Glasgow - City of Sculpture
By Gary Nisbet
Charles Benham Grassby
(1834 -1910)
Born in Hull, he worked as a stone carver and architectural sculptor in London before moving to Glasgow, c. 1864.

Immediately joining the Masonic Lodge of Glasgow St John No. 3, he mixed with the leading lights of Glasgow sculpture and architecture and regularly worked with them on important commissions for architectural sculpture throughout the city and beyond.

He executed the carver work on several churches and schools by John Honeyman, including Methven UP Church (1867); Partick Free High Church (1869, dem); Henderson Street School (1874, dem); Candlish Memorial Church (1874, dem 1998) and Fairfield Public School (1875, dem).

Outwith Glasgow, he worked on the Church Schools, Aberfoyle (1870), Free West Church, Perth (1872) and the Sailors Home, Dundee (1881), as well as on banks, municipal buildings, private houses and commercial premises.

Much of his architectural work in Glasgow has been lost through demolition or alterations to buildings.

An interesting survivor is the statue of James Watt in Glasow Green, which was taken from the façade of Martin's Leatherworks in Bridgeton, of c. 1865, and re-erected in the park in 1933 after the building was demolished.

Decapitated and a regular target for vandals, the statue of Watt was completely restored in 2005, and relocated from McPhun's Park to a site adjacent to the People's Palace.

Lost to alterations were the large sculpture group and medallion heads on John Burnet's Clydesdale Bank, West George Street (1863, removed 1897), and the urns and some of the keystone heads on the former Scottish Widows, 112-114 West George Street (1868-70, heads removed 1928, urns removed 1959).

His best known architectural work in the city is the group representing Christ Restoring Sight To A Blind Child on the tower of the former Blind Asylum, 92 Castle Street (1881).

He often worked for in collaboration with J & G Mossman , assisting them in carving the sculpture schemes for several important buildings. These include:

The Clydesdale Bank, 30 St Vincent Place, for which he executed the Father Clyde keystone head and the emblematic roundels (1876-7); the putti reliefs on the former Glasgow Herald offices, 63-9 Buchanan Street (1877-9); and the equestrian St George and the Dragon group for the St Georges's Co-Operative Society tenement in Gladstone Road, off St George's Road (1897, dem. 1985).

The St George group was rescued from its building in 1985, when it was about to be demolished, and was re-erected by the C0-Op at St George's Cross as a public monument in 1988.

Grassby was one of a host of sculptors and carvers who worked on Glasgow's City Chambers where he was contracted to execute unidentified carving on the interior and exterior (1882-90).

He also produced a number of impressive, sculptural monuments for cemeteries in Glasgow.

These include the memorial to the glass stainer David Keir in Glasgow Cathedral's New Burial Ground, which has a small, half-length, puppet- like angel in its pediment (1865); the Gothic monument to James Leiper, which was designed by architect William Leiper for his father (and eventually himself), which has since lost its surmounting, full-size angel (c. 1864); and the granite cross to Emily Bidmead, which has a large, badly eroded marble bust of an angel in a roundel, in Sighthill Cemetery (1873).

Amongst the plainer monuments he produced is the John Halley Family in Sighthill Cemetery (c. 1875). Other examples of his work can be found in the Necropolis, Souther Necropolis and Calton Burial Ground; the latter including the ruined monument to Samuel Donaldson, his wife and their fifteen children (c. 1891).

He also produced the Gothic spire to Janet Rankine in Dumbarton Cemetery, the tallest monument there (c. 1867).

A rare example of his public work is the Reformers Monument in Kay Park, Kilmarnock (1885), a colossal Corinthian column which was once surmounted with a 'Statue of Liberty' until she was blown down in a storm in 1936 (the monument is illustrated in the guidebook Kilmarnock & Loudon An Introductory Guide (1982), p. 41.).

He exhibited at RGIFA , mostly religious subjects including, statuettes of Sts. Paul, John and Peter (1865); Christ in the Temple (1878); a bust of William Mair (1884); and Blind Girl Reading.

He was also on the staff of GSA , teaching stone carving, and occupied addresses at 139 Wellington Lane and 170 Pitt Street.

Retiring in 1900, his business appears to have been continued by his son, also Charles Grassby (fl. c. 1900-9), who occupied addresses at 31 Buccleuch Street and 9 Fairlie Park Drive, Partick, 1909.

The elder Grassby lived at 40 Apsley Street, Partick, where he died on 17th December, 1910.

Grassby's name, however, and his association with fine carving and sculpture survives him today in the Dorset based firm Grassby Stonemasons, which was founded by his brother Benjamin Grassby, in 1861.

Sources:

  • Information from Andrew Grassby (Grassby Stonemasons);
  • Grassby Stonemasons: http://www.grassby-stone.co.uk/
  • Honeyman & Keppie Job Books, 1861-94;
  • GH [Obit], 20 December, 1910;
  • GCA : AGN 1194 [obits, Death Of A Glasgow Sculptor];
  • Kilmarnock & Loudon An Introductory Guide (1982), p. 41 (ill.);
  • Tweed , 1872;
  • Eunson ;
  • Gifford & Walker (2002); Kilmarnock & Loudon An Introductory Guide (1982), p. 41 (ill.);
  • POD , 1862-1911;
  • ML : Confirmations & Inventories, 1911;
  • McKenzie (1999) ;
  • McKenzie (2002) ;
  • Williamson et al.
 
Works in our Database:
1: Buchanan Street (City Centre),
Former Glasgow Herald Building, 63-9 Buchanan Street
Narrative Relief Panels (1879-80)
Sculptor: CB Grassby; Architect: J Sellars; Mason: John Morrison
#53 2: Castle Street (Townhead),
Former Royal Asylum for the Blind, 92 Castle Street
Christ Restoring Sight to a Blind Child (1881)
Sculptor: CB Grassby;
Architect: W Landless
3: McPhun Park (Bridgeton),
McPhun Park, Glasgow Green
James Watt (c.1864)
Sculptor: CB Grassby
4: Queen Margaret Drive (West End),
Former Northpark House - original building,
now BBC Scotland, 20 Queen Margaret Drive
Head of Michelangelo and two Male Keystone Heads (1869-72)
Sculptors: CB Grassby (Michelangelo), Stewart & Campbell (Heads);
Architect: JT Rochead
5: St Vincent Place (City Centre),
Clydesdale Bank, 30-40 St Vincent Place
Allegorical Figures, Coats of Arms
and Associated Decorative Carving (1871-4)

Sculptors: J Mossman, W Mossman Junior, CB Grassby;
Architect: JJ Burnet
 
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