Family fears Blackpool's lost Buffalo Bill statue will never be found

The family of the benefactor who donated the missing Buffalo Bill statue to Blackpool have spoken of their dismay at the loss of the artefact.

Thursday, 23rd December 2021, 10:18 am

It emerged in October the sculpture – officially called The Gaucho and depicting a cowboy and his bucking bronco – had been stolen from a council storage unit two years previously.

It has also now been confirmed the artwork, which had been valued at £15,000, was not insured.

At the time the theft was kept secret by the council who feared the bronze statue, which is known locally as ‘Buffalo Bill’ due to its likeness to the showman, could be damaged or melted down.

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The Gaucho statue - known as Buffalo Bill

Now the great grandson of Percy Honri who donated the statue to the council, says it should have been better looked after by town hall curators.

Paul Honri, who lives in Gloucestershire, said: “The statue seems to have spent most of its time in Blackpool in a storage depot, which is sad considering how many places the council owns where it could have been on display.

“Why couldn’t it have gone in the Tower for example?

“I think whoever stole it probably had no idea what it was and took it just for the metal and to melt it down.

It was last on display in Central Library

“We are disappointed and sad it’s never going to be found because it was nice to know the family had given that statue, although when we tried to visit it was in storage.

“We had conversations a number of times with the council about that, and had offered to take it back but we were stonewalled on that.

“I understand sometimes benefactors give councils pieces of art and then they feel they are lumbered with them because they have to pay to display them or store them.

“But nevertheless councils should be taking more care of what they have.”

It is thought the statue was either commisioned for the Great Exhibition held at Crystal Palace in 1851 as part of the American display, or for the World Fair in New York where it was also on display.

It then came into the hands of an MP and theatrical magnet called Charles Gulliver who was a great friend of Percy Honri, the music hall entertainer.

Gulliver gave the statue to Percy after visiting Percy’s home Cromwell Hall in Finchley built by Oliver Cromwell.

The link to Blackpool came through Percy’s father-in-law Alderman William Broadhead, who was a director of the Tower Company and in his capacity of the Mayor officially opened Blackpool’s Central Library.

When William Broadhead died, Percy donated the statue to Blackpool and it was on display in the Grundy Art Gallery for many years before eventually being moved to Central Library. It was moved into storage when the library was being refurbished.

Cast in bronze, the sculpture by Walter Winans is 146 cm high, weighs approximately half a tonne and was last valued at around £15,000.

Council leader Coun Lynn Williams confirmed in a written reply to a question from Coun Tony Williams at full council, that the statue had not been insured.

She said it was the only item from the Grundy and Heritage Collections not covered by the council’s Art Policy because due to its weight it had been stored at a location not named on the policy.

The council would have had to install additional alarms and CCTV at the storage location in order to make the insurance valid.

No trace of the sculpture has been found since it was stolen despite a police investigation and the theft being registered on a database of stolen artwork.

Coun Lynn Williams made an appeal for any information about it in October, saying at the time it was “very sad that this theft has deprived Blackpool of one of its most popular collection items.”

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