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From Duncan Edwards to the Man on the Oss: The monuments that define our region

By Mark Andrews | Attractions | Published:

Some of them have been around for centuries, others just a couple of decades.

Farley's Fountain returned to its original location in 1988

But the great monuments of the West Midlands have one thing in common – they have all become major landmarks that define the places where they are located.

These are the statues and sculptures which everyone associates with their home towns. They are the symbols that are printed on marketing literature, the landmarks where young couples may meet for their first dates.

The lucky ones have been treasured and revered by their communities, such as the Samuel Johnson statue in Lichfield where people of the city place a wreath to mark his birthday.

The less lucky ones get pushed around, tucked away, bashed by passing traffic, or even completely destroyed.

Others, such as the war memorial at Barr Beacon, have sadly been subjected to attacks from thieves and vandals, and still more, such as the James Forsyth fountain in Dudley, have proved difficult and expensive to maintain.

In their day these monuments and memorials were precious to those who built them and paid for them.

Times and fashions change, and memories fade of those bigwigs and good eggs they commemorate.

Here are just a handful of examples of the memorials, pillars, statues and buildings that tell the story of our towns and cities.

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1. Barr Beacon War Memorial

The Barr Beacon war memorial in the morning sun

One of Walsall's most famous landmarks, this distinctive construction has graced Barr Beacon since 1933.

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Built from Portland stone, it consists of a raised platform, and eight pillars supporting a distinctive blue-green coloured dome.

The dome was originally made from copper, but sadly this proved attractive to metal thieves.

In 2013, it received a £440,000 restoration supported with lottery funding, which included a new roof made from zinc. While similar in appearance to the copper one, it is much less valuable. The work also saw closed-circuit television installed at the site.

Located on one of the highest points of the West Midlands, the memorial originally housed a topographic disc, or direction finder, but the original was damaged during the Second World War. Since then there have been several discs installed at the monument.

2. Samuel Johnson Statue, Lichfield

The Samuel Johnson statue in Lichfield

This statue to Lichfield's famous man of letters is located in Market Square, outside his birthplace.

Constructed from ashlar, the monument is on a large plinth, and features Johnson sitting in a Greek revival chair wearing academic robes, and appearing deep in thought.

On three sides the plinth depicts scenes from the dictionary compiler's life, with the rear panel bearing an inscription commemorating the gift of the statue by Dr James Thomas Law, chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield.

There is also a plaque, which was added in 1984, commemorating the 200th anniversary of Johnson's death.

Johnson was the son of a bookseller, and was born over his father's bookshop in Lichfield. He attended Lichfield Grammar School, and also lived for a time in Stourbridge where he attended King Edward VI Grammar School. He went on to become a renowned poet, playwright, essayist, moralist and literary critic, but it was his A Dictionary of the English Language published in 1755 which would be his defining work.

There is a tradition in Lichfield of placing a wreath on the monument to mark Johnson's birthday.

3. The Farley Fountain, West Bromwich

The Farley Fountain in West Bromwich, pictured in 1998

Reuben Farley was one of the great movers and shakers of West Bromwich, so it is quite appropriate that the fountain he gave to the town has moved about a bit too.

The fountain, with its ornate cast-iron canopy topped off by an eagle, was installed in Dartmouth Square in the town centre circa 1885. The Bilston-born mining engineer donated the structure in memory of his late mother Elizabeth.

Farley died in 1899, and in 1911 it was moved to Dartmouth Park, which Farley had also donated to his adopted town.

It remained in the park until 1988, when it was moved back to Dartmouth Square as part of a town centre regeneration scheme. The new-look square was officially opened the following year during a week of activities including a visit from motormouth puppet character Roland Rat. An unsightly glass roof over the fountain was later removed.

At the opposite end of West Bromwich town centre, in Carters Green, stands a clock tower also dedicated to Farley.

4. Prince Albert Statue, Wolverhampton

Prince Albert Statue, at Queen Square, Wolverhampton..

The story goes that when Queen Victoria unveiled this statue it was greeted, not with the expected cheers, but with a stunned silence, followed by gasps of dismay. The sculptor had made a gross error in the depiction of the horse. Such was his shame that the next day he committed suicide.

The tale is also completely untrue, but as the saying goes, a lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on. There is no evidence of the work having been criticised, or greeted with anything other than the customary cheers. And the sculpture, Thomas Thornycroft, actually lived for another 19 years.

Affectionately known as 'The Man On The Oss' or 'Moth', the statue of Prince Albert riding his horse was in dedicated in 1866. It was thought to have been Queen Victoria's first public appearance since the death of her husband five years earlier, and she is said to have been touched by the warm reception she received in the town.

The statue has moved around the square a few times during various attempts to revamp the area.

5. Triumphal Arch Fountain, Dudley Market Place

Pigeons have been a problem for the fountain in Dudley

The fountain has dominated Dudley market place for more than 150 years, and thousands turned out to see it officially dedicated in 1867, with people even standing on the roofs of nearby buildings to get a glimpse of the spectacle.

Donated by the Earl of Dudley, and officially opened by the Countess, it was designed in an Italianate Renaissance style by the celebrated Scottish sculptor James Forsyth who also designed the fountains at their Witley Court estate.

Elihu Burritt, the American consul, described it as "the most costly and superb fountain in England", but maintaining it has proved problematic.

There have been concerns that the landmark has been damaged by pigeon droppings. Water stopped flowing in the 1980s, with health and safety regulations being cited as one of the reasons.

When the Prince of Wales visited Dudley market in 1996, he spoke of his sadness at the way the fountain had decayed. A questionable restoration scheme a few years later saw some of the water bowls filled in, flower beds planted in the main troughs.

A second restoration scheme in 2015 saw the fountain restored to its former glory, with the water flowing once more, although it is not working at the moment.

6. Duncan Edwards, Dudley Market Place

Sarah-Anne Edwards and Sir Bobby Charlton during the official unveiling of the Duncan Edwards statue in Dudley

At the opposite end of the square from the fountain is the statue to Dudley's favourite son, the legendary England midfielder Duncan Edwards.

Originally to the fountain, the statue was unveiled in 1999 by Edwards' team-mate Sir Bobby Charlton, and followed calls in the town for the player to be honoured.

Edwards was one of Manchester United's legendary Busby Babes in the 1950s, and was quickly heralded as one of the greatest footballers of all time.

But his life was tragically cut short at the age of 21 when he died from injuries sustained in the 1958 Munich air crash.

Sir Bobby, who survived the crash, was joined by Duncan's mother Sarah-Anne Edwards for the unveiling.

The statue was moved to the opposite end of the market place, outside the Churchill Shopping Centre, during the revamp of the are in 2015.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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