Hail to thee, blithe spirit

(But not if you live in Middle England)

Nearly 200 years after his death, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley has again managed to divide his home town of Horsham, West Sussex. He has done this not as a result of his revolutionary, anti-monarchist, vegetarian views - but through the sculpture installed to commemorate him.

Unveiled in a blaze of glory in November, Universe Rising is a huge mechanised globe designed by the award-winning sculptor Angela Conner and paid for by Sainsbury's.

The moving sculpture stretches across 45 feet and stands 28 feet high. Six and a half tons of water run down it, while smaller "satellite globes" float in pools of water. At the opening ceremony, the mayor of Lerici, in Italy, where Shelley died, described the memorial, after some thought, as "very brave".

The sculpture's aim, according to Horsham District Council, was to provide a focus for the town centre that was challenging and controversial, "like the poet himself". In this, it has exceeded their hopes. While a piece of radical sculpture might not be expected to please everyone in a conservative home-counties town, the design has elicited criticism bordering on the hysterical.

Inhabitants have bombarded the West Sussex County Times with letters calling for the sculpture's removal, describing it as "an abomination", an "eyesore", "irrelevant, incongruous, incoherent and indulgent", and, less flamboyantly, "an oversized pastie". The newspaper itself commented: "Its appearance and quality as a public work of art has attracted widespread derision and distress. Just how long it will survive is the burning question of the moment."

The detractors are not just complaining about the design. The pounds 140,000 sculpture has not worked properly since it was unveiled and parts of it are to be removed this week so that alterations can be done. Horsham District Council has commissioned an independent report on the sculpture's mechanical engineering before assuming responsibility for it.

The fountain has splashed so much water over the square that one councillor suggested the area be turned into a skating rink. One local man is taking legal advice after he fractured his skull and dislocated his shoulder after coming off his bike on ice nearby.

Vandals, however, find the work of art particularly attractive - not surprising, say locals, when you situate a piece of moving modern art between a pub and a fast-food restaurant.

Sainsbury's plc, generally a keen supporter of modern art, appeared to be distancing itself from Rising Universe last week and was keen to point out that while it financed the sculpture, the company had had "very little say" in what that sculpture was.

A spokeswoman said she could not say Sainsbury's was "unequivocally pleased" with the end result. "Art and architecture are very subjective and on this Sainsbury's would say beauty is in the eye of the beholder," she said.

But the sculpture has its defenders. The Horsham Society, like the Fountain Society, described the sculpture as "magnificent". The next time planners ask themselves if something is too modern, said spokesman John Buchanan, they should think back to the sculpture's opening ceremony.

"I certainly haven't seen a bigger crowd since John George Haigh, the acid-bath murderer, appeared at the Town Hall magistrates' court in 1949," he said.

Martin Pearson, the Horsham District Council's chief executive, is bullish about the sculpture's future, blaming many of the problems on the cold weather. He said his staff are instructed to be relaxed "if it takes until March" to be straightened out, and said the mechanical report was simply a formality.

But resident and local reporter Martine James, who has followed the fountain saga since its inception, says nothing has exercised Horsham as fiercely since the council introduced wheelie bins - and the row shows no signs of abating. "There seems to be no middle ground on this at all. But people who come in from outside the area to look at it tend to love it," she said. "It certainly promotes debate, and that's what modern art is supposed to do."

She has added to the controversy with the revelation that Cambridge City Council rejected a similar "golden globe" sculpture by Conner in 1995 after public protest. She has also recorded similarities between the design and drawings from a 17th-century book, after "someone came into reception to point them out".

Meanwhile, a curious side-effect of the debate is that the local paper has been deluged with poetry about sculpture. The fountain's future may be uncertain, Ms James said, but it had certainly proved an apt memorial.

"Shelley was such a controversial figure," Ms James said. "This just follows in his footsteps."

Lines from Shelley the revolutionary

England in 1819

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king,-

Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow

Through public scorn,- mud from a muddy spring,-

Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,

But leech-like to their fainting country cling,

Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,-

A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field,-

An army, which liberticide and prey

Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield,-

Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;

Religion Christless, Godless - a book sealed;

A Senate, - Time's worst statute unrepealed,-

Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may

Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker