Every resident of Purley knows that the town is a great place to live – but few appreciate the proud part it played in helping Britain transform from an agricultural economy to an industrial power-house.
All this is about to change thanks to the commissioning of a new world-class art installation in Purley’s Rotary Field (formerly in Surrey but now in the London Borough of Croydon), and which has been funded in part by the five local Conservative ward councillors.
Professional artist Alan Potter has won a competition to design and install an art installation in Purley. His ‘Iron Horse’ design will celebrate the heritage of the Surrey Iron Railway which was one of the very first railways anywhere in the world. The railway was established by Act of Parliament in 1801 and opened in 1802/1803. It was a toll railway on which carriers used horses to draw laden wagons most commonly full of coal, building materials, lime, manure, corn and seeds. From 1805-1837 the track ran all the way from a river dock in Wandsworth through Mitcham, Croydon and Purley to Merstham & Godstone, and parts of it are still visible in Rotary Field.
The sculpture is subject to modification depending on consultation with the local community, but is likely to comprise a series of life-sized cast iron ‘relief panels’ of a dray horse pulling loaded wagons on an iron rail. The installation will symbolise the dramatic transformation from agriculture to industry that the Surrey Iron Railway helped to facilitate.
Many residents are unaware of the pivotal role of the Surrey Iron Railway and it is hoped that the new installation will inspire the town’s residents to find out more about Purley’s vibrant social and economic history.
The competition for the new art installation was launched last year out of a recognition that Purley carries little reference to the town’s long and proud history. Artists were invited to respond with details of how they would capture the town’s exciting history through art and create an installation that would contribute to the area’s attractive surroundings. 23 artists applied, and Alan Potter was chosen because of the strength of his idea and his commitment to using opportunities such as these to develop and encourage local art groups and to help nurture a culture of creativity in the places he works.
Simon Brew, Conservative ward Councillor for Purley and Woodcote says, “Alan’s design captures something special about Purley’s history and when it is in place it will give residents yet another reason to feel proud of the town they live in. Both local residents and business owners enjoy living and working in Purley but few are aware of our community’s proud history - how we played host to vital infrastructure that enabled Britain to become the world’s leader in industry and manufacturing. The new installation will remind us of that proud past but also serve as a poignant reminder that with creativity, innovation and enterprise our best days remain ahead. Congratulations to Alan for creating such an inspiring design. I look forward to introducing Alan to the local community organisations who will work with him to finalise the finished product. “