A. John Poole: Sculptor, letter-cutter and restorer whose love of architecture informed his monumental works

Anthony John Poole was one of the most distinguished and versatile British architectural sculptors, letter-cutters and restorers during the last half-century. His base was the Midlands, which has many of his sculptures, but his fine and often monumental works are to be found much further afield. Britain produced many excellent figurative sculptors during the 20th century whose achievement is now slowly being evaluated. The work of such skilled practitioners as Bainbridge Copnall, Frank Dobson, George Fullard, Richard Garbe, A. H. Gerrard, Dora Gordine, Maurice Lambert and Leon Underwood has for too long been overshadowed by a national near-obsession with a few names such as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

Several exhibitions in recent years and Liverpool University Press's series of volumes in the "Public Sculpture of Britain" series have done much to heighten awareness of overlooked sculptural delights in our towns and cities, and their makers. Poole and his work are typical, one of the last sculptor-craftsmen upholding the values of traditional practice and technique.

Poole – who worked as A. John Poole – was born in Birmingham in 1926. His father, George, a professional soldier and later a tool setter, and his mother, Jessie, were keen on self-improvement. They encouraged John and his older brother, David, to develop their talents. John's primary school headmaster appreciated his artistic precocity and encouraged him early to sit the entrance examination for the local Moseley Road Junior School of Art, which he joined just after his 12th birthday.

Poole continued his fine art studies, specialising in sculpture, at Birmingham School of Art from 1940-43. There he gained a grounding in the principles of brief responsive design solutions that would prove invaluable when, as a professional, he tackled jobs not only in traditional materials, such as stone and wood, but others such as ciment fondu, resin and stainless steel.

Graduating early, aged 17, Poole refined his letter-cutting skills in the Birmingham design studio that William Bloye had established about 20 years earlier. Bloye, Birmingham School of Art's head of sculpture until his retirement in 1956, had in the early 1920s studied for short periods with Eric Gill. Gill's practice left a lasting impression on his own and Poole's work. Bloye and Poole became close friends.

In December 1944 Poole's training was cut short when he was called up for basic training with the Coldstream Guards, followed by officer training with the King's Shropshire Light Infantry (4th Battalion). As a lieutenant he served in France and in Germany as a liaison officer during the Nuremberg trials. He was subsequently recruited as an officer in the Parachute Regiment 7th (Light Infantry) Battalion, serving in Egypt and Palestine.

In 1946, he married Daphne Buscall, who had been a contemporary at Moseley Road and Birmingham School of Art. After studying ceramics and teaching it, she re-trained in silver and goldsmithing and became a fine jeweller.

While in Palestine, Poole mulled over whether he should study architecture or sculpture on demobilisation. He decided that sculpture would offer greater artistic freedom, but a love of buildings would be reflected in work that was often architectural and on a monumental scale.

In 1948, Poole resumed studies at Birmingham School of Art; he left in 1949 with a National Design Diploma High Merit Award for letter-cutting and stonework. He set up a studio in Bournville, at first mainly doing freelance jobs for Bloye or for stonemason yards such as Wilkinson and Griffiths and W. H. Fraley. Trudging round the cemeteries of Birmingham, carving the names of war dead on family memorials, was back-breaking work, but Poole said that it completed his apprenticeship in the art of letter-cutting. He would also broaden his knowledge with sculptural restoration.

Between 1952 and 1961, when he moved his studio to Bishampton, Worcestershire, Poole supplemented his income by teaching sculpture part-time at Mid-Warwickshire College of Art and Walsall School of Art. One result of the valuable contacts he was making with artists and architects came in 1959 with his first notable commission, The Sower. Placed at the New Central Library in Cannock, Staffordshire, this free-standing, heroic, 7ft figure carved in Belgian granite represented Man "sowing the seeds of knowledge".

Humanity was a strong theme in Poole's sculpture and he carried out much ecclesiastical work. He had a long-standing association with the Church of St Francis of Assisi, Bournville, and the Cadbury family, particularly Sir Adrian Cadbury.

During the 50 years after The Sower, Poole completed some 150 significant works, excluding memorials and commemorative plaques. Thirty of his major commissions were in and around Birmingham, including The Rotunda Relief at Lloyds Bank (1963). It was in jeopardy when the future of the rotunda building itself was in doubt, but was saved as part of the facelift of the Bull Ring and is now Grade II-listed by English Heritage.

Other significant works by Poole include in Liverpool, the St John's Precinct mural (1965); in Leicester, the Crown Court Royal Coat of Arms (1969); the sculptured doors at Brown and Shipley in Birmingham (1975); Lucifer Bringer of Light, exhibited at New College, Oxford (1988); Icarus Falling, a private commission (1997); and Home Front Memorial, Coventry Cathedral (2000). Poole worked up till his death, including his John Donne, another private commission (2009).

Over the years, he gained increasing recognition, being elected an associate of the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 1960, then fellow in 1969. He was warden of the Guild of Memorial Craftsmen, chairman of the Society of Church Craftsmen and honorary fellow of The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

He was twice winner of The Otto Beit Medal for excellence in sculpture, in 1969 for the 17ft welded steel The Risen Christ for St Dunstan's Church, King's Heath, Birmingham, and in 1974 for the high altar and ambo at St Helen's Cathedral, Brentwood, Essex. He gained the Diploma of Merit from Universita delle Arti, Salsomaggiori, Italy, in 1981. In 1985 he was first-prize winner in the Saudi National Guard bronze sculpture competition and in 1991 he was awarded joint first prize in the Liverpool Cathedral Great West Door competition.

David Buckman

Anthony John Poole, sculptor and teacher: born Birmingham, 17 December 1926; married 1946 Daphne Buscall (died 2005, two sons both deceased, two daughters); died Bishampton, Worcestershire 2 September 2009.

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Morrissey pictured in 2013
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices