architecture, Art, Essex, eyecatcher, garden history, Outsider Art, Statue

Mr Saville’s Garden, Matching Green, Essex

In 1959 the inhabitants of Matching Green, east of Harlow in Essex, were horrified by the appearance of a 6 foot 3 inch statue of a naked lady in a village garden. The figure was the work of Horace Saville, the village blacksmith, and he claimed it was a model of how he wanted his future wife to look.

The statue had originally stood 5 feet high on Saville’s lawn, but after ‘somebody’ knocked it down he rebuilt it on a sturdy concrete plinth. The outraged locals included Mrs Harold Smith who thought the statue a ‘hideous monstrosity’ and Mr George Burnett who lived next door to Saville. He worried that the statue would attract day-trippers who would come to ‘gawp’. And presumably that is exactly what happened when Burnett spoke to the Daily Mirror and the paper published a photo’ of the statue. Saville was unperturbed and told the reporter that he was a ‘genuine bachelor’ who didn’t really know what a lady looked like ‘without her clothes’.

Saville (1904-1980) was 54 when he erected the statue of his dream wife and it doesn’t seem to have found him a partner. Nine years later he was still single, and it seems doubtful that his latest wheeze would attract suitors: he had taken to moulding his own dentures in concrete and coating them in a secret formula to make them sparkle.

Raymond Fieldhouse sent this working drawing of the statues to his friend Barbara Jones. He later produced a watercolour but its current whereabouts are not known. Courtesy of a private collection.

The statue of a naked lady was soon joined by some other garden ornaments. In the years after her appearance Saville had sculpted a whole range of figures with no apparent connection. By 1973 there were statues of the Queen, Prince Philip, General de Gaulle, the broadcaster Cliff Michelmore, the Earl of Avon (presumably former Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden), the devil waving a top hat and Horace Saville himself. One of best records of the garden found to date is this sketch which Raymond “Tim” Fieldhouse sent to his friend Jones in 1973. Fieldhouse had met Saville in Matching Green and described him as ‘a great old Essex character […] every bit as weird as one of his own creations, a real old eccentric’.

Photo c.1970 from Barbara Jones’s research files. Courtesy of a private collection.

Further statues included a policeman, a racegoer, a huntsman, an army officer, a horse and jockey, and a gorilla with a bunch of bananas. Smaller sculptures could be found in the long grass of Saville’s wild garden, all with piercing blue eyes made from marbles.

Photo c.1970 from Barbara Jones’s research files. The sculpted head bottom left is probably Saville himself. Courtesy of a private collection.

Saville was very serious about the project to which he had dedicated his retirement, and a sign in the garden announced his creations as ‘Concrete Art’.  Whilst perhaps not always popular in the village (they became known locally as ‘Horace’s Horrors’), today the body of work would be celebrated as Outsider Art, defined by the Tate as ‘art that has a naïve quality, often produced by people who have not trained as artists’.  But sadly there is nothing left to see: after Saville’s death in 1980 the statues were swept away.

You can at least see the man himself – here he is promoting margarine in 1954.

From the Coventry Evening Telegraph 14 December 1954.

Does anyone remember the garden and statues? Your thoughts and comments are warmly welcomed – please scroll down to the foot of the page to get in touch. Thank you for reading.

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33 thoughts on “Mr Saville’s Garden, Matching Green, Essex”

  1. Edward Mirzoeff says:

    There are gardens with similar creations in the BBC film I made with Candida Lycett Green in 1980, ‘The Front Garden’. One, I seem to remember, had thirteen concrete cathedrals. I believe the film can be found on YouTube.

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Edward. A quick google reveals that this film is indeed on YouTube so I will enjoy watching this later, and I am sure other readers be interested to watch too. Thanks so much for getting in touch.

  2. Sally Paque says:

    What a great quirky article! Poor Horace – what a shame that a kindred spirit lady didn’t appear on the scene!

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Sally. I think Horace might have been quite a handful to live with! I was really delighted to learn about him and his wonderful creations.

  3. Kate Dyson says:

    What an interesting find! So sad Horace’s statues disappeared. I love the thought of the outraged villagers!
    That was an excellent bit of digging.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Kate. I only discovered Horace and his sculptures very recently and I had to put all other research to one side so I could find out more about him. What a great character he must have been.

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning John. I dared to click and I can’t say I was impressed with what I saw. Thanks for sharing this story.

      1. Clare says:

        So lovely to see these images Horace’s sculptures, I thought I would never see these again. My father was born in matching green in 1940, and all through his childhood he was a good friend to Horace providing him with all the marbles for the sculptures eyes. As a child I always knew I was near to grandmas house when we past the figures just as you got to the bend in the Road opposite the village green. I don’t know if you know that he made a full size concrete horse in is kitchen which was so heavy it had to stay in the middle of the kitchen. It was a sad day when we drove past and it had all gone!! Wish there had been more pictures. Clare Garnham.

        1. Editor says:

          Hello Clare. Thank you so much for sharing your memories of Horace. How lovely to have that family connection. I didn’t know about the horse – another wonderful addition to the story.

  4. Sue says:

    These sculptures reminded me of The Owl House in South Africa where Helen Martins sculpted owls and lots of other birds and animals out of concrete.

  5. Editor says:

    Coincidentally Historic England has just published a blog about Henry Moore. He had a sculpture in Harlow which ‘initially suffered scathing public criticism, with the heads vandalised with a tea cosy and green-painted whiskers and the baby’s head broken off’. Harlow is close to Matching Green so one wonders whether Horace knew Moore’s work, and what the villagers of Matching Green thought of it.

  6. Gary says:

    Great article, as usual! I was disappointed, however, not to see a photo of the statue of his “perfect” wife.

    1. Editor says:

      Sadly I could only find a very grainy image that didn’t do the ideal Mrs Saville justice!

    2. Ben Faux says:

      Hello editor, My meeting with Horace Saville was in 1964 working for Builders Burton and Wilson connecting houses to the new Sewage System at Matching though I was aware of what we called ‘Horace’s Images’ and its creator. local landowner Mr Gold approached us and told us to cover our trenches at night as we might find Mr Saville in there in the morning as had happened already and compensations were setting in, we observed an Ambulance arrive to take him for treatment with Ambulance men helping him from his door and on return helped him back. The Hospital treatment must have been good as a few minutes later Mr Saville emerged with his bicycle, three scoots and leg over he was off to the local shop! Later working at a Mrs Salmon’s near by, my workmate Sandy Gould mixed too much Cement so we threw it in a barrow and wheeled it up to Horace to see if he could use it, the house name looked like SCATCHES though he called it SCATHES and said it reflected a nearby bomb landing in the War, his neighbour had NO PARKING signs along his frontage but Horace had a counter sign saying BUT HERE WELCOMED which reflected somewhat the way he talked. We called Horace out and offered him the cement but Sandy said we could take ‘This old hardcore if he wanted’ which got Horace angry shouting “Young man you are provoking me” so we left. Subsequently we did talk, he told me some of the statues were local people and the horse for a Huntsman on a chair was stuck indoors, there were busts titled Epsom Boy and Ascot Girl, the enormous Earl of Avon was side on to the road seemingly giving a V sign (perhaps in his neighbours direction) and he had a well endowed Zulu (courtesy of a Lucas rear light lens) carrying a genuine Zulu Shield wrapped in plastic! Asked whether anyone attempted theft he told me he possessed a firearm and many years later hearsay was that he had and that was the cause he went into a Home in Stortford though I don’t know if that was true. Regards Ben.

      1. Editor says:

        Hello Ben. You have made my evening with this wonderful further information about Horace. He really was a proper English Eccentric and you are so lucky to have met him. And we are lucky indeed to have your memories. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  7. Clifford Dean says:

    I saw these sculptures during a cycling tour of East Anglia in summer 1972. In fact I made a detour to find them but cannot recall how I had heard of them. I suspect I could have been alerted to their presence by a newspaper article, possibly reporting on reactions of neighbours.
    Unfortunately I took no photos.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Clifford. It’s great to hear from someone who saw the statues before they disappeared. I’m sure lots of people went to see them after reading about them, but like you didn’t get a visual record. Thanks for letting me know you saw them.

  8. Garance says:

    Thank you for adding to my UK Outsider Artist list, always more to learn. He doesn’t appear on the Henry Boxer list either –, although Horace clearly was a character who did seem to fit into that community. Such a shame that his desire was never satisfied and his contribution to the world of eccentricities now lost.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Garance. I’d love to learn more about Horace but so little seems to survive apart from a few grainy photos. He never did meet his dream date, and left no issue, so his work disappeared with him. I was very pleased to discover Raymond Fieldhouse’s wonderful sketch so that at least we have some record of his oeuvre.

  9. Sylvia says:

    In the early 70s I use to live and work at Down Hall between Matching Green and Hatfield Heath. I often use to pass Horace Savills garden to look at the statues. At the time I thought they were a bit weird. The garden was very overgrown and I could hardly see the ground floor of his house. In that period of about four years I never saw Horace. I don’t know if you know this but back in the 70s a film crew turned up for the programme Nationwide which was for local news. I think it was presented by Bob Wellings who recently died.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Sylvia and very many thanks for sharing your memories. I didn’t know about the Nationwide film – It would be great to find out if it survives. I imagine Horace would be quite a character to interview.

  10. Sarah Rider says:

    How fascinating to stumble across this whilst I was reminiscing about my childhood in Matching Green and looking for pictures and stories online. We lived next door to Horace in Greenside cottage from the late 1960s to the 1980s. My dad – Norman Rider – helped Horace out a number of times and when he died, made sure the head statue he had made of himself was placed by his grave in Matching churchyard. I would hope it is still there but have been unable to visit for some time so am unsure.
    I remember Horace’s cottage being very overgrown and unkempt but as children, my sister and I never felt frightened by him or made to feel it was particularly odd, we just accepted that was the way he had chosen to live and just said hello and were friendly if we saw him.
    I know we used to have some photographs of the front of Horace’s house and of the statues so if I do find any, will let you know.
    I loved your story Clare about the marbles as I was always mesmerised by them as a child and how lovely to know where they came from!
    Thank you for transporting me back to times past.

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Sarah and thanks so much for getting in touch. Your memories add so much more to the story of Horace’s wonderful garden and sculptures, and of the man himself. If you do find any photographs I would love to hear from you and, with your permission, could add them to the website.

  11. Laurence Cunnington says:

    Horace was a distant cousin of mine – my great-grandmother’s nephew. I recall being terrified of the statues in his garden when I was a small child, and when I told people of them in later life they assumed I was exaggerating how utterly bizarre they were! It’s extraordinary to see pictures of them after over fifty years. Many of my relatives lived around the Green until the last of them – Winnie Smith – died, I believe in the 1990s. My great-great-grandfather, John Saville (b. 1834), was the publican who ran The Cherry Tree pub (now a pair of cottages). I have a photo of him standing outside it in the 1880s. I also have some photos of Horace, too. I think the kindest thing to say about him was that he was a very unusual man!

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Laurence. What wonderful recollections, thank you for sharing. I can imagine that Horace’s creations must have been disturbing to children – and adults too I suspect. Thanks for getting in touch.

  12. MS SUSAN L TERRY says:

    Re: Mr Horace Saville: I visited Matching Green shortly after Mr Saville died – I can’t remember exactly what year – or at least he no longer occupied the house – it could have been 1979. It was summer, the abandoned house had lots of strange and colourful statues about 5ft high (possibly some of the ones shown in the photos but others too). What impressed me was that many of them were anthropomorphic with human bodies but the heads of dogs, chickens, cats, horses etc. They were crudely painted but full of gusto. They were in the garden fallen down amongst the long grass. I remember going into the upper storey of the house as the door was wide open and discovering it resembled a barn with hay all over the floor. There were some old pitchforks lying about and more strange sculptures. I was very interested as I had studied art and made something similar at college – a Pegasus made of chicken wire and plaster the size of a Shetland pony, painted piebald with a mane and tail of artificial hair. I never thought to lug any of these sculptures into my old Morris Oxford as they were a bit heavy and it would have been theft -and I was already trespassing – but I wish I had as now they are lost. Concrete is a durable material. Perhaps someone knows where they were dumped? There is an article about “Horace’s Horrors” in The Essex Countryside September 1963, and includes a photograph. I went back some years later, but could not see the house – had it been pulled down and another put in its place or I just could not recognise it – I don’t know.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Susan and thanks for adding yet more to the story of Horace. I wish you had taken away a ‘souvenir’ and saved it for future generations to appreciate. I’m sure others did and I hope they might come to light one day. It is my understanding that his house was pulled down, but someone local might be able help further. Thanks again for sharing your recollections.

      1. MS SUSAN L TERRY says:

        Sorry, some misinformation. The Essex Countryside magazine of September 1963 only has a photo, but no written article as I previously erroneously stated. The photo was taken by Mr A Metcalfe of Ilford. Thinking further I probably visited in the summer of 1980. It occurred to me that the easiest way to dispose of the statues when the house was cleared would have been to dump them in the sizeable village pond which is not very far away from where the house would have been. I am not sure that the house was pulled down. There is a house (blocked out) on Google Maps in Matching Green close enough to the road, which from the aerial photo (not blocked out) has the same pitch of roof, but without the long chimneys, situated next to a black barn type property in the approximate area I remember it to be have been. Perhaps this is the building which may have been extended to the rear.

        Here is a poem I wrote some years ago about my visit to Mr Saville’s house:

        neerG gnihctaM

        In a derelict house in Matching Green
        Savage and bright, outlandish life-sized bods
        Wacky weirdest sight my eyes had ever seen
        The Cat, the Dog and the Chicken-headed Gods

        Laying in the loft strewn amongst the straw
        To find this place how rare would be the odds
        I amazed, astonished, aghast in awe
        At the Cat, the Dog and the Chicken-headed Gods

        What primitive strange mind thus wrought these freaks?
        To what crude vision this creation nods?
        Rudely rainbow coloured, teeth, claws and beaks
        The Cat, the Dog and the Chicken-headed Gods

        In hay pitchforks of a double tine
        They lay with worm-eaten cut down rods
        Each a rotten rusty rustic old shrine
        To the Cat, the Dog and the Chicken-headed Gods.

        1. Editor says:

          Hello again Susan and thanks for the extra information. Thanks also for sharing your poem – it’s great to know that Horace’s Horrors inspired you to compose some lines on the place.

  13. Mary Perry nee Sandeman says:

    Hi all, as children we were regular visitors to Mr Saville’s garden . He was proud to show us his statues and his teeth also made from concrete. A real gem of a man !

    1. Editor says:

      Good evening Mary. It’s lovely to hear from you and to add another memory of Horace and his garden to the collection. He is definitely not forgotten.

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