|The Dorking Cockerel in all his glory|
We saw this beauty in Dorking, Surrey, last year, whilst on our big European trip. We were going too fast to do anything other than do a double take ('was that a ten foot metal chicken??! Yes!'), so I was delighted to find this very detailed article about it that first appeared in Surrey Life magazine in 2007.
"RARELY has a piece of Surrey art work ruffled as many feathers as the Dorking Cockerel. Now standing proudly on the Deepdene roundabout, where it was erected a few weeks ago, the 10ft high sculpture has been the cause of many a wry smile, not to mention several near-misses, as drivers stare in wonder at the giant bird.
However, while there are those who find the quirky creature a cause for much amusement, there are others who think it has been a monumental waste of time and money – especially given the fact that it was the brainchild of the local council.
It all started in 2005 when Conservative councillor and former chairman of Mole Valley District Council, Neil Maltby, hatched the plan for the cockerel during his year in office. He wanted to give something back to the people of Dorking and to celebrate the bird that has long been associated with the town.
But while he was excited about the prospect of commissioning a massive statue of the five-toed creature, residents of the town were less convinced. Their need for public toilets and a solution to the summer smelly bins problems seemed more important issues for the chairman of the council to be concentrating on.
There were also fears that council money would be used to fund the controversial structure. Instead, Councillor Maltby used £10,000 that had been donated by housing company Linden Homes for artwork in the town and raised the other £13,000 through donations from businesses and individuals equally ready to crow about the idea.
“I started off by writing to a number of people including the chairman of the preservation society, the town centre manager and the chief executive of the council, to ask how people felt about the idea,” he says. “No-one told me I was crazy and I got mostly very positive comments. The fact that I managed to raise about £14,000 in sponsorship, from both businesses and individual contributions, I think speaks for itself.”
There are a number of theories about how the Dorking cockerel came to reside in the area. One conjecture is that the bird was brought into Surrey by the Romans around AD43. Another is that the species was already a resident in Dorking before Plautius’ army arrived. Meanwhile, breeders in the area believe it may have been discovered by the Romans in around AD100 when the first written references to the creature can be found.
These days, with Dorking being less of a market town, only a few places still breed the bird. But it stands proudly on many signs in the area and is worn on the shirts of the football team, The Chicks. Now as you enter the town, you can’t miss it.
“The question I get asked most about the sculpture is, ‘why does it face the way that it does?’” continues Neil. “And the answer to that is that I asked the sculptor which way it should face and he said south-east because then it greets the most people coming into Dorking, either from Reigate or Holmwood or Leatherhead, and that cockerels always face towards the rising sun.”
The enormous effigy was created by sculptor Peter Parkinson of Leatherhead’s Fire & Iron Gallery who were commissioned to produce the bird. His previous town centre art work includes the Ivegate Arch in Bradford, now used as the city’s logo, some decorative public seating in Ringwood, Hampshire, and the ‘bridge’ roundels in Leatherhead’s High Street.
But even for a man of Peter’s experience, putting a giant cockerel on a busy roundabout was no mean feat. Before work could even begin, a special shelter had to be constructed to house the sculpture while it was being made. Keen to get every last detail correct, he also began investigating what made the Dorking cockerel so special.
Fortunately, Headley-based breeder Lana Gazder happily offered one of her prized birds as a model for the sculpture. ‘Glen Two’ proudly posed for Peter in Lana’s back garden in Headley as Peter made dozens of drawings of the spectacular creature.
He particularly focused on the breed’s fifth toe. It is this that makes the bird unique, and where people born and bred in Dorking get the nickname ‘five-clawed ‘un’ from.
“I liked the challenge of this commission,” says Peter, who lives in Bordon, near Farnham. “I like doing things I haven’t done before. The most difficult part of a job like this is the initial translation of a two-dimensional A4 image into a three-dimensional 10ft high structure.
“Setting out the framework and getting the shape absolutely right is always the hardest part. I was conscious throughout that I needed to get the sculpture right in terms of the Dorking breed.
“I really wanted people who own Dorking cockerels to be happy that I had grasped its characteristics.”
The main construction of the bird began with the base, which had to be approved by engineers. Once this was completed, Peter began on the legs and constructed a strong, cockerel-shaped framework.
He then embarked on the lengthy process of individually hand-making each feather and welding it to the framework. This was the most time-consuming part of the whole project, taking many months of hard work to complete.
“Most of my other large public artworks have been pictorial and made of elements,” he continues. “I have created other birds, but I have not done a figurative piece on this scale.”
When the making process was complete, just before Christmas 2006, the steel cockerel took to the road – much to the bemusement of people across South East England; it was spotted at several locations on the back of a lorry.
First, it was transported to galvanizers in Kent to be protected so that it did not corrode once on the roundabout. The giant bird was placed in a bath of molten zinc and according to eyewitnesses looked more like the creature of the black lagoon than a cockerel as it was lifted away by a crane.
It was then moved back to the Fire and Iron gallery in Leatherhead to be ‘fettled’ before it was primed and painted. This is the process used to remove excess zinc from the surface of the sculpture to ensure a safe, smooth finish with no sharp snags, seams or runs. The final colour choice was a subtle silvery-graphite.
The impressive statue, already nominated for a prestigious art award, was finally unveiled in February when around 100 people, including the chairman Councillor Valerie Homewood and chief executive Darren Mepham of Mole Valley District Council, local business owners and residents, turned out to see the culmination of two years work. The high sheriff of Surrey, Adrian White, owner of Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, and Neil Maltby, had the honour of pulling off the white sheet from the bird’s head.
“I was really pleased that the high sheriff was able to attend the unveiling and I thought it was a lovely ceremony,” adds Neil.
“I am delighted that it looks so good because it has been a long road from when I first had the idea back in November 2004.
“It is the task of the chairman to raise the profile of the district and to encourage people to talk about it and the fact that the cockerel has been in the papers for so long you have to say it has done that.”
As for the artist, who spent the best part of a year creating the sculpture, he is thrilled with the finished result.
“It is always a relief to see a piece of my work safely installed and looking good,” adds Peter
“I’m really pleased with the Dorking Cockerel – I think it looks even better than I expected in situ.
“In terms of what the sculpture will do for Dorking, I think it gives the town’s symbol the recognition it deserves.
“I hope people will grow fond of it, and that it helps put the town and its history firmly on the map.”
One thing’s for sure – it will certainly continue to raise a smile as drivers go past. It has already had a giant balloon shaped like an egg placed underneath it, had a learner driver label put around its neck and had the privilege of a visit from his Royal Highness Prince Charles – or at least a man in a Prince Charles mask.
FACTFILE: The Dorking CockerelHeight: 10ft
Weight: Between one and two tons
Materials: Steel and zinc
Man hours: Around 10 months of work
Location: On the Deepdene roundabout at the junction with the A24
(London Road and Deepdene Avenue) and the A25 (Reigate Road)
There were traditionally five varieties of the Dorking cockerel1 The very rare white.
2 The equally rare red.
3 The silver-grey, made popular as a show bird in the mid-19th century.
4 The cuckoo-a blue/grey bird with striped feathers and the once endangered dark.
5 And the silver-grey- the variety that has been adopted by the people of Dorking."