Glasgow - City of Sculpture
By Gary Nisbet
Robert Gray
(fl. 1850- )
A monumental sculptor; little is known of the firm's founder, Robert Gray, or the origins of his firm, other than that he had established his business at a workshop at 44 York Street, in the Broomielaw, by 1857, but had been active since 1850. His firm was eventually was to become one of the city's most prolific and oldest suppliers of cemetery monuments.

The firm moved to 40 Bothwell Street, 1858, and later operated workshops at Sighthill Cemetery, the Western Necropolis and cemeteries in Helensburgh, Largs, Renfrew and Lochgilphead.

They sign an extraordinary number of sandstone and granite monuments in cemeteries in Glasgow and elsewhere from the 1850s, some of which incorporated finely detailed figurative work and (mostly lost) portrait reliefs in bronze, e.g., Corlinda Lee 'Queen of the Gypsies' in the Necropolis (1900).

On occasion, Gray purchased monuments or their parts, such as urns, medallions and bronze enrichments, from other monumental sculptors, which in-turn were signed with the name R Gray. A good example of this common practice being a ledger stone of fell granite ('54 inches by 42, polished, sides and splays dressed - not to be pointed'), which he ordered from J & G Mossman in March 1872, from a sketch provided by Gray, and which cost him £13 (J & G Mossman Job Book, 1870-7, p. 103).

Their work in the Necropolis includes the Egyptian-style monument to Robert Hinshelwood (1911) and the monument to Hugh Fraser, of the department store dynasty, Hugh Fraser, Sons & Co. (1927).

An earlier sandstone memorial with a historic Naval connection is the small cross erected in Craigton Cemetery to some of the officers and crew of the Russian Imperial Ironclad Piotyr Veliki (Peter The Great).

The most powerful Russian warship afloat in its day, its crewmen and priest died of fever whilst the ship was being refitted at Fairfield’s shipyard in Govan from July 1881, until January 1882.

The crew's monument is a small, sandstone cross on a stepped base, with an inscription in the Cyrillic script, except for Gray's name on its footstone. The cross has since been broken off. Gray was also probably involved in the carving of the adjacent, unsigned, monument to the ship's priest, Reverend Sergious, who died in October 1881.

Also in sandstone, the monument is in the form of a lectern draped with a tassled cloth which is patterned with tiny crosses in relief, and surmounted by a white marble bible with a large cross resting on its cover.

The Southern Necropolis and Sighthill cemetery are also well endowed with monuments by Gray, including the overtly Masonic, Egyptian obelisk in Sighthill to David Winton, the co-founder of the marble sculptors, Galbraith & Winton (1862), and the monument nearby it to an unidentified family (inscription lost), which features a carving of a Victorian woman reclining on her death bed in the monument's pediment (c. 1850).

Other good examples of his work in Glagow's cemeteries are:

The Francis Smith Monument, Glasgow Cathedral New Burial Ground, which is surmounted by a kneeling cherub (c. 1850-67), and the monument to Thomas Marshall in St Peter's Cemetery, which features a relief of a pony and trap racer (1957).

Outwith Glasgow, Gray executed the Celtic Cross to D P Thomson in Sunnyside Cemetery, Alloa (1917), and the Celtic Cross to William Convill in Irvine Old Parish Churchyard (1904).

The firm also executed a number of granite war memorials in and around Glasgow and, as a member of the National Scheme for Disabled Men, the firm provided work for some of the war’s wounded in its workshops after the war.

In 1915, they executed the Bishop's Palace Memorial Pillar, Cathedral Precinct, and after World War I, the K13 Memorial Drinking Fountain, Elder Park, Govan (1922).

They also produced the Govan War Memorial outside Govan Parish Church, which is in the form of a Mercat Cross and has corbel heads of soldiers and sailors, as well as a unicorn finial and a bronze panel with the Govan Burgh Arms (1922); and Pollokshaws War Memorial, an intricately carved Celtic cross outside Pollokshaws Public Halls (c. 1920).

For the bronze etching on the Bishop's Palace Memorial Pillar (designed by James Miller ) they reproduced a 17th Century engraving: The Episcopal Palace, with its Western Tower; and the Cathedral (signed, H S Miller) which had been published in Sir James Marwick's Early Glasgow (1911, ed. Robert Renwick. This was later reproduced in Carol Foreman's Street Names of the City of Glasgow (1997), p. 39).

One of the firm's monuments has found its way into Glasgow's folklore: the White Lady of the Southern Necropolis.

Erected over the grave of John S Smith c. 1929, the monument is in the form of a draped female standing beside a broken column on a rusticated base. The figure is said to turn her head when anyone passes by her, those who catch her eye being instantly turned to stone.

The firm itself became part of the legend of one of Scotland's most important relics: the Stone of Destiny, the stone upon which Scottish monarchs were crowned before it was stolen by King Edward I of England and placed under his coronation chair at Westminster Abbey in London, in 1296.

The stone was 'repatriated' by a group of Scottish students on Christmas Day 1950, and after managing to accidentally split the stone they took it to Gray's yard to be repaired. Some say that the repaired stone is a copy of the original and that the stone returned to Westminster, and later Edinburgh Castle, is actually a fake carved by Robert Gray.

The firm moved to 335 St. Vincent Street in 1909, and eventually traded at 167 Clarence Drive in the late 20th century.

The firm was eventually purchased in the 1970s by J & G Mossman , who still keep the firm’s name going, as advertised on their shop window at 284 High Street. In the early 1900s, Gray’s telegraphic address was, unsurprisingly, Obelisk.


Sources:

  • POD : 1850-1978;
  • Sir James Marwick, ed. Robert Renwick (1911), Early Glasgow;
  • Foreman (1997), Street Names of the City of Glasgow A New Historical Guide, Edinburgh, p. 39;
  • ML : Glasgow Scrapbook, no.10, p. 87 (Evening Citizen, Bishop's Palace Obelisk, 12 January, 1915;
  • J & G Mossman Job Book, 1870-7 (Ledger Stone), p. 103;
  • Morton;
  • McKenzie (1999) ;
  • McKenzie (2002) ;
  • Gifford & Walker (2002), p. 140;
 
Works in our Database:
#60 1: Cathedral Square (Townhead),
Cathedral Square
Bishop's Palace Memorial Pillar (1912-15)
Sculptor: R Gray;
Designer: J Miller
2: Elder Park (Govan),
Beside Govan Road entrance
Submarine K-13 Memorial (1922)
Sculptor: R Gray
3: Govan Road (Govan),
At entrance to Old Parish Church
War Memorial (1922)
Sculptor: R Gray
 
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