ROMSEY 'R'- CAMBRIDGE
The Romsey 'R' is a public artwork for Cambridge which celebrates the railway heritage of the part of the city known as Romsey Town.
The sculptural ‘R’ is a Clarendon letter derived from a rubbing of a nearby Victorian street sign. Within this shape, bronze ‘sleepers’ list the departure-points and destinations of railway journeys that have been important in the lives of local residents of all ages. These range from the local to the international, and show the diversity of geographical background characteristic of the Romsey district.
The station names are cast in a font specially designed for the project and named ‘Romsey Railway’.
The project was developed in response to a brief from Cambridge Council.
The Romsey district is historically associated with the railways, since it was developed in the nineteenth century to provide homes for railway workers.
The project is designed to position this heritage in relation to the vibrant and culturally diverse community that has developed from it, whose participation we invited in these terms:
‘We are inviting local residents to be part of a major public art project which celebrates the people and history of Romsey. Almost everyone has a rail journey that was important for them. It might be the first train journey you remember from childhood, or a journey to a new home or job, a journey associated with a particular relationship or a major event in your life. It might be a short trip to the nearest town, or a journey that crossed the borders of countries or continents. We would like to collect and commemorate your journeys.
My responsibility is the form, scale and making of the sculpture.
I wanted the shape and structure of the R to relate to the railway subject as closely as possible and developed the initial proposal of stencil station names cut from steel sheets into the final form.
I designed a steel framework for two R shapes that refers to railway track and solid cast station name plaques that refer to sleepers. These ‘sleepers’ make up the body of the letter.
Cast in bronze the ‘sleepers’ also relate to the historic metal station names that we still see today. A full size wooden model was made with David White to arrive at the correct scale and to test on site for position.
Charles Tallack, the engineer for the project, is also a member of the Mackay family who own the eponymous Cambridge metal workshop and ironmongers. He took a keen interest
in the structure of the R and designed a creative way of fixing the sleepers and track that mimics actual railway sleeper ‘cleats’. Finch Seaman Enfield at Braintree used the same sand casting techniques to make the bronze sleeper plaques that were used in the past to make railway engine blocks. The sculpture was built by Harrington Fabrication, who had the difficult task of bending the thick steel ‘track’ framework into precise curves before adding the bronze plaques that connect the track to make the two R shapes. I fettled and patinated each of the plaques by hand and made the giant concrete bases for each R with help from Zion landscapes.
It is increasingly difficult to find expertise in traditional ways of working metal and we were fortunate to have such highly skilled collaborators.
The font is based upon the English vernacular block-letter, a signwriter’s idiom which inspired Edward Johnson’s London Underground lettering and later Eric Gill’s Gill Sans typeface, which also has strong associations with the English railway networks. In this project however it was also necessary to consider the diacritics necessary for setting names from a variety of different languages.
The departure points and destinations varied widely in length, which determined complex decisions over which were placed in which parts of the letter
Apart from being a long-time Romsey resident I have a personal affinity for the subject, as my grandfather worked for the Great Western Railway, a connection that is referenced in the journey details submitted by my son George: from Paddington to Penzance.
Helen Weinstein of Historyworks provided invaluable support in gathering journey information from local schoolchildren and organising related public events.