Today’s Object of the Week is a well-known North-East statue. But do you know the story behind it?

YOU’VE probably walked past it, maybe you’ve even stopped to look at and admire it.

But do you know the story behind “the man on the hoss” in the centre of Durham City?

The statue in Durham Market Place is of Charles William Vane Tempest Stewart, the third Marquis of Londonderry.

His widow, Frances Anne VaneTempest, commissioned the Milanese sculptor Raffaelle Monti to create a double life-size statue of his husband in his Hussars uniform for the centre of Durham following his death in 1854.

When the council realised it was about to get a huge rearing horse dumped upon it, it tried to fob it off on Sunderland and Seaham, before trying to persuade the university to put it on Palace Green. All refused.

Then five traders filed a suit against the mason who was constructing the plinth in the Market Place. They said it was blocking access to their stalls. Their case was dismissed.

The sculptor went bankrupt before he could deliver the electroplated enormity and his creditors seized it to cover his debts.

But Lady Londonderry forked out £1,000 to buy it back and the statue was finally unveiled on December 2, 1861.

The Durham County Advertiser hailed it as “splendid” and said it was “lasting proof of the general regard in which the brave and generous marquis was held by all classes and parties of the people of Durham”.

Sculptor Monti said it was so perfect that no one would find fault with it. A blind man was hoisted up and, with his hands, spotted that the horse didn’t have a tongue. Monti was so distraught that he committed suicide.

Or so the story goes – in fact Monti lived until 1881, and the horse does have a tongue.

That the statue has provoked so much controversy is perhaps not surprising, as controversy followed Londonderry around in life.

After a distinguished military career, the 41-year-old left the forces in 1819 to marry Frances, then a 19-year-old heiress who earned £60,000 a year by exporting coal from her County Durham estates.

The export of coal was a slow business and The Lord Stewart had a plan to speed up the process by cutting out the keelmen and avoiding harbour fees – earning his wife an extra £10,000 a year in the process.

In 1821, he bought Seaham Hall estate and started building his own harbour in the town.

But the Durham miners soon formed an opinion of their new master, a Tory MP and the half-brother of Foreign Secretary Viscount Castlereagh.

Castlereagh defended the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, when 80,000 workers – many of them miners – gathered on St Peter’s Fields in Manchester demanding Parliamentary reform. The Government turned the cavalry on them, killing 15.

The Durham miners vented their anger on July 19, 1821. To celebrate the coronation of George IV, the Lord Stewart donated a small ox to be roasted at the top of Old Elvet. The beast was carved and distributed among the hungry masses – who showed their gratitude by pelting his lordship with bread buns.

His reputation sank further when Castlereagh committed suicide with a paper knife in 1822 and he inherited his titles, becoming the third Marquis of Londonderry.

And he took on his repressive mantle, refusing to allow pit inspections, objecting to the school leaving age being raised from 12 because he employed cheap boys, and when opening his harbour at Seaham in 1831 he said he’d be happy “to see grass grow in the streets of Sunderland”.

During the strike of April 1844, he issued the infamous ‘Seaham Letter’, warning traders that if they offered the strikers credit they would become marked men.

He evicted strikers from his houses, and he brought in blacklegs under false pretences from his Irish estates, breaking the strike and smashing the union.

In March 1854, Lord Londonderry caught influenza and died. He was not mourned in the Durham coalfield even though his vision had created employment for thousands and had built towns and schools.