Pregnant Torso (North Tees Hospital, Eddie Hawking, c. 1954)

Often, writing about statues can feel quite academic. Not that that’s a bad thing of course, but I often find myself writing about long-forgotten sculptures by long-dead sculptors and asking myself things like, “I wonder where they got this bronze cast”, or “I’m sure this one has a sister-piece in Morecombe”, and that way madness lies.

So, it’s nice when historical sculpture wakes up from its slumber and affects the here and now. I’m lucky that this has happened a few times at North East Statues: finding Middlesbrough’s much-derided abstract sculpture Equinox (A.K.A. The Elephant’s Arse) in a field near Saltburn was one such occasion, leading to a public discussion of its (somewhat unfair in my opinion) removal from outside Middlesbrough’s law courts in the 1970s.

Earlier in 2020 we had another when I received a message from one of our Facebook followers. I love it when people submit old sculptural photos to me, so when a Mr. John Cooke sent an old, sepia-tinged picture of a very distinguished looking artist, pipe-in-mouth, working on a nude figure, we knew we had to find out more.

The photo sent to me by John Cooke

John explained that the artist was Eddie Hawking – sculptor and former lecturer at Teesside College of Art. The figure was his wife Audrey, pregnant with their second child. Hawking had long worked on the piece at the college (it can be seen in the background of a 1960 prospectus). It was never meant to be exhibited, instead it was kept at the Hawking family home once it left the college.

Hawking’s statue hiding in the background of a 1960 Teesside College of Art prospectus (courtesy of Natassia Lee, Northern School of Art)

But exhibited it (briefly) was. A consultant friend of the Hawking family (confusingly named John Hawkings), who worked at North Tees Hospital, noticed the statue and thought it would be perfect for the Maternity Ward. Eddie and Audrey agreed, and the artwork was moved there in 1974.

A Swift Removal

However – not long afterwards – the work was removed. A long-forgotten matron at the hospital began a petition to have the piece taken out of the hospital, rallying her nurses in support of an ultimately successful campaign. I’d love to know what sparked her dislike of the piece. Accounts from the time seem to focus on a sense of Carry On-style prudishness, hastily casting the Matron in a Hattie Jacques-esque role, but this seems reductive and we can only speculate on the real reason. It’s a bold statue that doesn’t pull any punches – it’s not idealised or airbrushed. Maybe she thought it too audacious for her ward. Perhaps she thought it was just another nameless female nude, not knowing the story and people behind it. In this case one might hardly blame her. Whatever the reason, off the sculpture went, eventually ending up in the garage of the Hawking home in Bristol.

Daily Mirror, June 14th 1974.

The removal of his work was a sore spot for Eddie. National newspapers wrote about the issue and reporters turned up at his workplace. I interviewed him in 2021 and he spoke of his embarrassment of the incident, especially as it was such an intimate work for both him and Audrey which had been rejected – imagine posing for such an personal piece and having it rebuffed! God knows what the feeling in the household was that day.

A Second Chance

On learning that the piece was still around – hidden under sheets in the garage – we naturally wanted to feature it as another lost Middlesbrough sculpture. But a nagging idea took hold which I’m sure has already occurred to many of you. What if we could give the statue a second chance in the hospital? We didn’t want to force anything on anyone (especially because a second rejection would be doubly unfair to Eddie and Audrey), but as times and management have changed at North Tees, maybe they’d be interested in this story, 70 years in the making.

Through the fantastic work of Shaun Campbell at the Arthur Wharton Foundation, we made contact with Julie Gillon at the NHS Trust and hospital consultant Professor Jane Metcalfe to tentatively sound things out. Rather than the understandably dismissive, why-are-you-bothering-us-with-this-during-a-pandemic response I’d been fearing, we instead got a lovely letter saying that the hospital would be delighted to bring Eddie Hawking’s work back to the maternity ward.

We are really looking forward to welcoming the arrival of this beautiful sculpture once again. This represents an important piece of history associated with the maternity service and to the hospital building. We will be working with staff in the department to find a suitable place for the sculpture to be located for both staff and patients to see.

Spokesperson for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust

The story gained quite a bit of press – even making The Times newspaper on July 8th 2021.

We obviously didn’t want the hospital to be shelling out for this, so Shaun and his trust kindly agreed to restore the work, which was carried out in early 2022.

The Statue Returns

In late 2022, the completed statue was finally dispatched back to the hospital, 68 years on from its creation and nearly 50 years after its ignominious removal. A glass cabinet is being made for it, and we’re hopeful it will be re-unveiled later this year.

The statue in transit (September 2022)

Do you have any memories, photographs or information about these artworks? If so, feel free to leave a comment or email us at northeaststatues@gmail.com

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