Case study: Widows & Bairns Monument

What is the history of the building, monument or area?

On 14th October 1881, the worst fishing disaster in Britain was caused by a devastating cyclone focussed on the Berwickshire coast. 189 men were drowned, leaving 109 widows and 351 fatherless children. It took a century for the community to recover its population numbers. The Widows & Bairns monument is placed on ‘the Bantry’, where so many women and children saw their boats destroyed within sight.

How did the project begin and what community need(s) was it seeking to address?

The project aimed to commemorate the 125th anniversary of this event. Previous commemoration of the event had focussed on the men and the boats lost, but the role that women and children played in rebuilding the community was not recognised. Though the community was very poor the women refused to allow the children to be taken from them and brought up elsewhere.

How did you source funding and support for the project?

Over 12 years the Association approached as many potential donors as they could, held fund-raising events and sold merchandise. The principle funders were the Fallago Environment Fund, the Binks Trust, the Anglo Scottish Fishermen’s Association, the Scottish Fishermen’s Trust, the Scottish Borders Council, the Eyemouth Community Council as well as a great range of other generous Trusts and individuals.

How did the project progress from inception to delivery? What obstacles did you overcome and what were the major milestones?

We appointed Dunira Strategy to organise a selection process and competition. Jill Watson’s idea was selected and she was commissioned to prepare designs for four of the affected communities; ie. Burnmouth, Eyemouth, St Abbs and Cove, each portraying the exact number of widows and children left behind.

The funds initially raised were insufficient to execute all of the memorial at Eyemouth as the numbers were so great. Instead a small section was made whilst further funds were raised but the recession then made funding very difficult and the work was postponed. Fortunately when times had changed new members came onto the committee who were determined to complete it.

How did you involve the community in your project?

The community were invited to meetings and asked to bring family photos and history. Leaflets were hand delivered to every house and business in the area. Coffee mornings, concerts, and tombolas were held and kept in the press. The ceremonial unveiling was a spectacular culminating event with two choirs, the lifeboat, a Fifie restored by locals and many moving accounts from descendants of the disaster.

What has been the impact of the project on the community? 

The monument has given the community great pride in their heritage and achievements in rebuilding itself despite the terrible circumstances. It has led to families and descendants making new connections with each other. It has also given a significant cultural focus to the Bantry and the monument is something that Eyemouth is becoming increasingly known for.

What’s next for your project? 

A free leaflet is being produced for wide circulation. This will emphasise the links to the three other communities with similar monuments as well as the trail connecting them together. Consideration is also being given to how technology can augment the interpretation of the monument by providing further information about the figures, families, boats and all the research done around the event.

To learn more about Widows & Bairns, check out this webpage.