Visit a public square

Hay Hill , Norwich.

The sculptures in Hay Hill, Norwich had always seemed to me somewhat incongruous. In an open square in the centre of the City’s main shopping area was a very large brain carved from marble, a large block of marble with an eye carved in relief and several sets of granite with inscriptions. At the top of the square was a traditional sculpture, on a tall plinth, of Sir Thomas Browne.

I am so pleased that I chose this square to investigate as I am now fascinated by the results of my research.

Sir Thomas Browne was a physician, philosopher and writer who lived in Norwich from 1636 to 1682. The site of the house where he once lived and the church where he is buried are at opposite ends of the square in Hay Hill. The traditional statue located at the western end of the square was made by Henry Pegram in 1905 for the 300th anniversary of Browne’s birth.

What I had thought were random pieces of sculpture by the statue were in fact a “Homage to Thomas Browne” created by Anne and Patrick Poirier.

The large marble brain and sculpted eye refer to Browne’s approach to philosophy, religion and science. In addition to this there are 5 polished granite seats, 6 granite stools, 2 granite benches, 3 granite tables and 2 granite ‘beans’. Some are polished and shiny whereas others are rough and matt. A number of them are inscribed with quotes from Sir Thomas Browne’s works.

They are all arranged in a pattern known as a ‘quincunx’, a five pointed diamond shape that Browne believed existed throughout nature.

An explanatory booklet about the sculptures has been produced by Norwich City Council

According to this booklet the Poirier’s concept was for “a ‘salon’ or room, defined by light, a new spirit
and a place to dream, a place that changes in character by day and by night, is ethereal but also comfortable, stimulating and restful, with stone ‘furniture’ for the use of those who may pass by and stop”.

I find this idea fascinating – it has achieved its objective in that people sit, rest, drink and eat throughout the day using the sculptures as tables or chairs. Although I’m not too sure how many of them appreciate the link between what they are sitting on and Sir Thomas Browne!

I think that it is excellent that the sculptors set out to achieve such an interaction with the public, inviting them to sit on their work and eat off their tables.

I am really pleased to have chosen this square to research – I got so much more out of the exercise than if I had been to, say, Trafalgar Square in London.

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