Bilston, north of Birmingham, and its sculptural interest

The main artistic interest in the Church of St Leonard’s, and in the museum. We start with the Church.

Bilston Church

St Leonard's Church, Bilston.

St Leonard’s Bilston is a white painted Classical building dating from 1826, the chief external feature of which is the clock tower, which dates from the previous church on the site and was put up in the 1730s. It is square in cross section but with the corners truncated to give an almost octagonal look, a clock on each face, and above, a balustrade with small pots behind which is a pretty dome with summit weathervane of wrought iron. Inside, there is a coffee shop separated from the main body of the Church by glass. The Classical interior has galleries all round, and a barrel ceiling, nicely panelled and painted. There are several panel monuments which we consider here, starting with the most significant sculpturally, that to Sarah Willim, which incorporates a fine sculpture of a standing figure:

Sarah Willim, d.1834, erected by her husband, John Willim, d.1837 and also commemorated with text presumably added later, which also notes other members of the family. The inscription is on panel forming the side of a casket, with little feet, one of which is missing, and topped with a thick shelf on which stands the slender female figure, leaning against the side of a tall tomb, on which is a short exhortation to the reader to live as virtuous life as Sarah Willim. The figure is really rather excellent. She is young, with smoothly rounded features, long neck and slender limbs. Her hair, long and ringletted and piled up at the back of her head, is constrained by a thin scarf, and for the rest, she wears a Classical robe, with delicate folds emphasising the supple figure and long legs underneath. She stands leaning on the tomb behind, her head slightly in front of one raised shoulder, that arm resting on the lid of the tomb, with a heavier fold of drape over it. Her other arm is bare, and her hand holds a small basket filled with flowers, sparingly but carefully carved in relief. One sandalled foot protrudes from under the hem of the long drape. All of this in white marble, with a black backing, which is signed by E. Gaffin of Regent Street, London. The Gaffin family of masons were hugely prolific, but their output tended to be extremely simple, and this work by Edward Gaffin is a much more ambitious and sculptural monument than we normally find by that firm.

Sarah Willim, d.1834, by Gaffin of Regent Street.

Other monuments:


Also in the Church:

I was not able to find the Church website to link to.

The pulpit in Bilston Church.

Also in Bilston

The museum and art gallery has mostly changing exhibitions, but some permanent displays, including a regrettably small selection of Bilston enamels, far too little for what was once an important industry of the town.

Bilston Technical School of Science and Art, and details.

On the same road on which the Museum stands, there are a few good buildings, including the former Bilston Technical School of Science and Art. This terra cotta and brick building, erected in 1896, incorporates some minor decoration in terra cotta, including a cherub in a pediment above the main entrance, which although the usual corpulent little beast, manages to cover Science and Art in one small space. For Science, the chubby right hand holds some implement, and rests on a chemical retort, over which is draped a pan balance. His other hand holds a book, and behind one leg is a palette, and these do duty for Art. On the sides of the building, rather too small for much visual impact on the large expanse of brick, but of merit in their own right are three terra cotta roundels, each with a portrait bust. Who are they? One, the best, is a youthful man with moustache, no beard, and a Middle-Eastern headdress, rather dashing – perhaps Lawrence of Arabia, so emblematic of discovery (see picture at top of page). The second, rather less three dimensional, is a Classical head, with a corona of wavy hair encircling the face: conceivably Apollo as God of Education. The third, a profile Renaissance head in high relief, has a long nose and chin and wears a fantastical helmet; this would seem to be a copy from a drawing by Michaelangelo, and so represent Art. They were produced by the Lambeth School of Art in London, and were modelled by P. Ball.

Along the high street we may note a Classical bust on the balustrade of one building: a solid, bearded hero, with a long club and a twisting snake, the latter rather damaged, in much painted stone. Interesting, but whether he is Hercules or some other, and his purpose there, I do not know.

Rose Garrard's statue, Women's Work.

As part of efforts by the local council to make more of a centre to the town, also along the High Street is a modern sculptural work, called Women’s Work, by Rose Garrard, 1997. It shows a standing female figure in a modernist tendancy, thus with a long skirt rather well observed, in that the drapery is well delineated, and we have a sense of the forward leg underneath it, and then above, the body is bare, but stops above the breasts, with some solid structure in place of the arms, and what might be an iron or a shoe mould acting as head, this making me recall Epstein’s Rock Drill. The bent back supports some heavy burden, and behind is a scaffold, pulley and chain.

The iron weathervane of St Leonard's Bilston.

Top of page

St Peter, Wolverhampton // Wednesbury Church

Introduction to church monuments // William Hollins // Peter Hollins

Sculpture in some towns in England


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