Astor statue closer to becoming reality

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

After a long campaign led by former  television presenter Alexis Bowater, the first statue of the first woman in Parliament has been crafted at a factory in Limehouse before it gets erected in the constituency which she served.

Nancy Astor was the first female MP to take a seat in Westminster in 1919 as the representative for Plymouth Sutton. A century on, the bronze Nancy is a result of a £125,000 crowdfunding project.

The honour of designing the statue was the result of a competition. The committee and judging panel made the decision on February 14th to award the commission of the piece to Hayley Gibbs, an artist, sculptor and stone carver.

The following quote by Lady Nancy Astor will feature on the statue too:
“Real education should educate us out of self into something far finer; into a selflessness which links us with all humanity.”

Hayley Gibbs provided the following information in her original sculpture proposal: “This design, traditional in its materials of bronze and stone, speaks to the courage and tenacity of Nancy Astor; holding its own on the grand expanse of the Hoe in the company of such impressive maritime heroes and memorials.

‘The pose chosen is inspired by the early campaign photographs of Lady Astor canvassing Plymouth communities, and speaks to strength and fortitude to stand alone in the House of Commons. Ideally situated in front of Astor House the ‘one and a quarter’ size bronze cast of Lady Astor will stand on top of a carved limestone plinth which echoes elements of its architectural back ground.

‘The plinth is in keeping with the conservation area and other towering structures further along the Hoe. However, this design stands the figure a little above head height, closing the gap between Lady Astor and the viewer enabling a greater interaction between the public and the work.

‘Lady Astor’s often-controversial opinions and famously quick witted quips with Churchill leaves us, at first glance, with a rather stern impression. This perception is perhaps aided by her choice of attire, a kind of armour to combat the challenges she faced as a woman in the political arena.

‘However, delving deeper into radio
interviews and the correspondence at the Plymouth and Devon records office revealed to me a more compassionate side to Lady Astor. Committed to the people of Plymouth, who in return held a great amount of affection and respect for her.

‘With this public support for Lady Astor in mind, evident from the early nineteen hundred’s through to the public funding raised today it would be essential for me to involve the people of Plymouth as much as possible. Whilst sculpting this piece I would like to engage members of the community in studio visits and workshops.

‘As way of imprinting Plymouth’s identity onto the sculpture I would cast their hands each in different positions, creating plaster copies. These forms would then be used as tools to texture and model some of the surface of the statue, particularly effective on the heavier fabric of her clothing. This would result in subtle, in-descript indentations in the bronze creating a sense of community ownership and pride in the work.
‘These workshops would also provide opportunities to open up discussions on topical issues inspired by Lady Astor’s influence, such as women in leadership, women in politics, pride of place and the power in community.

‘It is my hope that this design will do justice to Lady Nancy Astor’s legacy and the people she stood for, providing an uplifting focal point on the west wing of the Hoe which will inspire future generations to stand proud and reach for social change, no matter their gender or background.”

The statue is due to be unveiled on Plymouth Hoe on
November 28th , the centenary of Lady Nancy Astor’s

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