When I was four years old I was a big fan of "The Big Soldier" on Station Road corner. I didn't know then that it was a war memorial or understand its significance. It's not actually called "The Big Soldier" but "Coming Home" and is by the Canadian artist Robert Tait MacKenzie.
But that infatuation was short-lived and by the time I walked that way to and from school my allegiance turned to a work on the side of a modern office block. It depicts figures gathered beneath a tree, but that was all I knew. My mother went to work in that office block, I walked past it twice every schoolday but I learned nothing more, which probably means that I was daydreaming during a History lesson; a not uncommon occurrence. Then, some years later, the building was surrounded by scaffolding and builders moved in. I found myself worrying whether the artwork would disappear forever. I was pleased to find that it survived.Clearly I ought to find out more.
The office block was called Kett House, which ought to have rung a bell, but didn't. It takes its name, not from a local building firm as I had supposed, but from Robert Kett. The scene depicted is Kett and his followers gathered beneath what became known as Kett's Oak. Here, briefly, is his story:
Robert Kett was a yeoman farmer in the town of Wymondham, near Norwich, in the sixteenth century. It was a time when sheep farming had become hugely profitable and as a result the wealthier landowners began enclosing parts of the common land for their flocks, leaving the poor to starve. The ensuing unrest became known as "The Commotion Tyme". The peasants responded by tearing down the fences and visited Kett with the intention of doing the same to his enclosures. To their astonishment Kett agreed with them and aided them in destroying his own fences and hedges.
Kett was an educated man and soon became their leader. The discontents assembled beneath an oak tree, Kett's Oak, to draw up a list of demands which centred on the wealthy barons giving back the common lands to the poor and allowing them to live as before. The movement escalated until their encampment numbered some 15,000 men making it the biggest settlement outside of London!
The rebels marched on and eventually took Norwich. Armies were assembled, mostly consisting of foreign mercenaries, to confront the rebels. Finally the rebels were defeated at a place called Dussindale (don't bother looking on a map - no one knows where it was!). 3,000 rebels were killed and the following day Kett was arrested. On 7th December 1549 Kett was hanged from the battlements of Norwich Castle.
In the four and a half centuries since his death Kett has been transformed from traitor into hero of the poor.
I really should have paid more attention during History!
But tucked away around the side of the museum, overlooking the bicycle racks of the Department Of Chemistry, is this curious construction:
He, she, or it is an inuksuk (plural inuksuit) and formerly resided in the wilds of Baffin Island, Canada. In fact it's a special kind of inuksuk in that it is a representation of a human figure and therefore qualifies to be called an inunnguaq. These are made, as I understand it, by the Inuit people of Baffin Island and elsewhere for a variety of reasons: to mark the way in the trackless wastes, as memorials to their ancestors or to guide the migrating caribou to areas where they can be slaughtered. This particular one was brought from such a wild location to this rather less exotic site where presumably he is employed to direct the chemistry students to where they can park their bicycles. Fate can be cruel.
And finally....alongside the path which leads through the grounds of Clare College stands Confucius. He is the product of the skill and imagination of Wu Wei-Shan, one of China's leading sculptors. I think it's wonderful!