Mermaid with Legs

The following is reproduced from issue 54 (Winter 2001) of The Review, and was written by Friend Gillian Sutch.

The park has changed so much in the last 50 years that it is hard to imagine how it would have looked for the 1951 Festival of Britain. Designed to offer a more light hearted alternative to the more serious cultural exhibits at the South Bank, the Festival Pleasure Gardens featured such delights as the Peter Pan railway, the Guinness Festival Clock, the exotically named Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway, and a splendid centrepiece, the Mermaid Fountain.image

Situated in the centre of a 26’ diameter pool, not far from the Pleasure Gardens Pier and between the Parade and the Terrace Walk, the bronze 8’ long statue was commissioned by the Lockheed Hydraulic Brake Co, Ltd as a tribute to the skill and industry of the people of Britain. Reclining on a tortoise supported by three fish, all of which spouted water, ‘our’ Mermaid is very different from others in that she has no characteristic mermaid tail, but two legs with fish fins replacing her feet.

Arthur Fleischmann, a Czech sculptor who emigrated to Australia after fleeing the Nazis in 1938, carved her in 1950 and defended his decision to opt for legs rather than a tail by saying “Why should not a beautiful mermaid have nice legs? She can still swim with the fins on her feet.”

The model for the Mermaid’s legs was a tall, slim, long-legged, 21 year old Royal Academy of Music and Drama student, Joyce Taylor, who posed over a period of 3 months. Another girl, nameless as she didn’t want to court the disapproval of her parents, posed for the top half.

At the close of the Festival in late 1951 the fountain was moved to Lockheed’s headquarters in Leamington Spa. For years the reclining Mermaid turned heads at what then became Automative Products headquarters. Today the site on Tachbrook Road is owned by Merrill Lynch Investment Management and the site is currently being re-developed but the Mermaid, otherwise known as Miranda (after a popular film of the era), is still there, although sadly somewhat neglected.

However, Tony Delves, Director of Real Estate for Merrill Lynch, says that he surprisingly often receives enquiries about her whereabouts and welfare.He adds that she is part of an ornamental arrangement and on completion of the re-development of the site he hopes she will “sooner, rather than later, be brought back to her former glory”.

As the only surviving sponsored work from the Festival’s Pleasure Gardens, an application was made in 1998 to English Heritage that the Mermaid be recommended for Grade 11 listing, which thankfully was granted.