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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Thomas Bland (1797–1865)

Sculptor. The son of John Bland, a yeoman farmer of Yew Tree Farm, Reagill, he was baptised on 9 July 1798 at Crosby Ravensworth, Cumbria. He was a self-taught artist and sculptor and probably learnt from book illustrations and modest local collections. He opened to the public his ‘Image Garden’, with sculpture and paintings in niches, in the year of Queen Victoria’s accession (1837) and annually upon this anniversary choreographed spectacular annual ‘junketings’, with exhibitions, lectures, music, dancing, poetry and drama. The eclectic set of works he displayed here included figures of Walter Scott, Robert Burns, Joseph Addison and Hugh Miller (a Scots stonemason and geologist), the effect being enhanced by a recumbent Venus, a hippopotamus, greyhounds, devils and weathered sphinxes. The garden, which survives to this day, is Grade II listed. Anthony Whitehead (1820–1914), the dialect poet, who performed at Reagill, referred to Bland in his verse as a composer and scientist, “whose wit was like the ‘lectric flash”. Other works by Bland, all in Cumbria, include the Charles 11 Monument at Black Dub; the Addison Monument at Maulds Meaburn; the Queen Victoria Monument, 1842, at Shap (also a carved greyhound over the door of the village pub); and probably the figure of Shakespeare on Wesley House, Dufton. Bland’s work is naive and unsophisticated but has the virtue of simple honesty. As a Romantic self-taught mason and sculptor, he could be compared to the Scots sculptors James Thom and Robert Forrest. Carved on his tomb at Crosby Ravensworth are a sculptor’s mallet and chisel, a painter’s palette and brushes, and an architect’s compass.

Bibliography: J.S. Bland, The Vale of Lyvennet, its picturesque peeps and legendary lore, Kendall, 1910, p. 91 (Project Gutenberg eBook); D.A. Cross, Public Sculpture of Lancashire and Cumbria, Liverpool, 2017, pp. xviii, 183; J. Darke, The Monuments Guide to England and Wales, London, 1991, p. 214; Historic England – The Image Garden; M. Hyde and N. Pevsner, Cumbria: Cumberland, Westmorland and Furness (The Buildings of England), New Haven and London, 2010, pp. 336, 615; T. Longville, ‘A Terrier at History’s Rabbit Holes: Thomas Bland and his Image Garden’, Cumbria Gardens Trust. Occasional Papers, vol. 2, 2004, p. 85; Manchester Guardian, 2 May 1955; Parks & Gardens – The Image Garden; I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009, p. 117; A. Whitehead, Legends of Westmorland and Other Poems, (1856), 2nd edn, Penrith, 1896, pp. 36, 65, 70, 73, 76.

David A. Cross, 2017