Don't move Emmeline! (ctd.)

September 6 2018

Video: via You Tube

I mentioned earlier the misguided attempt to move a statue of the leading Suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst, from Victoria Green beside Parliament to the campus of Regent's University in Regent's Park. The statue was erected by the Suffragette Fellowship in 1930 and unveiled by the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. The video above shows the unveiling, and part of Baldwin's speech (the sound must be dubbed in).

The plan to move the statue is the brainwave of a former Tory MP Sir Neil Thorne. He wants to erect another statue of Pankhurst in Canning Green, a narrow strip of grass to the west of Parliament Square. And because you couldn't have two Pankhurst statues so close to each other, the argument goes, we need to move the existing one, which, incidentally could not itself be moved to Canning Green because 'it is too small'.

This is really the daftest possible idea. Pankhurst had no connection with Regent's University, and the Suffragette Fellowship specifically wanted the statue to be as close to Parliament as possible, and gave the government an endowment to pay for its upkeep. (They intiially wanted it to be in Parliament Square, but the government of the day baulked at the idea, and offered Victoria Gardens instead.) But Thorne's proposal seems to have a good chance of happening, almost by accident. A planning proposal is under consideration by Westminster Council. And for the plan to have got to that stage means it already has the approval of the owners of the current site in Victoria Green, the Royal Parks. 

Currently, objections to the plan have focused on the planning application. But I've found that the statue in fact belongs to the government, specifically the Department for Culture Media and Sport, as successor body to the Ministry of Works. It should be in the government's power to immediately veto the idea. Hopefully, political pressure can be brought to bear. Happily, the Houses of Parliament have opposed the plan, with the curator's office commissioning this excellent report, which states that moving the statue would do 'serious harm' to the site and area.

This is not the first attempt to move the statue. When Rodin's Burghers of Calais was due to be placed in Victoria Green in 1958, the then government wanted to move the Pankhurst statue further away from Parliament. A great protest was launched, and the government agreed that while the statue needed to be moved, it should be moved closer to Parliament, and the base enlarged with a memorial to Emmeline's daughter, Christabel. The then minister, Nigel Birch, gave 'the most categorical assurance to the Suffragette Fellowship that there is no intention of any kind of moving the statue again'.

What I find most troubling about the whole affair is the assumption that we, today, know best how to commemorate Pankhurst. The existing statue is not just a memorial to her, but, through its very creation and siting, to the wider Suffragette movement. Moving it to Regent's Park - in the centenary year of women getting the vote - would be a terrible act of historical and art historical vandalism.

You can make your own objection to the plans at Westminster Council's planning portal here. All AHN readers are urged to do so!

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.