There was a party atmosphere in West Marina Garden yesterday afternoon as Ian Jarman fulfilled one of his ambitions and saw a plaque unveiled that explains what the until now anonymous white marble statue that has been sitting there for more than 60 years is all about.
It might have cost a relatively modest £350 to instal but for Mr Jarman it is the first step in bringing long overdue recognition to the work, in Carrara Marble, by German sculptor Charles Wilke, that was donated to the town in 1875 by Lord Brassey, the town’s one time Member of Parliament and the man behind the Brassey Institute – now home to the town’s main library.
Today the statue is owned by Hastings Borough Council but it seems that councils down the years haven’t known quite what to do with the statue.
When Sir Thomas presented it to the then Hastings Corporation he wanted it to be located in the new town hall but as that had not been completed it went instead to Cambridge Halls, a skating rink that was located where the ESK warehouse is today.
By 1878 the Brassey Institute had been built and the statue was moved there and remained there until 1928 when it was moved again to the lawn outside the newly built Johns Place Hospital on the Summerfield estate. Then in 1952 it was moved again to West Marina Gardens where it has stayed ever since.
The delicate Carrara Marble that the statue has been carved from is not intended for outside display and certainly not for a location just metres from shoreline where it is on the receiving end of strong winds and salty blasts that have seen it suffer considerable erosion over the last six decades.
But yesterday was not about looking forward not back. A significant number of local people turned out to see Hastings MP Amber Rudd unveil the new plaque and hear Mr Jarman talk about his hopes for what can be done to give the statue the recognition he feels it so richly deserves.
He pointed out the significance of yesterday’s unveiling, coming as it did exactly 144 years after the statue had originally been gifted to the town.
He said it had been at least 66 years since the original inscription that had explained what the statue depicted had worn away and become invisible.
For those who do not know the statue depicts the wife of Kind Harold, Edith the Fair – also known as Edith Swanneck – finding her fallen husband’s body on the battlefield the day after the Battle of Hastings.
Mr Jarman points out that the statue is the only public monument in the town that commemorates the battle which changed the country forever and makes this part of the world so interesting for historians and tourists alike and it is also the only monument in the UK which includes Edith a woman whose bloodlines can be traced right through to today’s Royal Family.
Hastings Local History Group donated much of the cash to allow the plaque to be produced but for Mr Jarman this is just the start of what he says is a ‘long process’ to raise the profile of the statue locally and nationally. Next on his agenda is to clean it and to find a way to seal it, to help prevent further erosion.
For the long term what he really wants to achieve is what he describes as ‘a roof for Edith’, some kind of canopy or structure that will protect the delicate marble from the elements. He told those there to watch the unveiling that he’d like to create a ‘richer visitor experience’ that would tempt people from the town centre down to the St Leonards gardens to come and see not just the statue but other exhibits and information celebrating such a key moment in the nation’s history but he recognises that will be ‘a long haul’.
“I hope this will be the start of a magnificent future for the statue and I hope we can draw people to this wonderful place called West Marina Gardens in this often overlooked part of town,” he said.
In addition to local MP Amber Rudd also present at the unveiling were local councillor Karl Beaney, Hastings Mayor Nigel Sinden and his Deputy James Bacon as well as representatives from the Hastings Local History Group and members of the public.
Mr Jarman’s book is available by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can buy a copy over the counter from the Marina Fountain Pub opposite the statue. All proceeds from sales of the book will go to CARE (Campaign for A Roof for Edith).
Follow these links for other stories about the West Marina Gardens statue and find out more about Thoma Brassey