Lending out our Heritage

Many of you will have seen in the Lichfield Mercury of 26th February that the owners of Swinfen Hall Hotel have approached the District Council with a request to have on loan the statues of "The Girl Reading" and "Old Father Time" for a period of five years. The Leisure sub-committee has, I believe, recommended to the General Service Committee that the request should be acceded to but in the case of the "Girl Reading" for a period of only two years. The Civic Society has provisionally objected to the proposal. In part our misgivings arise from doubts that once the statues are installed in the hotel they will remain there indefinitely, especially if at the end of the loan period financial incentives are offered for their continuing retention and little has been achieved in selecting a fitting venue in the City for their display.

The Society recognises that there is some merit in agreeing the arrangement for the statue of "Old Father Time" subject to certain conditions about its return. The statue is currently housed on the upper floor if the former Library building in Beacon Street and is not readily available for public access. Despite negotiations between the District and County Councils in the past about the relocation of this statue it is understood that no agreement can be reached about the sharing of the costs. These are not trivial; estimated to be about 10,000. The Swinfen Hall Hotel is prepared to meet these costs in return for being allowed to borrow the statue; but what seems to be inferred - and here there is a lack of information - is that any package would be dependent on the loan of both statues.

The Civic Society objects to the removal of "The Girl Reading" from its current position in the Library. We are aware that its present siting hardly befits such a beautiful work of art; but its setting in the Library is highly appropriate to the subject matter. Each year it is seen and admired by thousands of visitors to the Library and it seems quite wrong, and scarcely civic-minded, to deprive the public of that pleasure for two years for the benefit of tourists and conference users at the hotel. The enterprise of the hotel can only be admired. What I find ironic is that the owners of the hotel appear to consider that there is great value to be derived from displaying these statues - "Old Father Time" would be a focal point for millenium celebrations - whereas the local Councils, as the statues owners and curators, do not appear to think so.

Mike Tole
February 1998