Bid to settle dispute over statue

The Woodbridge Heritage Group are campaigning against the proposed relocation of "The Drums of the F

The Woodbridge Heritage Group are campaigning against the proposed relocation of "The Drums of the Fore and Aft" statue on Melton Hill. - Credit: Su Anderson

Lawyers will be asked to help settle an ongoing dispute over the future of a Suffolk statue.

Woodbridge Town Council is reaching out to family of the Ninth Earl of Albemarle for evidence that may prove who owns the ‘Drummer Boy’.

Suffolk Coastal wants it moved to new offices a mile away in Melton, while campaigners say it should stay in a prominent spot in Woodbridge.

At a town council meeting this week, it was decided to contact relatives to establish if the Dowager Countess of Albemarle left explicit instructions.

Linda Seagers, who first discovered the planned move in a neighbourhood newsletter, said: “It is our firm wish for it to remain in Woodbridge. The support of the town is quite phenomenal.”

Former councillor Michael Rowland said he met the countess when she opened the old library, and that it was “obvious” the Albemarles had given the statue to the town.

Geoff Holdcroft, town councillor and the district’s accommodation project board chairman, said the statue stood on Suffolk Coastal’s land and that it was decided in March to move it (before he was chairman), in order to prevent damage during redevelopment. The matter was originally debated behind closed doors during a meeting on relocation of the offices.

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At the first board meeting he chaired, Mr Holdcroft questioned who owned the statue. He had since been unable to find any evidence proving to whom it belonged, despite studying minutes of meetings dating back from 1978-1980. However, Mr Holdcroft said what was certain was Suffolk Coastal being the current ‘custodian’ of the statue.

He said Sir Fergus Matheson, a direct descendent of the eighth earl’s daughter, Lady Elizabeth, had asked for the statue to be relocated to the ancestral home in Quidenham Hall, Norfolk, but that the council had declined his request, wishing instead for it to take “pride of place” at the new building in Melton.

Town councillor Kay Yule said she felt Suffolk Coastal had “put the cart before the horse” by discussing the issue “almost with the assumption that we were just going to take it”.

Deputy mayor Lady Caroline Blois proposed writing to the family, who could in turn ask lawyers if the countess left any instructions.

County councillor Caroline Page has offered £1,500 from her locality budget towards relocating the statue within town. The Woodbridge Society will also recommend that £500 be allocated to the campaign.

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