National Recording Project

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

Staue of John Laird

Summary

Type Sculpture , Statue

     The Liverpool Daily Post describes the statue as follows: "Laird is "represented in the attitude of addressing a meeting, and is attired in a closely buttoned coat and loose overcoat, which was with him a very ordinary costume. The overcoat, mantle-like, extends a little further down than the inner coat. Mr. Laird, it will be remembered, used generally to wear the overcoat shorter than the inner coat; but no one will regret that this peculiarity has been discarded in the statue,(...) As it is, there is, as we have indicated, a certain most successful and proper idealisation secured in the statue. Mr. Laird has the left hand slung on the breast of the coat, and the body rests partly on the left foot and partly on the right hand, which rather grasps than rests upon the tone of which are seen tracing of the Birkenhead Docks. In this way there is a remarkable lightness of pose given to the tall and not unmuscular figure which, if we may so say, throws the intelligent looking head and the keenly expressive features of the deeply-furrowed face into a sort of full relief. The high forehead, (...) the well-set and penetrating eye, the deep and accumulated wrinkles, and the firmly closed mouth, all tell as plainly as statuary can of the far reaching view of the business man, which Mr. Laird pre-eminently was, and of the unrelaxing tenacity of purpose which distinguished his career."
     Unveiled on October 31 1877 by Lord Tollemache. With John Laird's death in 1874 the town lost one of its greatest benefactors. Immediately after his funeral the spontaneous and wide-spread wish for a memorial of his arose in the entire community. At a public meeting which was held, and at which the speakers represented various creeds, all classes of society, and every shade of politics, it was unanimously resolved that a public statue should be raised to the memory of John Laird, first MP for Birkenhead. The sum of £2,500 was fixed to be collected by public conscription. However, in a very short time more than the fixed sum was subscribed by nearly 2,400 donators. After paying all expenses the rest of the money was meant to be given to some institution in the borough. For the choice of the executing artist the committee decided to have an open competition, and finally chose Mr. Bruce Joy. The ceremony of the statue's unveiling included a procession of the members of the several trades and friendly societies (c.2000) from Haymarket through Hamilton Street, Argyle Street, Conway Street, and Hamilton Square, where stands for the public had been erected. A large crowd of spectators gave proof of the respect in which John Laird was held. Speeches of appreciation were given by Mr. Robert Galleway, the secretary of the committee, Lieut.-Col. King, Lord Tollemache, who was Laird's hunting friend, Mr. John Laird, Sir Henry Mather Jackson, MP for Coventry, Mr. MacIver, Sir Thomas Edward-Moss, and Mr. James Beazley. Mr. John Laird accepted the statue as a gift by the Birkenhead Commissioners. By the time of the unveiling the statue faced the Town Hall. In 1925 it was moved to its present position when the Cenotaph took its original place. According to the Liverpool Daily Post the public gave generous applause when the statue was unveiled by Lord Tollemache.
     John Laird was Birkenhead's first MP. He was born in Greenock as the son of William Laird, a shipbuilder and town planner who moved to Merseyside in 1805. John Laird was educated at Liverpool Royal Institution and became Deputy Lieutenant and a magistrate for the County of Chester. In 1824 the Laird family went to Birkenhead, where William Laird had founded his enterprise in Wallasey Pool tow year before. John Laird was also a member of the Institution of Naval Architects becoming his father's partner in 1828. The firm was leading in the building of iron ships. In 1858 John Laird built his first steel ship, the Ma Robert, in his yard in Tranmere Pool. John Laird was also strongly concerned about the affairs of Birkenhead. He was one of the first Commissioners in 1833, which were appointed by the First Improvement Act to erect a market, light and cleanse the streets and maintain a separate police force. When Birkenhead became a Parliamentary Borough in 1861, John Laird retired from shipbuilding to become the first Member of Parliament. He contributed a great deal to the continuous improvement of the town's situation, especially as a benefactor. Laird was responsible for the building of the Dock Cottages. He made some generous donations for the erection of Saint James Church, the Borough Hospital and the Laird School of Art. Due to his generosity and popularity it is rarely mentioned that Laird played an ambiguous role in the American Civil War by selling vessels to the Confederate Navy and thereby causing some major political discussions. As John David Smith describes, "So heated the controversy became that in 1863 there was a considerable discussion on both sides of the Atlantic of an Anglo-American war." John Laird died on October 26 1874 due to a hunting accident.

Inscriptions

base, left hand side: A. BRUCE JOY Sc. / LONDON 1874 base, right side: R. MASEFIELD & CO / FOUNDERS / CHELSEA front of pedestal: JOHN LAIRD / BORN 14 JUNE 1805 / DIED 29 OCTOBER 1874

Contributor details

Contributor Role
Joy, Albert Bruce Sculptor
Masefield, Robert Other

Element details

Part of work Material Dimensions
Statue Bronze and granite 276cm high approx

PMSA recording information

Reference Region
MSWR0022 LL
General condition Good
Surface condition
  • No damage
Structural condition
  • None
Vandalism
  • None
Road Hamilton Square
Precise location In the centre of the gardens.
A-Z ref 1D 85
OS ref None

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

Date of design 1874-1877
Year of unveiling 1877
Unveiling details 31 October 1877
Commissioned by Laird Memorial Committee, Chairman, James Beazley
Duty of care Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council
Listing status II
At risk? Not at risk

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