Parliament Square to get its first ever statue of a woman

Jonathan Mitchell
The statue will be just yards from the figure of iconic former Prime Minister Winston Churchill: PA Archive/PA Images

Leading suffragist campaigner Millicent Fawcett is set to become the first woman celebrated with a statue in Parliament Square, it has been confirmed.

City Hall announced on Tuesday that plans to build the bronze statue had been given final approval in the iconic square, with work to begin later this year.

Westminster City Council approved London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s planning application, paving the way for the statue to be built just yards from the figure of Winston Churchill.

It is hoped the statue will be unveiled in time for the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which gave some women in the UK the vote for the first time.

The announcement comes after feminist campaigners pushed City Hall to present plans for a statue of a woman in Parliament Square.

Designer Gillian Wearing with a model of the statue

The statue will show Ms Fawcett at the age of 50 holding a placard which reads ‘courage calls to courage everywhere’, which she read after the death of famous suffragette Emily Davison.

Ms Davison was killed when she walked onto the race track at the Epsom Derby in 1913.

Mr Khan said: “As a proud feminist at City Hall, I have given Caroline’s inspired campaign my full support and am delighted that we have been given the go-ahead to bring the first ever statue of a woman to the centre of British democracy in Parliament Square – something which is long overdue.

“Next year marks a century since the start of women’s suffrage in the UK - one of our country’s most pivotal moments – and our mission now is to ensure that we can begin the centenary celebrations with the unveiling of this landmark piece.

“This will be one of the most momentous and significant statues of our time and I know that Gillian Wearing’s exceptional talent and unique insight will do great justice to the movement and Millicent Fawcett’s legacy.

Honour: Millicent Fawcett, who founded the National Union of Women's Suffrage (PA Archive/PA Images)

“We want this statue to depict the strength and determination of the women who dedicated their lives to the fight for women’s suffrage and to inspire many generations to come – and I know Gillian’s creation will do just that.”

The bronze figure has been designed by artist Gillian Wearing and will join statues of famous figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill in the square.

Campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez began lobbying City Hall for a statue of a woman in May 2016, setting up a petition which gathered 85,000 signatures.

Sam Smethers, of the Fawcett Society, said: “Putting a statue of a woman in Parliament Square is long overdue but it is absolutely right that it is Millicent Fawcett who is being commemorated.

“She made it her lifetime's work to secure votes for women.”

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Aged just 22 Millicent Fawcett gave her first speech on women’s suffrage and then campaigned relentlessly for nearly 50 years before the vote was finally given to women.”

“I am proud that this beautifully designed statue of Fawcett in Parliament Square will inspire a new generation to champion her struggle for equality and women’s rights.”