by Stephen Oxford
Imagine the thoughts of Joseph Cheek on that sunny mild Tuesday morning 1 December 1936 as he stood amidst the ruins of the Crystal Palace! Joseph had worked for 35 years in the Crystal Palace interior statuary care department as, according to the Daily Herald in 1928, 'superintendent nurse, and surgeon of all the statues, busts and models'.
Joseph began his career as a messenger but at some a point a few years before marrying Rosa Ellen Hudson, 5 November 1899, he began work at the Crystal Palace tending the indoor statues. After 30 years of dedication, he was interviewed by a reporter from the Westminster Gazette which published an article in 1925 headlined 'The Statue Doctor'. His role repairing the Crystal Palace's statues was described whilst he sat in his 'surgery, surrounded by Ulysses, Venus, Frederick the Great, Dr Johnson, Queen Victoria, the Duke of Wellington and a few satyrs'. His 'patients' were brought to him by being rolled over 'a track of soapy sticks, Egyptian style'. He recalled the days when people up from the country were prone to be shocked by some of the classic statues'.
He remembered one man who pushed 'over Venus de Medici and was ned for it'. He went on to recall a 'mysterious person who made a practice for several weeks of knocking off one of Queen Elizabeth's hands in the Renaissance court.’ He repaired her hand three times in one week but as soon as he put it back it was off again.
His biggest job was ‘the rescue of Thornycroft's Boadicea from a rubbish heap in York Road where she had been deposited by the London County Council. "You never saw such a sight, all to pieces but we fetched her up to the Palace and put her together again”.
His skills in statue repair he said were 'largely self-taught; it comes to me somehow'. After 30 years under his care it was declared that the statues had never been better cared for.
A longer version of this article can be found in The Norwood Review No. 240 Spring 2023. All images from the Cheek Family Archive courtesy of Andy Stem at Bambino Vintage
Back to Top