During the centenary year marking the reconstruction of the Rochester Old Bridge, the identity of the sculptor who created the four impressive lions for the bridge has finally been revealed.
The lions are the previously unrecognised work of the famous late Victorian and Edwardian sculptor Henry Charles Fehr (1867-1940), a founding member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors. Fehr is possibly best known for his large group of bronzes, Perseus Rescuing Andromeda, at the entrance to Tate Britain.
His many other works include the dome dragon and clock tower sculptures at City Hall, Cardiff, and statues and bas-reliefs on the Supreme Court building in Westminster.
The origin of the lions had aroused the curiosity of a visitor to The Rochester Bridge Trust’s medieval bridge chapel facing the river at Esplanade, Rochester, during Heritage Open Day in 2013. Frank Turner, of Lower Bourne, near Farnham, a keen amateur historian, photographer and bridge enthusiast, contacted the Trust in a bid to find out more.
The Trust has extensive archives dating from its foundation at the end of the 14th century. The Trust received endowments from local wealthy landowners to provide a crossing over the Medway between Rochester and Strood at no cost to the public – a task the charity, one of the oldest in the country, still fulfils today.
The Trust’s records include the contract drawings for the Old Bridge reconstruction by John Cochrane & Sons. However, the drawings only stipulated that the ornamental castings were to be made by J W Singer & Sons, of Frome, Somerset, and that they should be designed by an eminent sculptor. No mention of the sculptor’s name could be found in the records.
Determined to solve the puzzle, Mr Turner contacted the current owners of J W Singer & Sons and discovered that many of the company’s records were held at Frome Library. A little research uncovered the name of the sculptor.
“I really enjoy finding out more about history. I travelled to Rochester for the Heritage Open Day because I had never visited a bridge chapel before. The Old Bridge and the lions immediately caught my attention,” said Mr Turner, a retired rail booking clerk who has a collection of bridge photographs he has taken across the world.
“I have always been very curious and I was delighted to be able to find out more about the sculptor. The Trust and Frome Library were both very helpful,” he said.
Bridge Archivist James M Gibson said: “In this centenary year we too are delighted finally to discover the identity of the sculptor of the lions.
“Henry Charles Fehr specialized in monumental and architectural sculptures that adorn many memorials and buildings in cities throughout the UK. Now Rochester can take great pride in having not just one, but four, genuine sculptures by Henry Charles Fehr.”
The Trust is currently celebrating the centenary of the re-opening of the reconstructed Old Bridge to the public on May 14, 1914 by Lady Darnley. The reconstruction of the Victorian cast iron bridge, built in the 1850s with three arches and a swing bridge, was required to provide more clearance for shipping on the River Medway.
Lion sculptures are frequently used in architecture to symbolise strength and courage.
Read about restoration work to the lions here.
1. The Rochester Bridge Trust is a charitable trust that exists to maintain the old and new bridges at Rochester and serve the travelling public. It is the only surviving bridge trust still serving its original purpose, and it has served the people of Kent since 1399. The Trust also supports numerous community and education projects across historic Kent and Medway.
2. The Trust’s assets all derive from endowments of land and money in the 14th and 15th centuries and are carefully managed in order to provide an income to fund bridge maintenance and local charitable grants. The Trust receives no external funding and is regulated by the Charity Commission.
For more information:
The Rochester Bridge Trust
Kent ME1 1QE
Tel: 01634 846706
Fax: 01634 840125