The Victorians were fond of their statues – one of Queen Victoria herself stands at the junction of two paths in Newbury’s Victoria Park.
The statue was presented to the townspeople by self-styled “Lord” George Sanger, a showman and colourful character with links to the town, to commemorate the “Great and Good” Queen, who died on 22 January 1901, after an exceptionally long reign of 64 years. The statue was unveiled at a lively ceremony in the Market Place on 24 June 1903.
Writing in the 1960s NWN reader Mr Pickernell of Camberley shared thus his reminiscences of the 1903 unveiling:
“It was the wedding day of the daughter of Lord George Sanger of circus fame, who gave the statue to the town. My sister took up into Newbury by Mr Popejoy’s carrier’s cart to see the wedding. The bride was driven to church in a little carriage drawn by six pure white Shetland ponies. Afterwards, she toured the town, holding a lion on a chain by one hand, and a lamb on a white ribbon by the other. I was only eleven years old and was scared in case the lion got loose”.
For 30 years the statue stood in the Market Place, but in 1933 it was moved to make way for a car park and market stalls, and spent the next 30 years in the gardens of Greenham House in St John’s Road. Traffic issues again forced its removal- this time to make way for the North-South inner relief road.
In 1966 the statue was moved to its current location in Victoria Park, an undertaking which took all day, but there was room for only two of the four lions. The unlucky two stayed tarnished in the Corporation Depot, while the council devoted twenty minutes of meeting time to a discussion about what should happen to them. At the end of the meeting, reports the NWN mischievously, “the council were even further away from deciding what to do with the two lions than when they started.”
As ever, townspeople were keen to offer suggestions, which “both constructive and frivolous” poured into the Newbury Weekly News office. Mr P Pocock of Chieveley suggested they might be gifted to the people of Newbury’s German twin town Braunfels. It is not clear what the people of Braunfels thought (or if they were even consulted), but transport costs were felt to be too high, and the risk of damage on the journey too great. So the unlucky two remained tarnished in the Corporation Depot until later in 1966 when they were gifted to Mr Gilbert Beale and spent many happy years at Beale Park, between Basildon and Pangbourne.
But Newbury people have long memories and the lions continued to be missed. A 1994 attempt to get them back ended in failure, and the statue was often the target of vandals in the 1990s.
But in 2001 the Mayor Dr Sue Farrant, reacting to public pressure, got things moving again, and in June 2002 all four lions were reunited in Victoria Park – almost 100 years after they were first gifted to the town.
And that’s where they have been ever since.