A statue of Sylvia Pankhurst could soon take pride of place on Roman Road.
Plans are in place to erect a statue in Bow of the radical feminist who founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes in 1913.
The Roman Road Trust, a community development organisation, wants the Pankhurst statue to be located on the junction of St Stephen’s Road and Roman Road.
It would form part of a wider public art trail focused on East End women such as Annie Besant, who played a prominent role in the Bow matchgirls strike of 1888.
“A lot of people don’t realise that Bow is the heartland of Sylvia Pankhurst,” said Tabitha Stapely, CEO of the Roman Road Trust.
“Due to the bombing in the war and various council initiatives to tidy up the area afterwards, there are no buildings or sites left of where Sylvia worked on Roman Road.”
“We want people to know the history, feel part of it and engage with it. So all these things have been leading up to the idea of celebrating her work with a statue.”
But a statue is only the start of the Trust’s ambitious plans to celebrate Bow’s heritage.
“What we want to do is even bigger,” Stapely said. “Bow was an area that was very very deprived 110 years ago, but it attracted a lot of amazing visionary women. What we’d like is to see them all celebrated.”
The statue and art trail is part of the Roman Road Neighbourhood plan, a legal document that sets out planning policies for a given area, written by its residents and businesses.
Although other campaigns for statues – such as those for Mary Wollstonecraft or Mary Seacole – have rumbled on for years, Stapley is optimistic a Pankhurst statue and art trail will be a reality in four years’ time.
“We already have a lot of ducks in a row, we’ve got backing from key Tower Hamlets councillors, and we have a good working relationship with Poplar Harca who own a lot of the land around Bow Road,” said Stapely.
Councillor Josh Peck, Cabinet Member for Work and Economic Growth, has already thrown his support behind the campaign. “Bow was the centre of Sylvia Pankhurst’s campaigning but our area’s role has largely been lost to history. It’s time we properly commemorated her work here,” he said.
Some of the many Bow landmarks in the history of the women’s suffrage movement in East London include the former site of Roman Road Baths, where Pankhurst used to hold meetings of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), as well as Arbers on Roman Road, the printing works that published Sylvia Pankhurst’s feminist newspaper Woman’s Dreadnought.
Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst are commemorated with a statue and plaque by Victoria Tower Gardens, but no such honour has previously been afforded Sylvia, who opposed her family over the First World War and commitment to socialism.
Another statue of Sylvia Pankhurst is planned for Clerkenwell Green in Islington in time for the centenary of the Representation of the People Act in 1918, which gave the vote to some women.
The Roman Road Trust has published a history of Sylvia Pankhurst in Bow.