Anguish for descendant of Victorian artist as stone splits in two during restoration work
Art lecturer Ian Wilson with the broken gravestone
Victorian Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown. Right: Great-great-grandson Oliver Soskice
Published: 29 March, 2013
by PETER GRUNER
THE great-great-grandson of Victorian Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown has voiced concern that the gravestone of his famous ancestor has been badly damaged during restoration work.
Oliver Soskice, 64, a professional artist, paid £750 to have the stone – which was leaning perilously – placed flat on the ground at Islington and St Pancras Cemetery, in East Finchley.
However, during lifting work last month the ornate stone broke into two pieces and that is how it has been left.
Mr Soskice said: “It’s not that I tipped Hamlet’s gravedigger £10 to do the job. The work cost a lot of money.
“I wanted them to clear the site, which they have done, and lay the stone flat on the ground so there was no danger it might topple over and injure someone. But I had no idea there was a danger it might break.”
Mr Soskice, who lives in Cambridge, is the son of Frank Soskice, the late Labour MP and former Home Secretary.
The “forgotten and neglected” Madox Brown burial spot was discovered by chance by Holloway art lecturer Ian Wilson while visiting his mother’s grave nearby in March last year.
As a result of Mr Soskice’s concerns, featured in the Tribune last year, Islington Council launched a Ford Madox Brown grave improvement appeal.
Mr Wilson, art co-ordinator at the Hoffman Foundation for Autism in Wood Green, hopes the appeal will pay for repairs to the stone and the eventual full restoration of the grave. He said: “At the moment the grave looks like a building yard. This is disrespectful to anyone let alone an important British artist and early socialist.”
He has asked the council’s environment chief, Councillor Paul Smith, to instigate work cementing the two broken parts of the stone together.
“Cllr Smith was reported last year in the Tribune as saying he was keen on launching an appeal,” he said. “How far has he got?”
Cllr Smith said this week he was sorry the stone had broken and hoped it could be repaired.
“I hope to meet the family as soon as possible and get the appeal going,” he added. “This important piece of art history needs to be supported.”
Speweik Comment: This story was first posted by Jonathan Appell on LinkedIn Group “Gravestone & Monument Preservation.” April 7, 2013. It was refreshing (but sad) to see a published story in a newspaper about a historic stone repair gone wrong. Maybe it was because it was a gravestone, and maybe it was because it was a famous persons gravestone, or maybe because it was so old – at this point it doesn’t matter – I’m just glad it was published for all to read. We can learn from the mistakes of others when we have the opportunity to know about them. A true expert (if such a person exists) is one that has a strong character trait to admit a mistake and allow others to learn from his experience. This of course is not usually our natural response.
Coming from the trades as a stonemason, I have come to learn and respect stone by working with it for many years in many applications. From quarry, to block, to slab, to dimension unit, to seasoning of the stone, then protecting and preparation, and finally to the installation into the wall. I have also had the reverse experience in my later years in historic preservation work of carefully deconstructing, removing from the wall, redressing, restoring, rehabilitating, and conserving stone for reuse – placed back into the same location or position.
I have found that historic preservation work requires a higher-level of sensitivity to the task with the baseline understanding that you are handling history and not just a piece of stone.
I have come to appreciate that the preservation approach must be well thought out and planned by first identifying the stone. Then determine the cause of the problem and possible pattern(s) to similar surrounding stone. Then examine the historic stone for potential areas of weakness prior to establishing the proposed solution to the problem – and certainly before moving it. It is from this process and examination (Condition Assessment) is HOW I develop the respect for the stone, what it has been through in connection to its problematic condition and then to finalize my proposed options for solutions.
This approach helps to keep surprises to a minimum, not to say they still do not occur, but hopefully not to the degree we read in this story.
I see some key contractor/owner errors or “red flags” in this story that may have made the initial problem more complicated. Can you identify some of these flags? Both on the contractor side and the owner side? I would love to hear your experiences with similar projects. Remember sharing any mistakes is a good thing here 🙂 Who will be my first expert to comment??