What has happened to Sir George Livesey’s Statue?
I didn’t ought to go on about George Livesey at length – although I could do so since he was the subject of my M.Phil and I might be a bit obsessive.
George Livesey was a local gas works manager –and in Greenwich he founded and largely designed the world class East Greenwich Gas Works. He also revolutionised the 19th century gas industry and was a great man generally– he was also a national figure in the temperance movement.
He was also more than a bit of a trouble maker …. he wasn’t particularly posh, had no formal education, and was very, very clever. He has become known as a strike breaker (true) but he also had a lot of ideas about society and property ownership which were unusual, to say the least, for a Victorian industrialist. He was a very long way from the top hatted Victorian capitalist he became in so many 1980s agitprop plays.
His statue stood outside his beloved Old Kent Road gas works – and a couple of years ago was craned over the road to the Livesey Museum – which has now closed – and since then everything has gone very, very quiet.
The Livesey Museum was originally a library which George gave to the people of Camberwell. Southwark Council closed the Library some years ago and turned it into a children’s museum, which they recently stopped funding. It turns out that our George had foreseen possible sales of property and library closures when he gave it to the council 110 years ago, so he tangled up the ownership in such a way that Southwark don’t actually own it. A users campaign was started about the museum closure - but they have proved difficult to talk to, to put it mildly.
So – about the statue.
|The statue is unveiled at Old Kent Road|
It was cast at the foundry of J.W. Singer and Sons at Thames Ditton –and there is lots of information about them around. They were also pretty important.
George stands on a granite pedestal and it says
On the front: GEORGE LIVESEY 1834-1908
On the rear:-
|Statue in situ|
Both this photo and the
one above by R.J.M.Carr
SIR GEORGE THOMAS LIVESEY. M.l.C.E. ENTERED THE SOUTH METROPOLITAN GAS COMPANY 1848. BECAME ENGINEER, BECAME DIRECTOR 1882 AND IN 1885 CHAIRMAN, A POSITION HE OCCUPIED UNTIL HIS DEATH. HE ENRICHED THE GAS INDUSTRY BY MANY INVENTIONS, WAS A STRENUOUS ADVOCATE OF THE SLIDING SCALE, AND IN 1889 FOUNDED THE CO-PARTNERSHIP OF THE COMPANY. THIS MONUMENT WAS ERECTED TO HIS MEMORY BY THE SHAREHOLDERS, OFFICERS AND WORKMEN, 1909.
Signed and dated, P. W. POMEROY. A.R.A.SC1- 1909
Unveiled: Friday 8 December 1911, by Earl Grey
Exhibited: 1910, London, Royal Academy of Arts
I am very happy to explain stuff from that inscription – the sliding scale, co-partnership and also Earl Grey, In fact I would be delighted to do so. Also please note that George started work in Old Kent Road Gas Works at the age of 14.
|The unveiling at Old Kent Road|
I feel very strongly that we need to keep making a fuss about this. Livesey was a great man – albeit one with a besmirched record. He spent most of his life in the Old Kent Road – moving there when he was 5 and working there for the rest of his life. However – he doesn’t just belong to Southwark - he was born in Islington – and he created an industrial empire for all of South London.
Built on the Greenwich Peninsula his revolutionary East Greenwich gas works is now much derided – ‘polluted, nasty’- but, if we stand back more objectively, we should realise it was also a great achievement in terms of technology, management planning, public service and workforce involvement. In its day it was a major showpiece – something to aspire to. We have here the largest remaining of his monumental and revolutionary gasholders – but there is no mention anywhere on the Peninsula of George and his work.
When the Dome was first built there were lots of stories around about it being haunted by Livesey's ghost - fanned, I am sorry to say, by various people and some press officers. I did a number of TV and radio interviews about him at the time.
So – what has London Borough of Southwark done with George Livesey’s Statue – and (if it still exists) what do they intend to do with it?
PS - By the way – I am more than happy to give talks on George Livesey, his work, his ideas – and the strike breaking. I have lots of pictures and much other stuff –including cut out and build paper gasholders. I deposited a lot of papers –including a half written biography – at Southwark’s John Harvard Library some years ago.