“WITH his death we have lost possibly the greatest artist Swindon has ever produced,” pronounced this newspaper about Harry Carleton Attwood.

He was “an inspiration, a unique talent” - a consummate sculptor at home with virtually any pliable medium be it bronze, stone, copper, cement, brass, plaster, slate, cast iron, aluminium, wood, lead, terracotta…..

Or as one of our headlines – combining a nifty pun with a fitting tribute – piped: “Lion of a Man.”

It is 30 years since the immensely gifted gentleman who gave us, among others, The Golden Lion in the town centre – once voted Swindon’s most popular work of public art – and Toothill’s moody, enigmatic The Watchers, passed into that Great Studio in the Sky.

Some of the biggest hitters in the history of this town - Swindon and England international footballer Harold Fleming, Alfred Williams ‘The Hammerman Poet,’ the “people’s mayor” Reuben George and poet, author and nature writer Richard Jefferies - have all been immortalized in art with flair and finesse by Carleton Attwood.

He became a sculptor of national repute who - perhaps due to a quiet, unassuming nature - never made a great deal of cash out of his work.

Much was off-loaded at basement low prices to pay for new materials. In some cases he gave it away…..majestically wrought pieces that would set you back a sizeable wad today.

“From a business point of view I’ve never been a great success,” he once told us. “As long as people derive enjoyment from my work – find my sculptures interesting or attractive - that’s enough.”

There has been a flurry of interest of late in Carleton Attwood on the ever intriguing Facebook site, Swindon Past & Present, with contributors posting a variety of shots from a variety of angles of one piece in particular, our lovable lion.

Such activity highlights the local importance and popularity of this charming, beguiling sculpture.

Along with its superbly fashioned mane, the lion is depicted with a big, dopey grin for one specific purpose. “I wanted children to climb on my statue,” he told us. And they do - frequently.

Most of his works were produced not just over a period of 65 years from his Goddard Avenue home studio but from a world of near silence….for Atwood was profoundly deaf, which may explain why he chose to work in virtual solitude.

Photographs often show him wearing a hearing aid – but he had a habit of turning it off, presumably to expunge any vaguely audible annoyance in order to focus on the project in hand.

Born in Swindon in 1908, Harry Carleton Attwood grew up at the family home with his mother and sisters who habitually referred to him as “boy.”

He sought solace by gouging great chunks of clay from the back garden which he shaped into models and figures in the greenhouse.

Any of his work which he felt wasn’t quite up to scratch invariably ended up in the fish-pond.

Having studied wood carving from 1924-1930 at Swindon College – that grand, recently prescribed Grade II listed building at the bottom of Vic Hill – he agonisingly failed by half-a-mark to gain a scholarship in sculpture at the Royal College of Art.

Without any formal training, however, he began touting for work as a sculptor and steadily carved a reputation with much admired works that included busts of local worthies such as “people’s champion” Reuben George, which he completed after 18 short sittings.

Carleton Attwood later remarked: “It must be quite a good likeness because there’s an old friend of Reuben George who comes and talks to the bust.”

He landed a biggie when he was commissioned to sculpt a stone sundial at the abode of Winnie-the-Pooh author, AA Milne.

Depicting Milne’s best loved characters such as Christopher Robin, Eeyore and Piglet, Carleton Attwood meticulously fashioned the sundial from a single block of Bath stone weighing a ton-and-a-quarter.

Given a full rein to explore his passion for classicism with an assignment at Eltham Palace, Kent, he created – among several pieces - a fine sculpture of Apollo with a lyre under his arm and a snake entwined around it.

But such commissions – this one from a multi-millionaire – were “intermittent,” he said.

Describing himself as an “old fashioned sculptor,” Carleton Attwood populated his back-garden with wondrous figures from mythology and the classics, from the Greek goddess Diana to Orpheus of the Underworld.

An amusing snippet from the Adver in 1960 tells us of a naked woman found at the bottom of a garden in Okus. It was later reclaimed by Carleton Attwood as one of his classical nudes... nicked and dumped, presumably, by some inebriate herbert.

Tasked to produce a piece for the new Toothill village centre he based this memorable work on a scene witnessed at the Polo Ground six years earlier of three figures huddled against the rain watching rugby, their cloaks wrapped around each other.

When a stroke left Carleton Attwood paralysed on his right side he battled on to complete the sculpture while physically strapped to it.

“It was very moving to watch his dedication, struggling to finish the piece – even though he could only use one arm,” community arts coordinator Terry Court told us after Carleton Attwood’s death at 77 at Princess Margaret Hospital in 1985.

Carleton Attwood said that one of his most popular pieces is one of his least seen - the bronze sculpture of Swindon Town wizard Harold Fleming, the ball welded to his boots as it invariably was during his playing days.

Located in the County Ground foyer, it bears the legend: “To the inspiring memory of a great sportsman and gentleman.”

Swap the word sportsman for sculptor and the inscription could easily be applied to the statue’s accomplished creator.

  • Covering Carleton Attwood’s one-man sculpture exhibition at Swindon Arts Centre in November, 1948 the Advertiser reported: “Meticulous work is a characteristic of Mr Attwood’s art, and this is nowhere more in evidence than in the lovely small lead figures of Adam and Eve. A rugger group too, in plaster, shows remarkable strenuous movement.”
  • In 1954 Attwood played a key role in the festivities that marked 700 years of markets being held in Swindon.

    He delivered a bust of King Charles I who in 1626 granted Swindon’s Lord of the Manor, Thomas Goddard, a charter for the right to stage regular markets and fairs here.

    It became an impressive fixture in the sales office of the now long-gone Marlborough Road cattle market. Wonder where it is now?

  • FOR more than half a century Carleton Attwood was a central, guru-like figure on the local arts scene, be it teaching nude drawing at Swindon College or as sculptor-in-residence for Thamesdown community arts.

    Orpheus, obsessed with rescuing his dead wife from the Underworld, was a favourite theme and Attwood produced several works based on the mythological figure.

    One was shipped to Germany for an exhibition while another was for years – and maybe still is – on display in Liverpool.

    After Carleton Attwood’s death, community arts co-ordinator Terry Court said: “Carleton was a magic man and he left us such a marvellous legacy of work.

    ”He was a legend and when you met him you knew you were in the presence of someone very special.” 

  • CARLETON Attwood’s affable Golden Lion was unveiled in grand style, complete with jazz band, 37 years ago to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

    It was, you could say, the offspring of an earlier and similarly recumbent leonine sculpture that, from the late 19th Century, peered from the first floor parapet of the Golden Lion pub in Bridge Street.

    Fearing the magnificent beast might slip from its lofty position onto some unsuspecting passer-by (‘Man killed by a lion in Swindon’) the landlord re-positioned it on a plinth in a narrow forecourt.

    For 40 years youngsters clambered all over the king of Swindon’s urban jungle while their parents enjoyed a snifter or two until the pub was demolished in the 1960s.

    Carted off to a council depot, the once proud fellow sadly deteriorated beyond repair “under a cloying tarpaulin shroud.”  

    Sorely missed, Carleton Attwood sculpted a replacement of concrete reinforced with fibreglass that was unveiled in 1978. A run of small replica Leos were sold to mark the occasion.

    Now residing in Regent Street near the site of the former pub, a time capsule is concealed in the lion’s plinth containing, among other items, a copy of the Swindon Evening Advertiser.