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Friends of Edith – Ian Jarman, right, and Jennier Crisp, left – give the statue of Harold and Edith a long overdue clean.

Lee’s call to preserve Hastings’ statues and monuments

As a critical eye is turned on statues and monuments across the land, Cllr Rob Lee has called on the council to defend the town’s heritage and take action to preserve our statues and memorials. In West St Leonards the Friends of Edith are busy preserving the statue of Edith and Harold. Nick Terdre reports.

“Hastings and St Leonards has a collection of public art, statues, monuments and buildings of which we can be rightly proud,” writes Cllr Rob Lee, leader of the Conservative group, in an open letter to council leader Kim Forward.

“From the ruins of St Mary’s Chapel on Bexleigh Avenue to the Net Shops of Rock-a-Nore, our borough is blessed with many interesting and beautiful artifacts that tell the story of Hastings and St Leonards and the people that have lived here.”

Blue plaque to Alan Turing in Upper Maze Hill.

Cllr Lee says he sees “little that would provoke controversy even by modern standards. However, I would like to ask you to reassure the public and to speak out defending our town’s heritage and to promise that there will be no removal of statues, plaques, monuments or renaming of buildings or roads locally.”

But he also wants to see options explored “to restore and preserve our physical heritage locally,” and mentions specifically that the statue of Harold and Edith in Grosvenor Gardens is in a poor state, as is the statue of Queen Anne at Holmhurst St Mary.

“It has now been ten years since the last review of statues, monuments and memorials in the borough. Please could a new review be undertaken as the first step in ensuring our heritage is safe for future generations.”

Hastings Borough Council told HOT: “We will listen to and work with the local community to review the appropriateness of local monuments and statues on public land and council property.”

Much needed TLC for Edith and Harold

The statue of Harold and Edith mentioned by Cllr Lee is actually in West Marina Gardens, Ian Jarman, founder and secretary of the Friends of Edith, told HOT – Grosvenor Gardens is the name of the old bathing pool site. It appears to be a common mistake, shared also by signage on the West St Leonards sea front and Trip Advisor.

Exasperated by the long-standing neglect of the statue, Ian formed the Friends of Edith some 18 months ago, with a view to preserving both the work of art and the memory of Edith Swan-Neck, Harold’s faithful consort who bore six children to him, but whose part in the epoch-making events of that time has been largely overlooked.

It is a fiction, Ian says, that Edith comforted Harold in his dying moments, as depicted by the statue. The English king was hacked to pieces by a group of French knights and his body-parts distributed over the battlefield. It was Edith’s mournful duty, when the battle was won and lost, to search for and identify them.

Made by the sculptor Charles Wilke in 1875 for Lord Brassey, the town’s MP, the statue spent its first decades indoors, first in the Brassey Institute and then the museum, but was moved onto the museum lawn in the 1930s and to its current location in the 1950s.

A new plaque on the statue’s plinth bears the original inscription: ‘Edith finding the body of Harold on the battle-field of Hastings.’

It has since suffered considerably from its long exposure to the salty elements, which have eroded many of its detailed features, as well as the inscription on one side.

One of the Friends’ first initiatives was Care – the Campaign for a Roof for Edith – which raised enough money to pay for a plaque containing the original inscription and details of the statue’s provenance which is now affixed to the side.

Lichen and algae

In recent days, Ian and fellow Friend Jennifer Crisp, whose residence across the road overlooks the statue, have been busy cleaning off the lichen and algae which have grown on it. The whiteness of the Italian carrera marble is beginning to shine through again.

They plan to return in the autumn and apply a modern sealant which will allow the stone to breathe.

Longer-term plans include mounting a canopy or roof to provide protection against the worst of the elements, and installing signage and information on the site telling the story of the statue and Edith’s life. Ian would like to create beds with wild flowers typical of Edith and Harold’s time around the statue, and possibly a visitor centre on the now redundant bowling green at the far end of the gardens.

But whatever happens in the future will have to be agreed with the council, to whose forerunner, Hastings Corporation, Lord Brassey donated the statue in the year it was made, and which also owns West Marina Gardens, Ian says.

It seems both the council and Cllr Lee may rest assured that both the statue and the story it depicts are in good hands in the stewardship of the Friends of Edith.

 

Posted 18:00 Wednesday, Jun 17, 2020 In: History

5 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. DAR

    Here’s an irony: if it weren’t for the slave trade, British imperialism (and the 1948 British Nationality Act), “people of colour” wouldn’t be here to protest about it.
    Of course there is injustice, and the Floyd killing was outrageous, but it was in the USA, not here, and pulling down statues in Britain “in sympathy” seems to be, for some at least, an excuse to let off steam caused by “lockdown”.

    Comment by DAR — Monday, Jun 22, 2020 @ 13:32

  2. Commenter

    No one is asking for the removal of this statue, and nor is the preservation of it anything to do with recent protests. I think it irresponsible of Hastings Online Times to frame it in such a way, and self-serving of Cllr Lee to hijack the good works of local residents to stoke division for political end.

    There has been no ‘mob’ in Hastings. The Black Lives Matter protest held in Alexandra Park was 100% peaceful, and was held right next to the war memorial with no damage, or attempt at damage whatsoever.

    No one is calling for the erasure of British or anglo-saxon history, quite the contrary, people are calling for greater understanding of our nation’s past, without conveniently omitting the parts of which we are not so proud.

    The choice we are facing is not between remembering history or destroying it, it is between learning from history or blindly celebrating it.

    Comment by Commenter — Friday, Jun 19, 2020 @ 17:52

  3. L.M. Hastie

    It’s wonderful to see people willing and able to preserve and defend our Anglo-Saxon heritage. I hope we can trust Labour to look after this monument, because nationally they have not spoken in outrage regarding the desecration of the Cenotaph. Beware the iconoclasts as intolerance sweeps the country. Surely it would be best for the statue to be transferred to the museum to protect it from both the mob and the salt laden air, if only until all this mob rule has calmed down.

    Comment by L.M. Hastie — Friday, Jun 19, 2020 @ 14:11

  4. J B KNIGHT

    A lot of things will be done in Extreme Feelings and Extreme Times.

    Not the time to be doing anything rash or hurried decisions and kneejerk reactions.

    All people are flawed, and their perceptions common to their times. Have to put them in their time and context.

    Book burning and statue defacing reminds us of other regimes and times.

    Judging people from a pretty soft cushy smug advantage point.

    Comment by J B KNIGHT — Friday, Jun 19, 2020 @ 09:16

  5. keith piggott

    Bravo!

    Comment by keith piggott — Wednesday, Jun 17, 2020 @ 22:03

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