The half-ton bronze sculpture rests on a plinth of Welsh slate with three hand carved rings of lettering including words from William Blake’s Jerusalem. Local letter carver Simon Langsdale created lettering especially for the commission using design principles that originated from the arts and crafts movement. Howard’s spade rests on the word ‘sword’, emphasising his pacificist desire for peaceful reform.
Ben Twiston-Davies said “My design shows Howard pressing forwards, giving a rousing speech before digging the first spadeful of earth of the Garden City. He was a modest and a shy man, but also a visionary, altruistic and concerned for people’s wellbeing. I hope I have done him justice.”
Ursula Howard said “I am thrilled to see this wonderful representation of my great-grandfather. Ebenezer was known by his family as Ben and it’s fitting that his sculpture should have been produced by another Ben! Our family feel honoured that a century on, people will see the man behind the plan.”
The locally based Digswell Arts Trust (DAT) acted as artistic advisers to the Foundation. Howard Cropp of the DAT said “Public art was central to the ethos of the garden city idea and we are delighted to continue the tradition of introducing sculpture into the beautiful park setting of the town centre.”
The statue is already proving to be hugely popular with local residents and was one of the most popular requests from the community for the centenary celebrations.
We’ve also had some excellent coverage on BBC News online and an interview with Ben and our Chairman Peter Waine on BBC Three Counties radio.
Our thanks to the whole team for making this wonderful installation possible. Read more about the making of the sculpture and about Ben Twiston-Davies and Simon Langsdale below.
Making the sculpture
The proposal for a sculpture of Ebenezer Howard, founder of Welwyn Garden City, emerged from consultations with the community in 2014. Graeme Bell, a founding member of the Centenary Foundation worked with Howard Cropp of the Digswell Arts Trust to realise this ambition.
For some time they sought a talented local sculptor. Pure chance led them to Ben Twiston-Davies after they spotted his wonderful figurative sculpture of Horace Rawlins at the Mid-Herts Golf Club and Ben was commissioned in 2019.
The sculpture was made in the traditional way, modelled in clay then moulded and cast into bronze. It weights half a ton and stands over 7ft – 2.2m – tall. The Welsh slate base on which it stands includes three hand carved rings of lettering, including one which includes the words of William Blake’s Jerusalem. Local letter carver Simon Langsdale created a unique font for the base, designed to evoke the Arts and Crafts heritage of WGC. It took him five months to complete.
The sculpture was funded through a combination of public donations and private sponsorship. World renowned installers MTec of Ware carried out the full installation over three days.
Ebenezer Howard, the Garden City pioneer
By Ben Twiston-Davies
I will not cease from mental strife,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.
Ebenezer Howard used William Blake’s famous words to describe his sense of mission in pioneering the Garden City movement. They are perfect.
When the Welwyn Garden City Centenary Foundation asked me to design a statue of Ebenezer to celebrate the town’s centenary, I of course tried to find out everything I could about him. The ardent, visionary, altruistic aspect of his character is what most impressed me. But at the same time, he was a modest and shy man. He worked as a clerk for Hansard and was certainly not an establishment power-broker. How could we make a statue that showed both sides of him?
I chose this design, which is a snapshot of a real moment, but also full of symbolism. He presses forwards, giving a rousing speech before digging the first spadeful of earth of the Garden City. His practical garden spade rests on the word “sword” in the Blake quotation carved around the slate base. This implies his pacifist desire for peaceful progress at a time when other socialists abroad were pursuing their reforms in a far more violent way. His clerical bowler hat is of the City, and intellect. The rose in his lapel reminds us of his patriotism, his socialism, and his belief in the importance of beauty.
I spent several months scrutinising photographs of Ebenezer in pursuit of his likeness. His amazing story and record of achievement shows how admirable he was: but I also became convinced that he was an a lovely man. I hope the citizens of WGC enjoy having him around.
About Ben Twiston-Davies
Ben Twiston-Davies has been a figurative sculptor since 2000. He has been a Visiting Lecturer in sculpture and drawing at the University of Hertfordshire since 2014. His sculptures are in many private, corporate and public collections in the UK and abroad. In 2016 he made a statue of Horace Rawlins, the first winner of the US Open Golf Championship, casts of which were installed at both the Mid-Herts Golf Club and Springhaven Golf Club in Philadelphia. In 2012 he made the permanent bronze memorial to Agatha Christie, “The Book”, sited in Covent Garden in London.
Over 100 of his sculptures have been installed on Royal Caribbean and Viking cruise liners. Before becoming an artist he was a television news journalist in London. He was born in 1971, grew up in Wiltshire, and lives with his wife Rebecca and their two sons in Hertfordshire.
About Simon Langsdale
Simon is a letter carver based on the Hertfordshire/Essex border, creating hand drawn and hand cut lettering in stone and wood. He trained as a calligrapher and bookbinder at Roehampton University from 2006-07 and subsequently trained with several letter carvers to increase his knowledge and experience. He regularly teaches letter carving and calligraphy workshops for both beginners and those with more experience.