William Huskisson was a statesman, financier, and MP for several constituencies including Liverpool but he is best known today as the world's first passenger railway fatality. He was cut down by The Rocket at the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway in 1830. A marble statue of Huskisson stood for many years in The Huskisson Mausoleum in St James’s Cemetery. The badly eroded figure was removed in 1968 and is now in The Museums Conservation Centre. In the 1830's many citizens wanted the mausoleum statue to be re-sited in a grander setting but his widow would not agree. She commissioned the sculptor John Gibson to create a second sculpture in marble for this purpose. Intended for the interior of The Customs House in Canning Place, political machinations saw it instead sent to London, where it is now to be seen in Pimlico Gardens. Using this second marble sculpture as a master a bronze version was cast. This bronze was finally placed outside The Customs House in 1847. The Customs House interior was completely destroyed during the 1941 blitz, taking a direct hit from an incendiary but the statue survived intact, standing before the blackened ruin until demolition in 1954. The sculpture was then moved to a new home on a plinth at the northern end of Princes Road.
It was toppled from its plinth during the Toxteth riots of 1981, allegedly in the mistaken belief that Huskisson had been a slave trader. From 1981 onwards it was housed in the Oratory in Cathedral Gardens. In 2004 it was taken in to the sculpture studios at the National Conservation Centre for complete restoration and it is now re-sited in Duke's Terrace.
The sculptor John Gibson was born in Conway in 1790, the family were to emigrate to America but never progressed beyond Liverpool. The young apprentice cabinet-maker first persuaded his masters to allow him only to wood-carve and then persuaded a firm of stone-masons to buy out his indentures so that he might work instead with marble.
This statue has
both endured and enjoyed a most interesting life. It now stands quietly
in a private housing development. In the evenings and at weekends the
gates to the property/square may appear shut but there is at least one
gate for pedestrians which easily opens with a push against gravity.
Alan Maycock © 2008
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