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Art in the Archives: the Saga of Congress House

These documents illustrate the sorry tale of the competition in 1954 to find sculpture designs for the proposed new Trades Union Congress Memorial Building (later known as Congress House) in Great Russell Street, London. Many entries were received but none was deemed good enough to win any of the major cash prizes, let alone be executed. There followed strong expressions of disappointment, further design proposals of dubious merit, complaints of damage to designs in transit and unsuccessful approaches to eminent sculptors. In the end Sir Jacob Epstein and Bernard Meadows were commissioned and the new building was opened in March 1958. It is now a Grade II* listed building.


Press cartoon satirising the competition, May 1954

This depicts the right-wing union leader Arthur Deakin slaying the dragon of Bevanism (the left-wing creed of Aneurin Bevan, founder of the National Health Service). Viewing tip: if you can't see the whole image without scrolling, click or tap on it.

Trades Union Congress archive: MSS.292/28.4/7 file 1

Press cartoon satirising the competition


“pompous attitude . . . you cannot break faith . . . utter farce”

Protests by disgruntled artists against the non-award of prizes.

Trades Union Congress archive: MSS.292/28.4/7 file 2

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An “allegorical group of Wisdom & Experience shewing Youth the way”

This sketch was sent to the TUC with the above description by a self-styled "artist Peintre" who thought he could do better than the competition entrants. Viewing tip: if you can't see the whole image without scrolling, click or tap on it.

Trades Union Congress archive: MSS.292/28.4/7 file 2

Sketch of an “allegorical group of Wisdom & Experience shewing Youth the way”

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