The fascinating story behind Derby's 'Boy and Goose' statue
PUBLISHED: 17:24 24 August 2016 | UPDATED: 17:25 24 August 2016
In a new occasional series featuring Derbyshire's statues, monuments and memorials, Peter Seddon considers Derby's iconic 'Boy and Goose'
Opposite Derby’s Council House – in the sunken Sir Peter Hilton Memorial Garden – stands the enigmatic statue ‘The Boy and the Goose’. The carefree piper plays a faintly tormenting air. The grim-beaked ‘gander’ indignantly flaps its wings and advances. But with scant expectation – the mischievous musician holds a safe distance for all eternity. The goose will never nip him.
The piece has long fascinated children. Adults admire its aesthetic form. Yet many give it barely a glance. But the ‘Boy and Goose’ tells a good story.
On 31st July 1909 Lady Emily Roe (1845-1909) of Derby died aged 64. Her estate passed to her husband Sir Thomas Roe (1832-1923) with instructions that upon his death £800 should pass to Derby Corporation ‘for the provision in his memory of a fountain and drinking trough for horses and dogs, either in the Market Place or at the station’.
Thrice Mayor of Derby and twice Liberal MP for the town, ‘Tommy’ Roe died aged 90 on 7th June 1923. In April 1926 the circular memorial ‘drinking trough’ appeared without ceremony in the Market Place near to the old Assembly Rooms.
The ensemble was conceived by Derby architect and Old Reptonian Charles Clayton Thompson (1873-1932). R G Lomas and Co. monumental masons of King Street crafted the stonework. The crowning figures were modelled by eminent ‘sculptor and craftsman’ Alexander Fisher (1864-1936) of Chelsea. Beautifully cast in bronze the piece is signed on its base ‘Alex Fisher’.
Although frequented more by market traders and children than horses and dogs, the watering hole proved popular. Those puzzled by its concept were enlightened by Derby Corporation: ‘Fountains suggest play and movement of water. The boy and goose reflect that very rhythm, movement and play.’
Similar imagery in classical art had conveyed the symbiosis of man and beast – man usually asserting control. The statue reflects those ancient origins. In flimsy ‘smock’ and sandals the boy is more ethereal ‘sprite’ than typical Derby lad. The Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens (1912) has striking parallels. Perhaps the London sculptor found inspiration there.
Soon Derby’s ‘fountain boy’ – as children informally tagged it – gave rise to a charming legend. At dead of night he would step down to serenade his ‘mother and baby brother’ nearby – the ‘lady and child’ on the War Memorial – also designed by C C Thompson. The goose enjoyed a blessed freedom before daylight dawned once more.
But times changed. Once the Market Place was adapted for the circulation of cars and buses, the drinking trough got in the way. It was moved in 1933 to the newly-opened River Gardens. Surrounded by a raised flower bed it no longer functioned as a drinking fountain. After the war-delayed new Council House opened in 1949 the ‘Boy and Goose’ enlivened its rear corner.
The statue remained there until 1971 when it was placed into storage at Markeaton Park – later ‘rediscovered’ there by the daughter of a Derby Rotarian. It was refurbished by renowned Derby brass founders John Smith and Co. and in November 1977 mounted on a plinth inside the New Assembly Rooms. The original stone base graduated to the grounds of Elvaston Castle.
The statue never truly settled in the Assembly Rooms – by 1980 languishing in the Darwin Suite, it was shunted around almost forgotten until the opening in 1996 of the Sir Peter Hilton Memorial Garden, where it was re-sited and remains still – a stone’s throw ‘over the Quad’ from its original Market Place home.
The ‘Boy and Goose’ will surely move again. But wherever it stands it needs to be cherished. Far more than ‘just a statue’ it is a genuine work of art, a ‘hidden gem’ for Derby to be proud of. As the vernacular goes – ‘the boy done good’... and the long-suffering goose is ‘bearing up’. Pay them a visit sometime...