Sudbury: 100-year-old recalls tales of historic town occasion

Mercy Braham holds a photo from the official opening of the Sudbury Gainsborough statue that belonge

Mercy Braham holds a photo from the official opening of the Sudbury Gainsborough statue that belonged to her grandfather and former Sudbury Mayor Benjamin Marten. - Credit: Archant

It was one of the most high profile events ever to take place in Sudbury – carried out by royalty and watched by hundreds of spectators.

The original unveiling of the memorial to one of Suffolk’s most famous sons, Thomas Gainsborough, took place on June 10, 1913. This year to mark the centenary of the 8ft 6in statue, which has become a familiar landmark on Sudbury’s Market Hill, a re-creation of the event is planned to coincide with the anniversary.

In 1913, official duties of removing the canvas cover shrouding the statue were performed by the Duchess of Argyll, HRH Princess Louise, who was the fourth of Queen Victoria’s nine children.

Also present was town mayor at the time, Benjamin Robert Marten. Remarkably, his granddaughter Mercy Braham will also celebrate her 100th birthday this year and she has vivid recollections of the stories he told her of the unveiling.

She said: “My grandfather was a very respected mayor and he ran a newspaper printing business with a big house above it that overlooked Market Hill. I remember him telling me that the servants were all allowed to hang out of the windows and watch the procession and unveiling from the upstairs windows.

“As my mother was six months pregnant with me at the time, she was unable to attend because it wasn’t considered right to be seen at a public event when you were in such a condition.”

Mrs Braham, who has kept several original photographs of the unveiling, also recalls being told that the day did not go without a hitch. A gust of wind reportedly secured the canvas cover around the statue so it would not pull free and when the princess pulled the rope, it snapped. The canvas caught on Gainsborough’s palette so the cover had to be freed by a local painter and decorator with a handy ladder.

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Mrs Braham added: “I remember being told by my aunt Ethel that the cloth didn’t come off first time when Princess Louise pulled the cord.”

Although Mrs Marten is too frail to attend the re-creation, her daughter Rosalyn Lucas hopes to be there.

She said: “When I read about the re-creation in the EADT I got in touch because I knew mum had a photograph of the unveiling on her wall.

“It’s fascinating to see the old buildings and the finery people were dressed in for the occasion.

“It was a very important event.”