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Monument to a woman who changed history: Emmeline Pankhurst statue in Victoria Tower Gardens

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The monument to Emmeline Pankhurst stands in the shadows of the Houses of Parliament in Victoria Tower Gardens

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A bronze medallion of Emmeline eldest daughter Christabel was added in 1959

Emmeline Pankhurst is widely acknowledged as one of the most important, British female figures of the 20th century, if somewhat controversial. As the figurehead of the fight for women’s suffrage, she helped pave the way for future female politicians and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – who wouldn’t have been able to vote, let alone run the country. The Manchester-born campaigner ended up living most of her adult life and died here in London so it is only fitting to have such an important figure in the history of British politics commemorated in the city.

This post is not intended to give a history of women’s suffrage – because frankly I don’t have all day to write it, nor do you (I assume) have all day to read it! However, most British women – whether they perceive themselves as feminists or not – acknowledge they owe a debt of gratitude to Pankhurst and her fellow suffragettes for improving women’s rights in this country (although we all know we still have some way to go when it comes to equal pay, but I’m not going to get on my soap box so moving on…).

Victoria Tower Gardens is a small park just west of the Houses of Parliament leading down to Lambeth Bridge. It contains various monuments and a good view of the River Thames. Entering through the north-east gate, the first monument you come to is one dedicated to Pankhurst.

Emmeline Pankhurst statue © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The sculpture of Emmeline was erected two years after her death

Emmeline died on June 14, 1928 at the age of 69 – just a few weeks before the Government passed the Representation Of The People Act which extended the vote to all women over 21 (previously it had been given to women aged 30 or over who were either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register in 1918). Shortly after her funeral, her former bodyguard at the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union), Katherine Marshall begun fundraising for a monument to Pankhurst.

On 6 March 1930, a bronze statue of Emmeline by sculptor AG Walker was unveiled by former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. In attendance were former suffragettes, radicals and other dignitaries, along with her daughter Sylvia. Her eldest daughter Christabel was absent as she was touring North America, but her telegram was read out. Addressing the crowd, Baldwin said: ‘I say with no fear of contradiction, that whatever view posterity may take, Mrs. Pankhurst has won for herself a niche in the Temple of Fame which will last for all time.’ Although today, the sculpture of Emmeline stands in the centre of the two side screens, when it was first unveiled it stood alone and was situated further south. However, it was moved to its present position in 1959 with the screens, one which features a bronze medallion of Christabel (who died the previous year in Santa Monica, California) and the other a replica of the WSPU prisoners’ badge.

  • Victoria Tower Gardens is accessed from Abingdon Street/Millbank on the north bank of the River Thames. Nearest station: Westminster.

Find out about the Buxton Memorial Fountain monument to the abolition of slavery, which also stands in Victoria Tower Gardens.

For a guide to Suffragette landmarks around London, click here.

For more posts on London history, click here.

Buxton Memorial Fountain: A memorial to one of Westminster’s most important laws

A monument to the abolition of slavery.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The Buxton Memorial Fountain has stood in Victoria Tower Gardens since 1957

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The fountain contains four large granite basins

Every year, tens of thousands of tourists flock to Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge to gaze upon Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. However, the pedestrian traffic flowing to the west of the iconic building shrinks considerably in comparison to the east. With the Elizabeth Tower containing Big Ben (actually the name of the bell, not the actual clock and tower as is often believed) being the main draw, the Victoria Tower and its adjacent eponymous gardens often get ignored.

Victoria Tower Gardens is a small area to the west of the Houses Of Parliament containing greenery, memorials and a good view of the River Thames. Having rode on a bus past the Gardens many times over the years, I have often found my eyes drawn to the Buxton Memorial Foundation in the gardens. After decades of not seeing it up close or knowing what it was about, in recent years I finally started walking through the Gardens and checked out the fountain up close.

Although the fountain is mid-19th century, it has only been in Victoria Tower Gardens since 1957 when it was relocated from nearby Parliament Square following a redesign. The colourful and ornate monument is to commemorate one of Westminster’s most important laws – the emancipation of slaves following the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act. Although Parliament had passed the 1807 Slave Trade Act, making slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire, some still held slaves that were traded before the act. The 1833 Act went a step further and gave all existing slaves emancipation.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Ornate: The fountain was designed in a Gothic Revival style

It wasn’t until another 33 years later that the lawmakers and campaigners involved in making the 1833 act happen were commemorated for their efforts. MP Charles Buxton funded the fountain and dedicated it to his late father, the abolitionist and MP Sir Thomas Buxton, along with William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Henry Brougham and Stephen Lushington. Charles commissioned London architect Samuel Sanders Teulon to create the fountain in his Gothic revival style for the price of £1,200.

The fountain is covered with a timber-framed spire and clad in enamelled sheet steel. The entire structure is made with a wide range of materials, including limestone, grey and red sandstone, wrought iron, rosso marble enamelled metalwork, grey and pink granite, mosaic and terracotta. Originally unveiled in Parliament Square in 1865 – coincidentally the same year the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed, abolishing slavery.

The ornate memorial commemorating the end of a horrific part of human history remained in Parliament Square until 1949 when the area was given a post-war makeover. It was finally reinstated in Victoria Tower Gardens in 1957. However, by 1971 all eight of the decorative figures of British rulers, including Queen Victoria and William the Conqueror, on the pinnacles had been stolen. These were replaced with fibreglass ones in 1980. Over the years, the fountain fell into disrepair until it was restored in 2006-2007 – just in time for the 200th anniversary of the Slave Trade Act.

Along with the Buxton Memorial Fountain, there is also a monument to suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and a reproduction of the sculpture The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin. There is also a children’s play park, which is currently closed for refurbishment.

  • Victoria Tower Gardens is accessed from Abingdon Street/Millbank on the north bank of the River Thames. Nearest station: Westminster.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The fountain stands in Victoria Tower Gardens, overlooked by the great tower itself


To read Metro Girl’s blog on the memorial to Emmeline Pankhurt in Victoria Tower Gardens, click here.

Or to find out the history of nearby Parliament Square, click here.

For more of Metro Girl’s history blog posts, click here.

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