Reg Butler was born in Hertfordshire. Although he trained as an architect, he began making sculptures in 1944, while working as a blacksmith during the Second World War. In 1950 Butler abandoned a career in architecture and became the first Gregory Fellow in Sculpture at Leeds University. He also began teaching sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, continuing to work there until his death in 1981. Butler's reputation was secured in 1953, when his design for a Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner won an international competition, against entries from Alexander Calder, Naum Gabo and Barbara Hepworth among others.