Thursday, 13 November 2014

Who is this Monster? And what is his Name?

Standing seven feet tall and with a wingspan of fifteen feet, this sculpture by Robert Stubley stands in the village of Sneinton in Nottinghamshire...........What do you think it represents? 

You will be forgiven if, like me, you thought it was representative of an ancient folk tale or that it stands on the site where a medieval knight met a mighty dragon. This beast does not represent a battle between good and evil, but something far more frighting than that, this was a 'monster' of our own making that caused suffering and death to many many people.

In 1914, Robert Mellor a local historian, wrote a series of articles about Nottingham and its surrounding areas, these were published in his work Old Nottingham Suburbs: Then and Now, and of the 'dragon' of Sneinton Mellor wrote: 

Who is this monster? And what is his name?

 "For more than half a century there has existed in certain parts of Nottingham a monster who has devoured in the first year of their lives a large number of infants, and, what is worse, probably an equal number who have survived have dragged out a pitiable existence in weakness, small in stature, deformed, or anaemic, with diseases, lack of energy, unable to maintain themselves, and therefore dependent on others or the public charge; and, worse still, some have had a natural tendency to vice or crime."

His name is Slum.

                                                  1914 Map of Sneiton

There have been people living in Sneinton from as far back as the Norman Conquests, and up to the arrival of the Industrial Revolution they lived quiet, relatively happy lives as they looked down from the hill on which the village stands and were able to watch the flow of the Trent, Nottingham's mighty river, however times were changing. The major landowner in this area at the time was Charles Pierrepont, 1st Earl Manvers, who held land not only in Nottinghamshire but in a number of other English counties, and whose wealth was earned from this land and the properties within it, but as England work force moved from working within agriculture into local factories, the family were forced to sell much of their estates, and consequently the land in and around Sneinton was developed to build housing for Nottingham's factory workers. 

                                                           Nottingham's Slum Housing 

Within a few years, these properties that ranged from tiny back to back and terraced housingfell into disrepair and the once green agricultural landscape was now crowded with cramped tenements that were plagued by sickness and poverty, and it is now we can read of the poorest of Sneinton's inhabitants living exactly as Robert Mellor described in his book.

It was not until the 1930's that we see that life in Sneinton go full circle with its slum demolished and the land cleared and redevelopment taking place, but the village Mellor wrote of has not forgotten. The Renewal Trust, a local group whose aims are community regeneration, asked the residents of Sneinton what piece of public art they would like to represent their area and it was this dragon they chose.