Barbara Castle, the pioneering British politician and prominent national figure from the 1950s to the 1970s, was commemorated with a new statue in Blackburn, where she served as a Labor MP for 34 years.
The walking figure, sculpted by Sam Holland, holds a bronze copy of the Equal Pay Act 1970. It is the latest in a series of commissioned works slowly remedying the heavy dominance of male statues. Other recent movements to mark the lives of influential British women include the London statues of Diana, Princess of Wales and activist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, as well as the 2018 statue of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst in Manchester.
Former Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Tory Prime Minister Theresa May donated for the statue, which was installed directly into the ground. “She didn’t want to be on a pedestal,” Holland explained. “She spoke to the people on the ground, so it was important that she was among the people.”
Castle, who died in 2002 at the age of 91, left her mark on British life not only in legislation to promote equal pay for women, but also by requiring the installation of seat belts in new cars and the introduction of breathalyzer.
She was played by Miranda Richardson in the 2010 film Made in Dagenham, and will once again be featured onscreen in the first episode of a planned series on the Women Parliamentarians who preceded Margaret Thatcher, written by journalist and presenter Helen Lewis.
“Barbara Castle is the best prime minister Britain has ever had,” Lewis told the Observer This weekend. “Her accomplishments were substantial – the breathalyzer, helping to set up the overseas development ministry, equal pay – but what stands out most is that she was a fighter.
“The Equal Pay Act, for example, grew out of the ashes of a humiliating defeat – its attempts to reform unions. In the 1970s, when Jim Callaghan fired her from cabinet because she was too old – she was only two years older than him – she left British politics and served as an MEP for a decade.
The official unveiling at Blackburn’s Jubilee Square was attended by Jack Straw, who succeeded Castle as Town MP, and current MP Kate Hollern. Deputy Labor Party leader Angela Rayner also joined the ceremony, alongside Blackburn advisers including Maureen Bateson, who knew Castle and led the campaign to erect a statue.
Baroness Castle, the daughter of a West Yorkshire tax inspector, was the youngest woman elected in Labor’s landslide victory in 1945.
Holland was commissioned to create the sculpture in 2019, but work has been delayed by the pandemic. “Barbara should have been celebrated 50 years ago. She was a great advocate for those who are not heard.
“At the time, she was a lone woman among the men in power,” Holland said, admitting that the hardest part of the process was getting the pose right. “It’s about capturing your energy and determination.
The statue is the third attempt at homage. In the 1980s, the local Labor Party raised £ 19,000 for a community center named after him and a bid for a statue failed in 2004.
Such persistence suits Castle, often quoted as saying, “In politics, courage is everything.”