Human figure bent up to fit into niche in concrete wall of walkway beneath Hallgate flats. The niche is a rectangular opening right through the wall to the outside, with concrete slabs top and bottom. The figure is in black granite, naked and stylised, on his back with legs bent up, supporting the weight of the top slab on his head, shoulders and knees. The head is turned towards the walkway, through the crook of his left arm, and the right hand is coming through legs to clasp his right foot. He appears to be holding up the wall on top of him.
Hallgate is a low block of flats, built in 1958, part of Span private housing developments by Eric Lyons in the Blackheath Park area. These are described by Pevsner as:
'low ingenious layouts of houses and flats in carefully landscaped small cul-de-sacs or set around courtyards or communal lawns, with friendly detailing of tile-hanging or weatherboarding, a total contrast in every respect to the council estates of the same period'.(2)
The sculpture was commissioned to celebrate a planning victory of Eric Lyons.(3)
The original manor lands of the area were developed by John Cator of Beckenham Place, who built on them large villas and terraces including the famous Paragon crescent. In 1806 the estate was laid out in a grid and gradually built up over the years, mostly with villas with large gardens, orchards and market gardens.(4) The area suffered considerable damage during the Second World War. It was into this mixture of styles and gaps that the post-war Span developments came in the 1950s. The gardens and orchards were built on, mainly by Span Developments Ltd, who sought to counteract the routine nature of most speculative housing of the time which often contrasted badly with public housing of the same era.
Geoffrey Townsend was an architect who became a developer in 1954, and Eric Lyons, the architect of Span's projects. They had designed together small sites in Twickenham and Richmond, and Lyons an estate of public housing in Sudbury, before embarking on Span to provide houses and flats for first-time buyers at an affordable price.
In their estates attention was paid to layout and detailing, using mostly squares and terraces with plenty of planting, decidedly modern and urban but also well landscaped. One innovation was to set up residents' management committees. Lyon's favoured higher densities than were then current in the area, 70 persons per acre rather than the normally permitted 50. This led to conflict with planning officers or councillors, especially here on the Cator estate, hence the sculpture, the figure of a man attempting to prevent himself from being crushed.
Hallgate itself is a three-storey block of flats with a covered way through at one end, in which the sculpture is situated.
'A man all but crushed by upper and nether concrete lintels; the figure . . . . is Eric Lyon's way of telling us that Span's achievement did not come cheap'.(1)
PMSA recording information