To The Editor – “Rye’s Own” – September 2002
I had intended to write in rage about the practice of Rother District Council of harvesting taxes raised in Rye in order to spend them largely for the benefit of residents in Bexhill. Assuming of course that those residents do benefit from lavish expenditure on the De La Warr Pavilion or from failed Pop Festivals amongst other things.
But in the September Issue of Rye’s Own you spiked my guns and I can really do no more than congratulate you for having taken up the cudgels on behalf of Rye.
The transfer of power from Rye to Rother in the 1970’s under orders of a government led by Ted Heath (He also led this country of ours into the European Union) has, I believe, been an unmitigated disaster on both counts.
All I will say on the subject is that, as a result of the recent re-organisation of local government, Rother as with all District Councils, now has it’s own Cabinet. Just like the Government. Instead of having a Chairman it now has a Leader Councillor Gubby. As something of a student of languages it amuses me to reflect on this change of title.
In German the word for Leader is Fuhrer’
Doesn’t bode too well for the future does it?
David Sharp & Michael Renton
On a different level altogether and with my disgust for Rother put aside, I am prompted by your other excellent piece on Rye’s great personalities to bring forward an account of my friendship with the late David Sharp and Michael Renton which I had intended for a later date. In my list of unfinished business (item 4) I did refer to my desire to see a permanent memorial to these two artists.
This was not the first time though that I had raised this issue. Here is how I raised it before……..
Five Artists in Rye
Shortly before his death, David Sharp and I were planning to turn part of his premises in The Mint into a more or less permanent Gallery for our work. It was an idea born and nurtured with large quantities of alcohol, for the consumption of which David had an enormous capacity.
This ex Para, ex middle weight boxing champion of his Regiment, had only gone to Rye for a day and stayed for the rest of his life. He enjoyed drinking as much as he enjoyed life and laughter. He was in every sense a large man.
Michael too was a large man but whereas David was always around town somewhere, Michael seemed just a bit mysterious as he appeared and disappeared to and from his studio home by the long line of poplars that reach from Icklesham out into the Brede Valley. As he was a non driver I never found how this was achieved but his presence either in The George or the Ypres was always stimulating and refreshing.
Both men had special and unique gifts which have left enduring marks on Rye. David through his pottery, still run by Dot & Ben Sharp, and the timeless legacy of his hand painted house plaques that are so characteristic of Rye. Michael with his wood engravings, examples of which can be seen in a book on Rye – I’ve only seen it once, can’t remember the title or who published it but whose quality left an indelible mark in my memory ….. And also his gift as a Lettering Artist, carved in stone or hand painted, examples may be found in many local churches.
David Sharp is Dead
As I was crossing by the Sluice Gate on Winchelsea Road one morning Terry, a fellow artist who had run the little art shop in the The Mint for years, called out to me as he walked along by the Tillingham. “Have you heard Ron? – David Sharp is dead.”
It was one of those moments you never forget.
As was his funeral. His coffin draped with the Union Flag attended by a standard bearer from the British Legion. Old comrades from the Parachute Regiment in their distinctive red berets mixed with members of his family as well as with the many shaggy arty types, admirers young and old and many a fellow drinker who had come to see him off.
We all knew that Rye had lost something special.
After the funeral I met up with Michael Renton and Chad Coleman in the Ypres.
Over our beers I reflected on the loss and suggested we should think of some sort of memorial to David as a permanent tribute to him.
Chad said that David would always be remembered for his plaques and suggested that we should have some made and inscribed “David Sharp Drank Here”. It wasn’t long though before we realised that this would call for a huge number of plaques if they were to be fixed to the door of every pub that David had frequented and this proliferation would weaken the effect.
On the other hand, a plaque inscribed “David Sharp Did Not Drink Here” would certainly carry more weight but the chance of finding such a place within a five mile radius seemed extremely remote.
After a few more beers and more reflection Michael looked up.
“It has always struck me as unfortunate” he said “not to say unsatisfactory and unacceptable, that we do not have a public statue in Rye. I could remedy that state of affairs. I could create a statue of David, unlike that of Michaelangelo, that would from time to time lurch unsteadily on its feet.”
It was a brilliant idea. A full height unsteady statue – but where to put it? And, more to the point, would the wretched planners ever give it planning consent?
We all knew that however many qualifications they may have, the one thing planning officers lacked was vision and soul.
We stared into our beer. It was my turn to say something.
“I sit on a lot of committees” I said. I knew that in such company this could well be offensive, that it wasn’t normal for artists to sit on committees but it was just the way I was.
“So why don’t we start the David Sharp Memorial Committee? After all, we can’t arrive at a decision now – But a Committee could meet three or four times a year. It could raise money for the Memorial by public subscription and some of this money could be used for alcoholic refreshment for members of the Committee as they considered what form the Memorial would take.”
At this point their eyes lit up.
“Of course it would be difficult to arrive at a unanimous decision – in fact it would be impossible – that would be the beauty of the Committee.
The David Sharp Memorial Committee would itself be his memorial – a quarterly excuse for its members to get together for a good booze-up paid for by others in his undying memory.”
We didn’t set up the Committee though.
We didn’t get any plaques made either.
Rye has no unsteady statue of David and Michael Renton is no longer with us.
I still think its a good idea though. Rye needs a permanent symbol of the independent spirit and total eccentricity of most of its inhabitants.
Now there’s Chad and me left – and Terry of course. But Terry has sold up and I haven’t seen Chad since Dick and Babs left the Ypres.
And I’m getting old.
At least that’s what my enemies tell me.
Ron Dellar September 2002
“Rye’s Own” November 2002
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