Published: 06:00, 14 February 2021
About 130 years ago a committee met to discuss how best to commemorate Canterbury’s most famous son, Christopher Marlowe, in his home city.
The prestigious panel included the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the actor Sir Henry Irving, and the biographer Sir Sidney Lee.
They commissioned sculptor Onslow Ford, who created a scantily-clad bronze ‘Lyric Muse’ to honour the 16th century poet and playwright.
On September 16, 1891, the life-size statue was unveiled by Sir Henry in the Buttermarket.
Before long, it was affectionately dubbed “Kitty Marlowe” by the city’s residents.
The statue was mounted on a pedestal which was supposed to incorporate bronze figures of Marlowe’s characters in a niche on each of the four sides: Tamburlaine, Barabas, Faustus and Edward II.
But at the time of the unveiling the committee had run out of cash and could only afford to pay for the Tamburlaine figure.
Many objected to the half-naked Kitty’s presence outside the Cathedral.
And the council’s response - the addition of an evergreen shrub surrounding the pedestal - did little to calm their nerves.
After the First World War the statue was moved to King Street to make way for a memorial to those who died in the conflict.
Then in 1921 Kitty was relocated to the Dane John Gardens.
Seven years later the funds had finally been raised for the other three bronze figures and the completed statue was unveiled again - this time by novelist Sir Hugh Walpole who, like Marlowe, was educated at the King’s School.
Yet there was more upheaval on the way for poor Kitty.
In 1942, the Baedeker Raids which destroyed the house in St George’s Lane where Marlowe is thought to have been born also blew Kitty off her pedestal.
To add insult to injury, she was put back facing the wrong way.
This meant that when in 1957 members of the Marlowe Society solemnly laid a wreath against the poet’s name, they appeared to be paying homage to Kitty’s thinly-veiled backside.
A correspondent of the Times covering the event started off his piece: “Goings-on behind the Muse”.
More trouble followed when vandals struck in 1977, stealing two of the statuettes.
But finally, in 1993, Kitty was put where she truly belongs - now facing the right way - outside the Marlowe Theatre.
Sir Ian McKellen was on hand this time to rededicate the statue.
*Information sourced from Canterbury Historical and Archaelogical Society (CHAS) and marlowe-society.org.