London is a diverse city, with a diverse art scene. However it doesn’t fair well in the gender equality of statues! Although there is no clear list of statues in London, it is estimated that around the 265 depict historical figures, of which 17 are of women. The percentage of women’s statues in the UK that aren’t mythical or royal is approximately 3%, with more statues of statues named John dotted around the country than of women! This puts London, at 6%, double the national average. Some examples of statues of women in London include Virginia Woolfe, Sarah Siddons, Noor Inyat Khan, Mary Seacole and most recently, Millicent Fawcett.
CURRENTLY IN THE UK THERE ARE 828 STATUES AND 21% ARE WOMEN
Current Statues of Women in London
Violette SzaboIn 2009, the Duke of Wellington unveiled a new memorial to those who served in the Special Operations Executive during World War II. The bust of Violette Szabo was created by Karen Newman to celebrate a moving story that commemorates the heroism of the men and women who served as secret agents and risked their lives. Violette Szabo (1921-1945), was captured by the German army, interrogated, tortured and deported to a German concentration camp where she was executed. This sculpture is located on Albert Embankment, London and is a memorial of Szabo who sacrificed her life in the field in order to fight fascism.
Millicent FawcettThe statue of Millicent Fawcett was unveiled on 24 April 2018 in Parliament Square, London. Born in 1847, she was a pioneering feminist, intellectual and union leader who campaigned for women’s right to vote. The statue was made by the Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing and portrays Fawcett at the age of 50, when she became president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. The figure holds a banner reading “Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere,’ an extract from a speech she gave in 1920. The names and images of 55 women and 4 men who supported women’s suffrage also appear on the statue’s plinth. Prior to the unveiling, the only statues which stood out were male, but that has changed with the arrival of the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square.
Mary SeacoleWhat is believed to be the first statue in the UK to a named black woman stands in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital overlooking the Houses of Parliament. Mary Seacole (1805-1881) was a British-Jamaican business woman and nurse who set up the “British Hotel” behind the lines during the Crimean War. Coming from a traditional Jamaican and West African background, Seacole used herbal remedies to nurse soldiers back to health. The sculpture itself is by Martin Jennings, and was formally unveiled in June 2014. The statue stands in front of a 4.5 metre-high disc, cast from shell-blasted Crimean rock. Sculptor Martin Jennings wanted to acknowledge the historical gap by locating her in her time and place. He sees her as a figure against a battlefield, but also of gender and race. The statue is lit from the front, casting her shadow on to the disc, signifying fallibility, humanity and mortality.
Edith Cavell (1865-1915) was a British nurse based with the Red Cross in occupied Belgium. She treated both armies, but helped hundreds of Allied soldiers escape to the Netherlands. She was arrested in 1915 on the charge of harbouring prisoners of war where she confessed in full to her crimes and executed by a firing squad. Her death quickly became the subject of Allied propaganda worldwide, becoming the most prominent female casualty of the Great War. The 3 meter high sculpture was designed by architect Sir George Frampton and was unveiled by Queen Alexandra on 17 March 1920 in St Martin’s Place, London. Architect Frampton was criticised for its ‘modernity’ of style as the female figure completes a cross form; she is not a Madonna and Christ child, but rather a mother protecting a female child. Frampton was known for a symbolist style, often executing figures in a dream-like state; making him a central judge in the selection of official war artists and memorials.
Leaders of The Salvation Army from across the world met in Champion Park, London on 8 July 1929 to honour and unveil a statue of the Army Mother, Catherine Booth. The wife of William Booth – with whom she co-founded the Salvation Army – she was an early Christian feminist and became a powerful speaker in her own right, smashing the convention that women were not allowed to speak at meetings. British sculptor, George Edward Wade (1853-1933) was a largely self-taught artist best remembered for his statues of royalty and politicians. The statue, a depiction of Catherine in bonnet, hand extended and clutching a Bible to her chest; is a reflection of putting her whole heart into her preaching, her arm not raised but extended as if in plea for the souls of the listeners. 150 years on, Catherine Booth is honoured today for advocating for women’s equal rights to preach.
Sarah Siddons (1755-1831) was a Welsh-born English actress and the most famous tragedienne of the 18th century. She was an acting sensation, dominating the London theatre scene. Her statue, by French sculptor Léon-Joseph Chavalliaud, was unveiled in 1897 on Paddington Green and is based on a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds as ‘The Tragic Muse’. The sculptor wanted to portray her expressive and brilliant acting talent, that left audiences swooning out of the theatre.
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was a celebrated English nurse, writer and statistician. She came to prominence for her pioneering work in nursing during the Crimean War, where she tended to wounded soldiers. The statue was designed by Sir Arthur George Walker and unveiled in 1915 in Waterloo Place, London. It is a bronze standing portrait of Nightingale, holding a lamp in her right hand. She stands on a granite pedestal which has bronze plaques showing scenes of her at work - interviewing officers, attending a meeting of nurses and arranging transport for the wounded. The sculptor reflects the decisive contribution Nightingale made at the time and subsequently in civilian life.
The bronze statue, called ‘The Mother of Modern Theatre’ is based on an iconic photograph of Joan Littlewood in the 1970s, when the Theatre Royal Stratford East was threatened with demolition, sitting on rubble in almost exactly this location. Joan Littlewood (1914-2002) was an English theatre director, who demolished the barriers between ‘popular’ and ‘art’ theatre. The sculpture was created by Philip Jackson, an award-winning Scottish sculptor, noted for his modern style and emphasis on form. It was unveiled in 2015 outside Theatre Royal, the year in which she would have turned 101. Jackson wanted the sculpture to be a permanent reminder of her great contribution not just to British theatre, but to world theatre.
Margaret Ethel MacDonald
This is a warm-hearted tribute to Margaret Ethel MacDonald (1870-1911) who was a British feminist, social reformer, and wife of Labour politician Ramsay MacDonald from 1896 until her death from blood poisoning in 1911. The bronze statue was unveiled on 19 December 1914, sculpted by Richard Reginald Goulden to Ramsay’s design. It depicts MacDonald herself in kneeling posture, extending her arms lovingly around a row of playful little children. Sculptor Goulden wanted to honour her naivety, simplicity and unselfishness over a granite alcove seat in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where the memorial resides.
Noor Inayat Khan
Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944) was not what one would expect of a British spy. She was a princess, having been born into royalty in India; a Muslim, whose father was a Sufi preacher; a writer and a musician. But she was exactly what Britain’s military intelligence needed in 1943, becoming the first woman radio operator to be sent to occupied Paris. The sculpture was created by a British-born sculptor Karen Newman, and has been described as a tribute to a young Muslim woman who fought against racism and oppression. On 8 November 2012, The Princess Royal unveiled the memorial at a moving ceremony attended by over 450 people.
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was an English writer and considered one of the most important modernist 20th-century authors. A bronze sculpture of the bust of Virginia sculpted by Stephen Tomlin was erected in 2004 in Tavistock Square, London. Virginia became one of the central subjects of the 1970s movement of feminist criticism and her works have since gathered much attention and widespread commentary for inspiring feminism.