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Statuesque Verity drives off detractors

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 10, 2012

  • The scale of the statue is appreciated from a distance, with Verity towering over Ilfracombe harbour. Up close, the detail becomes clearer

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Few young ladies have ever caused such a stir in the West Country – it's hardly been a month now and yet you'll know all about her miles before you reach town – and, down in the watering hole where she hangs out (quite literally), hordes arrive daily to see the statue's most intimate parts.

Yellow AA road signs have gone up along rural highways around the port so no one can be in any doubt as to Verity's whereabouts – and in Ilfracombe the annual November tourist no-show seems as distant as high summer.

It was an unscientific survey but in a single hour on a cold grey afternoon this week the Daily Press watched more than 100 people park on the harbourside to either gawp at or admire the controversial 60-foot bronze.

Only one in ten of the dozens of visitors I talked to said they disliked the bronze depiction of a naked pregnant woman holding a sword to the sky.

Even then comments such as this, from Jabi Preston of Braunton, were the most typical: "It's horrible. At least it is from this side," she said looking up at the seaborne side of Verity's posterior which has all the interior bits on view, including the unborn foetus.

"But to be honest," she added, "I quite liked her from the other side."

What you're far more likely to hear are comments like these, from John and Patricia Wilson of Barnstaple: "Inspiring… we're impressed. She will do nothing but good for the town."

You needn't take the word of two day-visitors for that – far more telling, from a micro-economic point of view at least, are the words of Paul Prideaux, who was busy frying mid-afternoon fish in his Lyn Bay chip-shop just along The Quay.

"She's had a massive impact – in fact we'd normally have closed up for the season by now in the weekdays, but it's been so busy we decided to remain open," he said.

"There's been a lot more people – we thought it would die-off after half-term week, but the visitors still keep coming."

Many of the Verity sightseers seemed to be consuming Mr Prideaux's deep-fried wares from the comfort of their cars as a chill north-westerly cut across.

However, an equal number were braving the cold for a stroll around to Verity's, er, ruder side."

Rose Ball, a visitor from Leicester, said of the various body parts – internal and external – on show: "It doesn't bother me – not in the least – and I've never had a baby."

Her friend Maureen Shaw seemed transfixed: "Amazing!" she declared. "There's only one criticism I have and that is that they should have put a donations box down here for all the people who like her to raise money for charity."

One man who can recall the collection of monies on Ilfracombe's pier is harbour master, Commander Rob Lawson, whose office – less than 100 metres from the statue – has by far the best view of all the young lady's bits-and-bobs.

"I can remember when you used to pay a penny to enter the quayside in those old booths over there," he mused. "And yes, they'd certainly earn some money now – it has been tremendous.

"I have never seen so many people here at this time of year – and they're all turning up to look at the statue. Whether you like her or not, there's no doubt that she is going to be very good for the town."

Builders are still at work under Verity's feet and the immediate area is fenced off as they lay cobbles and so on – but there is one thing that a great many visitors dearly hope they will be adding to round-off the Verity experience.

"We want a bit more information," said elderly Mr and Mrs Dean, from Chester. "Yes, we heard all about her on the news and decided to come and see her when we came down on holiday. But what we'd love is a plaque or something to explain what she is all about."

It was an observation repeated by Paul and Lindsey Armstrong, who have just moved to Ilfracombe. "She is inspiring – we really like her," said Lindsey, "but we can't quite work out what she's all about."

The need for a board was echoed by a large group from Barnsley, but one of them – retired mining engineer Herbert Ewell – was sizing Verity up for a different reason.

"That's the work of a foundry-man, that is," he shrugged. "I don't know about some famous artist – it's the men in the bronze foundry who were brilliant to make that. For me, though, I can't help thinking what she'd be worth in scrap-metal."

As I left the area, I passed a woman striding the other way – a person who may have been in one of the neighbouring watering holes for far too long that lunchtime. As she rounded the corner and saw Verity she staggered, stopped and spluttered: "Oh my God!"

It was the one reaction I heard that you can imagine might please the artist.

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