A planning application has been made to Westminster Council to dismantle this statue of Mrs Pankhurst – which stands as close as possible to the Houses of Parliament.
The plan is to banish this statue to the grounds of Regent’s University, a private university, in Regent’s Park. See the planning application here.
The group behind the application calls itself ‘The Emmeline Pankhurst Trust’ but has no connection with the other Pankhurst Trust that is working to restore the Pankhursts’ home in Nelson Street, Manchester. Nor does it have any connection with the Pankhurst family. Rather, it is a mysterious group led by a former Conservative MP (for Ilford South), Sir Neil Thorne, whose wife, according to a newspaper report, was walking her dog through Victoria Tower Gardens when she encountered Mrs Pankhurst’s statue and, knowing nothing of its history, thought it might be better placed elsewhere.
This statue was funded by the Pankhurst Memorial Fund set up following Emmeline’s death in 1928 and championed by fellow suffragettes Kitty Marshall and Rosamund Massey. Flora Drummond was the chair of the group and Lady Rhondda the treasurer. A fund of £2500 was raised, the statue commissioned, and in 1930 it was unveiled by the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, with Dame Ethel Smyth conducting the band. See Pathe newsreel of the occasion here.
In the 1950s works in Victoria Tower Gardens endangered the statue but, thanks to the dedication of her surviving friends, it was moved even closer to the Houses of Parliament, to the present site. Ever since 1930 it has been the scene of commemoration, not only by former suffrage campaigners, but by hundreds of thousands of members of the public who have invested their memories in this site. Here is a 1955 newsreel item of former suffragettes meeting by the statue (then in its original position in Victoria Tower Gardens) in celebration.
Sir Neil Thorne and his group propose to create a new statue of Mrs Pankhurst and site it on Canning Green, which is a rather forgotten stretch of grass separated from Parliament Square by a very busy road. Those campaigning for the statue to Millicent Fawcett were at least able to claim for her a site in Parliament Square itself. This proposed new statue to Mrs Pankhurst would be way in the background – separated from Parliament by two main roads and the whole of Parliament Square. What is the sense in that when at the moment she is closer than any figure (other than Oliver Cromwell!) and when photographs of the statue (and the memorial to Christabel Pankhurst at the base) also capture the Mother of Parliaments? If Sir Neil Thorne’s group had their way she would be very lonely, stranded with George Canning on a meaningless piece of grass and all the history invested in the original statue forgotten
Because, unsurprisingly, Westminster Council won’t countenance two statues to Mrs Pankhurst within a short distance of each other, Sir Neil Thorne’s group has had to find a way of removing the original statue, which at the moment is Grade 2 Listed.
There was an attempt to try and move it to her grave in Brompton Cemetery, but that came to nothing. So now their idea is to remove it to the grounds of Regent’s University in far off Regent’s Park, with which Mrs Pankhurst has no association whatsoever. Sir Neil Thorne, however, does – in that he is a member of the Steering Group Committee for the British Chinese Armed Forces Heritage project, a collaboration between the Ming-Ai (London) Institute and Regent’s University. Presumably this association is not unconnected to the offer by Regent’s University to remove the problem of the original statue. Who do you think will see it in the shrubberies of Regent’s Park?
Here is the planning application for the erection of the statue in the grounds of Regent’s University. It contains a spurious attempt to link the fact that the buildings now occupied by Regent’s University were erected by Bedford College – once a woman-only college – and that, therefore, this is a suitable home for Mrs Pankhurst’s statue. This is nonsense – as Mrs Pankhurst was never involved in any campaign to advance women’s education. Such a meretricious elision of historical truth.
Finally, you can read the planning application for the new statue here. You will note that when it was first presented in 2017 it received a number of comments in support. On reading them I think you will get the sense that those supporting the new statue don’t seem to know anything of suffrage history, far less the fact that Emmeline Pankhurst already has a statue.
Of course, if this ‘Pankhurst Trust’ had wanted to erect a new statue to Mrs Pankhurst that did not involve casting the original aside as though it was of no consequence, I would have no objection. But I feel very strongly that we should honour the intention and actions of those who committed their time and money to setting Mrs Pankhurst in such an excellent position next to Parliament. If the group behind these planning applications would like to honour the memory of Mrs Pankhurst they would do better to support the original ‘Pankhurst Trust’ , which is attempting to create a museum in the Pankhursts’ former Manchester home, rather than wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds on an unnecessary piece of statuary and in the process destroying a valuable site of suffrage history.
Time is running out. If you do not agree with these three plans:
- to dismantle the existing statue of Mrs Pankhurst from its existing site – OBJECT
- to re-erect the original statue in the forecourt of Regent’s University – OBJECT
- erect a new statue of Mrs Pankhurst on Canning Green – OBJECT
Updates: 22 August 2018
1. A couple of online petitions have been started – and one, hosted by 38 Degrees – see here – has attracted thousands of signatures. This is pleasingly popularist but, if you live in the UK, is NO SUBSTITUTE for making comments on the 3 planning applications that are being put to Westminster Council. It is imperative in planning matters to go through the proper channels. I have asked the originator of the petition to include links to the planning applications, but nothing has yet been done. UPDATE: A LINK HAS NOW BEEN INCLUDED
The Westminster officer in charge of the case has a responsibility to read all comments made and take notice of them when writing his/her report to the Planning Committee. Even if he/she knows of a petition there is no obligation to take any notice of it.
I am worried that those who only sign the petition will feel they have ‘done their bit’ but will actually have wasted a very real opportunity of making their views known to the Planning Committee.
There is no difficulty in registering objections to the planning applications – hundreds have already done so. No suffragette would have been deterred!
2) The Curator’s Office at the Palace of Westminster has commissioned a very thorough report into the plan to remove Mrs Pankhurst’s statue from Victoria Tower Gardens – published today (22 Aug 2018). Read it here. It makes extremely interesting reading but, to cut to the chase, the verdict is definite. ‘The proposal to move the memorial, therefore, should not be granted planning permission or listed building consent.’ (Page 37)
UPDATE 15 SEPTEMBER 2018
The proposals to remove Mrs Pankhurst’s statue and re-erect it in the grounds of Regent’s University have just been WITHDRAWN.
The planning application to erect a new statue of her on Canning Green is still ‘Pending’.
Hoowever, we would be wise not to be too complacent…this may be some kind of tactical move. Be vigilant.