Since writing last week about the Millennium Wall, Joe Dearden, a former chairman of Rother Environmental Group, has supplied further interesting information about the concept and the execution of this project, undertaken to mark the millennium in Rye.
We start with Ron Dellar, using the sculptor’s own words, poetical, aspirational and perhaps yet to be realised: “Everything made by man begins with a single thought and each thought contains many other thoughts…..
“The design of the brickwork derives from an old man o’war in an age when large naval vessels were clinker built – plank laid over plank and then sealed with tar, the ship’s sides bulging out like sails when full of wind. Fat bellied, seemingly top-heavy, broad beamed ships they sailed to the far corners of the world and brought prosperity to the ancient towns of Rye and Winchelsea.
“Such ships bore carved and painted figure-heads, almost always representations of women. Here the carved slab of Portland stone reflects this tradition. The Sea Goddess, proud temptress, faces towards the town from which she has lured so many men to sea, her luxuriant hair flowing as if caught in a strong wind and becoming like the waves of the sea on which the now motionless ship once sailed.
“She is antique yet timeless; her image is classical referring to the ancient as well as to the heroic ideals of the 18th century.
“To those who have a soul, The Spirit of Rye will engender a thousand imaginings. In time it will become as memorable an image of Rye as are the great warehouses, the cobbled streets and gilded Quarter Boys – all guardians of an ancient tradition.
“It will fix Rye in the memory of each visitor as an ancient maritime town, born of and by the sea, where ship-building and sea-faring were once the principal activities.”
We turn now to the July 1999 account of Percy Eldridge, tutor at Hastings College of Arts and Technology. He first describes the complexity of the challenge: “It was alongside a river, two gas pipes would run across the new foundations, the subsoil was of an unknown quality” and the structure’s unusual shape was at risk of over-turning. The design of the curving ship’s hull was particularly difficult to form, as the setting was curve on curve, all to be created with standard bricks. The sweeping lines to create shadows and movement were tried in many forms.
Some 14 students, all on NVQ brickwork courses built a full mock-up shape at the college. The bricks, hand-made heather red facing bricks from Swanage in Dorset, were selected to blend with the warm terracotta colours of Rye’s historic buildings and roofing tiles. “The learning curve for all the students was clear to see” said Percy Eldridge, as was the enthusiasm with which they embarked on the actual on-site construction.
The Rye Millennium Wall was unveiled on September 21 1999 by Rosemary Foster, assisted by her husband Michael Foster, MP for Rye and Hastings. The party then repaired to the Forge restaurant, then located in Wish Street, where Derek Bayntun hosted a buffet lunch for the students, their supervisor Daren Pooley and representatives of the various sponsors. These included Rother Environmental Group, Rye Conservation Society, the Rye Partnership and the Environment Agency.