FEATURE: 1066 statue will be ‘the biggest art story in the world’

Battle statue design SUS-160519-095451001
Battle statue design SUS-160519-095451001

Sitting at the end of Battle High Street opposite the town’s fire station, the roundabout isn’t particularly noteworthy - but it is about to make international news.

That is because from the autumn it will host what is possibly one of the most historically important pieces of artwork to be commissioned in the country this year.

Sculptures at Battle Abbey, 30/9/15

Artist in residence Guy Portelli with his work. SUS-150930-154901001

Sculptures at Battle Abbey, 30/9/15 Artist in residence Guy Portelli with his work. SUS-150930-154901001

2016 is a big year for Battle, with the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings on October 14.

And to mark this milestone, a suitably striking statue has been commissioned, which will stand proud on the roundabout at the opposite end of the High Street from the towering Abbey.

Sitting in the picturesque Almonry Gardens on a sunny June afternoon, sculptor Guy Portelli looks over the wall surrounding this floral haven.

He says: “This will be such a great focal point from here.

Showing off the prototype for Battle's new 1066 statue. Pictured are Jane Ellis from 1066 Country Marketing,  statue designer Kenneth Higgs, sculptor Guy Portelli, Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman and Battle mayor Cllr David Furness. SUS-160613-131817001

Showing off the prototype for Battle's new 1066 statue. Pictured are Jane Ellis from 1066 Country Marketing, statue designer Kenneth Higgs, sculptor Guy Portelli, Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman and Battle mayor Cllr David Furness. SUS-160613-131817001

“We can have a board describing what people are seeing.”

And what people will see is a Norman soldier on horseback being attacked by a Saxon - an opening scene from the Battle of Hastings when a lone Norman was sent to test the enemy lines.

The statue will be on stilts, providing a perfect view from not just the gardens, but throughout the town centre.

Guy is the man who has been tasked with delivering the ambitious project.

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ENGSUS00120130608165137

He said: “The aim would be to install it at the end of September when the Normans landed and then unveil it on the day of the battle.”

He added: “That day, October 14, it will be the biggest art story in the world.”

The renowned Tonbridge-based sculptor is a familiar face in Battle, having displayed his work at various art fairs in the town, and he has been a resident artist at the Saffron Gallery since 2010.

Last year he was chosen as the Battle’s Festival’s inaugural artist in residence.

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SUS-160613-141035001

He says the statue will pay homage not just to lives lost on both opposing sides of the battle, but to animals lost in all conflicts since.

Guy said: “Ultimately it’s a war memorial of historical significance on a global stage.”

He added: “It’s a unique coincidence that so many historical lines converge in 2016 - the Queen’s 90th birthday, the referendum to either remove or reinforce our bonds with Europe, and anniversaries of the first and second world wars.”

And rather than think of the Normans as marauding invaders, Guy reminds us they actually played a huge part in shaping our nation.

He said: “We tend to think of the Normans just coming and going, but the reality is our Queen’s grandfather 22 times removed was William the Conqueror.

“Which changes our perspective on things.”

He added: “All the cathedrals we now enjoy were built by the Norman invaders with their skills and financial wealth. Normandy was the richest state in Europe.

“When the rugby team go out with lions on their shirts, that’s William the Conqueror’s lions.

“These things you do not recall as they have got lost in our history.”

Last year a competition was held, with the members of the public invited to submit their design for the statue.

Sixty entries were received, with octogenarian Kenneth Higgs chosen as the winner.

One of Kenneth’s designs had previously appeared on the posters advertising the 900th anniversary celebrations in 1966 (pictured).

Kenneth said: “I was immensely thankful and proud to be chosen.”

Speaking about Guy’s interpretation of his winning design, he said: “I thought it was excellent.

“I was a bit doubtful about the open work of the horse, but I have come to like it.”

Guy was full of praise for Kenneth, a retired architect who used to have a practice in Bexhill. He said: “He is a person who is responsible for the creation of this area.

“It’s nice to be working closely with him and also with the historical society in terms of getting all their knowledge and input.”

The project is being spearheaded by Battle’s newly elected mayor, and chairman of Battle Festival, David Furness.

He said: “Unbelievably, although Battle is the actual site of the Battle of Hastings, no lasting public work to mark the conquest has been commissioned since 1071!”

But there is still a way to go until that artwork is unveiled to the public, as there is the small matter of finding £41,000 of funding.

Cllr Furness is adamant this must be a ‘monument of the people’ and not reliant on public finances.

As a result, fundraising is now underway, with an online crowdfunding account - www.gofundme.com/1066Sculpture -inviting individuals to contribute anything from £1 to £10,000 to this historic project.

Donations are also being taken at The Almonry.

Cllr Furness said: “Each person who donates will have their name put in a book which will be held in perpetuity in the town hall where donors will be able to come in and see the names.”

And those who donate to the scheme will be kept up-to-date with the creative process, with part of the artwork going on display in the Almonry Gardens ahead of the September installation.

Guy said: “People can feel some ownership of it before it arrives.”

He added that he hoped that young people in the town would get involved with this once-in-a-lifetime project, adding: “With all these things you need to engage with the younger audience, who do not see these things being created anymore.”

The project has the backing of Battle’s MP Huw Merriman, who says it will help bring people into the town.

He said: “To have something that’s a gateway is perfect because it makes a real big statement about what you are about to experience when you drive further in the town and it encourages people and helps bring in more business, bring in tourism and keep Battle thriving.”

One lady whose primary goal is to help keep Battle thriving is Jane Ellis from 1066 Country Marketing.

She says the statue will encourage visitors to the town to gravitate towards that end of the High Street, and, hopefully, spend some money.

Jane said: “It will encourage people in to local businesses, spending their money and hopefully bring more attention to the Battle Museum of Local History.”

And of course the statue will also appeal to art lovers, as well as those with an interest in the town’s rich history.

She said: “Although it’s associated with that vast history there is the art and culture side in Battle which is there, ready to be discovered.”