There’s been no clearer example of a labour of love than Ian Jarman’s determination to shine a spotlight on an unloved and uncared for, but historically very significant, marble statue in West Marina Gardens.
In recent weeks his labours have been of the physical kind as he meticulously worked to clean the marble, removing algae and lichen that has built up over many decades.
The until recently pretty anonymous statue was donated to the town around 150 years ago and has languished in the harsh environment of the seafront site for 68 of those years. Even local people did not know what it represented some thinking it was a depiction of Romeo and Juliet.
For years now Mr Jarman has been on an at times one man crusade to bring recognition to the statue that 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 was saddened that the statue of the pair had been largely ignored by successive councils.
First he has launched a campaign called CARE to work towards getting some kind of shelter to protect the statue from the fearsome south easterly prevailing wind that it was exposed to. He also wanted to see some information panels that explain to people what the statue is and what is its significance to the town.
More recently he has established a group called Friends of Edith that has been raising funds and raising awareness of the statue.
It means that there is now a plaque on the statue explaining what it is and Mr Jarman hopes more information can be provided close to the statue to create a ‘destination’, somewhere people can go to learn about the couple, their families, the famous battle and the political significance of the times they lived in.
Mr Jarman believes that using the statue as a centrepiece much could be done in the gardens to develop community events, create a 1066 Garden with indigenous plants and institute a programme of re-wilding and re-greening the area.
To bring the statue back to it’s current condition has been painstaking work, cleaning the finer details with a toothbrush. Mr Jarman wanted the statue cleaned in time for summer and he hopes the natural bleaching effects of the sun will further brighten the marble before another cleaning takes place in the autumn.
Beyond that he wants to look at applying a preservative or sealant but says the product that does that needs to be carefully chose as marble must be allowed to breathe.
Mr Jarman is proud that what he has achieved so far has been done without any council money and has been done through his own fundraising, from sponsors and from people signing up to become ‘Friends of Edith’. He’s also convinced that many of the other improvements he thinks could be made to the park can also be achieved without cost to the borough council. That includes using the old bowling club pavilion in the gardens as a visitor centre with the whole area lending itself to a place where people can come and learn about their history in an attractive environment.
The statue was commissioned in the early 1870s by Hastings then MP Sir Thomas Brassey. He was the man who funded and built the Brassey Institute that is now 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 but has recently been replaced with a plaque.
The statue is owned by Hastings Borough Council and it appears the 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 has always felt that because of the lack of signange local people do not fully appreciate just what 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.
Mr Jarman’s tireless work and campaigning has been all about ensuring 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 away.
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 fully ‘restore’ the statue as he believes that would be costly and impractical.
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