The aim of today’s walk (not that a walk always has to have an aim) was to find a statue of D H Lawrence that I’d read was located somewhere on University Park – the main campus of the University of Nottingham.
I’ve walked through University Park on many occasions over the years, either as an end in itself or en route to somewhere else. The great thing about it is that the university encourages the general public to visit the grounds, which means that inquisitive folk like myself can wander around in its wonderful parkland setting to our hearts’ content without being bothered by security. The size and diversity of the campus is such that I’m still making new discoveries even after all this time.
Terry Fry’s excellent Nottingham Plaques and Statues, published in 1999, indicates that the Lawrence statue is located ‘…outside the Education Building’. However, a little extra research reveals that the School of Education has subsequently relocated and that I now need to look for the Law and Social Sciences Building.
It’s an overcast day of intermittent mild drizzle, so, donning a pair of trainers instead of walking boots, and eschewing the umbrella, I step outside, encouraged by the fact that the weather seems much milder than in recent days.
Walking towards the entrance to the university, I glance at a post box with the initials GR on it. I instinctively imagine that such post boxes are much older than they actually are – George V’s reign was between 1910 and 1936 – but of course that still makes some of these boxes over 100 years old, which is quite something. For those of us who have grown up with Elizabeth II as our monarch, the idea of someone else being in the same role is a strange one indeed. I resolve to pay more attention to post boxes, to see if I can spot any bearing the royal cyphers of Queen Victoria (1853-1901), Edward VII (1901-1910), Edward VIII (20 January 1936 to 11 December 1936 – perhaps surprisingly, there were still 271 boxes of various types made during his short reign) or George VI (1936-1952).
It’s the first day of the Spring Term tomorrow and the roads and footpaths are busy with returning students and their parents. After a few minutes I locate the Law and Social Sciences Building, but it’s not immediately evident where exactly the statue is. I end up circumnavigating virtually the entire building (which does result in the added bonus of a visit to the Millennium Garden), before finally discovering Mr Lawrence next to the south entrance.
The statue is a terrific piece of art which perhaps deserves a more prominent location, given the global stature and local relevance of its subject. A standing, serious-looking Lawrence, barefoot, is proffering a gentian flower – the reference being to one of his later poems, Bavarian Gentians. It’s a splendid sculpture, though the functional plinth and quotidian surroundings don’t do it any favours.
The statue was sculpted by Diana Thomson FRBS (Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors). Photographs and details of some of her impressive work, including two other Lawrence pieces (at least one of which is also in Nottingham) can be seen at http://www.dianathomsonsculptor.co.uk/. The photograph of the university statue on that page seems to indicate that it was previously in a different location.
While I’m taking photographs of the statue, a member of a passing group of joggers shouts, ‘who’s that man?’ In a paranoid moment, I wonder if they mean me, but it’s the statue that has drawn their attention. One of the group is despatched (jogging, naturally) to have a look at the plinth to see who exactly the figure is a representation of. ‘It’s Lawrence’, bellows the bloke, barely missing a beat before jogging back towards his fellow runners.
Lawrence the person seems to have had a difficult relationship with the university. He studied at its predecessor, University College Nottingham, from 1906 to 1908, and was, according to the D H Lawrence Research Centre, ‘largely disillusioned by his experience of academic life‘. Years later, he wrote a poem called Nottingham’s New University, which begins:
‘In Nottingham, that dismal town
where I went to school and college,
they’ve built a new university
for a new dispensation of knowledge
Built it most grand and cakeily
out of the noble loot
derived from shrewd cash chemistry
by good Sir Jesse Boot‘
The poem continues in a similar vein for another five stanzas. Culture, apparently, ‘has her roots in the deep dung of cash‘, and lore (knowledge) ‘is a last offshoot of Boots‘. What Lawrence would have made of the new GlaxoSmithKline building on the Jubilee Campus doesn’t bear thinking about.
Perhaps someone, somewhere at the university has a sense of humour, because, in its current location, Lawrence’s statue faces almost directly towards the grand and cakey Trent Building that he was no doubt addressing at least some of his apparent opprobrium towards.
I decide to take a circuitous path home and walk alongside the Downs, a grassy hillside with sweeping views to the north, before passing by the ‘eco-friendly’ Orchard Hotel – opened in 2012 to complement the East Midlands Conference Centre and something of an acquired taste, architecturally speaking. It would be far more at home on the university’s nearby Jubilee Campus.
It’s as I make my way past the new £40m David Ross Sports Village (‘supported by a significant commitment from Nottingham alumnus and Carphone Warehouse founder David Ross‘), with its Club House Cafe (‘Recharge in Comfort‘), that I start to regret my choice of footwear. Off the beaten track (which is where I invariably end up), it’s become quite muddy, and the combination of mud and sloping ground very nearly results in a spectacular dive into the quagmire.
Thankfully, I manage to remain upright, and it’s not long before I pass through a gate and emerge from the enchanted environment of the university out onto the main road, turning back towards home.