Eyemouth memorial is in a class of its own

John MacNairney presenting the Special Recognition award to Ena Aitchison of the 125 Memorial Association and Jill Watson the sculptor, at the Scottish Civic Trust awards ceremony,
John MacNairney presenting the Special Recognition award to Ena Aitchison of the 125 Memorial Association and Jill Watson the sculptor, at the Scottish Civic Trust awards ceremony,

A special award category has been created by the Scottish Civic Trust to recognise the 17 feet long Widows & Bairns statue at Eyemouth.

At the trust’s annual Scottish Places award ceremony a special recognition award was presented to the sculptor Jill Watson and Ena Aitchison of the 125 Memorial Association for the statue that depicts the Eyemouth families left behind following Britain’s worst fishing disaster.

The trust’s My Place awards are for spaces where people can gather, reflect and celebrate civic pride but the Eyemouth memorial didn’t fit any of the categories.

Fiona Sinclair, chair of the judging panel explained: “The Scottish Civic Trust My Place Awards are designed to celebrate community involvement and civic mindedness: the process as well as the project.

“Having said that, every so often an entry comes along that doesn’t fit exactly within the criteria against which the judging is carried out. In some instances - usually artwork - community “benefit” can be difficult to define, but in the case of the widows and bairns sculpture, the backstory and beauty of the memorial were so compelling that the judges rapidly concluded that a Special Recognition Award was appropriate.

“Quite unlike any other entry submitted for the My Place Awards, the sculpture moved the judges greatly, as did the determination of the client and designer to avoid compromise in their delivery of a fitting memorial to such tragic loss of life.”

The scuplture by Jill Watson stands on Eyemouth bantry where the 78 widows and 182 children watched helplessly as the Berwickshire fishing fleet was decimated by a hurricane on October 14, 1881. Each figure has a name and age, the widows and bairns stand in groups above their family boat on the 5m wall which also has the names of the boats inscribed on it.

It is one of four statues by Jill that are placed along the Berwickshire coastline - the others at St Abbs, Burnmouth and Cove - all depicting the exact number of widows and children in those villages affected by the storm that left 93 Berwickshire widows and 267 children without their fathers.

The 125 Memorial Association was set up to raise money for the permanent memorials and the Eyemouth memorial was the last to be unveiled in 2016. Their focus was on those left behind to carry on and rebuild communities after the tragedy.

Jim Evans, the association’s chairman said of the award: “The Scottish Civic Trust’s My Place award judges recognised the inspired story which has been brought to life by the magnificent sculptures created by Jill Watson.

“The award is a fitting tribute to the descendents, all those who have contributed so much and been involved with bringing to life Jill Watson’s remarkable and powerful sculpture.

“It was the women and bairns, not the drowned men, who regenerated the communities so devastatingly affected. We believe this sculpture is an economic and cultural asset to the Scottish Borders and the whole of Scotland.”