Rook Lane Arts tells Singers story

FROME’s Rook Lane Arts Trust has been awarded Heritage Lottery funding to tell the story of the town’s famous art foundry, J.W. Singer & Sons.

The project, Casting the World: The Story of J.W. Singer & Sons of Frome, will take place next year, marking the bicentenary of the birth of John Webb Singer in 1819, founder of J.W. Singer & Sons Art Metal Works. At its height the company employed as many as 700 people in the town and cast statues and sculptures which can be found across the country and around the world.

The project will have access to the Singers’ archive of glass plate negatives held by Frome Museum, and will shine a light on this collection which is of national importance. These remarkable images show the craftsmen and apprentices involved in the highly skilled casting work that took place in the heart of Frome – skill that attracted the most famous sculptors of the day to choose Singers in Frome as the place to get their work cast.

Works cast at Singers in Frome include many of our most iconic public statues, war memorials and civic works, from Boudica on the Thames Embankment in London, the friezes at the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle to the figure of Justice that crowns the Old Bailey.

The people of Frome would give these immense statues a send off by cheering them on their way through Frome town centre as they were pulled by horse and cart from the Singers’ works at Waterloo to the railway station.

Trustees chairman Martin Bax said: “As an organisation Rook Lane Arts are immensely proud to have been successful with our application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. This is an extremely important community project which we hope will bring greater recognition to the legacy of J.W. Singer & Sons, as well as flagging up the incredible archive of glass plate negatives housed at Frome Museum.”

The funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund will allow Rook Lane Arts to work with local organisations and the wider community to interpret and explain the history of Singers’ foundry, which grew from humble beginnings casting brass candlesticks for local churches from their first shop at 25 Market Place, now the Frome Festival office, to being recognised as one of the most prestigious foundries in the world.

Casting the World will bring this unique and significant part of Frome’s rich history and cultural heritage to life through exhibitions at Rook Lane Chapel and Frome Museum, as well as activities and community celebration events throughout 2019.

The 2019 Frome Festival will be a particular focus, with a theme of the bicentenary of the birth of John Webb Singer. The project will also be accompanied by an education programme devised with Frome Learning Partnership and a publication supported by the Frome Society for Local Study.

Pictured: (1) Boudica and her daughters being re-assembled prior to its departure from Singers. Started in 1850 by Thomas Thorneycroft, completed by his son Hamo and cast circa 1897. It was eventually erected on the Thames Embankment by Westminster Bridge in May 1902 and remains one of London’s most popular public sculptures.

(2)The scene in one of the chasing or fitting shops at Singers where bronzes were finished and assembled. Central is the statue of WE Gladstone by Hamo Thorneycroft which was unveiled on The Strandin 1905; on the right one of the many Queen Victoria statues produced after her death in 1901.

(3) Statues cast at Singers’ await their departure, c.1910. As well as the eight lions by JM Swan, bound for the Cecil Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town; central is the figure of Sir Daniel Dixon, Mayor of Belfast, by Hamo Thorneycroft, (in the grounds of Belfast City Hall); far right Sir George Livesey, pioneer of gas production, by Frederick Pomeroy, (in the grounds of the now closed Livesey Museum, London); also visible are some of the 150 lion’s head mooring rings  (by Gilbert Hayes) that Singers cast for the former County Hall, London.

All images courtesy of Frome Heritage Museum