In the same way the Mars Climate Orbiter disappeared on entering the atmosphere of the Red Planet because of a mix up between metric and imperial units of pressure, the statue of Prince Albert in Tenby has been tragically overshadowed by its unfeasibly large plinth.
1864 was a high water mark in the civic life of Tenby. For years it had been a glittering Mecca for the well to do holiday maker of the day. The town’s coffers were groaning with tourist dollars and the local gentry wondered how to spend the enormous bounty. The parish hospital needed a new roof as did the orphanage. Malnutrition was at record levels and a program of forced feeding of ne’er-do-wells had proven successful in many parts of the country but the upper crust of West Wales wanted something more permanent.
In addition to this the newly launched “empire civic pride fund” clearly had the name of Tenby written all over it. The fund, set up to provide towns with much needed ‘coat and trouser’ statues as they were called had allocated two hundred and fifty five thousand guineas for monuments of the great and good to be erected across the land in the years after the premature death of the prince consort.
The citizens of Tenby opted for the then popular Coade Stone, an invention of pre-Victorian times which survives widely. A wise choice. Perhaps not so wise was the then revolutionary decision, to outsource the manufacture. Mail order was in its infancy and it was a brave, ultimately foolhardy decision to opt for a French statued on an American plinth.
Measurements were sent out and the finished products duly came back. Unfortunately the Americans had used imperial units and the French metric. The discrepancy is clear to see and lingers to this day. The expense of the project was so vast it bankrupted the makers of both the statue and plinth leaving no redress for the townsfolk. The statue was inaugurated by Prince Arthur in 1865. The following year the parish hospital flooded. As the floor washed away a rich seem of cordite was discovered enabling them to relocate to lavish new sea-front premises.