Arthur Hill JP
Stone carving, by George Blackall Simonds - 1888
Arthur Hill (1829-1909) was the son of a merchant and banker, and half-brother to Octavia Hill, the social reformer and one of the founders of the National Trust. After working as a railway constructor, he moved to Reading where he took over a coal-dealing business. He became a Reading councillor in 1879 and was Mayor from 1883 to 1887. During this time, he arranged concerts at his own expense, and in 1895 he presented the facsimile of the Bayeux Tapestry which now hangs in Reading Museum. When he retired from public life in 1907, the Council awarded him the Freedom of the Borough. After Hill's death in 1909 his executors gave 13 acres land beside the Thames at Caversham to the Borough. In 1928 the Parks Committee decided that the land should become a public recreation ground, which was by that date already known as Hill’s Meadow. In 1911 the Arthur Hill Swimming Pool was built at Cemetery Junction on land donated by Hill's son-in-law, Dr Jamieson Hurry (another of Reading's phillanthropists).
This sculpture was funded by public subscription and displayed in Reading Town Hall for many years. It uses marble to create the statesmanlike qualities associated with classical Roman sculpture. Although the sitter's stance and far-reaching gaze suggest a dignified and aspirational figure, Simonds also includes a great deal of naturalistic surface detail. He depicts the sitter's extensive facial hair and Victorian frock-coat, both typical contemporary features of a successful entrepreneur of the period.
The sculptor George Simonds (1843-1929) was a member of the Reading brewery family and also a sculptor of national and international significance. During his lifetime he completed over 200 statues, including the one many consider to be his masterpiece, 'The Falconer' in New York Central Park. He is also responsible for the life-size statue of Queen Victoria in Town Hall Square and the Maiwand Lion in Forbury Gardens, both in central Reading. He was classically trained and, following studies in Dresden and Brussels, spent ten years working in Rome where he met his American-born wife. In 1884 he was involved in the formation of the Art Workers Guild in London.
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