International Women's Day: Calls for a new female statue in Leeds

Queen Victoria at the edge of Woodhouse Moor, nymphs dotted around City Square and Henry Moore's Reclining Woman leaning at the Art Gallery.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 8th March 2017, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:01 am
Leeds women's statue story
Coun Judith Blake, Leader Leeds City Council , Hannah Thaxter, Editor, Yorkshire Evening Post and Rachel Reeves MP Leeds West   mon 6th march 2017
Leeds women's statue story Coun Judith Blake, Leader Leeds City Council , Hannah Thaxter, Editor, Yorkshire Evening Post and Rachel Reeves MP Leeds West mon 6th march 2017

The list of women to have been hounoured with a statue in Leeds is not long – and there are none with a name linking them specifically to the city.

So on International Women’s Day, the Yorkshire Evening Post today backs the call of Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves and the leader of Leeds City Council Judith Blake for a fitting tribute to be erected in the city.

The options are legion – from Olympic gold boxer Nicola Adams to social reformer Mary Gawthorpe, or best-selling novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford to cycling hero Beryl Burton.

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But we want you to help decide what kind of artwork – paid for through fundraising and donations – should be built.

Rachel Reeves MP said: “When I was writing the biography I did recently about Alice Bacon, Yorkshire’s first female MP, I realised there’s no painting, there’s no plaque, there’s no statue for Alice. Then I thought, ‘What artworks are there for women in the city?’

“What we want is to hear from men and women about who they think we should remember with a statue or a work of art.”

Mrs Reeves hopes that through crowdfunding, people across the city will “take this to their hearts”.

She said: “There are lots of squares and parks and places where we could have statues. We’re not in a shortage of space.”

Leeds Art Gallery is having roof repairs carried out, and Mrs Reeves said that one idea could be to have a work of art unveiled at the site when it re-opens later this year.

Only around 15 per cent of the UK’s statues are of female figures, many of which are Queen Victoria or drawn from classic mythology.

Across Yorkshire there are thought to be just 12 listed statues of women, but all are either of the 19th century monarch or mythical characters.

In June last year around 3,000 people turned out in Sheffield as its Women of Steel was unveiled at Barker’s Pool.

The sculpture was erected in honour of the women who had worked bravely through two world wars in the city’s munition factories.

But Leeds also had its share of women working in these conditions – 35 of whom died in an explosion at the Barnbow munitions factory in Cross Gates in December 1916.

And in Manchester, after a public vote, leading suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was picked from 20 names to be immortalised on a plinth in the city where she is from.

However another prominent suffragette, Mary Gawthorpe, was born on Melville Street in Woodhouse and later moved to Bramley.

She helped secure women’s right to vote, and was arrested several times for her political activism and jailed at Holloway Prison.

Mary was an organiser for the Women’s Social and Political Union and worked at St Luke’s Boys School at Beeston Hill.

Nicola Adams OBE, 34, from East Leeds, shot to fame after twice winning Olympic gold in boxing – and was the first woman to do so in 2012.

Cyclist Beryl Burton won 90 domestic championships and seven world titles, and set a women’s record for the 12-hour time trial which for two years exceeded the men’s record.

Writer Barbara Taylor Bradford grew up in Armley – once working as a typist at the Yorkshire Evening Post – and her debut novel, A Woman of Substance, has sold 30 million copies.

Mrs Reeves said: “I bet there are loads of fantastic stories of women that have changed the city.”