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Replacing the Salter (and cat) statue in Bermondsey

2013 February 26
wanted poster

Campaigning posters Christmas Day, 2011

We were probably not the only people walking along Cherry Garden Pier on Christmas Day 2011 to see with horror the posters appealing for the return of the statue of Dr Alfred Salter, the ILP MP for Bermondsey in the 1920s, that had been stolen, probably for scrap metal.

The statue of his daughter Joyce and the family cat had also been removed for safe-keeping by Southwark council.

 I had been interested in the work for various reasons. As I discussed in an article in the London Journal, the sculpture by Diane Gorvin had been there since 2003 having been commissioned by the LDDC in 1990-1. The sculpture depicted Salter in old age remembering his long dead daughter Joyce who had attended the local school and had caught scarlet fever on three occasions, the last fatally.

Although I had read about the Salters in several works I had not come across any discussion of the cat. While the child looked of another age, because of her dress, the cat acted as an image ‘across time’, bringing the past into the present. The viewer was surely intended to relate positively to the set of representations partly because we believed we could read the cat. Also the inclusion of the cat in this triad of linked sculptures detracted from modern fears of older men looking at children…

salter overview

Former sculpture with 3 statues: Alfred, Joyce and cat in Bermondsey alongside the river Thames 

Despite the rather romantic book by Fenner Brockway, Bermondsey Story : the life of  Alfred Salter , describing him ‘ beautifying’ Bermondsey I am not sure the extent to which the Salters were widely remembered before being employed by Peter Tatchell in his unsuccessful  local campaign to be Labour MP in the early 1980s. Tatchell’s not unreasonable suggestion that his form of radical community politics echoed those of Salter some decades before fell on deaf ears both locally within the electorate – and nationally within the Labour Party.

I am very pleased to know that there is a campaign by some concerned Bermondsey residents to replace the statues – and that artist Diane Gorvin is also designing a statue of Ada to be included in the new ‘ensemble’. The campaign is currently appealing for funds. I hope that it will be successful.

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