform that culminated in the formation of the Birmingham Political Union in 1829. This body influenced the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832 and led to the appointment of Attwood with James Scholefield as Birmingham's first Members of Parliament. Attwood retired in 1840 for health reasons. Although based in London, it was through his brother, a Birmingham architect, that Thomas had connections with the city, having already worked on King Edward VI Grammar School, New Street, and on St. Martin's church in the Bull Ring.

Inscriptions

(Inscriptions on steps) 'Prosperity; The Vote; Reform. Inscriptions on papers: Prosperity Restored; Demand for Change; The Remedy; Votes for All; Full Employment; Free Trade.'

Related works : Coppinger and Peever's work contrasts with two public monuments: John Thomas's memorial to Attwood in Sparkbrook of 1859, and John Chamberlain's Chamberlain Memorial Fountain of 1880, beside which this modern piece is sited.

Contributor details

Contributor Role
Coppinger, Sioban Sculptor
Peever, Fiona Sculptor

Element details

Part of work Material Dimensions
Statue Bronze 200cm high
Soap box Reinforced stone None
Papers Bronze None

PMSA recording information

Reference Region
WMbiBIxx088 BM
General condition Good
Surface condition
  • Corrosion, Deterioration
Structural condition
Vandalism
Road Chamberlain Square
Precise location Sitting on the steps of Chamberlain Square
A-Z ref None
OS ref None

Sorry, we have no precise geographical information for this item.

Date of design None
Year of unveiling 1993
Unveiling details None
Commissioned by Mrs Priscilla Mitchell (The great great granddaughter of Thomas Attwood)
Duty of care Birmingham City Council
Listing status Not listed
At risk? Not at risk

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