Vandalised Burns statue nears return to its former glory

Konrad Ziolkowski with the statue
Konrad Ziolkowski with the statue
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PERHAPS headless is not quite how our national bard would have remembered his most mysterious muse.

But after a few finishing touches to reunite her body with her face – and the same with his own – a Victorian statue of Robert Burns and Mary Campbell (“Highland Mary”) will finally be restored to its former glory.

Sylwia Mosko reassembles the statue

Sylwia Mosko reassembles the statue

The 7ft pair have been missing five of their limbs and both of their heads since they were vandalised more than 30 years ago, but they are now to be given a new lease of life.

“It’s an amazing job and we are very lucky and feel very privileged to be doing it,” said Leith-based sculpture conservationist Graciela Ainsworth, who has spent the last nine months repairing the three-tonne marble statue with a specialist team of staff.

The statue was sculpted by Victorian artist Hamilton C MacCarthy around 1888 and was gifted to Bathgate Town Council in the early 1950s.

For many years it took pride of place in the town’s Kirkton Park until it was badly vandalised in the 1970s – for which the culprits were never found – and has been locked in storage ever since.

One of Burns’ legs and an arm were missing, as well as both of Mary’s legs and one of her arms, and their heads.

Ms Ainsworth will use the next fortnight to work on finishing touches, including fixing both heads to their respective bodies.

The restored piece will then be unveiled at its new home, in the garden of the Bathgate Partnership Centre, Lindsay House, on January 25.

Work to restore the statue to its former glory cost around £50,000, with Bathgate Historic Conservation Society raising the money over the last two years.

Ms Ainsworth, 51, carried out the restoration at her workshop in Leith, referring to an old photograph of the statue before it was vandalised.

She said: “We found a lovely little thistle carved at the back of Burns’ foot, the original drill marks from when Hamilton C MacCarthy carved it using the pointing machine.

“We also found there had once been a turntable and on one of the base sections directly underneath the statues there are four holes for handles, so it would have been able to move round like The Three Graces at the National Gallery.”

As part of the repair work, Ms Ainsworth has given talks, demonstrations and workshops.

The majority of funding for the repairs was provided by Maple Oak PLC, while West Lothian Council contributed around £15,000.

Joe Welsh, 78, a member of Bathgate Historic Conservation Society, said: “We have been to the workshop a couple of times to view the work in progress and we are very impressed with it.

“At one point, about 12 months or so ago, we were very down because we were getting nowhere with the fundraising, so it feels grand to now have the statue restored.”

The society intends to press Historic Scotland to consider having the restored statue recognised as a listed property, believing it will be worth almost £1 million.