A NEW bronze bust of Sir John Betjeman will help to attract tourists to the town who are keen to discover its links with the former Poet Laureate.

Vale of White Horse District Council has approved planning permission for the bust to go outside the Vale and Downland Museum.

The town council has awarded Oxfordshire-based sculptor Martin Jennings the task of creating the bust, which will be positioned on a stone plinth outside the Church Street museum.

The artwork will be based on Mr Jennings’ statue of the poet at London’s St Pancras Station, which he helped save from demolition in the 1960s.

Mr Jennings, who has a studio in Combe, West Oxfordshire, said: “I’m really looking forward to starting work on this project soon. It will be a bronze cast reproduction of the head and shoulders of my statue of Betjeman at St Pancras.

“The plinth and the bust will stand two metres high – with the bust measuring about one and a half feet.

“I don’t have a fixed date for completion but I gather it is for some time in August – I’m glad the people of Wantage will have another link with former resident Sir John Betjeman.”

Former town mayor Fiona Roper said the project, backed by Wantage Chamber of Commerce, the district council, private donations and contributions from developers, would cost about £17,000.

Ms Roper said: “We are delighted that renowned sculptor Martin Jennings has agreed to take on this commission. The bust will attract people who are interested in Betjeman to Wantage and should boost trade from tourists.”

Ms Roper said an area outside the museum would be cleared during the summer to make way for the plinth.

She added: “We are aiming to unveil the bust on the 110th anniversary of Betjeman’s birth – August 28 – and it will be facing the church Betjeman used to attend.”

The plinth will be inscribed with the words “John Betjeman – 1906-1984 – Poet and Parishioner.”

Sir John Betjeman lived in The Mead, Wantage, from 1951 to 1972.

The town council originally planned to install a £50,000 replica of the St Pancras statue in the church grounds in 2011, but the scheme did not go ahead.

The poet had a long association with the church and lobbied for a weather vane on the tower. The bellringing chamber houses Betjeman’s handwritten copy of his poem Wantage Bells, penned to commemorate the wedding of his daughter Candida.

The town created the Sir John Betjeman Memorial Park in the poet’s honour, and runs an annual Betjeman literary festival.

Mayor St John Dickson said: “Lots of people will see the statue and hopefully the museum will put on exhibitions about Betjeman.”