4th December 2013: Affectionately Known as Kitty: The Story of the Marlowe Memorial

The Society's December meeting was, as always, well attended. Those present were treated to an entertaining lecture on the Marlowe Memorial by Alan Stockwell, a theatre historian (and a former professional puppeteer).

Mr Stockwell began by tracing the life of Christopher Marlowe from his humble beginnings (as the son of a shoemaker) and his classical education at the Kings School and Cambridge University, to his life as a playwright - and as a government spy. Between 1587 and 1589 Marlowe wrote various plays including Dr Faustus and at the same time lived a colourful (at times verging on criminal) life which ended prematurely in 1593 at the early age of 29 when he was stabbed to death. His works fell into oblivion and it was not until late Victorian times that they were at last awarded the recognition they deserved. In the 1880s an appeal was launched for funds with which to build a memorial to Marlowe, to be situated in his home city of Canterbury. A sculptor (Onslow Ford) was chosen and a site (the Buttermarket) was chosen.

The memorial inself was unveiled in 1891 by Henry Irving. It comprised a pedestal bearing the figure of a lyric muse. There were four niches for figures representing characters from Marlowe's plays but in 1891 three were empty owing to lack of funds. The unveiling ceremony was a grand affair but the memorial was not without controversy. There had been some dispute over where it should be sited and a lot of public disapproval of the fact that Marlowe, an avowed atheist, should be honoured so close to the cathedral. In fact, following WW1 the memorial was moved and by 1921 was located in Dane John Gardens. The three hitherto empty niches were completed and in 1928 the memorial was again unveiled, this time by Hugh Walpole. The memorial continued to have a chequered career, suffering from bomb damage and theft: by the 1980s all the statues from the niches were gone. However in 1993, 400 years after Marlowe's death the memorial was restored and placed outside the Marlowe Theatre where, sadly, it has continued to suffer from occasional vandalism.

Mr Stockwell's engaging style and humour held the attention of his audience throughout his lecture and, hopefully, will have encouraged those who were not aware of the memorial's existence to seek it out when next in Canterbury.

Jenny Oram