Flashback to 1993

1993

For Lord Hill, Shropshire's great military hero of the Napoleonic Wars, it was a big comedown.

He had stood proudly on his perch overlooking Shrewsbury for nearly 180 years.

But for a long time he hadn't been himself. The great Shropshire general, who had been one of Wellington's right hand men at the Battle of Waterloo, was going to pieces.

Bits had been falling off the 17ft statue standing on top of what is often claimed to be the world's tallest Grecian Doric column, and so he was in need of some emergency repairs.

So on Tuesday, October 12, 1993, specialists cut the Coade stone statue into five pieces using a diamond cutter before lowering him to the ground.

The statue at the top of the Grade II listed column had been covered in scaffolding and screened off since January of that year when pieces of stone started falling from his coat after years of being battered by the weather.

Experts examined him and discovered the damage was serious. English Heritage and the Department of the Environment were called in and a £143,500 restoration package was agreed by Shropshire County Council.

English Heritage paid the bulk of the bill, with the council chipping in £60,000.

The painstaking repair work by stone restoration experts in London took much longer than had been expected because the decay proved to be worse than first thought.

At one point it looked as if he might not be returned to his position at the top of The Column at all.

Consideration was given to bringing him back to Shrewsbury but putting him somewhere else nearby where he would be less exposed to the elements.

After a number of delays the restored statue was returned to The Column bit by bit in the autumn of 1995, with the first piece being hoisted up on September 19, and the last piece, the head, being put in place in early October.

That was not, and is not, the end of the story, as the crumbling statue continues to be an expensive headache, with some Shrewsbury folk asking whether the continuing cost is worth it.

Despite a further three-month restoration in 2007, the following year there was more alarm after a fist-sized piece of Grinshill stone fell from under the statue, resulting in it being fenced off once more.

In 2013 views were canvassed from the public on three options – keep repairing the statue, put up a replica in more durable material, or get rid of Lord Hill and put somebody else on top of The Column.

The problem of bits falling off him goes back longer than you might think. On June 18, 1945, part of his right arm fell off. The one hundredweight piece burst into fragments, breaking windows in a nearby telephone box and smashing a traffic lamp. Children who had just left nearby St Giles’ School had a narrow escape.

Nor is the replica idea a new one. Back in 1965 there was talk of replacing him with a fibreglass model, and for exactly the same reason – the deterioration of the statue.

Whether the statue today bears much resemblance to Lord Hill has to be open to serious doubt, because back in September 1967 his face was completely remodelled and he was given a new head of hair.

Who was Lord Hill anyway? He was Rowland Hill of Hawkstone and Hardwick Grange, Shropshire, who made his name in the Peninsular War in a long, bloody, but ultimately successful campaign against Napoleon’s forces in Spain and Portugal.

The ceremony for the laying of the first stone of The Column, paid for by public subscription, was on December 27, 1814, and the last stone was laid in 1816, on the first anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, where Hill had added lustre to his reputation.

The stone Lord Hill has had quite an eventful life. He was painted black during the war to stop him being a landmark for enemy planes, he was struck by lightning in 1909, and he received a new leg in 1984.

In 2007 a protester climbed 70ft up the scaffolding and put up three banners. He was arrested by police after he returned to earth.

There are steps inside The Column to the top, and sadly there has been at least one suicide.

Exact height of The Column is 133ft 6ins, which means the total height with the statue is around 150ft.

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