IT was a search that lasted on-and-off for several years – through the cobwebbed nooks and dusty crannies of council depots, museums and offices until one day, as is often the case, writes BARRY LEIGHTON, the magnificent sculpture of The Angel of Assassination was stumbled upon quite by accident.

We can only imagine the joy, delight and sheer relief of Borough Arts Officer Terry Court when, after pulling back a crumpled canvas while clearing out an old costume store at the back of the Devizes Road Arts Centre, he was confronted with the elusive, milky white form of Charlotte Corday.

During the 1860s Italian sculptor Pasquale Miglioretti (1822-1881) is known to have created at least three versions of the “counter revolutionary heroine” who gained lasting infamy in 1793 when she stabbed to death Jean-Paul Marat, Zealot of the French Revolution, while he was in the bathtub.

The murder of the revolutionary journalist inspired numerous works of art including Jacques-Louis David’s masterpiece, The Death of Marat, created soon after his friend’s slaying.

One of Miglioretti’s Cordays was rewarded with a gold medal at the 1867 Universal Exhibition in Paris, reaffirming his status as one of the era’s leading sculptors, while in recent decades two of these virtually identical works have been auctioned at Sotheby’s.

But it remains a mystery how the third of these meticulously crafted pieces of marble ended-up in Swindon around a century or so ago.

What we know is that it fell into the hands of one of this town’s true characters, rag-and-bone-man turned local councillor James ‘Raggy’ Powell (1843-1930) who dealt in art, antiques, furniture and books along with other assorted stuff he amassed on his Swindon rounds.

Where and how he obtained this outstanding, near lifesize work we’ll probably never know – almost certainly not while traipsing the streets of Swindon with his faithful nag looking for junk, one suspects.

During the 1920s, philanthropic Raggy presented the piece to The People of Swindon and over the years it is understood to have been displayed at several locations before vanishing into the inner recesses of the Barnfield Road civic depot Terry’s interest was piqued during the Seventies after seeing a photograph of Swindon’s Ms Corday on display in the town and wondering where the hell it was.

When he inadvertently stumbled upon it around 25 years ago he had the somewhat hefty piece transferred, with the help of “six strong men and a low-loader” to the former Town Hall-turned-Swindon Dance Studio.

It has graced the foyer of the Victorian redbrick structure ever since – pretty much unseen by anyone who does not darken the dance studio’s doorstep.

Most depictions of Corday show her in the immediate aftermath of the murder, as the lifeless Marat is slumped in his tub, or stoically awaiting her appointment with Madame Guillotine.

Our piece, though, portrays 24 year-old Charlotte sitting sideways on a chair, with an expression of stern resolve, clearly contemplating the crime she was soon to commit...

Around two years ago artist Jane Milner-Barry, who researched the Swindon Corday Affair and considers the sculpture a “hidden treasure,” wrote: “In a time of justified fear of revolution, Charlotte was seen as a counter-revolutionary heroine, laying down her life for the stability of her country.

“In painting after painting she is shown impassively awaiting death, neatly dressed and surrounded by a mob featuring gesticulating madwomen and chained dogs.

“Like Ophelia, Lady Jane Grey and Joan of Arc, she was seen as young, pure, beautiful and doomed: a perfect Victorian heroine.

“At the same time she was a murderess, and perhaps this also added something to her appeal.”

Jane’s piece, which appeared in the Journal of the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, was accompanied by her own pen-and-wash study of “one of Swindon’s most beautiful works of art.”

In a sentiment many of us would echo Jane concluded: “I hope that in the future the sculpture will be professionally cleaned and displayed more prominently, preferably in a position where its strongly three-dimensional design can be admired from all sides.”

Careton Attwood - possibly Swindon's greatest artist

HE wasn’t just a consummate sculptor who left Swindon with a fine legacy of large works ranging from the town centre’s cheerful Golden Lion and the enigmatic Watchers in Toothill to a majestic full-length bronze of Swindon Town footballing wizard Harold Fleming that resides in the County Ground foyer.

Carleton Attwood (1908-1985), below, was an outstanding muralist and avid potholer as readers have been keen to tell us following our recent tribute - marking 30 years since his death - to the man described as “possibly the greatest artist Swindon has ever produced.”

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David Nixon told us that the article (20-7-15) “brought back to me memories of the times I had the privilege of meeting him, and watching him work in the latter part of his life at the Town Hall Studios in Regent Circus.”

Attwood created many pieces at his home studio in Goddard Avenue, where he lived virtually all his life, but also worked at Swindon’s 19th Century former town hall when, under the aegis of civic arts officers Terry Court and Tony Hazel in the Seventies, it became a focal point for arts, crafts and culture.

“Carlton created many works of art there and one that not many people know about is a large mural that can still be seen on the wall over the door upstairs in the large dance studio.

“The mural is called Mother Earth and is well worth seeing if you haven’t already,” said David, whose wife Marie McCluskey MBE is the director of award winning Swindon Dance based at the Town Hall Studios.

He added: “It was also here that he created the original draft studies of his sculpture the Watchers. I had the privilege of watching him creating a miniature version of the sculpture before he made the final full size version.”

Retired Swindon jeweller Stanley Iles, 86, remembers Carleton Attwood – or Atty, as he knew him – for something entirely different…as one of Swindon’s leading potholers.

It was while Atty was fashioning a series of classically styled sculptures at Eltham Palace, Kent that he fell under the spell of the underworld, delving into a myriad of tunnels beneath the expansive country pile.

He became a dedicated potholer for the rest of his life – or at least before infirmity took its inevitable toll – exploring fissures, caverns and chambers hundreds of feet beneath our feet.

Mr Iles was an assistant leader at Walcot Boys Club in the Sixties when Atty began taking parties underground in the West’s potholing capital of Somerset.

“I remember the first time Atty led us down a pothole. We always considered him as an elderly man – or at least, a lot older than us - but he was off like a hare.

“He was deaf and he couldn’t wear his hearing aid because of the damp, so when you shouted for him to slow down he just kept going and we all tried to keep up.”

Their anxious attempts to ensure that a handful of 13 to 15 year-old boys remained in some sort of orderly line were quickly scuppered by Atty’s swift descent.

“We went pretty deep – we were down there for two to three hours,” remembers Mr Iles.

Potholing continued for years at the club following their baptism of fire, courtesy of Atty.

Mr Iles added: “We knew he had something to do with the arts in Swindon but to us Atty was always a potholer.”

Charlotte isn't the only town centre celebrity...

CHARLOTTE Corday isn’t the only 19th Century celebrity whose likeness was re-created by an Italian sculptor and which can today be admired in Swindon town centre.

Our very own Brunel Statue, below, is a replica of a depiction of The Father of the GWR that has graced London’s Victoria Embankment for more than 150 years.

Swindon Advertiser:

It is the work of renowned French-Italian sculptor Baron Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867) whose other pieces include the famous bronze equestrian statue of Richard the Lionheart outside the House of Lords.

Unveiled in 1864, Marochetti’s Brunel was cast in bronze and stands on an impressive pedestal of Portland stone.

Swindon’s Brunel Statue, in bronze resin, was unveiled by Environment Secretary Sir James Jones in Havelock Square on March 29, 1973 to mark the opening of the first phase of the shopping centre that bears the visionary engineer’s name.

Brunel is commemorated in four other major public statues, at Paddington and Bristol (both 1982), Neyland, Pembrokeshire (1999) and the Brunel University (2006).