Artist’s model opens a window to the past

Cole's window in St Clements Church featuring an array of Old Town characters
Cole's window in St Clements Church featuring an array of Old Town characters

PHYLLIS Martin remembers the moment a German bomber blew the stained glass windows in St Clement’s Church to pieces.

It was about 1pm on a Sunday in 1943, and the 18-year-old Phyllis was running for her life across the West Hill with her sisters.

Phyllis Martin around the time she modelled for Philip Cole

Phyllis Martin around the time she modelled for Philip Cole

Machine guns strafed the ground beside her as the bomber circled in for another pass over High Street.

Still wearing her work uniform from The Ritz cinema, Cambridge Road, Phyllis leapt on top of her younger sisters and covered them with her body as the plane passed low beside them.

“I can still see his face in my mind,” said Phyllis, now 86 and living in an Eastbourne care home. “I was just trying so hard to cover the children.”

Moments later, the Swan Inn was lying in rubble, and the windows of next door St Clement’s were shattered.

Phyllis Martin today

Phyllis Martin today

After the war the window was rebuilt by the local artist Philip Cole, who featured in a recent Observer feature. Phyllis, who lived for years in High Street, was asked to take centre-stage by modelling for the Mary figure, dressed in a pink shawl.

After spotting the feature, Phyllis contacted the Observer to fill in a few details about this important Old Town landmark.

Each model visited Philip Cole’s house in Fairlight for around five or six weeks, so his wife could sketch them.

“They used to bring out afternoon tea, and we’d have a chat,” said Phyllis. “They were lovely people. Very polite.”

Tom Baker, a local builder and bell-ringer, modelled for the RAF crewman, fifth from the right, and Mr Napier, a St Clement’s verger, also stood in to be drawn.

Another Observer reader, Anthony Ould, also used to live on High Street before moving away. He contacted the paper to say he remembers Jack Adams, the cox of the Hastings Lifeboat, standing in for the sailor, fourth from right.

The fisherman in the yellow sou’wester was Mr Muggeridge, another Old Town character from Hastings’ past.

Philip Cole himself stands left, holding a prayer book with his wife, dressed as a nurse, and his gardener, carrying a saw.

Jackie Marsh, 64, daughter of Phyllis, said the Mary figure was a ‘very good likeness’ of her mother, who is carrying her second daughter, Lynda - now 62 - to model for baby Jesus.

“It’s a real family tradition,” said Jackie. “When we have guests who don’t know Hastings, we take them over to show them mum’s window.

“It’s such an important part of our family’s history. Mum will be there for ever.”