A visit to former industrial mining town Seaham revealed two contrasting stories separated by 100 years.
At the time there was a wedding reception being held in Seaham Hall so no chance of having a look around, but it’s another wedding that it’s noted for.
On 2nd January 1815 romantic poet and world traveller Lord Byron married Anne Millbanke. These passages taken from the book ‘The Life and Writings of Lord Byron’.
‘Anna, the daughter of Sir Ralph Millbanke was an attractive looking, learned, prim young lady. They were married in the drawing room at Seaham, Sir Ralph’s place. At first all went smoothly’.
‘But Byron’s money difficulties, drinking bouts, orgies, liver disease and now took laudanum habitually. Trembling in the balance between sanity and madness his conduct was very unkind. Lady Byron talked of him keeping loaded pistols in the room’.
‘Her husband’s resolve to travel either with or without her, she preferring to stay in England. He told her in a fit of rage, he never cared for her, and would free himself from the bondage of matrimony. The marriage barely lasted a year and shortly after he left England for good’.
In complete contrast just over a mile away on the seafront terrace is a nine foot tall statue of a First World War soldier I’ve visited a few times.
Originally created as a temporary display in 2014 by prolific North East artist Ray Lonsdale, the sculpture is officially named ‘1101’. Referring to the first minute of peace as armistice started 11am 11 November 1918 – now it’s known affectionately as ‘Tommy’.
Local residents and business’ felt strongly enough about Tommy they raised enough funds to buy the statue outright and make him a permanent fixture on the terrace green.
Made of rusty red steel Tommy is sitting with his helmet on, gun in hand and looking down. Has he just found out that war is over and is by himself catching his breath thinking about what he witnessed on the battlefield and all his marras who were killed?
Each time I’ve visited there’s been a quiet reverence shown by people of all ages paying respects laying a flower or small wooden cross, thinking about how wars have affected loved ones, relatives, and friends.
The soul of the sculpture is its emotional heft. Placed in the middle of the terrace green with his back to the sea he looks inland and finally able to say ‘We’re comin’ home’.
Ray’s work featured on this blog in September this year.