‘Mad Major’ Sawbridge’s Statue

An on-off rainy morning today, but I needed to feel the wind in my hair, so took The Dog up to Wye Crown, part of the Borough of Ashford.  I often drive through Crundale to get there because I like to be surrounded by fields as I’m speeding along: the space offers me freedom to think.

A similar rainy morning: the Wye Crown is left of middle of the hill.

As I approach Wye from Crundale, my eye is always caught by this statue, positioned to the left of the entrance gates to Olantigh Towers.  It’s actually very well camouflaged by trees, and the copper has oxidised into a chalky green colour.  But, nonetheless, my attention and imagination is always grasped by this man on a horse, and his upright arm looking as if he’s pouring a mug of tea on his head.

Mad Major statue 1
Very well camouflaged statue so I’ve made the image as large as I can

It will come as no suprise to you to learn that this man was known as the “Mad Major”.

1104 ed Wareham 2
John Samuel Wanley Sawbridge Drax, posing with umbrella for a spring morning like today


He lived much of his time in Dorset, on his wife’s Charborough Park estate.  However,  when he was in Wye, having inherited Olantigh house at the age of 51, he gained a reputation as an eccentric.  For example, he would often be seen leaping over the level-crossing gates of Wye Station, if they happened to be shut because awaiting the imminent arrival of a train.  I have to say, having waited at that level crossing many times myself, I think I would’ve done the same!

olantigh gates
Olantigh Towers entrance; the statue is to the left of the gates

Between 1841 and 1880, he served three periods as MP for Wareham, Dorset.  However, he is thought to have spoken in Parliament only once … to request the opening of a window.

Drax Mausoleum in Holnest, Dorset


Fifteen years before his death, he had a large Mausoleum built for himself in Holnest Churchyard, Dorset, which had a distinctive girder-constructed roof.   Apocryphally, another unusual feature of this vault was a letterbox, through which The Times newspaper was said to be delivered daily for several years after his death.

It was also the “Mad Major” who purchased the Hubert Fountain, now in Victoria Park, Ashford town centre.  It stood in the grounds of Olantigh Towers, along with the equestrian statue, until the house was gutted by fire in 1903 (as shown below).

equestrian statue 1
Olantigh Towers gutted by fire in 1903

[If you click on this link: hereshistorykent, you will come to the “hereshistorykent” website, from where the above photo is taken.  ©Ian Coulson]

Thanks to Jonathan for suggesting this post.

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