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Page last updated at 11:30 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 12:30 UK
Library's new gargoyles revealed
Dodo grotesque

New gargoyles designed by schoolchildren have been unveiled at the Bodleian Library.

The university was inundated with entries after running a competition to replace the old crumbling sculptures.

No photographic or artist evidence was available to reconstruct them accurately so new designs were commissioned.

Author Philip Pullman cut a giant ribbon at the unveiling ceremony of the new stone carvings.

The theme of the competition was centred around myths, monsters or people that have a historical connection with Oxfordshire within the last millennium.

The nine new gargoyles have been two years in the making, and the children whose winning entries were chosen have had a close hand in crafting the final product.


The winning entry of Hannah Duckworth was that of a green man.

"It's turned out really well and I'm really happy with it" she told BBC Oxford. "It's amazing because I never thought anything like that would happen. It will always be there so it's something to show people, like a memory."

The fact that the works of art would likely outlast the children themselves was a source of amusement.

"'Look kids it's my dodo!'" joked George O'Connor. Alfie Turner admitted "It's quite scary thinking this will be there longer than I'll be there!"

Alfie's source of inspiration for his design was the founder of the library, Sir Thomas Bodley himself. "Now that it's 3D more qualities shine through" he said.

George also admitted to being pleased with the realisation of his dodo, inspired by an exhibit at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History: "I'd always entered with a bit of a pessimistic mindset. I didn't really think I'd win but it seemed to work.

"I'm really proud of it, immortalised forever on the side of a library."

Sculptors Alec and Fiona Peever worked hard to make the youngsters' original sketches a reality. This needed to take into account how they would look to the eye in three dimensions from a distance and from below.

Oxford grotesques
The grotesques were based on Oxford events of the last 1000 years

"It's to do with the fore-shortening and the perspective of the figures" said Alec, "and also the way the shadows work in order to create the strength of design that can be understood by the passerby."

Teaming up with the children was an enjoyable experience for the stonemasons. "For us it's marvellous to work first of all with children but secondly to work on a very important building on pieces of work that will last for hundreds of years... it's as good as it gets!"

"I thought the children came up with some fantastic ideas that were really original" added Fiona. "It was very hard but incredibly enjoyable and lovely to meet the children.

"I feel very very honoured having lived in Oxford for over 20 years. I never imagined my work would be on the side of such a prestigious building."


The trend of gargoyles in Oxfordshire goes back one thousand years, with examples on the earliest Norman churches.

Robert de San Remy and his family - part of a large 12th-century immigration from Normandy to England - oversaw the building of St Mary's Church in Iffley in 1170.

It provides many examples of Romanesque architecture, with grotesques of centaurs, mermen and sphinxes.

Strictly speaking all gargoyles have a waterspout, the correct term being 'grotesque' for the Bodleian creatures and most other examples in the city.

Green Man
Green Men are grotesques that "spew" greenery out of their mouths

The term gargoyle even derives from 'gurgle' and 'gargle', in reference to the sound the water makes as it comes out of the gutters.

Initially erected as projecting gutters that medieval masons erected to keep the rainwater off the walls of churches, they evolved over time into carvings of foliage and eventually mythological figures.

"They are all a bit of a mystery and it's much safer to say they are mysterious first and foremost and everything we say about them is conjecture" local enthusiast Tim Healey told BBC Oxford.

"Throughout the entire medieval period nobody ever wrote any texts to explain what on Earth they thought they were doing putting these grotesque creatures on sacred buildings!" he said.

"In the cloister under the eyes of the brethren who read there what profit is there in those ridiculous monsters, in that marvellous and deformed beauty? To what purpose are those unclean apes, those fierce lions, those monstrous centaurs, those half-men, those striped tigers, those fighting knights, those hunters sounding their horns?"
St Bernard, 12th century AD

Stonemasons often worked from illustrations of creatures or scenes depicted in medieval manuscripts or a bestiary (a compendium describing every type of real and imaginary animal).

Tim made it his mission to track down every green man in Oxfordshire. These are a particular type of grotesque with greenery coming out of their mouths, and the tradition continues to evolve in Oxford.

"By the late 19th century people were carving almost whatever they wanted" Tim explained. "Sometimes they do a portrait of the dons. I think we have a portrait recently carved of a gargoyle of the Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire at Dorchester Abbey."

The gargoyles of Christchurch include portraits of the teaching faculty and it is rumoured that all the porters are all immortalised in stone there too.

"I think originally the masons of the building would choose to carve representations of their superiors and really poke fun at them" said Fiona. "I think it's a very good expressive form of art that can be fun and interesting and approachable to everyone."

It's this way of thinking that has lead to the new gargoyles at the Bodleian, which draw inspiration from the likes of Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis.

"I think it's perfectly fair to draw on any mythological tradition" said Tim of the competition. "That's what our medieval forebears did and if it comes from literature and fantasy writing I think that's well within the tradition."

Oxford grotesques
Oxford's grotesques come in all shapes and sizes

The full list of competition winners are as follows:

George O'Connor from Oxford for 'Dodo'
Hannah Duckworth from Oxford for 'Green man'
Henry Chadwick from Oxford for 'Three men in a boat'
Eva Masmanian from Oxford for 'Tweedledum and Tweedledee'
Ben Bryant from Abingdon for 'Wild Boar'
Alfie Turner from Longworth for 'Sir Thomas Bodley'
Hayley Williams from Abingdon for 'Aslan'
Kerrie Chambers from Bicester for 'General Pitt Rivers'
Alex Sermon from Abingdon for 'From Myths to Monsters' (based on Tolkien characters)

Looking back on Sir Thomas Bodley
30 Jun 09 |  History
I've designed a gargoyle
15 Dec 07 |  Your Reports
Children to design new gargoyles
24 Jun 07 |  Oxfordshire



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