Hastings and St Leonards are full of quirky statues and historical artefacts, Tom McCann has been looking in to the history of some of them
Erected in 1902, a year after her death and unveiled by the Marquess of Abergavenny, the town mayor and other famous locals, the statue of Queen Victoria in Warrior Square has seen, lived through and experienced a great many things – including attack by the German Luftwaffe.
Commissioned by the Hastings Corporation, which would later become Hastings Borough Council, the statue stands on a pedestal of granite and was sculpted out of bronze with its design taken from the famous 1887 Jubilee bust of Queen Victoria by the sculptor Francis John Williamson—a favourite of Queen Victoria’s for whom he did numerous works throughout his career.
The design was accurate to each jewel the Queen wore during her jubilee as well as to her crown and her gown which was expanded upon for this statue to include the dress that later would take the famous bullet from the German gun. A further addition was made by the inclusion of the ornamental staff she is holding – a symbol of her sovereignty.
After the Queen’s death, a committee was formed locally to figure out the best and most respectful way to pay tribute to the former Monarch. A hospital was suggested, but when the costs of maintaining it were taken in to account this idea was scrapped and the statue later erected instead.
The statue was funded by the public and the Eversfield Estate, which owned much of Warrior Square at the time, granted the strip of land to the borough for the statue to sit on.
Thousands reportedly gathered for the unveiling. A band played music behind the statue and flags raised on poles flew the Union Jack and the White Ensign; they say a dog leapt barking at the statue and the cloth under which it waited to be revealed fell at the wrong time, much to the amusement of those in attendance.
The statue lasted through the Great War and saw a German u-boat run aground on Hastings’ shore in 1919 after the end of the war; it lasted then through the Second World War, surviving German air raids during and beyond the blitz; and it’s lasted still through the reigns of a further five monarchs, from her successor to the throne in King Edward VII from 1901 – 1910; King George V 1910 – 1936; King Edward VIII from June 1936 – his abdication December 1936; George VI 1936 – 1952 and ultimately Queen Elizabeth II from 1952 – present, who incidentally now is the longest living monarch in the history of the crown, taking the title from Queen Victoria herself.
But it was during the Second World War that the statue was shot!
The story goes that a woman was walking along the promenade with her baby in a pram when a Luftwaffe pilot flying in a Messerschmitt Bf 109 on a ‘Tip and Run’ sortie – high-speed, low-altitude bombing raids carried out over the southern English coasts – took a pot shot from his high-calibre machine gun from out beyond the shore. Mercifully he missed the woman and her baby with the bullet flying over her head and it struck instead the bronze statue of Queen Victoria leaving a hole in the leg of the former monarch’s jubilee gown.
Weathered by time, damaged by car pollution, battered by drunks crowning it with traffic cones and corroded by seagull droppings the statue underwent a £5,000 clean-up operation carried out by the council back in the early noughties which saw the bullet hole preserved—or rather accentuated—in the name of history.
Since then, the bullet hole endures, and the statue still stands the test of time—much like the reigns of Queen Victoria herself and of Queen Elizabeth II too, to whom the title of longest-reigning monarch now belongs.