Images of Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Centre
Millennium Clock, Five Ways - July 2002

Millennium Clock, Five Ways

The Daily Telegraph writes on Saturday 17 October 1998:
Outbreak of disgust greets Millennium monument (Matt Born)

The residents of Tunbridge Wells, guardians of the mood of Middle England, are, once again, disgusted.

This time, the object of their hostility is a 25ft piece of modern art to be built in the town centre to commemorate the Millenium. The sculpture, a clock perched on four wrought iron legs, will be erected at the Five Ways junction in the north of the town. It was created by Jon Mills, an internationally renowned artist, who was chosen as the winner from 97 entries to a council-run competition.

Many residents, however, fear that the 25,000 sculpture is too avant-garde for the conservative Georgian town in Kent, whose best known landmark is The Pantiles, a colonnaded street that leads to the spa.

Leonard Price, chairman of the town's planning committee, which approved the sculpture after a heated debate and only by the narrowest of margins, said the clock was inappropriate and completely out of step with the town's character. He said: "It's like four hop-poles with a clock on top. But hops have nothing to do with Tunbridge Wells." More pointedly, it had nothing to do with the Millennium, he said. "This is supposed to commemorate 2000 years since the birth of Christ, but it doesn't reflect that at all. It's just a clock on legs." Mr Price, a draughtsman, said the sculpture was "artistically immature" and easily forgettable. It was "an ode to Tony Blair", he said, adding: "And, yes, I am pretty disgusted."

Fellow councillor Ruth Baker, one of the sculpture's most vehement critics, said: "As a spa town, a fountain would have been much more appropriate. I don't want to be mean to the artist but this sculpture is completely out of proportion. The clock is too small for those gigantic spindly legs." She also warned that it was likely to be treated as a giant public climbing frame. She said: "It's an invitation to vandalism. The young blades of the town will be tempted to try to climb it."

But Mr Mills, 39, defended the piece, saying he was surprised by the criticism. He said: "It's a very delicate piece of forged metal work. It won't be out of place and it's not near The Pantiles." The Brighton-based artist, whose previous commissions include a weather-vane for Southampton city council and chandeliers for the London Festival Orchestra, admitted that his latest design had no particular relevance to Tunbridge Wells but said the numbers that adorned the legs and symbolised the passing of time had a universal significance. He said: "I can't understand why people are upset - though a few people wanted a sculpture of Diana, Princess of Wales. Perhaps that's what they meant by a 'missed opportunity'."

Sally Staples, the council's arts development officer, said she was surprised at criticism. she said that a selection panel made up of representatives from the council, local artists and conservation groups had overwhelmingly favoured Mr Mills's piece. She said: "There was no real dissension. The panel supported it and so did the public, who were given a chance to view all the entries and register their opinions. But of course, whenever there's an aesthetic decision somebody is going to object."

Mr Mills said he would start work on the clock next month. It is due to be erected in March next year (1999).

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