The Lonely Archer

By David Tupman

Eric Aumonier’s archer at East Finchley station, sometimes affectionately called ‘Archie’, is the only three dimensional statue in the Underground.

Unveiled on 22 July 1940, ‘Archie’ might have been one of a series of designs, in a scheme to give distinctive decoration to new underground stations being constructed in the 1930s.

Pennyfare, London Transport’s staff journal, reported some of these tentative ideas, in March 1938. It was suggested that Highgate station might have a metal silhouette of Dick Whittington and his cat. At St Paul’s station, the Cathedral would have a Ball and Cross, suggesting the dome. What is puzzling though is that East Finchley had not been mentioned at all in the press announcements in 1938. Where did ‘Archie’ come from?

Bow jest

The Railway Gazette shows two drawings of the East Finchley station. One shows an archer figure dated 1939 indicating that a decision to put a three dimensional figure at East Finchley may have been taken by then. The contract for Archie was placed with W Aumonier & Sons, 84 Charlotte Street, W1 on June 8 1939, with an estimated cost of £245.

Pennyfare revealed in July 1940 that, "the figure of an ancient hunter of wild game is placed high up on the new East Finchley station. It is more than a decorative device- it is powerful symbolism". Finchley was on the edge of the royal forest of Enfield, which was hunted by both commoner and court. Pennyfare also stated that Underground travel is conditioned by the good points of archery. "Observe the speed and precision with which our Finchley hunter seems to launch his arrow, his eye trained on the railway track".

Beech boy

It went on to say that Archie was nearly twice the size of a living man and was made of 6cwt of beech round steel support and then covered with 5cwt of sheet lead. The beech timber had come from Czecho-Slovakia. The lead had been collected from various sources and re-melted. The gold of certain gilt features was mined in South Africa and the bow was English ash, bent by steam and coated with copper and gilt.

Contemporary documents reveal Archie as having strong steel ‘armature’, to which sections of lead about one inch in thickness are fixed with lugs. No timber is apparent in either and it is clear that Archie was probably constructed in three main sections, and that these were re-assembled on site.

An access plate on his back would most likely have been used to reach a temporary lifting anchor, and then bolt the middle and bottom sections together inside the lead skin, being sealed up afterwards. The head would then have been added, followed by the bow.

It appears unlikely that 6 cwt of beech was built around the whole of the steel support then to be covered with lead. This might be only 15 cubic feet of timber, depending on the moisture content. Perhaps there is some timber in the bottom section shaping the legs below a certain point, and perhaps some in the head. The mystery remains for the present at least!

Eric Aumonier had worked for London Transport before. A sculpture on the LT Headquarters building at 55 Broadway, SW1 was one of the two representations of the South Wind (the other was by Eric Gill). On the canteen at Acton Works are two stone reliefs’ (one of a pie, knife and fork) over two of the entrances.

There was another link with Eric Aumonier. This occurred in 1946 at Denham Film Studios of the Powell and Pressburger film ‘A Matter of Life and Death’. On a giant moving stairway David Niven fights for his life and happiness, hovering between this world and the next. Eric was responsible for work on the statues of various famous people, which stand on pedestals at intervals beside the staircase. The film production company was called, believe it or not, ‘The Archers’!

Eric Aumonier and his wife eventually went to Ashburton, New Zealand, the move being partly due to Eric’s bad health. Eric Aumonier died there in 1974

This article is based on material kindly supplied by Peter Bancroft the well known writer and historian on the London Transport.

Photographs by David Tupman © The Archer 1995

 

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