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Mystery statues found at Canterbury's Westgate Towers Museum

By This is Kent  |  Posted: February 23, 2010

  • On guard: Maquette of Knight Templar St Maur who signed the Magna Carta. It is one of 17 six-foot statues at the threatened Westgate Museum

  • Researcher: Linda O'Carroll

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A RESEARCHER has discovered a secret stash of rare statues in the basement of Canterbury's Westgate Towers Museum.

The 17 six-foot tall, painted plaster-cast "maquettes" were used to create bronze statues of barons and bishops which now stand in the Lords Chamber at Westminster Palace.

The Knights of the Templar - made famous by Dan Brown's controversial book The DaVinci Code - were cast between 1847 and 1851 and represent the men who signed the Magna Carta in 1215.

Each of the 15 barons and two bishops is named at the base.

In 1908 three of the maquettes were displayed in the museum and two remain on show.

But the rest were put in storage on the ground floor of the north tower.

The last time they saw daylight was in May 2008 when staff had to rescue them when the building flooded.

Researcher Linda O'Carroll, a former Simon Langton Girls Grammar School pupil, is fighting to save the city's Westgate and Roman Museums. The retired teacher now lives in Harrogate but was back in the city last weekend.

She said: "I have discovered there are still 15 to 17 maquettes at the Westgate Tower.

"All but two have been hidden in the ground floor room of the north tower. Recently there was a flood and as they are made of plaster they may have been damaged.

"These are surely great artistic treasures worthy of being saved."

She has set up a web page on the internet site Wikipedia for the 630-year-old gateway and has also suggested that the Army - which exhibited items from its East Kent Buffs regimental museum at the Westgate Towers in the 1960s - return to the historic city gateway.

The director of Army Museums Ogilby Trust Dr Alan Guy has expressed interest, pending the re-opening of the Beaney Institute in 2012.

City council spokeman Rob Davies said: "There are two of the maquettes on continuous display at the West Gate Towers museum (open Saturdays) and one at the Museum of Canterbury.

"The remainder are in reserve display.

"While they are worthy of being preserved, which is what we do, there are no plans to exhibit them all. This is due to lack of space and the fact the statues themselves exist in the House of Lords, so there is not the same need to display all of the maquettes in Canterbury.

"The aim is to provide a representative display of the collection. There are no plans to remove the remainder for restoration."

The sculptors of the maquettes:

John Evan Thomas, who also carved details on the Palace of Westminster and the Lady Godiva statue at Maidstone;

Patrick MacDowell, who carved the Europe allegorical group on the Albert Memorial;

Henry Timbrell, who carved bas reliefs on the garden house at Buckingham Palace;

James Sherwood Westmacott, sculptor of the Alexander the Great statue at Mansion House and Aristotle at the rear of Burlington House;

J. Thorneycroft (may have sculpted the Boudica on Westminster Bridge);

Frederick Thrupp, who sculpted Sir Fowell Buxton and Wordsworth in Westminster Abbey;

Alexander Handyside Ritchie, Eustace de Vesci and William de Mowbray at the Houses of Parliament;

William Frederick Woodlington, the Coade Lion outside the County Hall.

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    Linda OCarroll, Harrogate  |  March 01 2010, 7:28AM

    These statues are worth rescuing and preserving; they are great works of art. Maquettes are often more interesting than the final bronze castings, because they represent the original intention of the artist. If the Council thinks it doesn't have enough space to display these works which belong to the people of Canterbury, then maybe it shouldn't be trying to close three of its museums. By the way, as far as I know, only one baron is listed as being a Knight Templar, and that is Almaric de St Maur (pictured) who was their grand master. You can see that one in the West Gate Towers Museum on Saturdays.

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