Capital idea for Women of Steel

Betjeman at St Pancras by Martin Jennings
Betjeman at St Pancras by Martin Jennings
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THE artist whose sculpture of Sir John Betjeman has become one of the landmarks of the refurbished St Pancras railway station in London has been commissioned to create a statue for Sheffield’s Women of Steel.

Martin Jennings, who has also designed the UK’s first statue of Charles Dickens, in Portsmouth to mark the writer’s centenary, will produce a permanent reminder of the women who worked in the factories during the World Wars.

Martin Jennings

Martin Jennings

The figurative statue will go in a prominent location, yet to be decided in the city centre. One possibility is Barkers Pool.

Martin Jennings was selected by four women who worked in the local steel industry during the Second World War.

He said: “It is a great honour to have been asked to make this important monument in Sheffield. I had the pleasure of meeting some of the indomitable Women of Steel a short while ago and listened in awe to their tales of backbreaking toil in the wartime steel industry.

“Little recognition was given at the time to the years they had lost in this hard but vital endeavour. These hidden heroines contributed so much to our national salvation all those years ago.

“I need now to listen further to their stories before proposing an idea for a monument that will properly reflect their place in history.”

Council leader Julie Dore said the authority was determined to honour the Women of Steel. “I am so pleased that Martin has been appointed as the artist who will work with the women and the public on the project. The four Women of Steel who have led the project so far were part of the selection process and I know that they felt Martin was the perfect candidate.”

The statue will probably be made of bronze, and it is intended to produce a model by the end of July.

The council is keen that both an existing plaque and the statue are seen not just as a memorial to a remarkable group of women, but an inspiration.

One Woman of Steel, Ruby Gascoigne, said: “We all agreed that Martin was the perfect candidate for this project. His work is wonderful. He knows how to tell a story through people. His Betjeman sculpture stands in St Pancras and is seen by millions. It is so exciting that millions more will see the Women of Steel sculpture in years to come.

“Martin has an amazing track record and has worked on some very prestigious commissions. I’m very excited that we are working with him.”

Jennings, who lives in Oxford, has been commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Palace of Westminster, the University of Oxford and many other national institutions, and his subjects include prominent figures from the worlds of politics, the military, royalty, academia, the arts, industry, medicine and the law.

So far the council has committed £28,000 towards the first stage of the Women of Steel project, with £120,000 due to come from a fundraising campaign targeting local businesses, trusts and foundations.

Sheffield fundraising expert David Heugh has been drafted in and support has been secured from Master Cutler Pam Liversidge and Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry.