22 December 2023

Youth by William Dudeney – a lovely statue near Gough Square

Outside the door of  Pemberton House, 6 East Harding Street, between Gunpowder Square and Gough Square, there is a lovely sculptural piece of a young man casually perched on one knee.

I can find no marks on it at all; no date, no signature. The chunky athletic build is typical of the 1930s – rather Eric Gill-ish or Edward Bainbridge Copnall-like, or he might even be a Jacob Epstein creation. 

I had occasionally made attempts to find out more, specifically to ascertain who sculpted this piece and to clarify whether this building was constructed in the 1930s or the 1950s, made all the more confusing seeing as there is no mention of 'Pemberton' House' in the 1939 directory shown here, although it might have already been a whole block by then and perhaps the name of Pemberton House might have been later applied when it was converted and repurposed to recognise Pemberton Row at the end of E Harding St. 
A sculpted panel at the top of the building showing a representation of the printing industry bears the dates 1476-1956, though this doesn't actually confirm that 1956 is the date of the building – especially as the strip containing those dates looks to be a later addition. 
I wondered if it the building might have been constructed by Eyre & Spottiswoode, an interesting18th century printing company that, as you can see, also had a club in the same block/building. Whether the club was for all members of staff of just for the directors, I don't know. It might well have been a sports facility and this would tie in with this young man's athletic features. 

So back to the young man – it turns out that until today, I hade been searching using the wrong keywords, not using the name 'Pemberton' – basically, I hadn't looked very hard because all the info I needed is on Chris's excellent Ornamental Passions and has been there since 2012! 

He is called 'Youth' and was carved by William Dudeney, commissioned in 1955 by The Starmer Group, a company started by this man, that by the mid-1950s had acquired this site as their HQ, though this doesn't clarify when the building was constructed or when the name Pemberton was applied to it.
I am therefore assuming the name change happened quite recently when the block was converted to residential use. Any further info welcome. Incidentally, a furnished one bedroom flat starts at about £530 per week, which seems cheap to me considering the location. 

Read about another of William Dudeney's printer-related sculptures here  – and notice how one of the figures in that group is holding a printing block that containing Dudeney's name (with letters reversed) – clever. 

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Thanks, Jane