Hurstpierpoint’s historic fair celebrates with sculpture

Sculpture maquette, courtesy Bob Sampson

The Sussex village of Hurstpierpoint will celebrate a very special year in 2013, which will mark the 700th anniversary of the annual St Lawrence Fair. Hurstpierpoint has been celebrating the feast of its patron saint since the 14th century and the fair is one of the oldest in the United Kingdom.

King Edward II granted a charter which allowed one fair a year to be held to celebrate St Lawrence and historians say that the fair has taken place every year since then, breaking only during World Wars I and II.

During recent months there has been a competition to create a commemorative sculpture which would be a permanent memorial to the Fair’s origins. Three works went on display last November and after public consultation the final choice has been made. Local artist and village resident Sylvia Thornhill has won the competition with her sculpture ‘Circle of Children’.

I talked with Sylvia to find out about her connections with Hurstpierpoint, her sculpting and her inspiration for the competition.

Sylvia has been deeply involved in Hurstpierpoint life for many years and is well known in the area teaching at St Lawrence C of E Primary School until her retirement, while earlier in her career she taught at Southway Primary School in Burgess Hill

Once she had retired from St Lawrence School Sylvia began to look afresh at much-loved interests that she’d had little time for when raising her family of 5 children and teaching. Starting with watercolour and life painting classes, she progressed to sculpture which she found she really enjoyed, creating several pieces of work.

Sylvia told me that when the sculpture competition was announced she was very keen to enter, having attended the St Lawrence Fair for the best part of 40 years; her children took part in the fancy dress competitions and were on the floats in the parades – and now her grandchildren join in too. “It’s a wonderful place to meet people you haven’t seen for a year — and I once met a couple from the Midlands who I hadn’t seen since I was 20!” she recalls.

Deciding that children would be her theme for the sculpture competition, one of Sylvia’s daughters-in-law suggested a ring and Sylvia took this idea further to create a circle of seven children, representing the seven centuries since the charter was signed by King Edward II on 23rd. July 1313.

So far Sylvia has created a maquette from clay at 1:10 of the finished size, which will be about 80 cm. high on a plinth of 150 cm diameter. This was the piece the public and committee saw and chose over the other entries. Sylvia explained the next stages in the process: “I am now planning the full size version by sketching, making cardboard 2D full size versions and have just started making a couple of working figures at a scale of 1:4, so that the armature (rather like a skeleton) can be very carefully planned. The position and meeting of the hands is also quite tricky as the figures will be individual but will give the impression of joining hands”.

The figures will be cast in cold cast bronze resin, mainly because the cost of bronze for this size of sculpture would be prohibitive. Sylvia goes on to explain that she will make two figures initially and while these are being cast will work on a third, then the originals of the first two will be returned so that she can be sure the hands will give an impression of holding on to each other. This will continue until all seven are completed.

“I am very excited about winning but also apprehensive as it is quite a big undertaking” Sylvia says. “Once I get properly started I know I shall love it. The opening will be on 6th July 2013 but I hope to be well on the way this year as there is the plinth and siting to be properly sorted out too” she continues.

Sylvia has sold several sculptures locally and has been organising the Open Studios art events in Hurstpierpoint for several years now, recently joining up with the Hurst Festival which takes place in September.

Sylvia and her husband open their house and garden, with Sylvia showing her watercolours, acrylics, etching and some sculptures. The event provides refreshments, raising funds for Voice for Disability as Sylvia is chairman of the local group. She hopes that at this year’s Open House she may be able to show the start of Circle of Children.

The photo is of the original maquette to give an idea of the concept and the finished sculpture will provide a marvellous commemoration of the St Lawrence Fair and its long links with Hurstpierpoint.

For more details on Sylvia’s work, the Open Studios or Voice for Disability, contact her by phone on 01273 832510, or by e-mail: s.thornhill@freedom255.com

This feature was published in The Sussex Newspaper online on March 8th

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