West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
 
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Pontefract Local History

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.

COUNCIL MINUTES

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.

MAGNIFICENT

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 expenses.

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. 

Researched by Maurice Haigh 
and reproduced courtesy of the Pontefract and Castleford Express


 

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