Blue plaque unveiled to Wakefield’s ‘unknown artist’

The Society has unveiled a blue plaque to Wakefield born sculptor and designer Percy Metcalfe CVO RDI – but it appears that not many people in his home city have actually heard of him – until now!

Born at 10 Longfield Terrace, Alverthorpe, on 14th January 1895, Metcalfe went on to study at the Leeds School of Art and then, having won a scholarship, at the Royal College of Art in London, although his studies were interrupted by his service in the Army from 1915 to 1919.

After a period of further study in Paris, Metcalfe returned to London where he was offered both public and private commissions including the commission to design the Exhibition Medal for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition.

His designs were selected by the newly formed Irish Free State for their coinage minted in 1928. He also produced designs for the Royal Mint from 1924 to 1948 and his design was used for the George Cross Medal introduced in 1940. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the era he was working in, his designs have a strong Art Deco look.

As well as coins and medals (see here for example), Metcalfe also designed car radiator mascots, shop fronts and interiors, and pottery, producing designs for the for the Ashtead Pottery.

His monumental sculpture included two huge lions used on the war memorial in Durban, South Africa.

Metcalfe was awarded the CVO (Commander of the Royal Victorian Order) in 1937. The year after, he was appointed a Royal Designer for Industry (RDI).

Metcalfe lived in London. In 1920 he married Eveline Mabel Smith with whom he had two daughters. He died in London on 9 October 1970.

President of Wakefield Civic Society, Kevin Trickett said:

“Earlier this year, we were contacted by one of our members, Geoff Wood. A former committee member of many years standing, Geoff said that he would like to make a donation to the Society, which we were delighted and grateful to receive, but Geoff asked that part of the donation be used to pay for the cost of a blue plaque to commemorate the life and work of Percy Metcalfe. As so often happens when we receive a nomination, my first reaction was to look on-line to see who Percy was and what he had achieved – and what a find he turned out to be!

“I contacted the Hepworth Wakefield to see if they have any of Metcalfe’s designs in their collection – sadly they don’t. In fact, no one I’ve asked about Metcalfe in Wakefield seems to have heard of him! At least, I wasn’t alone in this respect”!

The plaque was unveiled at a ceremony at Balne Lane Community Centre, Balne Lane, Wakefield, on 8th December with the Mayor of Wakefield, Councillor Tracey Austin, and Geoff Wood being invited to perform the unveiling.

The plaque will be affixed to the house in Longfield Terrace where Metcalfe was born and spent his early years.

After the unveiling: Left to Right – Kevin Trickett, President of the Society, Rebecca Saville, owner of the property where the plaque will be fixed, Geoff Wood, The Mayor of Wakefield, Councillor Tracey Austin, and Councillor Mrs Betty Rhodes, chair of the Balne Lane Centre who welcomed the Society’s guests to the event.