Captain Bill; the headless statue of Waterloo Street

This morning I was up early walking Pog. It’s lovely to be out before everyone else is, and I went via the Old Market to Waterloo Street. The Brunswick area of Hove is full of handsome late Georgian architecture, but there’s a particular quality to this little oasis. The renovated Old Market is now a theatre, and the precinct running past it to Waterloo Street has been turned into a garden of planters and hanging baskets.

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Market Street from Western Road

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Waterloo Arch, restored 1986, from Waterloo Street

All of this is thanks to residents, who have been improving the area ever since the 1980s, when they successfully campaigned to have the arch onto Waterloo Street restored. The street deserves it. It was once described as ‘chaotic.’ Now you can appreciate a fine building like St Andrew’s Church, built in 1828 by Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the Palace of Westminster

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and this, latest addition – a headless statue by the Waterloo Arch at the entrance to the garden.

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It has a timeless, classical quality, like one of the figures from the Parthenon frieze, all the more expressive for being broken. He is wearing Nineteenth Century uniform, but I couldn’t be sure what nationality it was, and I wondered if it was a lucky and very decorative bit of salvage.

The truth is much more extraordinary. There was a notice nearby identifying him as a Light Infantry officer. William ‘Bill’ Pechell, Captain in 77th Regiment Second Brigade Light Division was the son of Brighton’s MP Admiral Sir George Brooke-Pechell Bt and his wife the Hon Katherine Bishopp. Captain Pechell was killed in the Crimean War, ‘gallantly doing his duty in advance of the fifth Parallel before Sebastopol September 3rd 1855.’ He was 25. Captain Pechell had been a hugely popular officer. His death devastated his parents and shocked his regiment. The town went into mourning and decided that a statue was the best way to show their respects to a man who was – as the inscription on the original plinth read – ‘Beloved by all who knew him’ (Dissertation by Anthony McIntosh, University of Brighton).

The commission went to Matthew Noble RA, now famous for the Wellington Monument in Manchester, the statues of Robert Peel and the Earl of Derby in Parliament Square and the effigy of Prince Albert in the Albert Memorial. Noble’s statue in Caen stone portrayed Captain Pechell just before he was killed, leading his men on against the Russian redoubt.

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(c) Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art

The statue was set up in February 1859, on a specially reinforced floor in the ‘Hall of Worthies’ in Brighton Pavilion, a powerful expression of civic pride in a building which had been bought from the Government by the Brighton Corporation nine years before.

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(c) Pinterest

Then something rather sad happened. A succession of committees moved Captain Pechell’s statue on, each time further and further into the shadows. First, in 1914, to the entrance hall of Brighton Museum. Then in 1930 he was pushed to the far end of the permanent sculpture gallery. Finally in 1940 he was sent to storage in the Rangers Yard at Stanmer Park,

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(c) Simon Alexander/Public Sculptures of Sussex

where, in time, his arms were broken, his head was lost and the elements did their work weathering the limestone.

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(c) Public Sculptures of Sussex

There he remained until March this year, when he was given to the Waterloo Street Community Garden. I don’t know the mechanics of how he was rediscovered and saved, but it is a wonderful resurrection, and a result that Captain Pechell and Matthew Noble deserve. Ollie Sykes our local councillor supports it as a traffic-calming measure. Which I’m sure it is. But this must be only the official reason for approving of something which, I’m sure he would agree, captures the spirit of the Waterloo Street residents, who’ve got such an appreciation for where they live, and a sense of the beauty that grows out of public spiritedness.

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