Sunday, 26 April 2015

Facing up to Sir Walter

The face of a hero as created by Vivien Mallock FRBS

One of the eye-catching exhibits in Fairlynch Museum’s ‘Beyond the Boyhood’ display in the newly refurbished Sir Walter Ralegh Room is the Budleigh Salterton Venture Art Club’s version of the famous Millais painting. As a work in progress it was featured elsewhere on this site. 

Another rather special artefact in the exhibition is a life-size bronze face created by sculptress Vivien Mallock when she was working on the statue of Sir Walter now standing in East Budleigh.

Vivien Mallock’s Raleigh statue being unveiled on 7 February 2006 by (l-r):  HRH The Duke of Kent, Steve Baker, who was chairman of East Budleigh Parish Council, Hugo Swire MP, sculptress Vivien Mallock  

The statue was unveiled by HRH the Duke of Kent in 2006 and occupies a focal point in the village near All Saints Church. Its origin was not without controversy.

East Budleigh residents had hoped that an earlier statue of Sir Walter originally sited on Whitehall Green would be relocated to their village, and were disappointed when it was moved instead to the former Royal Naval College in Greenwich.


As the local MP, Hugo Swire played a part in obtaining the Sir Walter Ralegh statue for East Budleigh

Then local MP Hugo Swire stepped in to secure £30,000 in funding from British American Tobacco to ensure that the village would have its own statue.

There were strong objections from some locals to the source of the cash, given the growth of the anti-smoking lobby in recent times.

But the MP was unabashed. "If there are any objections to this from people who think we shouldn’t do this because its sponsored by British American Tobacco, I think I shall emigrate,” he was reported as saying.

"I cannot believe that there can be people around who would be so churlish and politically correct to assume because we’ve got sponsorship from a major international company we should somehow turn it down. I just would despair at that point. We want the statue, they’ve been hugely generous - thank you, thank you, thank you."

Tobacco was the least of the negative issues associated with East Devon’s best known historical figure, born at Hayes Barton just outside East Budleigh at some time between 1552 and 1554.

Ralegh, as portrayed by a contemporary, the Exeter-born painter Nicholas Hillard

By many accounts he was a deeply unpopular figure at various times in English political life on account of his extravagance and his arrogant and violent behaviour. “I have heard rawley of thee,” King James I is supposed to have said when he first met Sir Walter – a witticism which tells us how Raleigh’s surname was pronounced at the time.     

And however it is pronounced, the name of Raleigh is not one which is held with affection in Ireland, where the English have often behaved abominably.


Sir Walter Ralegh's statue acknowledges Independence Day 

And yet Sir Walter has been seen over the centuries as one of the most important figures in the creation of the Anglo-American ‘Special Relationship.’ For many in the USA, he has been a cult figure, paradoxically seen as a supporter of republicanism and as one of the founders of the British Empire. 

The seal of the American state of New Hampshire shows the USS Raleigh

During the American War of Independence one of the 13 ships in the Patriots’ Navy was named the USS Raleigh, a move which must have riled the British government.  

Hayes Barton Baptist Church

The city of Raleigh in North Carolina even has an up-market district named Hayes Barton, though I’ve not yet understood how this came about.   

Polymath, poet, courtier, royal favourite, explorer… Sir Walter continues to fascinate us with so many vivid aspects of his character and with his eventful life.


Ralegh's execution as depicted in a 19th century print

He reached a heroic grandeur on the scaffold with his witticism in the face of death.  

“’Tis a sharp remedy'', he is reported to have said having felt the edge of the axe, “but a sure one for all ills.”


Spooky shot: the East Devon hero who lost his head

I’ll let his ghost have the last laugh. If you look carefully at the photo I took of his East Budleigh statue at a chance moment you’ll see something remarkable about its shadow.

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