Drive to keep disputed military statue in town is set to succeed

The Woodbridge Heritage Group campaigned against the proposed relocation of "The Drums of the Fore a

The Woodbridge Heritage Group campaigned against the proposed relocation of "The Drums of the Fore and Aft" or Drummer Boy statue on Melton Hill - Credit: Su Anderson

Campaigners could be on the verge of winning their crusade to keep a Suffolk statue in the town where it has stood for the last 35 years.

Uncertainty over the future of the Drummer Boy statue outside Suffolk Coastal headquarters in Woodbridge may soon be over after district chiefs agreed to make plans to hand it over to the town council.

Suffolk Coastal had planned to move the statue to new headquarters a mile away in Melton when it relocates to the former Girdlestones site next year.

Although the council argued it was the custodian of the statue – having paid for any care and repair since it was installed in 1980 – no evidence could be found to determine its rightful owner.

Last month, Woodbridge mayor Josh Sayles called for the statue to either remain in its current spot or be relocated within the town. His appeal followed the receipt of a letter from the original owner’s family, saying the statue “should definitely remain in Woodbridge”.

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Campaigners claimed the Drummer Boy was donated by the Ninth Earl of Albemarle to the ‘people of the town’ after his father (the statue’s sculptor) died in 1979, and that his countess wife wished it to be on public display in Woodbridge following his own death.

Suffolk Coastal will now discuss arranging its transfer, and will organise and manage its relocation, providing the town council can guarantee its safe keeping, coordinate the search for a new site, seek relevant permissions and provide a new base for the statute.

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Geoff Holdcroft, chairman of the district’s accommodation project board, and a town councillor, said that despite an extensive search, there was no record of how the statue came to be located on Melton Hill.

Following a meeting of the accommodation board, he said the council would be willing to discuss transfer of custody to the town council.

Linda Seagers, a member of the Woodbridge Heritage Group, who discovered plans to move the statue in a town council ward newsletter, said: “On behalf of campaigners, I think this is excellent news.

“The support we had from the people of Woodbridge helped the campaign so much. Almost everyone was behind us.

“The Drummer Boy exemplifies the thriving historic market town in which it stands.”

Meanwhile, the recently formed Melton Local History Society has suggested the statue stay in its current spot.

Chairman Geof Butterwick said: “It is surely not beyond their [Suffolk Coastal’s] ability to make arrangements for the retention of the statue on its current site as part of the eventual planning consent.

“The small plot on which it stands could be leased to Woodbridge Town Council. The cost of doing so, and of any ‘builder-proof’ temporary protection, should be met not by the public purse, but by the developer – a tiny fraction of their likely profit from the site.

“We believe that, if the statue stays where it is on the boundary between Melton and Woodbridge, the people of both Melton and Woodbridge will still be able to pass it, as they have done for the last 35 years – a solution which might effectively please all.”

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