Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Creation of the Birmingham Kennedy Memorial – by Kenneth Budd

Oliver Budd has kindly sent me copies of the notes his father, Kenneth Budd, made on the creation of the John F Kennedy memorial, unveiled in 1968 in St Chads Circus, Birmingham, England.

These notes have never been made public before and show the extraordinary efforts made by Father Maguire of St Catherine’s Church, Bristol Street, to raise the money to create this memorial and the thinking behind its design.

The notes are layout on 8 pages in his notebook and are transcribed below:

Original copies of the notes can be seen at

From Pages 27 to 29 of Kenneth Budd’s notebook

“While we had been looking for a mosaic supplier we visited the Annual Building Exhibition at Olympia and met there a representative of an Irish mosaic company. On discovering our business he had offered to undertake the Horse Fair commission on our behalf, an offer which we declined.”

“We were surprised one day on site in Birmingham when this same Irishman appeared, strolling across Holloway Circus, obviously bursting to tell us some news. His firm had just been commissioned to produce a memorial to President Kennedy whose tragic assassination had so recently taken place. Furthermore, our Irish mosaicist was just off to the Civic Centre to meet the City Engineer in the hope of attaining more mosaic work in Birmingham. Although, not afraid of competition we rather resented his intrusion on what we considered was our pitch and wondered what we should hear next as he strode jauntily off towards Baskerville House. In the event we heard nothing and none of our friends from the Public Works Department seemed to know a Kennedy Memorial apart from the information that part of a new section of the Inner Ring Road near St Chads Cathedral might include a Kennedy Memorial Garden within its Interchange.”

“One morning Alan was collecting the weekly wages from the bank when he noticed a Catholic priest at the counter and felt instinctively that he might know something about the Kennedy memorial. Somewhat hesitantly he approached the made his enquiry. “It is strange you should ask” replied the priest “my name is Father Maguire and I am the Chairman of the Kennedy Memorial Committee; Last night we looked at some designs that had arrived from Ireland and were very disappointed with them. I’m not sure now how to proceed”. He then asked Alan why he was interested and Alan explained that we were producing the ‘Horse Fair’ mosaic. Holloway Circus was in fact only a stone’s throw from Father Maguire’s church , St Catherine’s, Bristol Street. “Would you be interesting in producing a design for a Kennedy memorial?” Father Maguire asked. Alan replied that he would have to discuss the matter with me.”

“It was arranged that providing I was interested, we would call at St Catherine’s that evening. We were welcomed by the housekeeper Miss McDonnerham and I was introduced to Father Maguire who explained the situation and outlined the Committees requirements.”

“He told us that the Mayor of Birmingham had launched a Memorial Fund shortly after John Kennedy’s assignation but had made little progress. The Irish community, somewhat incensed at this lack of response for a son of Old Ireland, asked if they might take over the fund raising. To this the Mayor readily agreed, but promised that the Corporation would provide a suitable site if the Catholic Committee raised the money and organised the memorial. Since then they had worked hard organising football pools, bingo, dances and other fund raising activities, all they required now was a suitable design.”

“We left the meeting with a ‘brief’ that was truly Irish and would have required acres of wall space to include all the “essential” items. It appeared though that the central theme should be Kennedys attempt to integrate the black and white communities, with some indication of the background of international strife, his Irish ancestry and family life.”

From Pages 34 to 38 of Kenneth Budd’s notebook

“But now I had to get down to designing the Kennedy Memorial and the ‘Old Square’ bas-relief. “

“Dorothy McCulla once again helped me with my research and eventually both designs were ready to take to Birmingham. Alan put on his lucky tie and once again we were driving up the M1 motorway. For presentation purposes I produced the Old Square design as a cold cast metal maquette and only removed this from the mould at the last minute. Consequently, I spent almost all the night in the hotel polishing away with Brasso, to have the maquette bright and shining for the Committee meeting the next day.”

“To help sell the Kennedy design I made a scale model showing how it would appear on site. The mosaic arc was to be footy feet long by ten high, flanked on either side by ten foot square green quartzite panels leaving suitable inscriptions. On the left a dedication to John F Kennedy and on the right a suitable quotation from one of his speeches. I recollected reading somewhere, something along the lines of ....”There are no white or coloured signs on the grave yards of battle” and included this on my model to indicate that a suitable inscription should be chosen to occupy that area. However the Catholic Committee insisted that my inscription was fine and they wouldn’t have it altered. In any case they argued I must have read it in one of Kennedy’s books. Later I spent hours trying to find it again but never succeeded. By now it’s completely authentic. The outcome of Birmingham visit was doubly successful and 1967 found us with two murals to produce.”

“Towards the end of the Horse Fair project, Mr McMorran, Head of the Special Works Department had also invited us to consider decorating the retaining wall in St Chads Circus with a mural. This wall partly surrounded the site designated for the Kennedy Memorial and I realsied the importance of designing both works to be complementary to each other. “

“At this time Alan became busily involved with his Joinery works and so I undertook prefabrication of the Kennedy mosaic single handed. During its production, Pathe made a film in our workshop which was shown on the National circuit in the Pathe Pictorial Series. We heard that Jacqueline Kennedy, John’s widow, was shortly to visit this country and invited her to see work in progress on Birmingham’s memorial to her husband. This invitation, however, was graciously declined.”

“I had given much thought to the ten foot square panels wondering how the inscription could be cut. During a coach outing, when a party from my Oxted church visited the Birmingham murals, someone mentioned that a relation of theirs was a well known letter cutter, his name Michael Seymore. Alan had recently visited the Building Centre in London and was impressed by the quality of lettering on an inscribe stone tablet; the name of the craftsman was Michael Seymore. We found that Michael was living only a few streets away from our Penge workshop. He seemed interested in the problem of cutting quartzite panels, so we went ahead and ordered the stone. It was a green valley quartzite from Yugoslavia and we purchased it through Frayley’s in Birmingham. When it arrived it proved unsuitable for conventional chisel cut lettering and Michael drew the letters and cut stencils for grit blasting the inscription. He also cut a commemoration stone for the unveiling ceremony.”

“While I was prefabricating the Kennedy mosaic Alan made the wooden frames for the old Square clay moulds. These had to be exact segments of the site walls curvature. We laid the clay into these timber frames and cut negative moulds incorporating ‘mirror writing’ inscriptions. The Old Square bas-relief was divided into four interlocking pieces for ease of transportation and fixing. The clay mould was next covered with a ‘release’ wax and the brass and lead.”

“By June 1968, the Kennedy mosaic was ready and fix on site, I resisted the Irish Committees suggestion that a space should be made to insert a memorial to john’s brother, Robert Kennedy, but at the last moment did completely re-mosaic John Kennedy’s own head. The US Embassy had lent me a number of portrait photographs and these depicted three basically different JFKs. I attempted to combine them in a single head with the added complication that its position in the centre of the mural resulted in maximum distribution from the convex wall. The setting provided by the Corporation consisted of the convex mural wall on which we were about to fix the work. In front of the this and running its full length was a water feature fed by a waterfall which cascaded down a small rockery at the left hand end. We were assisted on site once again by Alan’s father, Harvey Kemp and brother, Don. To store our materials an unopened public convenience was made available in lieu of a site hut and in this we also brewed our ‘elevenses’ and consumed our refreshments. This period on site in 1968, coincided with the phenomenon of the Sahara Sand Storms when the hot sky rained red dust covering everything. The Kennedy memorial was unveiled by the Lord Mayor Alderman Charles Simpson and the Irish Ambassador Mr John Molloy on Monday July 8th 1968.”

“After the ceremony, refreshments were served in St Chad’s Cathedral Hall. But unknown to Alan and myself, the Mayor had also arranged a Civic lunch for the dignitaries present who included, as well as the Irish Ambassador, the American Consul General and his wife and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham. When this distinguished company arrived at the Town Hall and had seated themselves for lunch, Father Maguire asked “where the Mr Budd and Mr Kemps?” On being told that we were not invited he was extremely annoyed and insisted that we be found and brought to the lunch before it commenced. So while we were enjoying a veal pie salad and a pint in a nearby hostelry, the Mayors Secretary was combing the streets of Birmingham in the Mayoral limousine. He never found is, but I believe they had their lunch eventually.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Permission sought for new John F Kennedy memorial in Birmingham

A planning application has been submitted to re-erect the President John F Kennedy memorial in Digbeth, Birmingham. The target date for unveiling has now been agreed as 29th May 2012 – the 95th anniversary of the birth of John F Kennedy.

The new location for the re-erecting of the John F Kennedy memorial is on the corner of Digbeth High Street and Floodgate Street. The planning application number is 2011/06383/PA.

I attended a meeting on Tuesday 18th October to finalise the design of the memorial, which I will explain in detail later in this note. At the meeting was Oliver Budd, son of Kenneth Budd who designed the 1968 memorial, a representative from the Irish Welfare Information Centre and various Council officers.

The History of the memorial

The memorial was originally located in the middle of St Chad’s Circus traffic roundabout in Birmingham city centre, next to the Roman Catholic cathedral of St Chad’s.

Originally unveiled on 8th July 1968 the memorial cost £5000, raised solely by public donation through the Birmingham Irish Catholic Committee..

The memorial remains one of only two in the United Kingdom dedicated to the memory of former President John F Kennedy. The other memorial is at Runnymede off the River Thames .

Whilst the Runnymede Kennedy memorial is widely known, the Birmingham Kennedy memorial has been largely forgotten. It is hoped the new high profile location in Digbeth will change that.

In hindsight, the St Chads Circus location was never suitable. It was hidden low down in the middle of a busy traffic roundabout, where the only way pedestrians could see it was by walking down some very dark and imitating pedestrian subways. For car drivers, it was only viewable by a quick sideways and downwards glance as you drove around St Chads Circus.

The original Birmingham memorial consisted of a number of elements, these being:

  • A 12metre long by 3metre high mosaic designed by Kenneth Budd (1925 – 1995) – I’ll provide further details on this mosaic below.
  • Two 2.55metre wide by 3metre high panels at either end of the Kenneth Budd mosaic. The panels were made of green quartzite stone. The panel at the left side of the mosaic (as seen if facing the mosaic) said “In tribute to John F Kennedy, President of the United States 1960-3”. The panel at the other end of the mosaic said "There are no white or coloured signs on the graveyards of battle". This quote was chosen by Kenneth Budd from memory and according to his notes subsequently could never find evidence of the actual quote. The actual quote is “there are no white or colored signs on the foxholes or graveyards of battle.” – so he was pretty close. The quote reflected the central theme of the mosaic of Kennedy’s attempt to integrate the black and white communities in the USA.
  • In front of the mosaic, was a still water feature which stretched the width of the mosaic. The water feature represented the Atlantic Ocean. The either end of the water feature was a small rockery which represented America and the British Isles.

The Kenneth Budd mosaic is the most important feature of this memorial. The mosaic contained the image of President John F Kennedy surrounded by a crowd of people of all creeds. Two of the faces in this crowd are Martin Luther King and Senator Edward Kennedy. Behind President Kennedy are images that represent parts of his Presidency. These include:

  • The United States Presidential Seal
  • The Cuban Crisis
  • His wife and First Lady, Jackie Kennedy

The central theme of the mosaic according to Kenneth Budd “should be Kennedy’s attempt to integrate the black and white communities, with some indication of the background of international strife, his Irish ancestry and family life.”

The mosaic was created in Kenneth Budd’s studio in Penge, South London. A full-scale drawing of the memorial was first created and hung on one of the walls of the studio. To get the pose of President Kennedy correct, Kenneth created a two thirds scale clay replica of Kennedy’s head. Both the model and drawing still exist in the studio, which is now run by his son Oliver in East Sussex.

Once the drawing of the mosaic was finalised it was protected with a polythene sheet and aluminium mesh was put over the drawing. The Smalti mosaic, imported from Italy, were then applied to the mesh with a flexible adhesive. Once completed, the aluminium mesh, complete with the mosaic was transported to St Chad’s Circus, Birmingham, where it was fixed to the walls.

The dismantling of the memorial in 2007

The entire memorial was dismantled in 2007, when St Chads Circus was reconstructed to form a ‘surface level only’ road junction.

The only parts of the Kennedy memorial that were salvaged were:

  • The face of President Kennedy
  • The face of Martin Luther King
  • Five faces from the crowd scene
  • The two green quartzite stone panels are either end of the mosaic.

Such small amounts of the mosaic were salvaged, since it was agreed with Oliver Budd, that it was easier and more cost effective to only salvage a small part of the mosaic. Oliver has the original drawings used by his father and will be able to make an exact replica of the 1968 mosaic.

The new Kennedy memorial in Digbeth

The new location for the memorial is at surface level, on top of a 1.5metre high plinth, easily viewable to pedestrians and car drivers. It is also a very high profile location, on one of major throughfares into the city centre. It is also in the city’s Irish Quarter and directly across the road from Birmingham Irish Centre.

The Kenneth Budd mosaic will be recreated exactly as it was in 1968.

The decision has been made not to re-used the original green quartzite stone panels are either end of the mosaic, but instead created new metal bookends. This decision has been agreed with Oliver Budd based on the following:

  • The total weight of the original green quartzite stone panels is 1.5 metic tonnes. There is concern that the bridge that the memorial is on will require strengthening to take this weight.
  • The original panels were designed as tombstones, with writing carved into stonework, since people were still mourning the death of John F Kennedy in 1968. The mood is now different and we are reflecting on the life of John F Kennedy.
  • The Irish community were not happy with the "There are no white or coloured signs on the graveyards of battle" quote, since it reflected more about what was happening in the USA in 1968, than on how the Irish community in Britain felt.

The following has been agreed:

The plinth will be constructed of stainless steel, with sections bolted on. The middle section will have engraved onto it an interpretation panel of the mosaic. At each end of the plinth will be a ‘Birmingham Irish roll of fame’ where Birmingham residents of Irish origin will be remembered.

The two new bookends will be constructed of corten steel, with the lettering cut out. The lettering will be highlighted in one of two ways to be finalised: stainless steel as a back plate, or an illuminated back screen

The letter on the left hand panel (as seen if facing the mosaic) will say “In tribute to John F Kennedy, President of the United States 1960-3”.

The quote for the right hand panel will contain a quote from one of John F Kennedy’s speeches and will be finalised by the Irish Welfare Information Centre. There is a debate ongoing as to whether the original quote "There are no white or coloured signs on the graveyards of battle" is still relevant.

The re-erection of the Kennedy memorial is being funded by Ballymore , the property developers behind the office development enabled by the new road layout at St Chad’s Circus.