Widows & Bairns


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:

125 Memorial Association

Architect or lead designer:

Jill Watson Studio

Local Authority Area:

Scottish Borders

Nominating Body:

125 Memorial Association

Project Description

A dramatic and emotionally powerful sculpture commemorating the Widows & Bairns left behind in Eyemouth by Britain’s worst fishing disaster on 14th October 1881, cast in bronze. The sculpture is a 5m (17’) long bronze wall, 1.2m (4’) high, with all 78 widows and 182 children individually modelled. Each figure is an actual person and has a name and age. The 5m wall is an unfolding timeline, from the Friday afternoon when families watched as two of the first boats were smashed against the rocks, through hope and fear to resignation on the Sunday. The narrow and textured wall represents the harbour and being on the edge of life and death. It also has the names of the boats inscribed on it. The Widows & Bairns are in groups above their family boat. Their expressions vary from shock and horror, to despair, resignation and to hope.

The wall is in a public space on Eyemouth’s Bantry, and overlooking the bay where the tragedy took place. The work is set in paving of in-situ concrete and the space has seats and tables allowing contemplation. An interpretation board gives acknowledgements and some context as well as connections to the Museum where records are held and other sources of information. An excellent booklet (ISBN 978-0-9522853-9-7) has also been produced giving detail and background information which has been distributed and put on sale.

The sculpture was made by Jill Watson. She did many months of research with the help of the museum and the community so that the sculpture would also be a record. The design, modelling and working of the sculpture was done by Jill Watson, with the casting and installation carried out by Powderhall Bronze. Practical assistance was given by Scottish Borders Council. Financial assistance and support was provided by the Fallago Environment Fund, the Scottish Fishermen’s Trust, the Anglo Scottish Fishermen’s Association, the Binks Trust, the Eyemouth Community Trust, and a great number of individuals, businesses, and other trusts. The work was directed by the volunteers of the 125 Memorial Association.

Supporting Statement

The 125 Memorial Association nominates the Widows & Bairns at Eyemouth as is a wonderful conception and a beautiful design of great artistic merit, executed with remarkable skill. The scale of the work and the numbers of people is an extraordinary and graphic expression of the extent of the disaster. Having individuals modelled on a memorial has been a new and most unusual way of putting across the personal connections of a community. The sculpture is beautifully crafted, robust and made to last indefinitely.

The sculpture is a highly appropriate addition to the unique qualities of Eyemouth’s Bantry (seafront promenade), providing a visual and cultural focus as well as somewhere for people to sit and reflect on power of the human spirit, the strength of the community and how dangerous nature can be. It work has completed the improvements to the Bantry, an important and much loved part of the town.

The sculpture has been the culmination of 10 years work by the community, with 3 similar but much smaller sculptures in other communities affected by the same disaster and a trail of bronze markers in between and along the whole coast. The amount of historical and family research carried out by the artist with the community has been remarkable, involving consultations and meetings of many kinds. Previous memorials honoured the lost men and town, Jill Watson’s honours those who were left behind and had the hard work of rebuilding the community. They choose not to have their children looked after by others out of the community. The result has been an inspiration to the next generation as well as to residents and visitors, many of whom are descendants from all over the world. The memorial has added to the visitor attractions of the area.

The artistic result is extraordinarily rich and satisfying, powerful as well as full of detail and meaning. The expressiveness of the work is remarkable. The fund-raising effort over a decade has been immense, done through a recession, involving everyone in the town and further afield. The research has pieced together many documents for the benefit of all. The involvement and support of the Council has been whole-hearted and very helpful. The work has given Eyemouth, East Berwickshire and the Borders something of national significance that helps put the place on the map and encourage economic regeneration.