John Betjeman at St Pancras Station in London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I recently had occasion to revisit St. Pancras station and as usual made the ascent upstairs from the main concourse to have another look at the marvellous sculpture of the poet John Betjeman by Martin Jennings.
There he stands, hand on hat, as though he’s looking up to view the huge cast iron structure of St Pancras, for which he was the main protagonist in saving the station, now the Eurostar terminal.
Martin Jennings, the sculptor, has portrayed John Betjeman just as we remember him. His overcoat is blowing in the wind, his trousers barely cover his ankles and he holds a shopping bag, reminding us of the quaintly dishevelled figure that he always seemed to be, not caring for his appearance, but passionate about the English countryside and heritage.
The sculpture, erected in 2007, is larger than life-size, the result of a competition won by Martin Jennings, who, having won the commission for St. Pancras, got to work immediately to create the clay model prior to its being cast in bronze. An essential part of the design is the Cumbrian slate circular surround, inscribed with a dedication
John Betjeman, 1906 – 1984, poet, who saved this glorious station.
In an outer circle are carved the words.
Martin Jennings, sculptor, 2007.
‘And in the shadowless unclouded glare
Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where
A misty sealine meets the wash of air.’
Martin Jennings has been responsible for a large number of public sculptures in recent years. In 2010 his sculpture of Philip Larkin was erected in Hull, and his Charles Dickens is to be unveiled this summer in Portsmouth. In the pipeline is a memorial of Mary Seacole, the Crimean War heroine which it is intended will feature on the South Bank. This sculpture of John Betjeman is figurative work at its best – it presents a lively, human depiction of a well-loved man.
If you are in the vicinity of St. Pancras, do go and have a look at John Betjeman again. There is plenty to see in this up-and-coming area – the British Library, Kings Place and the new building at Kings Cross.