Fitting tribute to the ‘saviour of the nation’

A commemoration service for Lord Collingwood at St James' Church in Morpeth and the unveiling of a bust of Collingwood in Morpeth Town Hall.  The artist sculptor Helen Ridehalgh with Commodore Mike Mansergh from HMS Collingwood.
A commemoration service for Lord Collingwood at St James' Church in Morpeth and the unveiling of a bust of Collingwood in Morpeth Town Hall. The artist sculptor Helen Ridehalgh with Commodore Mike Mansergh from HMS Collingwood.

THERE was a hero’s welcome for Morpeth’s latest artwork as the town turned out to honour one of its greatest ever residents.

A bronze bust of Admiral Lord Collingwood was unveiled at Morpeth Town Hall last week in tribute to the ‘Northumbrian who saved the nation’.

The Oldgate resident is best remembered for leading the British fleet to victory at Trafalgar after the death of Nelson, but it was just one of many successful campaigns in almost five decades of service in the Royal Navy.

He often wrote of his affection for Morpeth, where he lived with his wife and two daughters, and last Thursday the place he called home honoured him in style.

There was a service at St James’s Church before the unveiling of the bust, which was followed by a series of talks and tours of Collingwood House.

Royal Navy personnel from HMS Collingwood and HMS Calliope were invited, along with representatives of the Menorca Britannia Association, which commissioned the 
original bust to stand near Collingwood House in Menorca, where the admiral spent the last five years of his life.

Morpeth Town Council, which together with the Friends of Morpeth Museum paid for a plinth, hosted the event.

Mayor Mark Horton said: “Collingwood would have come into the Town Hall when he lived here.

“He would have come through the door, been in the Butter Market and the Corn Exchange and come upstairs as an important visitor.

“I wonder if he ever thought there would be a bust of him here.

“It has taken 200 years to get it, but it’s great.”

Friends of Morpeth Museum chairman Ken Stait said: “It is a really proud moment for Morpeth.

“Admiral Collingwood was one of our greatest residents and this is fantastic recognition of his achievements.

“It is well-known how much he loved the town and it is a real privilege to be able to honour him.

“It’s great that the bust is in a public area where people can see it. It really adds something to the Town Hall.”

The project came about after former Greater Morpeth Development Trust (GMDT) heritage officer Tamsin Lilley was invited to the Menorcan bust unveiling to mark the 200th anniversary of Collingwood’s death in 2010 and inquired about using the mould for a Morpeth one.

The Menorcan group and artist Helen Ridehalgh agreed and a fund-raising campaign was launched by GMDT to pay for it.

Funding came from donations, collections at the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering, Voicemale concerts and the Collingwood Society.

Menorca Britannia president Bryce Lyons said: “When Tamsin said there wasn’t anything for Collingwood in Morpeth, we said it was about time there was, so we gave permission for one official copy to be made from the original mould.

“Now the mould has been destroyed.

“It’s great that, at long last, Collingwood has a likeness of himself in the place he called home.”

Ms Ridehalgh made the original in just five months after studying portraits and writings of the admiral.

She said: “I always try to get the character of the person and the detail of the historical reference. What really came out about Collingwood was his caring character.

“It was an absolute surprise to hear that Morpeth wanted a bust and I feel extremely honoured that it is here.”

GMDT heritage director Kim Bibby-Wilson said: “The original plan was to put the bust at Collingwood’s poop deck overlooking the river, but that is in a fairly parlous state and there are security issues, so it is in the Town Hall, which is very appropriate.

“He is looking away from the door because for the original he is looking towards Collingwood House in Menorca, but it is rather good because he is looking towards the people at the events in the Town Hall.

“It is great to see it. We had to make sure that the bust would fit in, which it does magnificently.”

Commodore Mike Mansergh, from HMS Collingwood, formally unveiled the bust.

He said: “We like to think that we have a very close connection to Admiral Collingwood, who influences all of our training with his character and all that he did in setting up the core values that the Royal Navy lives by today.

“Great people like Admiral Collingwood are there to inspire all of us, particularly in the Royal Navy.

“The sea is a hostile place and knowing how to cope with that environment is something where we draw experience from great characters like Admiral Collingwood.

“Over the years, we have had a connection to Morpeth, which is challenging because of the distance from the south coast, but we always have a warm welcome when we come to Morpeth and we hope that we can maintain the ties we have through Morpeth’s Admiral Collingwood history.”

The bust unveiling included displays by Morpeth Flower Club, performances by Voicemale and a display of work by Angela Noble to create a replica of one of Collingwood’s waistcoats.