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A Fighter Strides Forward

Oct. 10, 2021

Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Sculptor Sam Holland is seen here with her sculpture of pioneering Labour MP Barbara Castle in Jubilee Square, Blackburn, where she served as labour MP for 34 years. Ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Conservative prime minister Theresa May donated towards the statue, which has been installed directly into the ground. “She didn’t want to be on a pedestal,” Holland explained. “She talked to people on the ground, so it was important that she was in amongst the people." 

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner thanked her sister “ginger northerner” Baroness Barbara Castle for inspiring her own outspoken nature, as she unveiled a memorial to the former minister. Blackburn Council leader, Cllr Mohammed Khan, said:it was an important piece of public art for many reasons and that for him it will represent the spirit of Blackburn. Castle, who died in 2002 aged 91, spearheaded the  legislation to promote equal pay for women, as well as the fitting of seat belts in new cars and the introduction of the breathalyser, leding to huge reductions on deaths and injuries. 

Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

The Observer quotes Helen Lewis, journalist and broadcaster, who has written a series about the female MPs who came before Margaret Thatcher as saying “Barbara Castle is the best prime minister Britain never had. Her achievements were substantial – the breathalyser, helping create the Ministry of Overseas Development, equal pay – but what stands out most is that she was a fighter". “The Equal Pay Act, for example, was born out of the ashes of a humiliating defeat – her attempts to reform the trade unions. In the 1970s, when Jim Callaghan sacked her from the cabinet for being too old – she was only two years older than him – she left British politics and served as an MEP for a decade.”

The Guardian describes this memorial as "the latest in a string of commissioned works, slowly redressing the heavy dominance of male statues. Other recent moves to mark the lives of influential British women include London statues of Diana, Princess of Wales and of campaigning writer Mary Wollstonecraft, as well as the 2018 statue of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst in Manchester."

See the 'Results' page for more recent statues of women.