Statue campaign for Lancaster-born RSPB founder Emily Williamson sets off on national tour

Four competing bronze statuettes of Lancaster-born RSPB founder Emily Williamson (1855-1936) are set to tour the British Isles in a bid to raise public awareness of an unsung conservation heroine.

By Michelle Blade
Monday, 2nd August 2021, 3:45 pm

The Emily Williamson ‘maquettes’ will be making stops at eight iconic birdwatching reserves the length and breadth of the country gathering public votes and sharing her inspirational story. The winning design will be turned into a life size bronze statue to commemorate this forgotten eco pioneer.

Lancaster-born Emily, who would move to Manchester when she married, founded her all-female Society for the Protection of Birds in 1889 out of anger that nothing was being done to halt the cruel fashion for extravagantly feathered hats decimating Britain’s bird species.

Emily invited her friends to tea and extracted from each a pledge to Wear No Feathers. Her campaign grew when she moved to London, snowballing over the decades to become the mighty RSPB, a conservation force to be reckoned with. Yet she has not been remembered by history.

Emily Williamson copyright Bateson family archive.

This is all set to change; a crowdfunded statue of the RSPB’s founder is proposed to stand in the grounds of her home, now Fletcher Moss Park, Manchester, as the focal point of this inspiring story.

The RSPB is now the UK’s largest conservation charity, with over 200 reserves in Britain and a powerful role in shaping global conservation projects. Creating a statue of Emily Williamson is an important reminder that no voice is too small to make a difference – and that we as individuals can and must do more for nature. As a disenfranchised Victorian woman, Emily’s victory over the plumage trade (resulting in the Plumage Act of 1921) is a powerful example of what can be achieved through passion and determination.

Now, in a campaign led by the Emily Williamson Statue Campaign in partnership with the RSPB, the public is invited to help choose the final design for a statue. The four beautiful maquettes (small-scale statues) will be touring RSPB reserves throughout the country, including cliff tops, heathlands and marshes.

All are now havens for birds previously plundered by plumage hunters for the millinery trade.

Emily Williamson Statue Campaign unveil the four statues that will be put to the public vote before being erected in Fletcher Moss Park, Didsbury. Clare Abbatt with her work.

The tour will visit RSPB Leighton Moss in Silverdale, Lancashire on Wednesday, September 8.

Accompanying the maquettes on their tour will be Andrew Simcock, Chair of the Emily Williamson Statue Campaign and prior to this Chair of the Emmeline Pankhurst Statue Campaign that led to a statue of the suffragette founder now standing in Manchester’s St. Peter’s Square. Visitors to the RSPB reserves will have the opportunity to see the maquettes, chat to Andrew about the project and cast their vote.

Andrew Simcock, Chair of the Emily Williamson Statue Committee, said: "The key to a successful statue campaign is public involvement. Seeking community views on the designs helps the selection committee make a well-informed choice. The Emmeline Pankhurst statue in St. Peter's Square in Manchester is a great example of this. Hazel Reeves' design was the people's favourite and in a recent poll it was voted the most popular statue in the city.

“I invite everyone to come and see the designs and say hello as I move around the British Isles visiting RSPB reserves."

Emily Williamson Statue Campaign unveil the four statues that will be put to the public vote before being erected in Fletcher Moss Park, Didsbury. Billie Bond with her work..

The four short listed designs:

Clare Abbatt looks to the future by placing Emily next to a young girl who represents her great great niece, Professor Melissa Bateson, who now works as a bird scientist. The intention is to engage visitors of all ages in the challenges faced by the natural world.

Clare, who lives in Northamptonshire, said: “I’m committed to the idea of taking something forward; of it being not just a memorial, but a living inspiration. I want to celebrate what the RSPB is doing today by creating a piece of work that engages visitors of all ages, which children in particular can enjoy and learn from.”

Billie Bond makes direct reference to ‘murderous millinery’ with a bird hat, turned upsidedown to become a bird bath. Emily is seated quietly and contemplatively on a bench in her garden: the visitor is invited to join her, and reflect on the story.

Emily Williamson Statue Campaign unveil the four statues that will be put to the public vote before being erected in Fletcher Moss Park, Didsbury. Laury Dizengremel with her work.

Billie, who lives in Great Waltham, Essex, said:“To me, the feathers, the hats and the birds were the most important part of the story. The statue needs to shock, to show what was happening. But I wanted the hat to also tell a different story. By turning it upside down, Emily is giving it back to the birds. The little bird perched on the rim is a robin. It’s a symbolic offering: the robin represents rebirth.”

The design of international artist Laury Dizengremel is serene and simple: a young Emily looks tenderly and compassionately at a bird held in her hand. Laury’s aim is for people to have an instant connection to the statue.

Laury, who lives in France, said: “I want people to have an emotional response to my sculpture of Emily. I want it to have an emotional impact. I want people to be able to walk up to it, like a person, and say, “Hi there”.

Eve Shepherd has conceived a design that reveals more the closer one gets – with a crinoline dress that is in fact an organic cliff face, a nesting ground home to the birds that Emily campaigned to save. It also reflects a concern for the future, with birds that are vulnerable today incorporated into the design; owl, heron, grebe and kingfisher.

Eve, who lives in Brighton, said:“My version of Emily draws together both person and landscape. She protects the birds, women and girls within her care; she is the ‘mother of nature’. Visually, the statue will blend in with its leafy surroundings, as Emily’s verdigris skirts fade upwards to a warm conker brown. My work is designed to fit within nature and grow out of nature, as if Emily’s emerging from her surroundings. She is the conservation story. She’s Mother Nature herself.”

Andrew will be at each of the RSPB reserves he visits from 10am until 4pm with all of the maquettes on display and more details on how people can vote.

Emily Williamson Statue Campaign unveil the four statues that will be put to the public vote before being erected in Fletcher Moss Park, Didsbury. Eve Shepherd with her work.

Each maquette is an exquisite piece of art in its own right and needs to be seen to be truly appreciated.

Those that cannot make it to one of the RSPB reserves can vote online at until October 31 2021.

For the last two weeks of October the maquettes will be on display at Manchester Art Gallery, before the final results are revealed in early November.

The campaign has a Crowdfunder to which donations can be made here

View from Skytower towards Warton Crag, RSPB Leighton Moss Nature Reserve, Lancashire, September 2017. Copyright RSPB.