A project has been launched to renovate the 108-year-old memorial to an eccentric novelist who insulted Bury St Edmunds.
The memorial to Maria Louise de la Rame, known as Ouida, has stood in Vinery Road at the junction with Out Westgate, Horringer Road and Petticoat Lane since 1910, when it was paid for by subscription to the Daily Mirror as an apology for its publication of a picture of a peasant the paper thought was the then poverty stricken author.
The move to restore it is headed by the Bury Society whose chairman Martyn Taylor said: “Until the roadworks there, it was obscured by a horrible, dilapidated phonebox and a tree. Now those have been taken away, you’ve got a clear view of the memorial.
“It was one of those things you didn’t appreciate you had until it was gone.”
Ouida – a childhood mispronunciation of part of her name – was born in Union Terrace, Hospital Road, in 1839 and began writing in London at the age of 18, going on to write 40 romances which Victorian society loved.
However, she had an extravagant lifestyle and eventually moved to Italy, where she allowed the stray dogs into her villa.
When she heard a plaque was being put on her birthplace in 1907, she said: “This tomfoolery in Suffolk annoys me very much.”.
Mr Taylor added: “She reputedly despised Bury St Edmunds and one of her most infamous quotes was that the townspeople rang their own doorbells in case they rusted up.
“As a person she didn’t make the sun shine for Bury, but she was born in Bury and she was a Victorian author and we only had one other Victorian author, Henry Cockton.”
Ouida died in poverty in Viareggio in 1908, aged 69, and her few remaining friends lobbied the Daily Mirror to fund the memorial.
Mr Taylor said the memorial is structurally sound but ‘in need of some TLC’, notably because salts from the bronze statues of sympathy and courage and the plaque have bled into the Portland stone.
The first quote for the work is £6,000 to which the Bury Society is committing £2,000 and Cllr Patrick Chung has promised £1,000 from his locality budget. Mr Taylor is now applying to Bury Town Council for a grant.
The memorial is surrounded by a water trough for dogs which Bury in Bloom hope to plant with flowers.