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Posts Tagged ‘women statues’

Due to a punctured tyre on a very busy dual carriageway at the beginning of a day out, we ended up in Gravesend waiting for our timed slot at Quick Fit. Long story but the day out was just that, returning home 7 hours later but we did get to see the statue of Pocahontas in Gravesend which, given my blogposts on statues of women, saved the day from being a total washout.

I knew the basics about her story, or so I thought but looked her up on Wikipedia. This is not the great romantic story of love between Pocahontas, daughter of the Powhatan tribe leader, and Captain John Smith with her saving his life and turning her back on her own family and culture to ally with the English, although she certainly knew him and was friendly enough with him. She may also have warned the colonists of a pending ambush which did save several lives. Doubt has been cast on the veracity of Smith’s writings in later years after her death.

What we do know is that Matoaka was renamed Pocahontas after she was captured in Virginia and held for ransom by English colonists in 1613 before being converted to Christianity. Now called Rebecca, she married John Rolfe and had a son when she was 17 or 18. This marriage contributed to the peace between both sides as long as her father lived. The family travelled to London in 1616 to try to get investment in the Virginia Company, where she was used as an example of a “civilised savage” and introduced into society, before dying in Gravesend when embarking on the return journey in 1617, aged 21. Her story is still much debated.

The statue commemorates her short life which ended in a country far from home. Not quite the Disney version we’ve been brought up on!

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Almost a year ago, I posted what I thought would be my last post on Women’s Statues in London. There were further posts from me on statues outside of London, both newly unveiled and existing ones, and a summary post on International Women’s Day almost a year ago.

But I’d missed one out. Nell Gwynn stands above the door of Nell Gwynn House on Sloane Avenue. I can’t find any information on what the connection is but there is also a relief of Nell on the side of a fountain in Sloane Square so there must be a local connection. It is an art deco apartment block with a rural scene with cavaliers above the door and Nell stands above this scene with spaniels at her feet. It is set back from the road and so the only statue of Nell in London goes unnoticed so I thought I’d draw attention to it.

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A postscript to my recent post about new statues dedicated to black women. A medical related statue of Lousiana born Henrietta Lacks, the first UK permanently installed statue of a black woman created by a black woman, was unveiled recently. Lacks died in 1951, age 31, from cervical cancer. A cell sample was taken without her knowledge and used in research for polio vaccine, gene mapping, chemotherapy, Covid vaccines and IVF. She went on to be called “the mother of modern medicine”.

The statue, on the left below, is in the grounds of the University of Bristol and the inscription reads “To all the unrecognised Black women who have contributed to humanity, you will never be forgotten”.

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Earlier this year I posted blogs about the lack of statues to women in London and indeed across the UK. I wanted to write a postscript to this as 2 new memorials have been unveiled recently. The first one is outside of The Whittington Hospital, my local hospital. The granite statue of a women holding a baby commemorates the 40,000 Windrush and Commonwealth NHS nurses and midwives who came to the UK between 1948 and 1973 to help the NHS. Without their help it would have been very difficult for the NHS to have survived. You can read their story here. These nurses, unlike now, would most likely have been women and, in this case, black women.

The second is the unveiling of the Betty Campbell MBE statue finally unveiled in Cardiff in last week of September 2021 in time for Black History Month. The BBC ran a Hidden Heroines campaign with the public voting on who should be represented and they chose Betty, community activist and Wales’ first black head teacher. The statue was due to installed in 2020 the second statue of a woman in Cardiff with Boudicca installed in City Hall but was delayed due to Covid. You can read Betty’s story here on the BBC site: “Always near the top of the class, Betty told her head-teacher she too would like to teach but the response was: “Oh my dear, the problems would be insurmountable.” Those words devastated her – but they also made her even more resilient and focused.”

Great to see these two memorials to black women at the start of Black History Month

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Back in January I blogged about the lack of statues of named women and sometimes, the lack of any recognition at all. Over the last few weeks of a staycation, I’ve been able to follow-up on this topic. Recently, we were in Lyme Regis, a town that relies heavily on its reputation for fossil hunting as part of its tourist trade. Mary Anning was an extraordinary and ground-breaking woman but unrecognised in her time due to her social background and gender. There has been time to put this right and she should perhaps be its most celebrated historical figure but all I found was a blue plaque on the museum which lets visitors know that it was Anning’s house and her grave in the churchyard. Otherwise, there is little sign of her. The good news is that Evie Swire, now 13, launched a successful campaign, Mary Anning Rocks for a statue of Anning to be erected in the town. She has helped to fundraise 100k for work to begin and is aiming to raise more for educational programmes. So, there will soon be a statue of Anning and her dog striding off to work in the town which will hopefully inspire more girls to be interested in the sciences.

A few weeks earlier we visited Norwich Cathedral where there is a memorial corner to Edith Cavell outside where she is buried. Inside, to mark the centenary of Edith’s death, there are 14 wonderful paintings of The Passion of Edith Cavell: The Way of the Cross from artist Brian Whelan. Cavell’s story has really been highlighted and the memorial is much more prominent which is great as there were several school trips there visiting.

The final postscript is that the Donmar Warehouse is putting on a play about Mary Seacole in Spring 2022 “Mary Seacole was the pioneering Jamaican nurse who bravely voyaged to heal soldiers in the Crimean War. She was a traveller, a hotelier and a businesswoman. She was the most impressive woman you’ve ever met.” (Donmar). More people need to hear her story and hopefully this play will help with this. Book here.


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Last year I discovered that only 2.7% of statues in UK were of named, historical, non-royal, non-mythical women.  I decided it would be a great project during stricter social distancing measures in 2020 to locate all the statues in London, photograph them and find out more about the women and their achievements.   I believe I have found all of them; 22 and one of them has 2 statues, Catherine Booth, so 21 different named women, a shockingly small number.  I have written posts about all of them during last few months.

Amongst them was Mary Seacole, a British Jamaican nurse, healer, and businesswoman; Nicola Adams, MBE, the first woman to win Olympic boxing gold at the 2012 London Olympics and a memorial to Noor-un-Nissa Inayat Khan who was a British spy in WWII who served as a Special Operations Executive.  That is 2 Black and 1 Asian woman out of 22 statues from an already very small number.

There are two striking statues in London of unnamed black women. The Bronze Woman in Stockwell Memorial Garden was unveiled in 2008 on the 200th anniversary of the end of the transatlantic slave trade. It is a symbol of the contribution of Afro-Caribbean women to society and celebrates those who have the courage to pursue their dreams.  The sculptor Ian Walters was commissioned to create the statue and created the marquette; after his death Aleix Barbat completed it.  Walters is also responsible for the statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square.

Reaching Out by Thomas Price is part of The Line, London’s first dedicated public art walk which runs between Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and The O2.  The statue is of a fictional young woman staring at her mobile phone in her hands.

Jacob Rees-Mogg has accused Sadiq Khan of “loony left-wing wheezes” following the implementation of a Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm in London, looking not just as statues but also street names, building names and memorials. Seems like a good move to me.

Women can only aspire to be what they can see and so representation of diverse role models is vital. Whether that is statues or some other format, I will post about on International Women’s Day #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021

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This post is a change of direction moving to culture and sport, writers and performers.  I am going to start with theatre and stage appearances.  The 18th century actress, Sarah Siddons, lived at Westbourne Green and is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard nearby.  Sarah’s most famous role was Lady Macbeth, but she also played Hamlet several times. In her time, she was a celebrity and a cultural icon.  She avoided scandals and was the most feted actress of her day. Sarah’s statue is portrayed as a tragic muse by Leon-Joseph Chavailliaud and was unveiled by Sir Henry Irving, the actor and theatre manager, in 1897. 

Anna Pavlova was a Russian prima ballerina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who went on to be the first to tour around the world and was renowned for her Dying Swan. After leaving Russia in 1912 she moved to the Ivy House, Golders Green where she lived for the rest of her life.  There are statues within the grounds which cannot be seen and a small one by her urn in Golders Green Crematorium.  But the most noted statue is on top the Victorian Palace Theatre which was installed in 1911 to mark her London debut; it is in an arabesque position.  Story goes that Pavlova did not like the statue and refused to look at it.  It was removed for WWII but then lost, replaced by the current replica by Harry Franchetti reinstated in 2006.

Joan Littlewood was an actor and theatre director, founding the Theatre Workshop with her husband Ewan MacColl. They were known for political theatre, use of working-class language and improvisation.  In 1953 the Workshop took up residence at the Theatre Royal in Stratford, East London, where it developed an international reputation.  Littlewood’s hits were A Taste of Honey and Oh, What a Lovely War, becoming the first woman nominated for a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical.  Littlewood’s statue, by the artist Philip Jackson, unveiled in 2015 is called The Mother of Modern Theatre and is based on a photograph of her sitting in the statue’s location when the Theatre Royal was threatened with demolition.

The next 2 women were writers and one a singer/songwriter, although Christie still has the theatre connection.  The Agatha Christie Memorial at St Martin’s Cross by Leicester Square tube station was created by Ben Twiston-Davies.  It is shaped like a book and contains a bust of Christie and images of some of her greatest creations such as Poirot and Miss Marple with a train, country house, pyramids, a typewriter and Christie’s signature.  There is also a bookshelf with her bestsellers on it. Her grandson came up with the concept and worked with the producer of The Mousetrap to coincide with 60 years and 25,000 London performances of the play and to celebrate Christie selling around 3 billion copies of her novels worldwide.

Virginia Woolf, the novelist and prominent member of the Bloomsbury Set, lived in an apartment in Tavistock Square from 1924 to 1939 where most of her greatest novels were written and published like Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. It was also where Virginia and Leonard Woolf housed the Hogarth printing press within the basement. This memorial was erected by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, 26 June 2004. The statue is closest to where she lived as the Tavistock Hotel now stands on the site of her former home.  

I don’t think I need to explain who Amy Winehouse is; her statue at Stables Market, Camden Town, was sculpted by Scott Eaton and unveiled in 2014.   Camden council had made an exception in allowing the statue as subjects for sculpture are normally expected to have died at least twenty years ago under their rules.  Amy lived around the corner and died in her house in Camden Square in 2011. The statue is supposed to be life size and it is tiny!

Now to sport which is also about performance on a world stage.  In Downhills Park, London N15, there is a bench with 3 sculptures.  In the centre is Leeds born Nicola Adams, MBE, the first woman to win Olympic boxing gold at the 2012 London Olympics, an achievement repeated at the 2016 Olympics.  Nicola trained at Haringey Boxing Club prior to the 2012 Olympics.  She was also Strictly Come Dancing’s first contestant to be in a same sex couple dance partnership.  She is flanked by Walter Tull (1888-1918) amongst the first Afro-Caribbean football players to be in the league with Tottenham Hotspur and the first black British army officer and by Luke Howard (1772-1864) a chemist and the meteorologist who created a naming system for cloud formations.

The next, and penultimate post, is focused on 2 unnamed women.

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