Percy Bentham: the man behind A London Overture

Ireland’s 1936 orchestral piece, A London Overture, bears the dedication: ‘In memory of Percy G. Bentham, Sculptor and Friend’. Ireland and Bentham knew one another for a period of around 10 years, often meeting at the Chelsea Arts Club. The picture below shows the two men seated back left.

Chelsea Arts Club

So what do we know about Bentham?

He was born in 1883 and had a studio at no. 8 Gunter Grove, a few doors down from the composer, and described by his son:

‘In the 1920s Father could be very busy at times with a number of craftsmen in his employ. His studio was one of a cluster alongside Stamford Bridge railway station on the- opposite side of the Fulham Road to the football ground. Two sets of white footprints (sculpture is a very dirty-clean craft) identified the entrance doorway. One set wheeled round to the adjacent railway station, where Father had the use of their telephone (Putney 22). Incoming calls meant the porter would rush round to the studio’s entrance and shout. The second set of footprints went across to the ‘Rising Sun’ and was used by ‘his man’ young Wood for jug-traffic. The football ground, especially on a cup-final afternoon, could create a lot of annoying noise. The studio block was far from glamorous; but handy for Father as he could rent one or two more of them depending on the amount of work in hand. Often it was war memorials, with a life-size or larger statue of a soldier with his rifle in some pose or other, but always with long lists of casualties to be cut in wood or stone; or cast, as bronze panels were in demand. This could be followed by work on new buildings such as the P & O’s head office in the City. Father’s range was wide indeed; not only in application but in style. He was equally at home with classic, medieval, or art deco; but he did not approve of Epstein’s “Night and Day” on St. James’ Park station office block, and that kind of thing’ (Fred Bentham. Sixty Years of Light Work. London: Strand Lighting Limited, 1992, p. 5).

Incidentally, there is no record of Ireland being troubled by the noise from Stamford Bridge, or of his attendance at the Rising Sun…

Bentham was a notable figure in the art world, a regular participant in Art Workers Guild Revels, and a speaker at the Art Workers Guild in 1930 and 32. A bronze cast of his 1922 ‘Fisherman and Water Nymph’ survives in the pool in Coombe Abbey Park, next to the former mansion (now a hotel).

Coombe Abbey, Coventry

Coombe Abbey, Coventry

Of his two sons, Philip also became a sculptor, whose work includes the impressive Bracken House clock in the city of London. His activities can be followed here: http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=msib2_120647654. The other, Fred, was a pioneering lighting engineer with Strand Electric.

Fred Bentham

Fred Bentham

In June 1936 Percy Bentham died of septicaemia. Ireland was deeply shocked at his sculptor friend’s tragic death, and wrote his grief into his new piece, as well as expressing his sadness in letters to close friends, some of which survive in the British Library.

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