Monday, 30 November -0001

Prince Albert Dumped

Is Prince Albert just too untrendy for a place in town? asks Sam Taylor

Written by Sam Taylor
When Prince Albert died suddenly of typhoid at 42, Queen Victoria was plunged into an all-consuming grief that was shared by her subjects. Albert had been a popular consort, and she was keen to see his place in history commemorated. Within the year, she had written to the Lord Mayor of London to ask for a public memorial to be erected in his honour. He in turn wrote to all the boroughs countrywide asking them for some kind of contribution.

In 1872, 11 years after his death, London erected the grandest High Victorian gothic monument ever created, with the public raising £120,000 for the costs (equivalent to around £10m today). In the meantime, the people of Hastings and St Leonards were quicker off the mark with a modest £500 budget for a 65ft clock tower featuring a stone statue by the sculptor Edwin Stirling at its centre.

Although the costs escalated by another £300, and the gentry of St Leonards were smarting over the decision to locate it at the Priory in Hastings town (now home to a hit-and-miss shopping centre), when it was unveiled in 1864 it became a popular focal point. But as that great philosopher Gok Wan might say: fashions change. In 1952, the council tried to demolish it, or move it, to make way for traffic islands. A town poll was taken by the Hastings Observer with 2,672 replies asking for it to be left.

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So Albert lived on. But in 1973, when the country was in the grip of a three-day week, several youths at a loose end started a fire that signalled the statue’s demise. So the memorial was partly demolished and its removable parts sold off – a Hastings resident paid £50 for Stirling’s statue and it has spent decades living in a service yard at local Alexandra Park. At a public consultation last year there was overwhelming support for his return – if you discount the giant winkle on Winkle Island, Hastings is a bit low on sculpture. The planning offi cers approved the proposal only to be thwarted by councillors on the borough planning committee.

They refused permission on the grounds that it wasn’t in good enough condition to sit opposite the Grade II-listed town hall. Undeterred, the Hastings Local History Group has now decided to raise funds to clean up Albert’s act. But will a facelift be enough? Or is it that he’s just not trendy enough for today’s politically correct culture?

Next week: Mirror glass


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