What do Piccadilly Circus and Brewers’ Hall have in common?

The answer to this potential pub quiz question is:  a work by sculptor Alfred Gilbert. He made both ‘Eros’ … and the rather less well-known ‘Charrington Cup’, one of the treasures at Brewers’ Hall.

Gilbert, born in 1854, knew the Brewers’ Company from having been a pupil, aged 7 to 14, at Aldenham School, where his father taught music for over 30 years.  In later years Gilbert also sent his own sons to Aldenham.  As a young man, he trained and worked as a sculptor in London, Paris and Rome, finding bronze preferable to marble.  After returning to London, aged 31, his skills quickly brought him fame and numerous important public and royal commissions.  His works were frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy.  He also worked as a goldsmith and silversmith, and his role at the courts of Queen Victoria, and then Edward VII, has been likened to that of Carl Fabergé at the Tsar’s court in Russia.  The tomb he made at Windsor, for the Duke of Clarence, has been described as the “finest single example of late 19th-century sculpture in the British Isles”.

Gilbert’s most famous legacy, however, is the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain in the middle of Piccadilly Circus.  Known to all as ‘Eros’ (the God of Love), this has long been one of London’s most iconic symbols.  Aldenham School has a copy in the school grounds, and a race takes place between the two statues each year in June.

Despite his talent and success, Gilbert was a poor manager of his own finances.  After going bankrupt he went to live in Bruges for 25 years, but returned to Britain in his early 70s.  One of his last works was to design an elegant silver cup and cover, commissioned by the brewer Cecil Charrington, whose grandfather was an artist and friend of Gilbert’s.  After Gilbert’s death in 1934, Cecil, a Past Master of our Company, gave the cup to the Brewers’ Company, engraved with a Latin inscription recording that Gilbert was an Old Aldenhamian.  The small figure on the top of the cup’s cover was not quite completed when Gilbert died, so it is a poignant ‘unfinished work’ from the very end of his life.

There is much information about Gilbert online, but little about the Charrington Cup, which has been carefully treasured by the Brewers’ Company for over 80 years.  From time to time, it can be seen and admired at lunches and dinners in our Hall.