Iconic Londonderry ‘Black Man’ statue gets makeover ... after 153 years

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Councillor Elisha McCallion, examines the restoration work so far on the statue
Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Councillor Elisha McCallion, examines the restoration work so far on the statue

One of Londonderry’s most iconic landmarks is getting a makeover.

The Robert Ferguson statue in Brooke Park, known locally as the ‘Black Man’, is currently being restored to its former glory by a bronze specialist.

The statue of former local MP Robert Alexander Ferguson, has greeted visitors to the park since 1927.

In fact, the statue is actually 153 years old.

The work to restore the striking monument has been commissioned as part of the regeneration of what’s fondly become known as the People’s Park.

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Councillor Elisha McCallion, said she was looking forward to seeing the completed piece.

“I think every child growing up in Derry will remember the huge statue towering over the entrance to the park. The regeneration work is advancing well and I know that people are really looking forward to seeing the park restored to its former glory,” she said.

The statue was first commissioned in 1860 following the death of Sir Robert Alexander Ferguson who was mayor of the city in 1830, as well as MP for the area from the same year until his death in 1860.

Born in 1796, the Ferguson family were among the leading figures in the city’s landed gentry with numerous properties across the city as well as large estates in Castlederg, Castlefin and other districts of Tyrone and Donegal.

On his death the local corporation thought it would be a fitting tribute to commission a sculpture of Sir Robert, to be placed in the Diamond overlooking the city to which he had devoted his life.

The appointed sculptor was John Edward Jones, famous for capturing the likenesses of prominent historical figures such as Prince Louis Napoleon of France, Queen Victoria, Prince  Albert, the Duke of Wellington and Daniel O’Connell.

The Irish sculptor was a favourite among the great and the good of London society and a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy.

His work on the Sir Robert Alexander Ferguson statue is thought to be his only recorded public sculpture.

From 1863 the Robert Alexander Ferguson statue stood proudly at the top of Shipquay Street for 64 years before it was removed to Brooke Park in 1927 to make way for the new War Memorial.

Woodvale Construction Ltd has now appointed bronze specialist Edward Barrett Barton from Ballynure in Co Antrim to restore the seven-foot sculpture to reveal the beauty of the original bronze beneath, removing decades of weathering.

His work will involve stripping off the old layers of paint and repagination of the original bronze work.

It’s proposed that the statue will be rededicated as part of the Brooke Park official opening planned for August 6 – exactly 115 years to the day when Brooke Park was opened to the public as ‘The People’s Park’.