If you go down to West Marina Gardens you’ll find a white marble statue that looks very much the worse for wear!
You’d never guess it is a statue of national significance, a piece of art donated to the town almost 150 years ago – you’d never guess and you’d find it hard to find that out because there are no signs, plaques or information panels to give you any information about what it is.
But one man wants to change all that and Ian Jarman is on a one man crusade to get some recognition for the statue which depicts the moment that Edith Swanneck – or Edith the Fair – the common law wife of King Harold, finds his body, where he died, on the battlefield of the famous 1066 Battle of Hastings.
Mr Jarman is a walking encyclopaedia when it come to information about Harold, Edith and their families. He is saddened that the statue of the pair which has been in the same spot for 65 years is slowly decaying in the salty winds that batter it where it sits just metres from the edge of the sea and has been largely ignored by successive councils. Now though, he wants to change that.
He has launched a campaign called CARE, that stands for Campaign for A Roof for Edith. It doesn’t have to be a roof he says, but some kind of shelter that will protect the statue from the fearsome south easterly prevailing wind. And he’d like to see some information panels that explain to people what the statue is and what is its significance to the town.
The statue was commissioned in the early 1870s by Sir Thomas Brassey, Hastings’ MP at the time and the man who funded and built the Brassey Institute that now plays home to Hastings’ library. He had met Prussian sculptor Charles Augustus William Wilke – a man whose work regularly appeared at the Royal Academy and Wilke completed the work which at the time included an inscription carved into the marble that read: “Edith finding the body of Harold on the battlefield of Hastings.” the inscription has long since disappeared, worn away by the elements.
The statue is owned by Hastings Borough Council and Mr Jarman has been in touch with them, however he says, “The council want nothing to do with the statue and I accept that and I understand why.”
It appears 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.
Mr Jarman feels local people do not fully appreciate just was a significant piece of artwork it is. It is the only piece of art in the whole of the town that commemorates the famous battle; it is the only monument in the UK to depict the royal couple together and it is the only statue in existence of Edith who was in her own right a wealthy woman of great status in her home counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. Added to that Mr Jarman says the bloodlines between Harold and Edith and our present Queen have been well proven which further adds to its cultural and historical significance to the nation.
Underpinning Mr Jarman’s campaign is his desire that the statue is still there and still recognisable for the 1,000 year anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in 2066 – less than 50 years time.
At the moment it is very much a one man campaign and Mr Jarman recognises that he needs to raise awareness of the statue and to let people know what it is. He has no costs in mind because at the moment he doesn’t even have a design for the ‘roof’ or shelter.
“I am not an engineer,” he says, “I have the idea and I have the knowledge but I need to get other people excited by this project, people who can help move it on. I’ve got no objection to someone coming up with a design that’s a bit whacky. It’s important that we keep the statue in the community and allow it to help people identify with their roots.”
He believes that after all this time outdoors it would be wrong to return the statue to an indoor location, even if it was originally designed to be displayed inside. The wear and staining on the surface of the marble leave it in a condition where it would look out of context in an indoor location he believes. Nor does his campaign intend to ‘restore’ the statue as he believes that would be costly and impractical.
With talk of the Bayeux tapestry returning to the UK Mr Jarman sees this as an opportunity to bring the statue to the attention of a whole host of people who have never known of its existence far less its significance.
Editor’s note – while we were in West Marina Gardens looking at and talking about the statue two women came walking through the gardens and stopped to look at the statue. They looked around all sides of it and seemed a little puzzled. They turned to Mr Jarman and asked, ‘who is it supposed to be?’ That really demonstrated what the his whole campaign is all about. If the statue is going to be there then at least help people understand and recognise what it is.