Saving Samson campaign launched to bring popular Norwich sculpture back into public view
PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 February 2018 | UPDATED: 13:05 13 February 2018
Flanking the doorway of a popular city night spot, Samson and his fellow statue Hercules were familiar faces to generations of young people enjoying nights out in Norwich.
They were perhaps the city’s most famous doormen as they stood outside the Tombland dance hall that shared their names, and their replicas later adorned the doorways of the clubs Ritzy’s and Ikon.
Now the original Samson statue - removed from his Tombland home in 1993 for preservation reasons - could be making a return to the limelight as a Saving Samson campaign is today launched to raise £15,000 to enable the sculpture to be displayed in the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell.
It would also give people the chance to see the famous character in a new light thanks to specialist conservation work undertaken by London-based Plowden and Smith. The restoration experts have removed all paint from the figure to reveal the intricate woodcarving beneath which would have been on display when Samson was first installed outside the Tombland home of Norwich mayor Christopher Jay in 1657.
The Saving Samson campaign wants to ensure the figure is now preserved for future generations in a special display case that would both protect him and allow him to remain on public display.
On the historical importance of the well known city sculpture, John Ward, Norfolk Joint Museums Committee chairman, said: “The iconic figure of Samson has been undergoing specialist conservation treatment which has revealed the intricacies of the original 17th century oak carving, complete with curly hair, a piercing stare and bulging muscles. Historians believe he is a unique survivor from this period, and as such of national as well as local significance.”
Samson’s significance is further highlighted by the sculpture being picked to feature in a BBC Civilisations project which from March will enable people to explore Samson and other artefacts via an app on smartphones and tablets.
Norfolk Museums Service also has Samson’s counterpart Hercules in its collections, although this is a replica installed in Victorian times rather than the original from 1657.
To donate funds to the Saving Samson campaign, visit www.artfund.org/saving-samson
People are also being asked to share their photos and stories of what Samson means to them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01603 493625.
Timeline of Tombland’s Samson and Hercules figures
1657: Christopher Jay, Mayor of Norwich, installs Samson and Hercules outside his home.
1789: The figures are moved to the rear courtyard where they remained for a century.
1890: Antique dealer George Cubitt reinstalls the figures outside the premises, returning the original Samson but replacing the old Hercules with a new copy as the original had decayed beyond repair.
1934: Builder Edward Bush transforms Samson and Hercules House into a dance hall, creating a new swimming pool covered by a dancefloor, and it goes on to be a popular nightspot for many decades under various owners.
1983: The Samson and Hercules rebrands as Ritzy’s nightclub.
1993: When Samson’s arm falls off the figure is revealed to be covered by layers and layers of thick paint. Both figures are removed for urgent preservation.
1998/9: New fibreglass replicas of Samson and Hercules adorn the front of the building.
1999: Norfolk Museums Service becomes the owner of the figures and begins fundraising for their conservation.
1999: The club turns into Ikon, closing in 2003 when the building is redeveloped into a restaurant and housing.
2014: The Samson and Hercules replica figures are painted red by the new proprietor Just Lobsters.
2014: The original Samson relocates to Plowden & Smith Ltd in London where the latest phase of conservation work begins to remove the thick layer of paint.
2017: The building’s new proprietor, Cocina Mexican and Margaritas, repaints the replica figures white.