A FAMOUS DEATH IN
THE TOWN HALL
24th February 1972
While London has its Nelsonís column, Pontefract has its Nelsonís model -
or, as it is sometimes called Nelsonís tablet - and few who have ever
visited the old Town Hall can be unaware of the fact. The tablet is 14ft
square and is an arresting piece of plasterwork depicting the death of
the great hero as he is borne on the arms of two of his shipmates,
surrounded by sorrowful faces.
Pontefract can indeed be proud of this possession, for it is the original plaster
cast made for the sculpture forming one of the four base panels at the
base of the famous London column, the work of I.E. Carew, celebrated
artist of his day. Its acquisition by the borough was initially due to
the Member of Parliament for Pontefract in the mid-1880s, Mr. Benjamin
Oliveria. But complications developed, ending with some gentlemen, whose
names had been applied to the tablet, having them removed for failing to
keep their word concerning the finacing of the project.
The background is contained in the copies of the minutes at that time, along
with correspondence, preserved among the papers of the late Mr T.P.
Brindley, of Pontefract. On December 3rd, 1885, writing from Upper Hyde
Park Street, London, Mr. Oliveria told the worshipful Mayor of
Pontefract that his friend Mr Carew, the Celebrated ĎSculptorí had
presented him with the model.
"After carefully considering the purpose to which I might appropriate this work
of art," went on the M.P., "It seems to me that the most
proper course to adopt is to offer it to the Corporation of the Borough
I have the honour to represent. It might probably be placed at the
extremity of your Town Hall. Should the present be deemed acceptable by
you and your colleagues, you will be good enough to let me know that I
may inform Mr. Carew of its destination." He added that the artist
himself had kindly proposed to superintend the modelís removal and
fixing it in place at Pontefract.
Ten days later the Town council resolved unanimously that their best thanks
be presented to Mr. Oliveria for his kind presentation of "the
magnificent model for the ornamental decoration of the Common
Hall," and that they "adopt with pleasure the artistic work of
merit." Then difficulties began to develop. Because, it is said,
Mr. Oliveria "had no legal title" and so could not present the
model to the town, a public subscription had to be raised to meet
As a consequence the council met in February, 1856, to determine whether
Mr. Oliveriaís name should remain on the tablet as its donor. They
resolved: "That the name of Mr. Oliveria be retained on the Nelson
Tablet and that the best thanks of this meeting are due to him for his
having been the means of so noble a work of art being presented to the
Town and Corporation whereby the Hall in which it has been placed is
stamped with a National Character which time cannot destroy."
By December 1857, it was resolved that "The rent and payments paid for
use of the Town Hall be appropriated towards discharging the debt
against Nelsonís Model, and that the names of several gentlemen
painted on Nelsonís Model be struck off." These being the
gentlemen who had promised to contribute towards the cost of removing,
conveying and erecting the model, but had failed to do so.
Three months later, in February 1858, the council resolved that "the
taking out of the names of several gentlemen painted on the model be
carried out by the Repairs Committee."
To wind up the story, also among Mr. Brindleyís papers is a letter
written from Dunromin, Hartley Park Avenue, Pontefract, by T.Y. Lodge
saying "I had it from my great uncle, a William Whitfield who died
aged 94 in the first year of the Great War, 1914-1918, that he was one
of several who went from Pontefract to London to remove the model,
convey it to Pontefract and fix it in its present position.
by Maurice Haigh
and reproduced courtesy of the Pontefract and Castleford Express