Wearside Echoes: Lonely walrus seeks companion

Friends of Sunderland Museum members Kathleen and John Shipley, Joyce Wright, Elsie Ronald, Sylvia Smith and Tony Clark alongside the Walrus sculpture in Mowbray Park. The Friends would like to see an additional statue alongside of a carpenter...

Friends of Sunderland Museum members Kathleen and John Shipley, Joyce Wright, Elsie Ronald, Sylvia Smith and Tony Clark alongside the Walrus sculpture in Mowbray Park. The Friends would like to see an additional statue alongside of a carpenter...

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A FUND-RAISING campaign was today launched to create a companion for a lonely Wearside walrus.

The bronze statue – inspired by Lewis Carroll’s poem The Walrus and the Carpenter – was unveiled after a multi-million pound revamp of Mowbray Park in May 2000.

Created by artist Andrew Burton, the walrus was built using a £34,000 Heritage Lottery Grant and has spent the past 11 years lying next to the lake with only birds for company.

But now members of The Friends of Mowbray Park and Winter Gardens are hoping to create a carpenter companion for the life-size beast, to celebrate Carroll’s links with the city.

“It was always in the original plans to create a carpenter and a walrus, but sadly there were insufficient funds to go ahead with both,” said Sylvia Smith, chairman of the Friends group.

“The walrus really does look a little lonely and, to help complete the title of the poem, we would like to provide a carpenter to sit alongside him. We just hope people will support us.”

Lewis Carroll, otherwise known as the cleric and Oxford don Charles Dodgson, is believed to have found inspiration for much of his writing during holidays spent on Wearside.

“There’s this myth Carroll spent all his life in Oxford, and never wrote anywhere else. But it’s a complete myth,” said Bryan Talbot, creator of the graphic novel Alice in Sunderland.

“He is known to have been a frequent visitor at Southwick Rectory after his sister, Mary, married the vicar, and also stayed with his cousin, Margaret, at Highcroft House in Whitburn.

“Jabberwocky, which is one of the most famous nonsense poems in the English language, was written by Carroll during a family verse-making game at Whitburn.”

Carroll’s links with Wearside were celebrated during the 1999/2000 transformation of Mowbray Park, with several references to Alice in Wonderland included within the restorations.

But the Friends group believes adding a carpenter companion for the walrus would finish off the project nicely – even though the estimated cost runs to tens of thousands of pounds.

“We would like to see the carpenter cast in bronze, just as the walrus is, and there is certainly plenty of space for him in the park – if we can raise enough money,” said Sylvia.

“We believe the price will be in the region of £30-40,000, so we know it won’t be a quick turnaround. We are prepared for a long, hard slog.

“But, even if it takes us years, we are determined to keep going. We are just hoping people will rally to this good cause, by getting involved and helping us out with fund-raising.”

The first fund-raiser planned for the statue appeal will feature a talk on Alice in Wonderland by local historian Michael Bute, to be held at Sunderland Museum on February 26, 2012.

Talks on other local history topics, as well as fun days and charity events, will also be held by the Friends group throughout the year.

“We thought it was right to do this,” said Sylvia. “The poem is The Walrus and the Carpenter, but all we have is the walrus. It could be any old walrus without its carpenter.

“It is unlikely though, if we get enough money to go ahead, that we will base the designs for the carpenter on the original drawings – as he might scare the children!

“We would prefer a kindly carpenter visitors can sit on. People always used to sit on the lions in the past, but they don’t seem to any more. Perhaps we can start a new tradition!”

* If you are interested in finding out more about the appeal, or would like to offer your help, Sylvia can be contacted on 522 7723.