It couldn’t be said that Eastbourne is overflowing with public sculpture but there are some important pieces in the town.
John Wesley Woodward was born in West Bromwich, Staffordshire but was associated with Eastbourne as a member of the Duke of Devonshire's band in the town. He was a cello player and in the past had appeared both as a soloist and as a member of several well-known string quartets. He joined the White Star Line around 1909 and was on board the Olympic when she collided with HMS Hawke, narrowly escaping injury as he was in the cabin with three colleagues just where the Hawke struck. Woodward died in the sinking of the Titanic during its maiden voyage on 15th April 1912 along with all the other ship’s musicians. The bronze and granite memorial was unveiled by the opera singer Clara Butt.
This is an interesting curiosity in the town and it was restored in 2012 in time for the centenary of the disaster. The only unfortunate aspect is that it is not visible unless you enter the bandstand colonnades.
David Nash was invited by the Towner Art Gallery to create a new outdoor sculpture in Manor Gardens. As the only durable wood for exterior sculpture is oak, he was shown oak trees that were damaged and due to be cut down, and the groynes at Eastbourne seafront, which were to be replaced. He envisioned a group of oak buttresses ‘standing vertically in a circle, creating a "place", unusual and intriguing as an image and as a place to enter, majestic and quiet and contemplative.’ It was the first time that Nash had worked with sea-weathered timber. Nash says, ‘The timbers in this sculpture have been formed by the relentless breathing of tides, the sea pressing against Eastbourne over 25 years, eighteen thousand breaths. The living oak, before being a buttress, wove the elements of mineral, water, air and light to form its physical body; when no longer a tree the wood retains an echo of those elemental forces and through water erosion their image is magnified, each buttress becoming unique.’ The buttresses measure between 2.5 and 4 metres in height.
I have visited this piece many times and the wonderful thing about it, I find, is the changing colours of the wood depending on the season and the weather – there is always something new to appreciate about the work.
The memorial was unveiled by General Lord Horne, GCB, KCMG, the well-known commander of the First Army. As there were 1,065 names of the Fallen from Eastbourne, it was decided to erect 16 oak panels in the Town Hall on which they would be carved rather than the original proposal to carve the names on the plinth. The bronze statue representing the ‘Angel of Victory’ is particularly striking.
The statue was unveiled by the Duke of Norfolk, Lord Lietenant of Sussex and a Major of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Sussex Battalion, in the presence of a Guard of Honour of the Royal Sussex Regiment. The figure is depicted in the uniform of the Bengal Regiment, one of the old regiments of the East India Company. When the East India Company came to an end, the regiment was taken over by the Government and became the 107th regiment, which in turn became the 2nd Battalion. The monument is listed Grade II*.
Being on the seafront, I pass this monument so many times but am always slightly amused by the figure’s somewhat ‘jaunty’ pose!
The Dukes of Devonshire created much of Eastbourne's modern town and its elegant and iconic seafront. William Cavendish, 7th Duke from 1858, inherited a large estate there in 1834 and appointed Decimus Burton, the renowned architect, to draw up plans for building homes. Burton, however, was more interested in carrying out his outstanding work a little further east at St Leonards. He resigned after producing just one church in Eastbourne. The Duke subsequently appointed the less well known James Berry to produce plans for the seafront. Work began on large houses and a promenade before Berry fell out of favour and was replaced by Henry Currey, who remained in post until the 7th Duke died in 1891. There is a seated statue of the 7th Duke by William Goscombe John on the seafront at the junction of Cavendish Place.
This Grade II bronze statue is of Spencer Compton, 8th Duke of Devonshire and was erected on the Western Lawns two years after the Duke’s death. It was unveiled by the Duke of Norfolk. The 8th Duke of Devonshire was Mayor of Eastbourne between 1897 and 1898. The statue portrays him in the robes of a Chancellor of Cambridge University and is rich with detail, including the pince-nez held in his right hand – this was his habit when addressing a public assembly.
Interestingly, the sculptor, Alfred Drury, is the grandfather of Jolyon Drury, a trustee of the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association.
Find out more about the public monuments and sculpture of Sussex here
There is also a book of the public sculpture of Sussex published by Liverpool University Press.
Dr Anthony McIntosh, Art UK's Sculpture Collection Researcher