Monument to the Inspirational George Parker Bidder
Mon 1 Mar 2021
It was about 20 years ago when I first became aware of the civil engineering achievements of George Parker Bidder and his inspirational transition from humble beginnings to internationally famous Engineer and Advocate.
Moretonhampstead was in the process of making itself visibly more attractive to visitors with the Sparrowhawk in the Square, the flower baskets along Court Street and the mosaic at the entrance to the church grounds outside what is now Greenhill Arts Centre. The mosaic was a clever conglomeration of facts about Bidder, including several mathematical problems put to him when, as a young boy he was taken round local fairs where his father made good money (often £6 a head in today’s money) from his amazing ability at mental arithmetic. He even performed in front of the Queen. Unfortunately, wear and tear took its toll on the mosaic and in 2016 the wreckage was replaced by paving slabs.
As a civil engineer myself, I realised that Moreton had lost a very important memorial to one of its most eminent ‘sons’. I knew the Parish Council owned a marble bust of Bidder along with the black granite plinth on which it stood. The bust sat unloved on the floor in the corner of Greenhill foyer and the plinth resided in the entrance to the library; neither of these places seemed to be tremendously ‘public’ and in April 2017, I put together a discussion paper, “Reincarnating Bidder”, proposing that the two parts should be erected at a much more public site. This was sent to various local organisations and individuals, including the Parish Council and the Local History Society; individuals included John Dodds, who I knew through our local singing group, the Moretones.
Since then John and I have worked as a team. As an architect, John put together the planning application submitted in March 2019 and I started work on finding some financial backing. My approach to the Heritage Lottery Fund turned out to be a waste of time as they decided that they would be unable to quantify the benefits to the local community. I then approached clubs and organisations that had some connection with Bidder and his work, no matter how vague a connection and at the same time started contacting Bidder descendants. That approach was much more beneficial and resulted in sufficient funds to enable a bronze replica of the marble bust to be commissioned, having received advice that the marble version would not stand up to Dartmoor weather.
Meanwhile, we had contacted granite masonry firms for quotations for the podium. This proved very difficult with almost everyone tied up working on Castle Drogo. We finally selected F.J.Stevens & Son from Crediton. At that point we had no idea of how we would be able to pay for what was amounting to a major sum.
In September 2019 we took the marble bust to Milwyn’s art foundry - recommended by a senior film-industry sculptor including for the Bond movies and in December John collected the bronze replica. It was agreed the site would be the top of Lime Street, his birthplace; the road was so wide that houses had once stood there.
In 1927 underground public toilets were excavated, but fifty years later these were filled in and a flower bed installed. Several locals had used the loos but no-one was sure exactly how they were “filled in” and we had to excavate down and span a reinforced concrete slab over to spread the load of the memorial between the supporting walls of the toilets using materials donated by Bradfords. This work could have been started in February 2020, as we had received a substantial and very welcome local donation; unfortunately, the quarries closed on account of Covid 19!!
In October John and I started removing the setts and the ‘garden’. By mid-November we had poured the foundation slab and laid the first two levels of granite. To significantly reduce overall costs these layers are reclaimed Westcountry granite, which John cut and faced. Finally, a week before Christmas, Stevens & Son installed the remainder and fixed the bronze bust. John, Liz and I erected the Interpretation Panel a few days later. All done, a Christmas present to Moreton and we just beat Lockdown No 3!!!