William III set to return to Petersfield Square

With specialist restoration almost complete, the statue of William III is set to return to Petersfield on Monday 23 October 2023 – weather conditions permitting

Oct 18 2023

Hampshire County Council appointed National Trust approved specialists, Rupert Harris Conservation to lead the restoration work on the Grade 1 listed equestrian statue to reattach the right arm and repair a crack across the right ankle. 

Leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Rob Humby, said: “I know what a popular landmark this lead statue of William III is in Petersfield. Although structurally sound, naturally with centuries old structures like this there is inevitably some damage over time due to environmental conditions such as the weather and, in more modern times, traffic emissions. I’m delighted that the statue’s restoration has been successful, and that William III will soon be back on his horse, set proudly on the plinth in the town’s square. Taking care of Hampshire’s historical monuments, wherever we can within our available resources is important if we are to preserve our sense of place for generations to come.”

Following the return of the statue to its plinth, finishing works will take place on 24 and 25 October before the scaffolding can be removed on 27 October.

History of the William III statue

The lead statue of William of Orange, in the costume of a Roman Senator, was commissioned by Sir William Jolliffe in 1750 and erected after his death in 1757 at Petersfield House. It was moved to the Square in the 1790’s.  

The form of the sculpture is derived from the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius (175 AD) on the Capitoline Hill in Rome. Hubert le Sueur used the same pose for his statue of Charles I (1663) at the top of Whitehall and the pose is repeated in Andries Carpentier’s lead statue of George I at Stowe (1723-4), Michael Rysbrack’s bronze of William Ill in Bristol (1733) and again with Peter Scheemakers’ gilded lead of William III in Kingston upon Hull (1734). 

Restoration history 

There are no reliable accounts of any restoration work being undertaken until the 20th century.

There are plausible accounts that the original statue, like its counterpart in Hull, was originally leaf gilded but that, following the statue being tarred and feathered during protests against Jolliffe’s election campaign, the gilding was stripped. 

It is reported that the statue has been restored several times since joining the County Council’s portfolio in 1911. However, there are very few records, with the exception of a 1918 newspaper report describing restorations by the Singer and Sons’ foundry in Frome where the following work is said to have been undertaken:
• Legs remodelled and cast
• A new iron armature fitted in the legs and body
• Remade harness
• New baton cast
• Laurel wreath and accoutrements re-gilded (this seems an unlikely restoration and there is no evidence remaining that this partial leaf gilding was undertaken).

In August 2021, Hampshire County Council was alerted to damage to the statue’s right arm. 

Assessment by specialist restorers found the statue was, in the main, structurally sound, apart from the right arm which when detached, revealed signs of crude previous repairs that had failed, and it was evident that wood screws and internal metal splints had been used as part of these repairs. 

A large crack was discovered across the right ankle, compromising the structural integrity of the figure’s right foot, where there were also signs of a previous repair, which included using a two-part filler at the top part of the sandal. 

Small splits and cracks were also evident on the horse’s legs and a long crack on the front right shoulder of the horse, but this was not considered to be an area of concern in that they do not affect the overall structural integrity of the statue.