Bernard Billington and John Sutton
The latter part of the nineteenth century was a time of invention and expansion for Britain, and many think it the country’s heyday. The queen at this momentous time was Victoria and she must rank among the best loved of our monarchs. Hospitals, railway stations, parks, streets and public houses were named after her, and many towns erected a statue of her in a prominent place.
Newcastle-under-Lyme was one of these towns. In 1903 the Mayor of Newcastle, Sir Alfred Haslam,. MP presented the town with one of seven bronze castings by Charles Bell Birch A.R.A. of an original that stands in Oodeypore, in India. It was unveiled in Nelson Place on 5th November 1903 by His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Michael of Russia, where she proudly dominated that entrance to the town until 1963. At this point it was removed to Station Walks to make way for the new ring road.
There she remained for thirty eight years, neglected, dirty and vandalised, her sceptre stolen, until a campaign by the Civic Society initiated by long-time members Bernard and Kathleen Billington led to a decision to restore this English Heritage Grade II listed monument to a more prominent position in the town as the Society’s project for the new Millennium.
A spot in the appropriately named Queen’s Gardens was finally selected as the new site, but it took some two years before all the problems involved in such a move were finally resolved.
The physical move was effected by monumental mason Wilf Burt and Martin Hood of Martin Hood Plant Hire and she was unveiled in her new setting at 2.00 pm on 27th July 2001.
The Mayor, Mrs Gillian Williams, and John Wild, President of the Civic Society led the procedure, with children from St. Giles and St. George’s school attending in Victorian costumes.
A Time Capsule containing various topical items was buried at the base of the plinth.
The cost of the move, originally estimated at £5,000 before problems of Health and Safety etc. intervened, was £13,380, of which £4,600 was found by local businesses, including a generous £3,500 from Weatherspoons, Newcastle Borough Council contributed £2,000 and the balance of almost £7000 was made up by the Civic Society. Two members of the Civic Society, Bernard and Kathleen Billington generously paid for the
Due to the many years of neglect in Station Walks, the statue showed serious signs of wear, and rust was apparent in places where wet had reached the underlying armature. The Civic Society paid £300 for a survey by the National Museums Conservation Centre who advised a course of treatment costing £14,600.
As the statue is the property and responsibility of the Borough Council the Civic Society felt that they had already contributed their fair share. A joint application for Heritage Lottery funding was unsuccessful, and a modified joint bid has recently been submitted.
Many letters have been received by the Civic Society congratulating them on this project and we hope that the Queen will remain and be respected in her new site at the north-eastern gateway to the town centre for many years to come.