For many hundreds of years Gypsies and Travellers have lived, worked and travelled in the South Downs, contributing their bit to one of the most beautiful of British landscapes. Yet look closely and evidence for that past is almost impossible to see.
So, throughout the Spring and Summer of 2023 Romany artist blacksmith Jake Bowers and scores of community members set to work to make a permanent and powerful reminder of that presence as part of the National Trust’s Changing Chalk Project. Their sculpture of a life-sized Gypsy cob will soon find a permanent home in the downs. For now, it is temporarily on display at the National Trust’s Saddlescombe Farm near Brighton and will be available to see at an Open Day on Sunday 17th of September.
“The measurements for the sculpture came from a real-life model - Winnie the Gypsy Cob, the much-loved horse owned by my sister Priscilla Bowers. By taking this lovely mare’s vital statistics we had a life-sized model to that could be made steel,” says Jake Bowers, who is also co-chair of the Gypsy and Traveller led campaign group Drive 2 Survive.
“After the framework and legs were welded firmly on, we decided it was time to take Priscilla, Queen of the South, as she had become known, on a nationwide tour so that members of our community, the public and public sector workers could each forge part of her massive mane, feathery feet and tail.” says Drive 2 Survive co-chair Sherrie Smith. “Our presence at Appleby Fair, for example, allowed scores of Gypsies and Traveller community members to create part of the sculpture.”
The sculpture was taken on a 1000-mile tour throughout Britain from Devil’s Dyke in the South Downs, via Appleby Fair in Cumbria and Romany Day at the Tilford Rural Life Centre in Surrey.
It is the first public sculpture to be unveiled as part of Project Atchin Tan, a Drive 2 Survive initiative seeking to include the voices of Gypsies and Travellers on issues of sustainability and global warming, at least 2 other horse sculptures are planned, largely made from recycled steel and the skills of Gypsy and Traveller community members. If you want to be involved, get in touch with Jake Bowers on 07966 786242
Those wanting to meet Priscilla in person can join the Heritage Open Day at Saddlescombe Farm, Saddlescombe Road, near Brighton, West Sussex, BN45 on Sunday 17th of September.
Changing Chalk is a multi-partner, multi-project initiative led by the National Trust. Its aim is to restore lost habitats, bring histories to life, and provide new experiences in the outdoors.