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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Walter Marsden (1882–1969)

Sculptor, the son of a blacksmith, born in the village of Church, near Accrington, Lancashire. In c.1901, while he was serving an apprenticeship in the terracotta department of the Accrington Brick and Tile Company, the chairman, (Sir) George McAlpine (1850–1920), recognised his artistic talents and arranged for him to study at Accrington Technical School. By c.1908 Marsden was a student at Manchester Municipal College of Art. At some date before the First World War, he won a National Scholarship to the Royal College of Art (RCA), where one of his tutors was Edouard Lantéri. His time at the RCA was interrupted by war service (his application for an army commission was counter-signed by the RCA principal, Augustus Spencer). He had begun showing at the Royal Academy summer exhibition in 1915, giving an address in Chelsea; by 1916 his address was Hut 30, B Company, Artists’ Rifles, O.T.C., Hare Hill Camp, Gidea Park, Essex. Towards the end of the same year he married Hilda Beatrice Hoare, also a sculptor (the couple’s daughter, Stella Marsden, born in 1921, would go on to become a figurative painter and teacher). Marsden took part in the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), July 1917, and was awarded the Military Cross and bar. In November of that year, however, he was captured at Cambrai and spent the remainder of the war in a German prisoner-of-war camp. Following repatriation to England in December 1918 he resumed his course at the RCA. The 1920s were his most active period, designing or contributing the sculpture to six war memorials. The earliest to be unveiled was in Bude, Cornwall (1922), but the remaining five were in his home county, Lancashire:  Church (1923); St Anne’s-on-the-Sea, with architect Thomas Smith Tait (1924); Heywood, Greater Manchester (1925); Bolton, Greater Manchester, with architect Arthur John Hope (1928; sculptures added in 1932); and Tottington, Greater Manchester (1930). Marsden was recommended for the St Anne’s-on-the-Sea commission by Sir George Frampton. His most ambitious memorial, he exhibited the seated soldier and the stretcher party frieze at the RA in 1923, and the widowed mother with her child (entitled in the RA catalogue ‘Bereft’) in 1924. The bronze maquette for the soldier is in the Imperial War Museum. In these same years, following the death in 1920 of his mentor, Sir George McAlpine, Marsden was commissioned to provide a larger-than-life-size female mourner, in bronze, for his tomb monument in Accrington Cemetery (erected 1926). Marsden resided at Clareville Grove, South Kensington, from c.1920 until his death. He became an Associate of the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 1926 and a Fellow in 1938 (and served on the council 1930–32, 1935–36 and 1944–46), and he was a member of the Art Workers’ Guild from 1930 until his resignation in 1941. From 1944 to 1952 he taught at St Martin’s School of Art, London, latterly as Head of Sculpture.

Bibliography: G. Archer, The Glorious Dead. Figurative Sculpture of British First World War Memorials, Kirstead, Norfolk, 2009, pp. 52–54, 59, 85–87, 119, 128, 129, 198–99, 270, 307; D.A. Cross, Public Sculpture of Lancashire and Cumbria, Liverpool, 2017, pp. xiii, xiv, 4, 46–47, 115–18; Mapping Sculpture; M. Quinlan, Sculptors and Architects of Remembrance, Sandy, Bedfordshire, 2007, p. 94; Reveille. The magazine of Preston and Central Lancashire Western Front Association, November 2020, pp. 16–19; T. Wyke, Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester, Liverpool, 2004, pp. 220–21, 309–10.

Terry Cavanagh, February 2024