Casting the World: The Story of J.W. Singer & Sons, Frome celebrates and explores the life of John Webb Singer and the iconic sculptures, statues and civic works cast at J.W. Singer & Sons foundry in Frome, through a year of exhibitions and events with an accompanying publication and education programme.
Taking place throughout 2019, the project marks the bicentenary of the birth of John Webb Singer in 1819, founder of J.W. Singer & Sons, an art metal works foundry, which at its height employed as many as 700 people in Frome and cast statues and sculptures which can be found across the country and around the world.
The project will have access to the Singer’s archive of glass plate negatives held by Frome Museum, and will bring to light this collection, which is of national importance, through an exhibition and a book. These remarkable images show the craftsmen and apprentices involved in the highly skilled casting work that took place in the heart of Frome – skill that attracted the most famous sculptors of the day to choose Singers in Frome as the place to get their work cast.
Works cast at Singers in Frome include many of our most iconic public statues, war memorials and civic works, from Boudica on the Thames Embankment in London, the friezes at the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle to the figure of Justice that crowns the Old Bailey.
John Webb Singer, who would go on to become a pioneering example of Victorian industry and enterprise, was born on 23 February 1819 in The Butts area of Frome. His father died when he was three years old, leaving his mother to provide for five children. After a charitable education at the Blue House School, he was apprenticed to a watchmaker on Cheap Street for five years. With no financial backing, but a keen eye for what was happening around him and what people were interested in, he left to open his own jewellery and watchmakers shop at 25 Market Place.
An interest in casting that he had nurtured since childhood led Singer to jump at the chance to try his hand at casting candlesticks for a local church and, when successful, he never looked back. Founded in 1848 from the humble beginnings of a small forge on Eagle Lane and a workshop above his shop, and employing just eight men and six boys, the J.W. Singer & Sons foundry at Waterloo grew to employ at its height a skilled workforce of seven hundred.
Through his contacts in Europe, Singer brought the highly skilled processes of sand and lost wax methods of casting to Frome. Without this innovation, iconic statues such as Boudica on the Thames Embankment by Westminster Bridge and the Figure of Justice that crowns the Old Bailey would not have been cast in Frome.
Although Singer was heavily influenced by his many trips to Europe during his lifetime, he was made and shaped by Frome. He never forgot this, and remained grateful for the kindness bestowed upon him in his early years in the town. His vision, and the highly accomplished work produced at J.W. Singer & Sons, made the art world take note of the small Somerset town of Frome.
Singer shaped, embellished and enriched Frome through his development of the foundry and also through his lifelong work with St. John’s Church, the founding of an art school on Park Road, his support of the Blue Coat School Charity that provided his own education, and in helping to establish the Scientific and Literary Institute. It is a legacy that lives on today in Frome and beyond, with the many iconic statues, monuments and civic works that adorn public and civic sites across the country and around the world.