Carluke honours its famous sculptor by buying statue of Burns

Forrest's statue of Burns may be feature of High Mill, Carluke; his statue of Wallace in Lanark town steeple .
Forrest's statue of Burns may be feature of High Mill, Carluke; his statue of Wallace in Lanark town steeple .

Christine Warren of the Carluke Parish Historical Society describes an exciting artefact the organisation has just acquired, celebrating the famous local sculptor Robert Forrest and proving that his famed statue of William Wallace at Lanark Cross was not the only famous Scot he depicted in stone.

Christine writes: “An exceptional statue of Robert Burns carved by local sculptor Robert Forrest in 1840 has been bought by Carluke Parish Historical Society.

“The society was quick to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when it was given the chance to buy the work. Forrest described his statue of Burns in his exhibition catalogue as “the figure ... resting from the plough, the dress being that of the Scottish Lowland peasantry.”

The sculptor stated that he wanted to portray Burns’ life of toil. Sandstone cut from Binny Quarry near Uphall was used. In the 1840s, the statue stood in the Poets’ Corner of Forrest’s exhibition on the Calton Hill in Edinburgh alongside Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron.

“For some time after Robert Forrest died in 1852, his widow showed the statues at Royal Crescent in Edinburgh. Eventually, in 1876, the statues were auctioned off.

“Burns was one of a number bought by Mr Watson, a coalmaster, for his estates in Hamilton. In 1926, the statue was again sold. It remained in private hands in Upper Clydesdale until 2017. With the help of some ingenious and hard working people, the one and a half ton statue was removed from its sunken position in a mature and wooded garden to a safe location within the parish of its creator, Robert Forrest.

“The statue will remain there until a permanent site can be found. It is hoped this will be in the restored High Mill as one of its central visitor attractions.

“Such a unique statue of Robert Burns, which has not been in the public eye for almost 150 years, is sure to bring visitors to the town. Carluke’s is the fourth oldest statue of Burns in the world.

“John Greenshields, our other Clydesdale sculptor, carved a statue of Burns in 1830. This is now in Camperdown, Australia, and is the oldest existing statue of the poet. It was restored in 2011 and Camperdown now has an annual Burns’ Festival.”

Robert Forrest (1790-1852) and John Greenshields (1795-1835) were known as the Clydesdale Sculptors. The latter began his career as an apprentice to Forrest.

Gordon Ashley, a Burns monument historian, has praised the Society for having secured Robert Forrest’s statue of Burns, saying: “Their determination to see to it that Forrest’s remarkable statue of Burns was saved for Carluke and the nation deserves applause and recognition.

“I trust it signals the start of a new chapter in Carluke in which two remarkable locals, too-long forgotten, will come to be seen as artists of rare merit in the evolution of Scottish sculpture. They were celebrities in their day.

“All credit to Mrs Warren and Carluke Parish Historical Society for their efforts to highlight Carluke’s significance in both the historical and contemporary maps of Scottish art and culture.’’

Mr Ashley, a former MP in Victoria, Australia, was instrumental in the restoration of Greenshields’ statue in Camperdown.

He visits Scotland each summer to further his research and has previously visited this work of Forrest.