Cambridgeshire artist who designed Birmingham's Bullring bull dies

Sculptor, Laurence Broderick, next to the much-loved city landmark, The Guardian, or simply the bull at the entrance to Birmingham's Bullring Shopping Centre, which he created
-Credit: (Image: John Griffiths)

Laurence Broderick, the sculptor behind Birmingham's most iconic piece of public art, has died. The Cambridgeshire artist, who designed and crafted the giant bull that stands at the entrance to the Bullring Shopping Centre, died on Thursday, April 18, at the age of 88.

Broderick won a competition to create the six-tonne bronze statue, which is adored by locals and tourists alike. The statue was unveiled when the shopping centre opened its doors on September 4, 2003.

The Bristol-born artist who lived and had his studio in Waresley, Cambridgeshire for sixty years, was one of four contenders to create the artwork, which has become as symbolic of the city as the neighbouring retail hub.

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Bullring developers, Hammerson, encouraged Broderick to enter the competition as they were fans of his work, such as the Leaping Salmon at Chester Business Park. His son Graeham said his father's style was to give his animal sculptures a sense of movement.

A massive crowd gathered for the September 4, 2003 unveiling of the Bull sculpture and the opening of the Bullring shopping centre
A massive crowd gathered for the September 4, 2003 unveiling of the Bull sculpture and the opening of the Bullring shopping centre -Credit:Graham Young / BirminghamLive

After winning the competition, Broderick stated he did not want to be paid for creating the sculpture. Instead, he requested permission to produce 'editions', smaller versions of the design that he could sell, reports Birmingham Live.

He invested all the commission money, £100,000, into the bronze bull, known as The Guardian, making it as large as possible. The project ended up costing £130,000. However, the bull at the Bullring serves as an excellent showcase of his talents.

In a 2015 interview with BirminghamLive, Laurence recounted his experience creating the iconic Bullring bull, saying: "The Bullring developers told me the bull would become very, very famous. I didn't think about that at the time, but I agreed to do it and I went all out to make sure it was going to be a fantastic bull. The idea was to make it special - powerful and strong, everything that Birmingham is."

To ensure authenticity in his work, Laurence conducted research by visiting local farms around his Waresley home in Cambridgeshire. He shared: "I asked farmers what exactly it was that made bulls look powerful and they said it was the shoulders."

However, capturing the essence of power wasn't straightforward. Laurence observed: "But every time I went to see one, they always seemed to be very static - apart from the young bulls that kept coming up to the fence and licking my pad - so I had to work on a more interesting pose for the one in the sculpture."

Sculptor Pamina Stewart with her bull made from Coca Cola cans, next to the original bronze bull and its creator, Laurence Broderick at the Bullring in 2008
Sculptor Pamina Stewart with her bull made from Coca Cola cans, next to the original bronze bull and its creator, Laurence Broderick at the Bullring in 2008. -Credit:Trevor Roberts

The creative process involved meticulous planning. He drew 14 versions of the bull, selected one, made a small model and then a half-metre replica in plaster which was scaled up to make the twice life-size bull we see in Birmingham today. It has been named as one of the world's most popular pieces of public art.

Laurence's family also shared a connection with the sculpture. His son Graeham revealed: "As a family a bunch of us used to go and hang around the bull and listen to people talking about it."

Graeham recalled the pride his father felt, adding: "My dad loved it. I think it was the greatest compliment to hear the comments. I remember many years ago someone scratched their initials into it.

"The people of Birmingham were furious with the person that did it. Whether it's a group of lads out having a drink or young children, unlike some modern art that people either like or don't like, when we are there with the bull people didn't say anything bad about it."

Laurence was born on June 18, 1935 in Bristol, to parents Jack and Cynthia. A severe asthma sufferer during his early years, he was sent away to Bembridge Boarding School on the Isle of Wight for better air which it was hoped would improve his condition.

Art was something Laurence was drawn to, right from childhood. London-based Regent Street Polytechnic became his artistic home from 1952 until 1957, where he took up painting, illustration, and sculpture. Thereafter, he continued his studies at Hammersmith School of Art (1964-65).

His journey as an established artist began with roles at the BBC, illustrating historical and educational contexts, along with freelance work for numerous books. He carved a niche for himself especially in pen and ink drawing.

Seeking affordable residential options, he settled down in the small village of Waresley in Cambridgeshire and lived there for sixty years.

Laurence Broderick carving a turtle in Ledmore marble
Laurence Broderick carving a turtle in Ledmore marble -Credit:Birmingham Live

During the period from 1959 onwards, he imparted his love of art to students as a teacher at Haberdashers' Aske's School in Cricklewood, shifting to Elstree when the school relocated in 1961. By 1965, he assumed the role of director of art at the school, holding the position until 1981.

Among his students were future Formula One World Champion Damon Hill and renowned set designer Jonathan Green. He was adored as a teacher, with many old students maintaining contact and even attending his exhibits.

However, it was in 1978 when he sculpted an otter from Skye Island stone that his career trajectory changed, leading to fame and ultimately the creation of Birmingham's iconic bull statue.

Returning to Skye in 1980, he held a six-week sell-out exhibit where his sculptures sold for an amount equal to his yearly teaching salary. Consequently, he retired from education to become a full-time artist.

"He was incredibly passionate about sculpture", expressed his son. "He didn't consider it work. It was irrelevant if he made money out of it."

Today, there are over 3,000 of his sculptures globally. Emerging into fame during his fifties and in a second career phase, his love for otters also resulted in him becoming the joint president of the International Otter Survival Fund.

Graeham, aged 58, mentioned that the influx of tributes for his dad has been 'absolutely incredible'. He expressed: "He was really known for endangered species of wildlife. He was gifted in so many areas as an illustrator for the BBC and in children's books, pictures, paintings, drawings in pen and ink.

"And busts and portraits of people he did around 100 in his lifetime. It was a real talent of his, he was offered a job at Madame Tussauds in London as his sculptures were so lifelike.

"As kids we were very excited. But we lived in the countryside at the time in Waresley and it wasn't what he wanted. He was a teacher for over 20 years, and head of department and we have had so many tributes from people he taught.

"They were inspired by him. My father had said to his pupils: 'You don't have to be a painter or sculptor but be creative'."

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Outside of art, Laurence met Ingrid Christa Bohne, from East Germany, in 1959 while she worked as a nanny in London. They married in 1963 and had three sons. Ingrid developed Alzheimer's in 2016 and his youngest son, Oliver, died in 2019 at the age of 46, having had multiple health issues since birth.

Those events had a 'devastating effect' on his life, Graeham said. He would visit Ingrid in a care home as often as possible. He also enjoyed spending time with his other two sons and four grandchildren.

Graeham said: "We were very close as a family for the last couple of years. Dad was an incredibly positive happy person. He made friends wherever he went."

While unable to sculpt in his latter years Laurence continued to draw 'prolifically'. But it is the bull at the Bullring which Brummies and the world will remember him for.