‘Gloria’ Sculpture by Robert Erskine

Gloria

Robert Erskine tells us the story of the Gloria sculpture constructed in 1996 at Coventry Business Park, Canley, the site of the former Triumph works.

Firstly I would like to outline a ‘Triumph’ connection.

My late father, a doctor in Greenford, West London, owned two Triumph 2000s, a navy blue late MK11969, and an emerald green MK2 1972, both automatics. He had a patient, Ernie Scrivener, a gearbox specialist and senior engineer who worked at Western Avenue Service Depot in London.

As a youngster I displayed an early aptitude and insatiable curiosity for all things mechanical, often ending in serious and disastrous trouble. Aged six I managed to ‘remove’ the spark plugs from my father’s Ford Zephyr 6. The ceramic insulators came out but the rest stayed put.

Ernest Scrivener would come to my parent’s home and carry out tune ups, on the Triumph 2000s. It was here I learnt and was mentored by him. He instructed me on engine timing, setting tappets, balancing the carburettors, and tuning amongst other things. He allowed me to be his assistant and these were very exciting times for me. Eventually aged 16\17 I began work at Western Avenue, under a newly introduced apprenticeship scheme and was interviewed by Jock Brown.

He kept up a friendly, if at times strict contact. I remember his red carnations in his button hole. I also remember the ferment on the shop floor at the time of union disputes and walk outs driven by the then Shop Steward. Jock Brown would regularly come down from his top floor office which overlooked the works to intervene and remonstrate. I had arrived into the adult world of work!

At this time the Stag had been recently launched, and early in the mornings there would often be lined up outside the depot on AA rescue vehicles, broken down Stags. These cars were assigned to a team of technicians who had to trouble shoot. I was intrigued by all this and would often go over at lunch break to see the progress. One day I noticed a stripped engine block and spotted a part drilled oil way not completed. I pointed this out to the technician and he explained a batch of engines had oil starvation issues to the valve train, and this may well have been the issue! I felt I had arrived as a fully trained technician, which of course I was not.

After a year at Western Avenue I decided to change direction and entered Art School to study sculpture and design. Originally I wanted to become an automotive designer and at that time no course existed, so sculpture was my best option.

When in 1993/4 I read about the redevelopment of the Canley site and the overnight bulldozing of buildings, I was especially moved by the public outcry. I then heard Arlington Properties, part of British AeroSpace, were developing the Triumph Works land into a business park. I felt a sculpture which would acknowledge the great achievements of Triumph’s work force, and especially the communities and individuals who worked there should be part of the scheme.

I approached Arlington Properties at their headquarters in Theale, Reading, Berkshire. On presenting the notion to the CEO and executive directors, they warmed to it. I was asked to create a fully costed design, and return within the month.

My own brief was to design a sculpture that was deliberately not car like, more something which the work force aspired too and knew was a process regarded with excellence. During my researches of Triumph I discovered that body parts of cars from the 20’s and 30’s where formed using the English Wheel. The skill of the English Wheel operator was indeed highly respected, and this became my starting point. The 1934 Gloria sports saloon had panels formed by hand with the English wheel and so this became the name of the sculpture. The top part of the sculpture is a flowing wing form based on the ‘Gloria’ going through the English Wheel rollers onto which it is supported. This intended to show that any radii can be created by the skill of the operator. It also echoed the high standards to which Triumph aspired.

After many drawings and sketches I reached the design I was looking for, and with time extremely tight completed my presentation material. This included an axonometric perspective rendering of my design in situ and related development drawings. I made the presentation and Arlington’s CEO and directors confirmed the sculpture was great. I was excited too and then for two months heard nothing.

Arlington eventually wrote to me explaining they were so impressed by my design they had put it out to ‘tender’ in the form of a national competition, to other sculptors, to get the best price! This annoyed me greatly and I explained the sculpture was my design, my copyright, and it was not a building you put out for tender. I also added that none of the other sculptors had lifted a finger picked up the phone or even thought of the project. Arlington replied they were justified in the decision. I was furious.

As most creatives learn some of your best work really does come out of sheer angst and frustration. I went into overdrive deciding a plan of drastic action. Normally sculptors don’t like making speculative pieces of sculpture for undecided projects without their costs being covered.

On this occasion because I felt so angry I went ahead and made a fully working scale model of ‘Gloria’ in wrought bronze. ‘If any sculpture about Triumph Cars is going to be made its going to made by Robert Erskine’ and this was my driving force.

Just as I was completing the model I had another idea. I really needed to pull a surprise: a big piece of theatre to create intrigue and desire. It was key to engineer a ‘happening’ to clinch my role and achieve an agreement with Arlington who I began to regard as shady sharp practising estate agents. In reality they were just ordinary Surveyors!

I needed to impress upon Arlington’s development team that I was a car enthusiast with flair and insight.

A friend owned a rare bright red 1932 4.5 Litre Lagonda two seater open racer, with exposed stainless steel exhausts. He owed me a big favour so I asked would he allow me to drive this wonderful car, as though I owned it, to the front of Arlington’s entrance, and reveal my working scale model ‘Gloria’ sculpture off the bonnet?

As one to think of similar mad ideas he readily agreed. On contacting the PA to Arlington’s CEO I requested a morning for him and his team to meet me outside in front of Arlington’s main office. To my astonishment this was granted, but an enquiring air of curiosity as to why from the CEO was ignored with a ‘please be there at the appointed time’. My ruse had worked.

A cold sunny frosty November morning arrived and my friend drove me along the M4 with the Lagonda’s roof off, the exhaust emitting a deep sonorous overture, lovely! I was wearing a WW2 flying helmet and googles for the occasion, after all this was my dawn patrol and I had a mission to successfully complete. The plan was to stop off at a nearby Sainsbury’s my friend going for a long coffee break, and me jumping into the driver’s seat of this fantastic looking and sounding car.

I was in heaven and as I eased myself towards Arlingtons offices, every vehicle including a police patrol car on the approach roads let me through.

I swept into the entrance road and stopped right in front of Arlington’s revolving entrance doors. A security guard appeared and enquired as to what I was doing, explaining in a stern tone that only the CEO was permitted to stop there. I replied that the CEO had requested I park up and he should check with his PA, I stood my ground. Nothing absolutely nothing was going to interfere with my plan. I jumped out of the driver’s seat and readied my Gloria working model, hidden underneath a black shroud, placing it on the bonnet glistening in the sun. Was this really happening it all seemed so at odds with Corporate protocol?

After an anxious few minutes a sudden flurry in the reception occurred, and like a volcanic lava flow a stream of black dressed men and women, flowed out and around the Lagonda. Their dark suits made the red bodywork of the car really ping out. It seemed all of Arlington’s employees had come to see the mystery. Arlington’s CEO was the last to come out accompanied by his team.

“Good morning ladies and gentleman thank you for meeting me here today. It’s my pleasure to have driven my rare Lagonda car here today. You may be wondering what this is all about and what’s on top of the bonnet. Simply your CEO asked me to create a sculpture for your new scheme at Canley, a sculpture that will echo the skills, commitment and lives of the communities that made Triumph Cars world renowned. “If anyone is going to make this sculpture about Triumph Cars it is going to be Robert Erskine!”

With that I unveiled the working model and I have to say the reaction was tremendous, everyone clapped. The CEO was taken with the sculpture, and before he had a chance to say anything else and whilst the iron was really red hot I asked ‘do you agree I have the commission?’ Without hesitation he announced I had. He also asked was the stunning Lagonda mine to which I replied of course, and it’s used everyday as my transport even to the shops.

My red herring Lagonda ruse had paid off!

I created and fabricated ‘Gloria’ in wrought and welded stainless steel with a unique lustrous surface, and sited it on the roundabout at Canley Business Park, opposite the Member’s Club House. I understand in excess of 300,000 cars weekly drive past it. It has appeared in the media notably Top Gear, and has been listed by the Monuments and Sculptures Association as contributing to the heritage and culture of the nation.

Whenever I am fortunate to be commissioned to create a large scale public sculpture I always place a Time Capsule beneath its foundations. And children who live nearby are invited to place whatever they like in it. Underneath ‘Gloria’ is a Time Capsule containing messages to future children, from local Primary Schools, and the handwritten manifesto of the Rt Hon Tony Blair, who on the eve of his election visited Canley Business Park, to unveil my working model of ‘Gloria’.

On meeting him I asked if he would contribute to the capsule and he asked if his hand written manifesto as to how he was going to lead the nation was acceptable! It’s safely in the capsule.

GloriaBlair
Tony Blair with the model of the Gloriia scullpture.

On the day of the unveiling I had organised a cavalcade of almost every Triumph model type to park around the roundabout where ‘Gloria’ is sited. The Triumph owners club were key in assisting me. The day was unfortunately rainy. Coincidentally it coincided with the anniversary of the repeal of the red flag act, and on contacting the Coventry Transport Museum floated the idea for the oldest car, a Daimler, to head the cavalcade with a young man in period dress walking with a red flag. That young man was the son of the Chair of the Coventry Society.

At this time it was also the release of the new Jaguar XK and also the Aston Martin V8 Coupe. I contacted both companies’ press departments to trailer these new cars to the cavalcade which they did, adding to the drama. Additionally I persuaded British Aero Space to provide a reception and refreshments for almost two hundred retired Triumph employees and their families. ‘Gloria’ was created for them, the communities who put the Triumph name on the map at Canley.

I am pleased ‘Gloria’ is being maintained in perfect condition and that it has achieved status as the only sculpture in England to mark the first centenary in 1996, of the British Motor Industry.

Tail Piece

A few weeks after Gloria was unveiled I returned to photograph it early on a cold clear blue sky morning. This is the best light to view it. Whilst setting up my camera a gentleman walking his dog came by. “I’d like to shake the bloke’s hand who made this amazing sculpture. My grandfather used to work in the body shop at Standard’s employed on the wheeling machine. Each time I come past here I just feel real proud”. I put my hand out and warmly shook his hand.

You can find out more about Robert Erskine here. 

Coventry Ring Road Open Space

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Ambitious plans to breach Coventry ring road and open up the city centre have been submitted by the developers behind some of the city’s most exciting regeneration projects.

Complex Development Projects (CDP) has submitted a planning application for a new linear park which will provide a continuous 1km long green link from the top of Naul’s Mill Park, under the ring road through to Belgrade Plaza in the city centre.

The route follows the line of the culverted Radford Brook which will be recreated as a natural habitat through the former Gas Works site in Abbotts Lane, where CDP is proposing to create a new residential community of more than 700 apartments.

The pedestrian and cycle route passes under a raised section of the ring road, which will be brought to life as a new urban space with a new climbing wall, performance amphitheatre, feature lighting and landscaping.

The route connects the city centre to the Edwardian Naul’s Mill Park, which opened in 1908 following the demolition of the medieval mill in 1889. Improvements to the park including naturalising the large pond as a wildlife haven are also planned.

The plans are being showcased at MIPIM – the world’s biggest property development and investment show – in March.

If approved, it is hoped that work on the site will begin in late spring and will be completed by the start of 2021, ready for Coventry’s City of Culture calendar of events. Katie Burn, of CDP, said: “The aim of the proposals is to break down the barriers created by the ring road to re-connect communities with the city centre.

“We are very excited that the plans include innovative re-use of the area under the ring road creating activity in what is currently a fenced off storage area.

“Where pedestrians currently have to navigate a narrow and unattractive path underneath the ring road, the proposals will deliver a broad urban space to create a safe and dynamic environment throughout the day.

“The plans showcase the area’s history, re-creating the culverted Radford Brook and regenerating the beautiful Edwardian Naul’s Mill Park to become a major green asset for the city centre. This flagship project with highlight the city’s green credentials and help to boost the city’s image in Coventry’s City of Culture year.”

CDP is a member of the Coventry and Warwickshire MIPIM Partnership made up of companies and organisations who represent the area and is also part of the UK Midlands presence at the event which attracts 30,000 delegates.

Article courtesy of Advent Communications

Take a look at the planning application.

The Coventry Society enthusiastically supports this application. It extends Naul’s Mill Park towards the city centre providing much-needed recreational area, cleverly bridging the barrier formed by the elevated ring road and bringing the Radford Brook back to the surface.

Gordon Cullen – The Townscape Man

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At the last CovSoc meeting we heard a presentation from Lesley Durbin about the restoration of the Cullen tile mural in the Lower Precinct. But who was Gordon Cullen and how did he come to be designing a mural in Coventry?

Thomas Gordon Cullen was born in Otley, Yorkshire on the 9th August 1914, the son of a Methodist minister. He studied architecture and draughtsmanship at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London and subsequently worked as a draughtsman in various architects’ offices including that of Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton, but he never qualified or practised as an architect.

He was famous as a writer, artist, planner and urban designer and his book, Townscape, remained in print for over fifty years. Many planning students from the 1970s might still have their copies of this seminal work (the author included)!

Gordon was a key member of a dominant circle of architects, journalists, historians and poets who formed architectural opinion in post-war Britain. His contribution was to develop an eye for seeing the obvious, but invariably overlooked, architectural qualities in British town and cities.

He saw that places of great beauty and of strong and picturesque character had been created over the centuries by builders and architects working in unselfconscious harmony with the landscape and he set about identifying and analysing these qualities. The aim was to get to the essence of the British town and to teach lessons that could be learnt and applied by contemporary architects and planners.

Despite being blind in one eye, he was a tremendous artist and draughtsman. During the Second World War he was declared medically unfit for military service and instead designed factories and Ministry of Information exhibitions, before going to Barbados with the colonial service in 1944 to plan self-help housing and schools in the British West Indies.

On his return to London in 1946 Cullen joined the staff of the Architectural Review where, as Assistant Editor, he became a prominent commentator on post-war development and architecture. In 1947 he published a pioneering pedestrianized proposal for Parliament Square, ‘Westminster regained’ and he also produced a special edition of the Architectural Review in 1955.

Cullen’s skill as an architectural illustrator was greatly admired and he received many illustrative commissions such as the 1943 County of London Plan, Kynoch Press’s 1940 diary and the 1955 Cambridge Christmas Book, as well as some studies of the State Apartments at Windsor Castle.

In the Festival of Britain in 1951 Cullen was in charge of all external public lettering on the South Bank. He was also commissioned to design modern pocket gardens for the terrace outside the Homes & Gardens pavilion.

Shortly afterwards Cullen was commissioned to paint a mural in the reception area of Westville (now Greenside) Primary School in Shepherd’s Bush.

GreensideMural

The Coventry mural was commissioned in 1957 by the City Planning & Redevelopment Committee on the recommendation of Arthur Ling, City Architect to the corporation. The mural depicted the history of the City and its post-war regeneration. The mural was relocated from the top end of the Lower Precinct as part of a regeneration scheme in 2002.

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Cullen promoted an approach to civic design that led to his book Townscape published in 1961. Translated into several languages and re-titled The Concise Townscape, it has become a standard text for urban development.

TheConciseTownscape

In 1972 Cullen was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and in 1976 he was awarded the CBE for his contribution to architecture.

Cullen continued to write and act as an influential planning consultant throughout the 1970s but it was not until 1983 when he started an architectural practice with David Price that Cullen really began to turn his own theories to practical use. There followed a series of important planning studies which showed the principles of townscape at work. The scope was vast, from Docklands in London to Edinburgh, Glasgow and even Oslo, where Cullen was commissioned in 1984 to create a ceremonial route to link the palace with the harbour.

Gordon Cullen died in Slough at the age of 80 on 11 August 1994. He was described as a delightful man to meet. He had an impish, indirect good-humour which even survived intermittent bouts of gout and, more seriously, deteriorating vision during the last decade of his life. He was dubbed ‘Mr Townscape’ in the tribute issue of Urban Design and Townscape (October 1994).

Coventry Local Air Quality Action Plan

Coventry ring road A4053

The Government has backed down on its plan to impose a Clean Air Zone on the central parts of the city. They have accepted the Council’s preferred plan to reduce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels within the city in the shortest possible time.

So what exactly are the Council’s plans?

At the heart of the Council’s plan is an engagement programme with businesses, schools and local communities aimed at reducing the number of local journeys made by car, and encouraging alternative, sustainable, modes of travel such as walking, cycling and public transport to be used for these journeys.

This programme is complemented by significant investment in a segregated cycle route between Coundon and the city centre providing a high-quality route that will provide an attractive alternative to driving along the Holyhead Road corridor.

The Council is also working with Transport for West Midlands on the Mobility Credits pilot programme which will give Coventry residents with an older, polluting car the chance to exchange their vehicle for mobility credits. The credits could be spent on bus and rail travel, as well as new transport modes such as car clubs or bikeshare schemes.

The package also focuses upon the “greening of the fleet”, with existing programmes to upgrade the bus, taxi and commercial fleets operating within the city, including the Electric Fleet First project that gives businesses the opportunity to try out electric vans, pool cars and taxis with the aim of encouraging them to switch to zero emission vehicles.

There are also a series of highway improvements aimed at reducing the volume of traffic on Holyhead Road, where NO2 levels are at their greatest. These include improvements on Allesley Old Road at Spon End and at the Butts Junction on the ring road. These will remove capacity constraints on this alternative route into the city centre from the west. Improving capacity on this route will provide the flexibility to divert traffic onto this route from Holyhead Road when air quality conditions on Holyhead Road are identified as being poor. The Council’s modelling suggests that these changes will reduce NO2 levels rather than just move them from Holyhead Road to Allesley Old Road.

Another part of the plan is the opening-up of Upper Hill Street onto the ring road. Barras Lane will be closed and traffic will go from Coundon Road directly onto the Ring Road down Upper Hill Street, with a left turn onto the slip road that runs from the Holyhead Road roundabout. Returning traffic will go round the Holyhead Road roundabout northwards towards the ring road and will be able to turn left into Upper Hill Street.  One of the results of these changes is that the traffic signals at Holyhead Road / Barras Lane can be removed to improve traffic flows and reduce emissions.

A further package of traffic management measures are proposed for Foleshill Road, with the aim of removing extraneous through traffic and reducing traffic flows, congestion, and NO2 emissions on this route into the city centre from the north. Through traffic will be encouraged to use the A444 instead, which is the designated route for through traffic accessing the city centre from M6 Junction 3.

Some of the proposed measures in Foleshill include banning right-turns from Cash’s Lane onto Foleshill Road and banning HGV traffic in some areas. The city’s first electric buses will be running through Foleshill and the Council will be  introducing bus gates restricting through traffic at certain locations.

SLIDER-3

The Government has endorsed this package of projects in principle and has awarded the Council £24.5 million in grant funding to deliver it, subject to the Council’s submission of a full business case.

There is a current consultation exercise on the plans which runs from 16th March to 26th April,  before the scheme is submitted to the Government in June.  The consultation papers are online at https://www.coventry.gov.uk/airquality

Coventry Peace Lecture by Sir David King

Sir David King

A rare opportunity to hear the UK’s ex Chief Scientific Adviser and Special Representative for Climate Change share his insight and wisdom.

Some people claim that Covid19 is the world’s biggest threat since the end of World War II. It has galvanised governments into action because it is an immediate and obvious danger. But, within a couple of years, there will be a vaccine for the virus, most people will have acquired immunity and society will return to normal, poorer and perhaps no wiser.

For, many scientists would argue, there is a much greater threat facing the world today which is going to have far more devastating consequences than Covid19 if not tackled with equal urgency. Climate change is probably the greatest threat to peace facing the world, but so far governments have offered no proportionate response.

Thursday 12th November 2020,  6.30pm at Coventry Cathedral or online. Book at bit.ly/peacelecture2020 

Professor Sir David King is uniquely qualified to give an authoritative insight into the threat of climate change and what governments and their citizens need do to deal with it. Sir David was Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s chief scientific adviser. At that time, he was outspoken on the subject of climate change, saying “I see climate change as the greatest challenge facing Britain and the world in the 21st century” and “climate change is the most severe problem we are facing today – more serious even than the threat of terrorism”.

He then served as the permanent Special Representative for Climate Change under David Cameron and Theresa May, including for Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, playing an active part in framing and securing the Paris agreement.

Sir David is clear that all nations must draw up a plan to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. But they have failed to do so and today, while governments are promising to invest a total of over a trillion dollars to counter the effects of the Covid19 pandemic, there are estimates that they will need to spend a hundred times as much over the next thirty years merely to replace all fossil fuel power stations with clean generation.

The talk is scheduled to be held in Coventry Cathedral on Thursday 12 November, two days before the 80th anniversary of the bombing of the city. The doors will open at 18:30.

Should Covid19 still be preventing mass gatherings by then, the talk will be delivered over the internet and you will still be able to ask Sir David questions.

The talk is likely to be very popular and you are advised to book your seats at bit.ly/peacelecture2020

Sir David has published over 500 papers on science and policy, for which he has received numerous awards, and holds 22 Honorary Degrees from universities around the world. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1991, a Foreign Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002. Sir David was knighted in 2003 and made an Officer of the French Legion of Honour in 2009 for work which has contributed to responding to the climate and energy challenge.

The Lord Mayor’s Peace Lecture is organised annually by Coventry Lord Mayor’s Committee for Peace and Reconciliation. Recent speakers have included Jonathon Porritt, Michael Morpurgo, Paul Oestreicher, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and, last year, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti.