Gargoyles and Grotesques

House with Chimereas

One of the joys of writing a new book is the snippet of possibly irrelevant information that you come across in process of research.

The world of Letty Parker and Associates is an alternative Victorian Bristol but nevertheless it is based in fact. Brunel did design the Suspension Bridge, there really was a Bristol Gas Company, trows did bring cargo to Bristol from Cardiff. And of course there are gargoyles on the roofs of buildings and churches in the city.

What I did not know was that some of those carvings are not gargoyles, but grotesques. The difference between the two being that gargoyles are water spouts designed to divert water from the roof to the street, and unsuspecting pedestrians below, while grotesques are merely decorative.

I also discovered that not all the gargoyles and grotesques on buildings are ancient. Some like the memorial to PC Russell are relatively recent. On February 10th, 1965 PC George Russell and his colleagues were involved in an altercation with a car thief at Oxenholme Station in the Lake District. The thief was armed with a pistol, and PC Russell lost his life in the skirmish; he was buried in Carlisle and is commemorated by this unique amendment to the fabric of the city’s cathedral.

 Among my favourite grotesques are the alien on Paisley Abbey and the depiction of the Reverand Graham Midgley who was Dean and Chaplain of St Edmund Hall in the late 1960s. He was accompanied everywhere in college by one or more yellow Labradors and is now celebrated forever in stone with his beloved Fred. Both are wearing dog collars.

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These more modern sculptures would not find their place in “A Gathering of Gargoyles.” But without Letty, I would never have discovered them.

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