Samson and Hercules sculptures

The Samson and Hercules sculptures were a pair of oak atlantids of the biblical character Samson and Roman hero Hercules, carved in 1657 and situated at Samson and Hercules House, 15 Tombland, Norwich. The Samson sculpture now resides in a restored state at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, but the original Hercules sculpture, then 233 years old, was lost in 1890 due to decaying beyond repair.

Samson and Hercules sculptures
Year1657 (1657)
MediumOak wood
SubjectSamson and Hercules
ConditionPartially lost
LocationMuseum of Norwich at the Bridewell, Norwich
OwnerNorfolk Museums Service
  • 2010.38.1
  • 2010.39
The fibreglass replicas of the Samson (left) and Hercules (right) sculptures, at the entrance to Samson and Hercules House in 2013
Samson and Hercules House in 2012

History edit

The sculptures were commissioned in a pair by the Mayor of Norwich Christopher Jay in 1657, to be placed outside his new home in Tombland, Norwich.[1][2] The Samson sculpture was carved from a single oak tree trunk.[3]

The figures were moved to the building's rear courtyard in 1789, but were placed back at the front door in 1890, by which point the original Hercules sculpture had decayed beyond repair and was replaced by a replica.[1][2] From 1934 until 2003, the building operated as a dance hall and later a nightclub.[1][2] The venue was named Samson and Hercules House during World War II, but later was rebranded to Ritzy's in 1983.[2][3] In the summer of 1992, the Samson sculpture's right arm fell off, prompting Norfolk Museums Service (NMS) to remove the sculptures. They were replaced at the venue with fibreglass replicas in 1998.[1][2] These replicas were at one point painted red when the house became a lobster restaurant,[4] and painted other colours in years since.[5]

Conservation firm Plowden & Smith were commissioned by the NMS in 2014,[1] and oversaw a four-year process to remove 60 layers of lead paint, weighing 28 kilograms (62 lb), that had built up on the Samson sculpture. Due to water damage, fungus had accumulated in the sculpture's head, and "severe and extensive rot" of the whole sculpture had led to its wood becoming soft. This was treated with liquid consolidant, while a missing section of its torso was refilled with cellulose fibre. The treatment cost £32,000, and was nominated for "best restoration project of the year" at the Museums + Heritage Show after it was completed in 2019.[2]

When restored, the sculpture could not be put on display due to its vulnerability. In 2018, the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell began a crowdfunding campaign, "Saving Samson",[2][1] which raised the £15,000 needed to purchase an environmentally controlled glass case.[3] It was unveiled at the museum in April 2019.[2]

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Norwich nightclub's Samson statue: Funds appeal launched". BBC News. 14 February 2018. Retrieved 11 September 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h McGivern, Hannah (7 June 2019). "Rotting 17th century wooden sculpture renovated by Norfolk Museums". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved 10 September 2023.
  3. ^ a b c "Statue of Samson from Norwich nightspot back on display". BBC News. 3 April 2019. Retrieved 11 September 2023.
  4. ^ "Unlikely new use for city's Samson and Hercules building". Eastern Daily Press. 18 June 2021. Retrieved 11 September 2023.
  5. ^ "Iconic Norwich statues given yet another makeover". Norwich Evening News. 9 November 2017. Retrieved 11 September 2023.